In the early part of December I wrote a post titled "What's the Difference: An Authentic Look at World Faiths". Since then I have been thinking a bit about how different faiths answer the fundamental problems of our world. What do they say is at the root of war, famine, family struggles, etc. Being a Christian and having a B.A. in religious studies this has served to be an enriching project.
If you have questions you can either email them to me (check profile) or write a comment. Also, this is an editorial of sorts because after stating the truth claims of Christianity and Buddhism I follow them to what I see as the logical end, so keep that in mind. I should also say that if I come across as a bit of a hard-liner it is only in the effort to share truth. I have Buddhist friends (it's hard not to have them in Western Massachusetts) and we hang out often. And, oh yeah, I am still waiting for Matt to put his Deuteronomy post up--until then Deuteronomy ch.8 will have to wait. But, without further ado: What's the Difference II: Sin and Suffering.
Underlying all Christian beliefs is the most prominent Christian truth claim, namely Jesus death and resurrection, and one reason for it--as Christianity states--is sin. Sin is the fundamental state of all humans before God brings us into a relationship with himself, the root of it is in man's first assertion of self-dependence; since then sin has been passed down like a bad family heirloom all the way into our current historical context. Human sin, says Christianity, is responsible for wars, murders, theft, divorce, pollution, pretty much most of what we call crime. If sin is the problem, and as stated above Jesus Christ's death and resurrection is the solution, the road connecting the two is the word we hate: repentance. Repentance is literally to "turn away" from sin and turn towards God.
Buddhism, however, sees the problem as "suffering" (dukkha). The first of the Four Noble Truths is roughly: "all of life involves suffering". The second is that "suffering is the result of desire". The suffering and the problems of the world (see above) are the result of desire, accd. to Buddhism. Consequently, the solution to the problem of suffering is non-attachment, that we kick desire out like an unruly house guest. For Buddhism the solution is practiced through a variety of ways, traditionally it was monastic ascetism but for many western Buddhists meditation is a 'just as good' method of ridding one's attachment, and then suffering.
The difference between the two is vast. While Buddhism says that suffering is the major problem of the world Christianity says that suffering is the direct result of sin. The Christian says that while sin exists on this earth there will always be suffering. In so doing, Christianity sees the fundamental problem of the world not as suffering but as the cause of suffering, namely sin. The call to all humans then is to repent of both personal and corporate sin, only then will suffering begin to disappear as God's Kingdom and an New Creation take root in its place. Because Buddhism sees suffering as the main problem with the world, from a Christian perspective, it will never rid suffering from the world. The Buddhist quest to purge the soul of desire may be religiously athletic but in the end the world will still be messed up because sin is not addressed and Buddhists will be lacking the desire to really help uproot the problem at its root: sin. Thus, for the Christian, the purgation of desire is not a corrective to the world's fundamental problem. Further the best of Buddhist efforts to 'cure' the world end only in therapy, rather than repentance. This is so because if the problem is suffering then the best we can do is escape it and/or become insulated from it, rather than admitting that we are more often the catalyst for suffering, or to put it in Christian terms: that apart from Christ's redemptive work we are sinful.
Christians meanwhile by addressing the problem at its root and acknowledging that they are themselves the problem become renewed in Christ, by his death and resurrection, thus having renewed desire (rather than the Buddhist ideal of an absence of desire) to help usher in God's kingdom where there will be no death or mourning (Rev. 21:4) because the tree of sin will have been taken up by it's root, rather than clipping the branch of suffering off only for it grow back.