Friday, July 2, 2010

7 Deadly Sins

The seven deadly sins have long been a subject both of religion and culture. They show up in art, movies, are carefully considered by the religious masses, and so on. People know what they are, and some people can even recite all seven, but do they really understand the implications of these sins?

Original vs New list

The list of seven sins has changed over the years (altered by the Catholic church, of course). The "purest" form could be considered that from the book of Proverbs - a list of six things which the Lord detests, and the seventh which he hates: (I have paraphrased for clarity)

Killing Innocents
Deliberate Wickedness
One quick to cause harm
Bearing False Witness
Causing dissent among family/friends

Latin list (14th century):
Superbia (Pride)
Avarita (Greed)
Luxuria (Extravagance)
Invidia (Envy)
Gula (Gluttony)
Ira (Wrath)
Acedia (Discouragement)

Modern (final) list:

I will be discussing the modern list of seven sins, for the sake of relevance.

Greed: This sin is a fairly obvious one. The desire for collection / amassing / aquiring wealth, posessions, even power.
Sloth: Often viewed as laziness and a lack of hygene. However, this replaced Acedia, which could be considered more a discouragement or denying one's given talents, allowing them to fall to waste. I feel that both of these definitions should be considered, as not using God given talents could be seen as denying God himself.
Envy: The desire to have what someone else has, or wishing them harm for having something which you do not. Alternatively, I think this also encompasses the desire to have something better than someone else has, the "Jones'" syndrom, and being unhappy that someone else even has something equal to what you do (the feeling of not being unique because others share your posessions / designs / style)
Lust: Strictly speaking, this sin has generally referred to sexual desire or extreme sexual desire, however I feel a more narrowed definition is more appropriate - deviation in sexuality that is harmful. Rape, sexual desire that overruns life, and sexual habits which are emotionally and physically harmful to oneself and others.
Rage: Anger to the point that it causes harm to oneself or others.
Pride: Believing one or one's works are better than that of others, more deserving of praise, refusing to be flexible due to one's pride in oneself, feeling that one must behave a certain way out of pride even if doing so causes harm to oneself or others.
Gluttony: Consumption to extremes, taking more than one's fair share, alcoholism, drug use.

We know what the sins are, we know their general definition and application, but do we know why they are bad? For some, it's obvious. If you kill someone out of Rage, then Rage is bad. However, many of the other sins are less obvious, and even the straightforward definitions do not explain the true harm of these sins.

When you are envious, what harm does it cause? If not acted upon, then you harm no one else. Or do you? If you are envious of a friend having nicer shoes, but you say nothing and don't, for example, steal their shoes, then what harm has been caused? It's inside of you. Your envy, if unchecked, can grow to the point that it harms the friendship. You may be less kind to them, you could even be cruel or ultimately break the friendship off. It isn't likely over a single pair of shoes, but if you're envious that they have a better life than you then yes it is possible. Even if you never outwardly show your envy or act upon it, it still causes harm to you.

Everyone asks the purpose of life. Why are we here? What is the meaning, the point, why bother? The point is to ascend. To be come greater than we currently are, and ultimately to become like the Christ. He was an ascended being, as was the Buddha, and several other historical/religious figures. So long as your mind is mired in one or more of the "deadly" sins, you are held back from possibility of ascension. Here is a revised definition of the sins, to illustrate what I mean.

Greed: Desire to accumulate physical possessions or power causes you to pay attention only to that desire. Everything else fades in your view, and you focus only on your intent to aquire. If your intent is focused on aquisition of the physical, it is removed from any desire to aquire the spiritual.

Sloth: Denying one's body, the need for physical exertion leads to a deadening of the body which spirals downward and only gets worse. To not use and work the body causes the body to feel badly, it actually causes pain. The more pain you feel the less you want to do things, and eventually you do nothing at all. This prevents one from living, from breathing, from attuning with the earth and the heavens. Because the body feels dead, the soul also feels dead because it's only means of obtaining information and expressing itself is through the physical body so long as it is encased in the physical body. As to the second definition, that of denying one's talents, you are failing to exercise the soul in the same way that not doing physical exertion fails to exercise the body. Due to fear or other constraints we place on ourselves, not exercising the soul causes it to feel dead.

Envy: This is very similar to Greed and Gluttony. The desire to have something, or for others not to have something drives the focus of the mind towards that one goal, that one obsession. If you can think of nothing else, you can think of nothing beyond the physical world. Becoming consumed by envy is to see only one thing and blind yourself to all other things. This also prevents one from seeing the beauty in their own lives and appreciating what they already have. In other words, again denying that which God has given you.

Lust: I think of lust as very similar to Envy. It is an extreme desire for one thing, and the repeated seeking for that one thing, and repeated action within that range. Fetishes are a good example - now I'm not saying fetish is always a sin. What I am saying is that the person who cannot find sexual arousal or satisfaction without involvement of a fetish has succumbed to a level of lust that inhibits them from fully enjoying life. Because they need that one thing to find satisfaction, they think of little else. When they see it, they may be automatically distracted from whatever else is going on in their life. The man who wrecks his car over a woman crossing the road has succumbed to lust, because it has taken his focus away from his own safety and wellbeing. Lust is also dangerous in it's exhaultation of physical form. We are not physical beings, we are only assuming such form temporarily as a method to experience and learn. Becoming too engrossed in the physical blinds us to our true nature. Sex is fine, but as all things, moderation is best. If it overtakes or becomes your life, it has reached the point of Lust.

Rage: Everyone has heard the phrase "to see red." This is a very descriptive way of saying that a person has become so angered that they can think of nothing else. As in other sins, the common theme of blocking out the rest of life or even their spiritual nature is the real harm done here.

Pride: We are all spiritual beings in physical bodies. Each body has weaknesses, each mind has faults. Everyone is ultimately equal, and we are ultimately one spiritual body. Pride's greatest harm is in the illusion of seperation. "I wouldn't act/look/be like that, I am different from them" is the statement of pride, and it is a statement which sets one apart from others. Pride also has roots in the destruction of kindness, as if you hold your pride over someone else, you lose respect for them, and if you don't respect someone you are far less likely to be kind to them. Pride in oneself can also lead to avarice - it is pride that causes one to fear failing, and the fear of failing can cause one not to even try and thusly give up one's talents.

Gluttony: This sin is among the more difficult to define or draw a line where it begins and ends. The reason why is because consumption of various resources is necessary for life. We must eat, we must drink. I believe need becomes gluttony when one reaches the point where the need ends and the consumption continues. For example, if you have a bag of chips and you eat a few handfuls, you have likely satisfied your need. Finishing off the bag anyway would be gluttony. There is no hard/fast rule of where that line falls, but I think we all know deep down when we have crossed that line and are continuing to consume for the pleasure of it rather than the need. As far as alcohol and drugs, neither are necessary for life but we consume them anyway. Doing so in small quantities, primarily for the former and not the latter, is acceptable. Doing so on a regular basis and to the point where one is harmed by it (vomiting, poisoning, increasing addiction) stands as gluttony. Now, the harm in these actions is diverse. For one, gluttony is escapism and thusly one is denying one's feelings and memories in order to find oblivion and not face whatever it is they are escaping. The things that happen in our lives are lessons, good and bad, which benefit the development of our minds and souls. If we run from them, refuse to face the pain and try to drown ourselves, we deny the value of these lessons and ultimately deny our purpose on Earth.

The seven deadly sins are both specific and general, however the idea of moderation rules them all. In moderation, one can prevent any of the sins from overtaking themselves and work to keep themselves in check. The Buddha denied himself - he gave up a life of luxury for a life of near poverty, he refused food and other physical needs while he searched for deeper spiritual meaning. In his quest we find the true nature of the sins - these are thoughts and actions which bind us to the physical world, and they are chains which we ourselves can untangle in order to release our soul to find peace. The sins are "deadly" in the sense that every one of them blinds and deadens us to the reality beyond our reality, and prevents us from finding the things that would truely fill us with joy and comfort. Instead we try to fill ourselves with false comforts outlined in this list.

The thing about false comforts is that they are not satisfying. Many times, even as we are doing them, we think to ourselves "why am I doing this?" and afterwards we may think "that wasn't satisfying, that wasn't what I really wanted, what else can I try?" or even "I want more" and we try more things. We look to what others have and think that it may satisfy us so we seek it out. This does not satisfy us, so we look again to something else. It is a continuous chain of looking from one vice to the next, sure that this next thing will fix the gaping hole inside and make us feel better. In truth, none of these vices shall ever satiate us. The satisfaction we seek is in pursuit of the spiritual, the exaultation of the spirit body over the physical body.

In contrast to the seven deadly sins, there is a list of seven virtues as follows:

Chastity (refraining from Lust)
Temperance (refraining from Gluttony)
Charity (refraining from Greed)
Diligence (refraining from Sloth)
Patience (refraining from Wrath)
Kindness (refraining from Envy)
Humility (refraining from Pride)

If you are troubled by one or more of the seven deadly sins, there are actions to take to help you begin to satisfy what it is you truely desire. Here are some examples:

Pride - Look for things in others which you admire. Compliment them. Note similarities in yourself and others actively. Get to know more about people whom you may have felt were below you, and you will find that they too can be good people with good characteristics. Learning to appreciate others for their unique values is a good way to combat feelings of superiority. Pride is a way of clinging to what you think is good about yourself. Recognize the good in others and they will recognize the good in you, giving you a more positive affirmation that is not damaging.

Envy - The best way to combat a feeling of not having everything you desire is to place yourself around those who have less. Volunteer to help out the homeless and the needy. Work at a soup kitchen. You'll find out just how fortunate you are compared to those who have nothing, and by helping others you'll gain something more valuable than any amount of money.

Wrath - If you are quick to anger and your anger quickly becomes extreme, it may not be easy to counterbalance. When people do small things that anger you, think not about what they did but *why* they did it. Try to find a logical reason why their supposed harmful action happened. For example, if you get cut off by someone and it causes you road rage, think about why they pulled out when they did. Is it possible that you are on a very busy road and it is difficult to find a spot to pull out? Are you being excessive about the distance you want them to leave you when they do so? Is it possible they are having a really bad day and just aren't thinking clearly, and now feel guilty for having cut you off? When you start to sympathize with others and make an effort to understand their reasoning and what is going on in their life, it becomes harder to be angry with them and ultimately can help you control your anger at other moments as well. Sometimes we are quick to anger because deep down we believe if we get angrier and louder first, others will be more afraid of us and less likely to confront us, so really what we are battling is the guilt that comes from confrontation with others, and them pointing out our faults or errors. Rather if you learn to face your own faults and errors, you can no longer fear their impact on your life, but merely accept them as they are and work to improve yourself without hinderance.

Sloth(Avarice): Sometimes discouragement from performing daily/necessary activities is all in the mind. You think it's going to be harder, take longer, more effort than it really will. Set a schedule at which time things must be done and stick to it. Getting into the habit of doing something can make it far easier to do it and you less likely to put it off. Try new things, try to explore what you are good at. If you are afraid of failing, know that you will never conquer your fear unless you poke holes in it first. Don't go for the big banana, do small things that weaken your fear. If you are afraid of speaking in front of people but that is your calling, begin by doing smaller things like telling a story to a group of friends or family, making a small speech at a wedding or event, even hosting a party can make you more comfortable being in front of people. Work your way up to bigger things, and you'll find that each step along the way is not nearly as big as it looked from the ground.

Greed: Simply put, to conquer Greed you must let go. Start by giving away one item that you haven't used in months. In another month, give up two items that you haven't used in months. Work your way up until you are comfortable sorting out posessions you don't need (and don't REALLY want) anymore and giving them away to others or to charity. When you have change, drop it in a donation jar. Eventually, toss a whole dollar in occasionally. After a while, as you become more comfortable, you can donate $10, $20 or more to charities. Give your time, find the value in the charities by being there helping them do the work that they do, and you'll find that you become more driven towards the cause and more interested in helping in every way that you can. Realize that the universe provides, you do not need to stockpile money or posessions for yourself. When you need something, it will find its way to you.

Gluttony: Slow down. The easiest way to consume less is to take a longer time doing it. The uncomfortabe feeling of fullness comes about with less food if you give yourself more time between bites. You'll consume less alcohol if you sip at it rather than gulping it. Take a concious effort to pay attention to everything you take in, and it also helps to keep track of the quantities. If you look back over an evening and don't remember how much alcohol you drank, you're less likely to be concerned. If you realize you had 8 mixed drinks plus a few shots, you might be quicker to question it.

Lust: This one is tricky, as just like food we have a physical need for sex. If your difficulty is in sleeping around, then familiarize yourself with STD's, what they do, what they look like, and whether or not they are curable. Spend some time with friends who have kids, see what they do in a day, ask about childcare costs. Find out how much people have to pay out in child support. These things are the side effects of sex and can help make you more cautious in it, but again you should be tackling the root problem. Why is it that you are seeking sex out? Perhaps you are looking to connect with someone, or you are looking for affection, or looking for a conquest. Each of these reasons is because you feel that you are missing something inside and you are trying to provide it externally. Lust can also be related to shame - one might avoid relationships because they are too hard, which could in turn be because of a S.O. pointing out their faults and making them feel guilty or ashamed. One still wants companionship, so they seek out others but then avoid the relationship part of it in order to avoid the guilt. It can turn into a cycle where a person has as much sex as possible with as many people as possible because they are trying to fill the gap that not having a relationship has left in their lives.

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