Why Do We Need to Be Saved: Buddhist and Christian Views Explored

November 1, 2006

Why do Buddhists say that grasping is the cause of suffering? Suffering is the first noble truth, and grasping is the second. Rather, is not suffering the cause of grasping? Why would we grasp unless we suffered? And why do we suffer? Because we delude ourselves about the nature of reality? And why do we do this? Not even the wise know.**

Buddhists and Christians can agree that the actual state of the world (which includes ourselves), at least as we perceive it and experience it, is disordered.  Why?  As I understand the Buddhist answer, it is: because we are deluded and therefore grasp.  The Christian answer is: because man disobeyed God and sinned.  Yet we should not ignore the very intimate link between delusion and sin, and thus it may be that the real difference between the Buddhist view and the Christian view is not as great as is commonly believed.   

Sin leads to delusion and delusion leads to sin. Christianity take aim primarily at sin, while not ignoring delusion. Buddhism takes aim at delusion, and though its notion of sin is relatively weak it does exist.

What is the fundamental delusion? Go back to Genesis. It is the lie told to Eve by the serpent, and it has two elements. First, man is not like God and must therefore do something to become like God. Second, in order to become like God man must do what God has forbidden him to do: know good from evil. The serpent’s temptation is thus the temptation to regard the universe in dualistic terms. Buddhist enlightenment means snapping out of this delusion and thereby returning to a state of original innocence, a state of oneness with the universe. Moral conduct — the Eightfold Path (e.g., right speech, right livelihood) — is seen as an aid to the attainment of enlightenment as well as the kind of action that flows naturally from a fully enlightened person.

For Christians, overcoming the fall and its effects requires participation in the paschal mystery of Christ who, being both God and man, is able through his sacrifice to reconcile man to God and restore man’s original innocence. Christ surely conquers sin, but he is also the Light and the Truth. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, Christ “fully reveals God to man and man to himself.” And how does he do this? In his own person he embodies the unity of God and man and by his life and teaching he calls man back to the life of innocence from which man turned his back in the garden of Eden.

That is why, for example, Christ rejects Moses’ law on divorce, which was given to men because of the hardness of their hearts, and restores marriage to its state “in the beginning,” a state of perfect oneness. Who can practice the beatitudes but one who lives in innocence and simplicity? Why does Christ say we must become like little children to enter the kingdom of God? Christ calls us to oneness with God and each other. He calls us to move beyond knowing good from evil to a life of wholeness, simplicity, gratitude, and, above all, self-giving love.

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One Response to “Why Do We Need to Be Saved: Buddhist and Christian Views Explored”

  1. Mike L. Says:

    What is the fundamental delusion? Go back to Genesis

    I agree with your notion that Genesis is very similar in nature to the buddhist perspective. I would also add that this concept of gaining “the knowledge of good and evil” is a metaphorical reference to the human species evolutionary development of self consciousness. It is this knowledge of our “self” that creates disconnection. The buddhist goal of anatta (no self) is the illimination of the “state of sin” that results from our attachments and self-centeredness.

    In the end, both traditions are very much about “dying to self” or anatta. Thanks for this post!


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