Children cannot commit sin (was Re: Ignorance is sin)

Sankaran Kartik Jayanarayanan kartik at ECE.UTEXAS.EDU
Sun Nov 4 14:39:26 CST 2001

This message bounced, so am resending it:

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On Sat, 3 Nov 2001, Anand Hudli wrote:

> On Fri, 2 Nov 2001 09:43:38 -0800, Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian
> <balasr at YAHOO.COM> wrote:
> >When the child is young, the parents do many rituals
> >to compensate for the mistakes the child may have done
> >(eg, killing an insect) unknowingly. Just because it
> >is a child, does not excuse it from the law of karma.
> >So "I didn't know it, so it won't affect me" kind of
> >arguments (put forth by many in this list) is not a
> >valid excuse and against the basic tenets of our
> >dharma.
> >
> HH Jagadguru Chandrasekhara Bharati has explained the
> concept of ignorance as sin beautifully. If one commits a violation
> of the law of the country where he/she lives then one becomes
> guilty of the violation whether he/she knew about the law or not.
> For example, there may be a law in a country that prohibits one from
> spitting on the road. If I go to that country and spit on one of its
> roads, I become guilty of breaking the law even if I do not know
> about the existence of the law that prohibits spitting on roads. Mere
> ignorance of the law cannot be a defense that I can use in a court of
> law. What matters to the judge is my *capability* of knowing the law,
> not my ignorance of it. If the judge feels that I am capable of knowing
> or understanding the law, then I will be punished. However, if the judge
> feels that I am incapable of knowing the law (because of some condition
> such as insanity!) then I may be excused.

It is precisely due to the child's inability to discriminate between right
and wrong that the child cannot commit or incur sin. Below a certain age,
children are not imputable for the actions they commit in ignorance.

Some quotes from "Dialogues with the Guru" by H.H. Chandrashekhara

H.H: The animals and young children have no conception of right or wrong,
nor have they the ability to form any such conception. With them,
ignorance is inevitable and therefore not a sin. But when a child grows up
and is able to distinguish between right and wrong, he becomes responsible
for his actions and incurs sin if he acts wrongly.
H.H: To commit a sin, it is necessary to have the capacity to discriminate
between right and wrong; and this comes only a few years after birth.

Therefore if a child of say three years accidentally steps onto a roach,
thereby killing it, the child does not sin.

Purificatory rites for the child are incumbent on its parents, and are
performed because the *past adharma* of the child (i.e. in previous
incarnations) can injure the child in its present state. As H.H. says, to
reap the effects of sin, only the capacity to suffer is necessary,
something the child possesses.

Therefore purificatory rites are not performed for the actions of the
child in its present birth, since the child does not incur any sin till it
attains a certain age when awareness of dharma dawns.

> Just as the burden/responsibility of knowing the law rests with the
> residents of the jurisdiction where the law applies, so also the
> responsibility of knowing the Dharma of a particular varNa/Ashrama
> lies with the members of the varNa/Ashrama. Ignorance of such Dharma
> will in no way decrease the *culpability* of not performing one's
> Dharma.
> Anand


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