How Does Sin Apply to Yoga?


What is the definition of 'Sin' according to yogic terminology?

—Sukhmandeep, India


Dear Sukhmandeep,

Paramhansa Yogananda, whose teachings we follow at Ananda, addressed the notion of ‘sin.’ He met many orthodox Christians who, when discussing religion, spent most of their time decrying ‘sin’ and ‘sinners.’  Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Yogananda and the founder of Ananda, recorded many of Yogananda’s words on this subject. The explanations are so clear and helpful that it seems best to give you some direct quotes. These quotes come from The Essence of Self-Realization by Paramhansa Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda. This book is available in many forms (print, audio, digital) at and at major online book retailers such as

“What is sin?” asked a disciple. “Sin is error; it is born of ignorance,” replied the Master. “What is ignorance? What is error?” “Ignorance is the lack of awareness of soul realities, and the substitution of this dream of delusion for those realities. Error is any action that is based on that misconception.”

“Does not sin also mean breaking God’s commandments?” inquired the disciple. “Yes,” replied Yogananda. “But ask yourself this: Why did God give mankind those commandments? It wasn’t arbitrarily. And it certainly wasn’t to keep us from finding happiness. Rather, it was to warn us that certain kinds of behavior will strengthen delusion’s hold on our minds, and deprive us of true happiness. “If one thinks of sin as breaking God’s commandments, the thought then arises of God’s anger and stern judgment. But the Lord is our very own! We are His children. Why should He judge us? It is we, rather, who judge ourselves when we imagine that anything we do is beyond forgiveness. But if we understand sin as error, we realize that our errors can be rectified.”

Referring then to his own guru, Paramhansa Yogananda continued, “Sri Yukteswar used to say, as I wrote in Autobiography of a Yogi, ‘Forget the past. The vanished lives of all men are dark with many shames. Human conduct is ever unreliable until man is anchored in the Divine. Everything in future will improve if you are making a spiritual effort now.’ “I always like to remind people of this simple truth: A saint is a sinner who never gave up!” “The worst sin is to call yourself a sinner. For in that very thought you open the door, and invite sin to enter your mind.”

“A room may be in darkness for thousands of years, but if a light is brought into it, in that very instant the darkness vanishes. “So is it with sin. You cannot drive sin out of the mind any more than you can beat darkness out of a room with a stick. By concentration on delusion, indeed, you may only increase its hold on your mind. Bring in the light of God, however, through deep meditation and devotion, and the darkness will vanish as though it had never been.”

I hope these quotes are clarifying regarding the yogic conception of sin.

Many blessings to you,
Nayaswami Mukti