ATONEMENT AND FORGIVENESS
For people soiled by sin and hence unworthy to enter the presence
of God, or corrupted by evil deeds and hence unable to realize their true
inner nature, an essential prerequisite for salvation is the forgiveness
of sins. The experience of divine forgiveness and pardon is universal,
reaching to supplicants in all the world's religions.
The opening passages express God's forgiving nature; it is ever
God's desire to forgive. The next few passages treat the idea of
atonement; some expiation must be made for sin, either by a Savior, or by
a priest, or by the supplicant's own acts of penance and devotion.
Several texts discuss the cleansing of sin. We conclude with passages
which emphasize the magnitude of divine forgiveness, which can encompass
even the most gargantuan evils. Some passages suggest that God even
desired sin or favors sinners in order that He may demonstrate His
gracious and forgiving nature.
I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will
not remember your sins.
Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Isaiah 43.25
All evil effects of deeds are destroyed, when He who is both personal and
impersonal is realized.
Hinduism. Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.9
Say, "If you love God, follow me, and God will love you, and forgive you
all your sins; God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate."
Islam. Qur'an 3.31
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our
trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon
Christianity. Bible, Ephesians 1.7-8
Isaiah 43.25: Cf. Isaiah 1.16-20, p. 729. Ephesians 1.7-8: This passage
speaks of the blood of Christ, shed on the cross for the forgiveness of
sins. Cf. Romans 3.23-25, p. 506, Hebrews 9.11-14, below; John 1.29, p.
636; 1 Corinthians 11.23-25, p. 851.
Say, "O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair
not of the mercy of God: for God forgives all sins: for He is
Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."
Islam. Qur'an 39.53
Let every person ask pardon of the Great Light Asis,
The Molder of us all.
African Traditional Religions. Kipsigis Tradition (Kenya)
If we have sinned against the man who loves us,
have wronged a brother, a dear friend, or a comrade,
the neighbor of long standing or a stranger,
remove from us this stain, O King Varuna.
Hinduism. Rig Veda 5.85.7
Though a man be soiled with the sins of a lifetime, let him but love me,
rightly resolved, in utter devotion. I see no sinner, that man is holy.
Holiness soon shall refashion his nature to peace eternal. O son of
Kunti, of this be certain: the man who loves me shall not perish.
Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 9.30-31
Anyone that is fallen into the grip of lust, wrath, or attachment,
Attached to stingy greed, Guilty of the four cardinal sins and evils, And
demonic sins like murder; Who never has attended to scriptures, holy
music, or sacred verse-- By contemplation of the Supreme Being, With a
moment's remembrance of God shall he be saved.
Sikhism. Adi Granth, Sri Raga, M.5, p. 70
Hide thy face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Psalms 51.9-10
Shining brightly, Agni, drive away
our sin, and shine wealth on us.
Shining bright, drive away our sin.
For good fields, for good homes, for wealth,
we made our offerings to Thee.
Shining bright, drive away our sin....
So that Agni's conquering beams
may spread out on every side,
Shining bright, drive away our sin.
Thy face is turned on every side,
Thou pervadest everywhere.
Shining bright, drive away our sin.
Hinduism. Rig Veda 1.97.1-6
Of the sin against the gods Thou art atonement;
Of the sin against men Thou art atonement;
Of the sin against myself Thou art atonement;
Of every kind of sin Thou art atonement.
The sin that I have committed knowingly,
and that I have committed unawares,
Of all sins Thou art atonement.
Hinduism. Yajur Veda 8.13
Let him utter the name, Buddha Amitayus. Let him do so serenely with his
voice uninterrupted; let him be continually thinking of Buddha until he
has completed ten times the thought, repeating, "Adoration to Buddha
Amitayus." On the strength of [his merit of] uttering the Buddha's name he
will, during every repetition, expiate the sins which involve him in
births and deaths during eighty million kalpas.
Buddhism. Meditation on Buddha Amitayus 3.30
Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make
atonement for himself and for his house. Then he shall take the two
goats, and set them before the Lord at the door of the tent of meeting;
and Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the
other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot
fell for the Lord, and offer it as a sin offering; but the goat on which
the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make
atonement over it.... He shall kill the goat of the sin offering which is
for the people, and bring its blood within the veil, and sprinkle it upon
the mercy seat and before the mercy seat; thus he shall make atonement for
the holy place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel....
And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and
confess over him all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their
transgressions, all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the
goat, and send him away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in
readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities upon him to a
solitary land.... And it shall be a statute to you for ever that in the
seventh month, on the tenth day of the month... on this day shall
atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be
clean before the Lord.
Judaism. Bible, Leviticus 16.6-30
Qur'an 39.53: Cf. Qur'an 26.77-82, p. 137; 40.55, p. 743. Kipsigis
Tradition: Cf. p. 906. Rig Veda 5.85.7: Cf. Rig Veda 7.86.2-5, p. 904 and
note. Bhagavad Gita 9.30-31: Cf. Bhagavad Gita 18.66, p. 770; Srimad
Bhagavatam 6.1, p. 909. Sri Raga, M.5: On the four cardinal sins, cf.
Chandogya Upanishad 5.10.9, p. 463. Cf. Slok Vadhik, M.3, p. 904. Rig
Veda 1.97: This is a litany for the fire ritual. Agni, deity embodied in
fire, symbolically burns away sin and mental pollution through the ritual
fire. Rig Veda 1.97.1-6: Cf. Rig Veda 10.9.8-9, p. 854. Meditation on
Buddha Amitayus: In Pure Land Buddhism, compassion reaches to the
nethermost hells! The grace of Buddha Amitayus, the Buddha of Infinite
Life, or Buddha Amitabha (Jap. Amida), the Buddha of Infinite Light (who
are one in the same), is sufficient to save even the most reprobate
sinner. In the Amida Buddha's original vow, he pledged to save all
sentient beings who would repeat his name ten times; see Larger
Sukhavativyuha Sutra 8.18, p. 639. Leviticus 16.6-30: This is the ancient
ritual for the Day of Atonement. The Bible prescribes that the high
priest (Aaron) purify the altar and holy place with blood from the bull
and goat which are sacrificed, and that the sins of the congregation be
placed upon the head of a remaining goat (the 'scapegoat') who is led into
the wilderness. In modern Judaism the Day of Atonement is observed with
solemn fasting and the "sacrifice of prayer" which replace this archaic
ritual. Cf. Menahot 110a, pp. 864f. Hebrews 9.11-14: This passage
compares the sacrifice of Christ, who shed his blood on the cross for the
forgiveness of sins, with the above ritual of the Day of Atonement. It
emphasizes that Christ's sacrifice was 'once and for all,' 'securing an
eternal redemption,' while the atoning rites of the Old Testament were
only temporary and had to be repeated every year. Since Hebrews was
written after the Temple had been destroyed (in 70
But when Christ appeared as the high priest of the good things that have
come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands,
that is, not of this creation) he entered once and for all into the Holy
Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus
securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons
with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer
sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the
blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without
blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living
Christianity. Bible, Hebrews 9.11-14
[The Bodhisattva] Vajrasattva is white, with one face and two
hands, holding a scepter in his right hand and a bell in his left. He is
sitting in the adamantine posture embracing his consort, Dor-je Nyem-ma,
who is white, with one face and two hands, holding a curved knife in her
right hand and a skull-cap in her left.... Above a moon in Vajrasattva's
heart is a HUM and on the edge of the moon revolves the hundred-syllable
[I pray], "O Endowed Transcendent Destroyer Vajrasattva, I myself
and others request that you cleanse wrongs and hindrances from all
sentient beings and purify every weakened and broken sacred word of
honor." Having requested like this, from the HUM and the mantra-rosary in
his heart shine out radiant lights, cleansing the wrongs and hindrances
from all sentient beings, who come presenting offerings that delight the
Awakened Beings and their spiritual sons. Every excellence of their body,
speech and mind collects in the form of light and dissolves into the
mantra-rosary and the HUM. From there a white stream of nectar flows,
pouring from the place of union of the Lord and consort. It enters
through the pour aperture at the crown of my head, filling my whole body
with a stream of nectar of pristine awareness. I become puri- fied by the
cleansing of all evils and hindrances from my three doors.
"Through my ignorance and delusions I have transgressed and
weakened my pledges. O my spiritual master, protect me and be my refuge.
Lord who holds the adamantine scepter, the embodiment of great compassion,
the chief of beings, I go to you for refuge."
In answer Vajrasattva replies, "O child of my family, your wrongs
and hindrances and every broken and weakened commitment are cleansed and
puri- fied." Having spoken thus, he dissolves into me and my three doors
become inseparable from the perfect body, speech, and mind of Vajrasattva.
Buddhism. Cakrasamvara Tantra
Thus hearing the litany, and that there be
no blot of sin in the court or the country,
May the deities bestow their purification that
no offense remain, and
As the wind blows from its origin
to carry away the clouds of heaven,
Even as the wind of morning and the wind of evening
clears away the morning and evening mists,
As the ship in harbor casts off its moorings stem and stern
to be borne out onto the great plain of the sea, and
As the rank grasses beyond the river
are swept away with the clean stroke of the scythe--
Even so, may the deity Seoritsuhime-no-kami,
dwelling in the swift-flowing stream that
falls from the high mountains and low hills,
Carry away these sins and pollutions
without remain, to the wide sea plain.
Our sins thus swept away,
may the goddess Hayaakitsuhimi-no-kami,
who lives in the stream of the sea plain,
Open wide her great mouth
to engulf those sins and impurities, and
When they are thus imbibed,
May the god Ibukidonushi-no-kami,
dwelling in the place where breath is breathed,
blow them out with a great rushing breath.
And when he has thus banished them to the underworld,
may the goddess Hayasasurahime-no-kami disperse them
once and all.
Even in this way, may the sins of
all in the realm, from officials of the court
on down, every transgression within the land,
be washed away.
Shinto. Engishiki 8
Engishiki 8: This is a traditional litany for purification, recited at
Shinto shrines. Cf. Kojiki 11, pp. 729f.
God the Almighty has said, "O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and
ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not
mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and
were you to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam,
were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you
to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness
nearly as great as it."
Islam. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 42
Flowers like the lotus... do not grow on the dry ground in the wilderness,
but do grow in the swamps and mud banks. Just so, the Buddha-qualities do
not grow in living beings certainly destined for the uncreated but do grow
in those living beings who are like swamps and mud banks of passion.
Buddhism. Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 8
If you were not to commit sins, God would have swept you out of existence
and would have replaced you with another people who have committed sin,
and then asked God's forgiveness, that He might grant them pardon.
Islam. Hadith of Muslim
Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 42: Cf. Pesikta Rabbati 32b-33a, p. 785;
Canticles Rabbah 2.5, p. 764. Hadith of Muslim: Cf. Book of Mormon, 2
Nephi 2.19-26, p. 428 and note.