Sins and Buddhism

I wrote earlier this week, "Buddhism has no concept of sin; therefore, redemption and forgiveness in the Christian sense are meaningless in Buddhism." Now I get an email (sender may remain anonymous unless he chooses to identify himself) which says,

Of course there are sins in Buddhism. We know because they are numbered as are most things in the faith. It is unfortunate that casual "buddhists" are seen as authorities, and not just someone with a laptop.

I can ignore the insult that I'm just some dilettante with a laptop. I don't claim to be an authority, exactly, and I'm certainly no teacher, just a sincere if imperfect student. However, today I'm a bit overwhelmed with some other matters and could use some help explaining the "no sins in Buddhism" thing.

Here's my quick take. First, let's be sure we all agree what "sin" means. The google toolbar coughed out these definitions:

  • estrangement from god
  • an act that is regarded by theologians as a transgression of God's will
  • sine: ratio of the length of the side opposite the given angle to the length of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle
  • (Akkadian) god of the Moon; counterpart of Sumerian Nanna
  • commit a sin; violate a law of God or a moral law
  • the 21st letter of the Hebrew alphabet
  • drop the ball: commit a faux pas or a fault or make a serious mistake; "I blundered during the job interview"
  • violent and excited activity; "they began to fight like sin"

So, while "sin" can refer, in casual speech, to any sort of misconduct -- not to mention the Akkadian god of the moon -- the formal definition infers a belief in God. Also, in Buddhism the only "law" we speak of is the law of dharma, the law of cause and effect. The Precepts are not approached as laws but as disciplines for training. Hence, breaking a Precept is unskillful, but not a "sin." Do we need to discuss this further?

Related -- first it was the Family Research Council twisting my meaning out of context, now it's Bill O'Reilly. I'm concerned that I've done something that's being used to slander the dharma.