Many believe that this judgment takes place within a person's lifetime through sufferings for acts committed, and one does not have to wait for the end of time. The basic belief of Christianity is that there is a Christian God, who is benevolent and giving, but who is also a vengeful God. In fact, a large part of Pilgrim theology was premised on God being vengeful, and that self sacrifices were needed to appease God. Christians also believe that Christ was the son of God, who came to fulfill the Messianic prophecy espoused by sages from the Old Testament. Goodness, kindness, good deeds, generosity, honesty are divinely inspired. Christians keep Christ as a cherished beacon to be emulated every step of the way. Good deeds (which would satisfy Buddhists) without true faith is meaningless.
The Buddhists have an assigned eight-step path to enlightenment. These are not far removed from any thing a practicing Christian would espouse, except for the lack of divine intervention. The eight points are Samma-Ditth, Samma-Sankappa, Samma-Vaca, Samma-Kammanta, Samma-Ajiva, Samma-Vayama, Samma-Sati and Samma-Samadhi. These are related to clarity of vision that is being able to pursue a proper path and have the foresight and planning, having the right thoughts, the right modes of communication, moral actions, pursuing a moral means of livelihood, pursuing a life that one gives fully of oneself -- with energy and devotion, being completely aware of self and the surroundings. The last has to do with developing a sense of self-awareness through meditation and concentration. (Easwaran 1986)
When sin is considered from a Christian standpoint, the Ten Commandments bear the standard for moral living. (Meeks 1993) These Ten Commandments were communicated to Moses on Mount Sinai, directly from God. These commandments were given to Moses during the Exodus from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, or what is now Israel. The commandments were timely, because those fleeing were beginning to be disgruntled from the 40-year journey and many yearned to be back in Egypt where they at least did not have to fend for themselves. While, for Christians, the path to salvation is through unshakeable faith, the Ten Commandments, when upheld make for proper Christian religion. These commandments admonish to believer to believe in God, reserve at least one day a week to celebrate God's glory, the be obedient to one's parents, to respect the integrity of somebody else's possessions, to not steal or kill, and to be unfailingly honest.
The Roman Catholic church categorizes the life of its followers into seven stages (or sacraments), beginning with Baptism and ending with Extreme Unction, which has now been changed to Anointing of the Sick and can be received at any time, not only at death bed. Catholics believe that the process of baptism, which involves pouring of water on the head or dipping in water of the person who is being baptized, actually washes away the taint of original sin. Other than original sin, Christians acknowledge two main kinds of sin: venial sin and mortal sin. The first kind is a non-serious transgression and mortal sins are reserved for dangerous actions such as murder. Among the Catholics, sins may be washed away by going to Confession. But when the time for salvation comes, at the time of the second coming, when the world, as we know it, is at an end, is when the cumulative effects of sins are measured before the final decision of the fruits of paradise or the bowels of hell are made. Here then, there is ambiguity as to the effect of sins. Is the cleansing from confession and penance lasting?
The Buddhists do not believe in sin because they believe in karmic consequences or the concept of cause-and-effect. In the United States, context of karma, the Buddhists use a word which comes very close to Christian sin -- thought, not quite. This word is dukkha. (Raatnam 2003)
This work is very close (and perhaps a variant) to a word that recurs in several Sanskrit based Indian languages, the word is "dukha" sorrow or its antonym, "sukha," which means happiness or fulfillment. The word dukkha for Buddhists has many meanings that are subtly nuanced. And sadness is just one of them. It is critical to recognize though that all acknowledgements of wrong-doing and awareness is internalized and does not come externally, from a deity.
Dukkha, according to some find its origins in words such as dus-stha (Prakrit -- another ancient language like Sanskrit) or duskha (Sanskrit). The "du" is a prefix that means wrong, ill and have negative connotations, not unlike the English negators "dis-," "non-" and "un-." The word dukkha alternates between meanings of unease, or unsteady, miserable, frustrating and at one extreme, even sorrow and anguish. From a perspective of what motivated Gautama Buddha to seek enlightenment, dukkha collective has come to connote pain, suffering, death and illness, the very trials from which he sought to escape through enlightenment. This is where dukkha as an impediment to enlightenment (in that it has to be overcome) begins to resemble sin, if only as an impediment to attaining the bliss of paradise.
Dukkha, we have seen above, has a place in every one's life within the context of an individual's existence and his or her interactions with others in society. But within the context of Buddhist philopshy, dukkha also has a position of permanence. Enlightenment marks a period of transition from normal life (or existence) to a state of grace or nirvana. In Buddhism, normal existence is characterized by three marks. Dukkha (as defined above) is one. The other two are annica, which indicate the circle of life, that nothing is permanent and everything goes through a cyclic period of rebirth, growth and earth; and, anatta, which is the essence of an individual, which might also be considered as the soul. This soul mirrors the changes in the individuality of a person.
Buddhism's path to grace is marked by the Four Noble truths and dukkha plays a prominent role in all of them. The first truth is that one has to acknowledge that dukkha is a part and parcel of our lives, no matter how much we try to get away from in. The second truth informs us that our suffering and anguish or dukkha is a result of a combination of struggling to make ours what may or not belong to us, and keeping away something we consider unsavory but might need. The third truth informs us that Nirvana is attainable, as long as one acknowledges and learns to get beyond the mundane, which is another word for dukkha. The fourth noble truth tells disciples that dukkha may lie in attempting to grasp the wrong meanings of teachings in the path to enlightenment. It asks that we do not focus only on the teachings, but learn from them, use them in our lives and make them a means to an end, not an end until itself. (dhammapada, eknath easwaran)
When distilled down to an individual's way of life, whether from an internalization (Buddhism) or from following divine edicts (Christianity), the best way to look at an individual's behavior in society, to his fellow man, is a manifestation of his or her religious beliefs or philosophy on life. And from that standpoint, there's no doubt that the moral thoughts, words and actions that one will see from a Christian and a Buddhist will really not distinguish them from each other. Whether overcoming sin or working through dukkha, the ills of this world have permanence about them and how we live with and through it is a testament to our beliefs. There is no doubt therefore, that Christians and Buddhists can live and work with each other, recognizing that no matter what the inspiration and background they work for a common good.
Bernstein, Alan E. The Formation of Hell: Death and Retribution in the Ancient and Early Christian Worlds. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993.
Bowker, John Westerdale. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Easwaran, Eknath. The Dhammapada. Petaluma, Calif.: Nilgiri Press, 1986.
Meeks, Wayne a. The Origins of Christian Morality: The First Two Centuries. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.
Raatnam, Ram Kumar. Dukkha: Suffering in Early Buddhism. Ed.…
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