What are different types of sins?


The question seems simple, but it's a bit broad because there are hundreds of sins mentioned in our scriptures. There are so many kinds of sins mentioned in our scriptures that categorizing them would be difficult. Generally, a sin is committed when the prescribed laws of the sages are violated either by mind, body or speech:

varṇāśramaviruddhaṃ ca karma kurvanti ye narāḥ
karmaṇā manasā bācā nirayeṣu patantite
[VP - 2.6.32]

He who through his mind, speech and action does work that is against his varnashrama dharma (duites as per his caste) falls into hell.

So one can say there are these three kinds of sins, viz. saririk (physical sins), manasik (mental sins), vachik (verbal sins). Nevertheless, scriptures do mention different types of sins as below:

1. Maha-pataka
Killing a Brahman, drinking liquor, theft, violation of the preceptor's bed.

2. Upa-pataka
Eating condemned food, giving up agnihotra, not fulflilling obligations towards gods, sages and manes, killing a woman, shudra or a vaisya, etc.

3. Jatibrhamsa-pataka
Beating a brahmana, smelling liquor or garlic, living through begging, etc.

4. Apatrikarana-pataka
Speaking untruth, serving a shudra, etc.

5. Malinikarana-pataka
Killing worms and insects, stealing wood, fruit or flower, giving up patience, etc.

But apart from these there are hundreds of minor and major sins mentioned in the scriptures. And some are even equal to the mahapataka (mortal sins). Also, Mahabharata mentions about various kinds of sins including the five grave ones (mahapataka). They are as below in brief:

  • Drinking alcoholic liquors, killing a Brahmana, and the violation of the preceptor's bed, are sins that, if committed consciously, have no expiation. The only expiation laid down for them is death.

  • The unmarried girl who suffers her virginity to be deflowered incurs three-fourths of the sin of brahma hatya, while the man that deflowers her incurs a sin equal to a fourth part of that of brahma hatya (Brahmanicide).

  • By slandering Brahmanas or by striking them, one sinks in infamy for a hundred years. By killing a Brahmana one sinks into hell for a thousand years.

Expiating Sins

Sins committed cannot be just washed away without experiencing their corresponding punishment in hell. However, for sins committed unintentionally and in cases where the sinner repents his deeds [VP - 2.6.40], the scriptures prescribe performance of prayaschita (acts of expiation):

  • Sages prescribe a penance for unintentionally committed sins. Some declare, on the evidence of the revealed texts, (that it may be performed) even for an intentional (offence). [Manu - 11.45]

  • A man that has acted sinfully destroys his sin by acting virtuously afterwards and by penances. [Mbh]

  • Excluding the five grave sins (mahapatakas) that have been mentioned above, all other sins have expiations, provided for them. Expiating those sins according to the ordinances laid down for them, one should not again indulge in them. [Mbh]

  • A householder has five slaughter-houses (as it were, viz.) the hearth, the grinding-stone, the broom, the pestle and mortar, the water-vessel, by using which he is bound (with the fetters of sin).In order to successively expiate (the offences committed by means) of all these (five) the great sages have prescribed for householders the daily (performance of the five) great sacrifices. [Manu - 3.68,69]

To mention the various kinds of expiations mentioned in the scriptures for each type of sins would be too broad. However, along with expiations like vow of celibacy, living on begging, etc. all scriptures also mention remembrance of Vishnu's names and practice of devotion to Him as one of the best destroyer of sins. Bhagavad Gita also explicitly mentions it in the verse 18.66.

Sin is always considered as a sin whenever people commit it. One cannot simply knowingly commit a sin and think it will not be considered as a sin. In case of knowingly committing sin, the consequences and expiations are even more severe. But when a sin like death of someone occurs while treating other, while helping other (paropakara) or while punishing other, it is not considered as a sin [Agn Pu - 173.5]. Also, people who are God realized and perfectly situated in Self realization without the sense of doership, sinful acts like killing even do not bind them [BG - 18.17]

Agni Purana - 168, Mahabharat - 12.165

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