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April 24, 2019


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"When there is the view that the soul is the same as the body, there isn't the leading of the holy life. And when there is the view that the soul is one thing and the body another, there isn't the leading of the holy life. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata points out the Dhamma in between: From birth as a requisite condition comes aging & death."

"Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance, every one of these writhings & wrigglings & wigglings — 'Which aging & death? And whose is this aging & death?' or 'Is aging & death one thing, and is this the aging & death of someone/something else?' or 'The soul is the same as the body,' or 'The soul is one thing and the body another' — are abandoned, their root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising."


The idea that Christ is the covering of snow and that the sinner remains dung underneath is contrary even to Protestant understanding. Of course God does not judge a man by his merely having a garment of professed belief, which is what such a covering of snow would be in this analogy. The teaching, rather, is that God transforms sinners. Protestants say that man is totally depraved (dung) while Orthodox would say that man is distorted while still having an essentially good nature (made in the image of God) but both would agree that God heals man's sinfulness, not merely covers it over.

While I'm not going to defend contemporary protestant "Christianity," your characterization is erroneous according to more traditional interpretations. Scripture teaches that man is made in the image of God. So if Luther said that man is dung, then his teaching is in contradiction to Christian tradition. Probably Luther's idea came from his Catholic background, since Catholicism differs from Orthodoxy in, among other things, over-emphasizing original sin. Luther simply takes that a step further, as does Calvin with his doctrine of "total human depravity." The Orthodox position on original sin is quite different from all of this.

Consider, however, the applicability of both teachings - Christian "original sin" and Buddhist "basic goodness" - in terms of skillful means. The doctrine of original sin, while it can be distorted, should give rise to humility and a frank acceptance of one's flaws and faults. That human beings have evil inside of us and a capacity for evil is an empirically verifiable fact. The Buddhist doctrine of "basic goodness," while not dissimilar to the Christian teaching that man is made in the image of God, nonetheless has a tendency to encourage people to gloss over their faults and capacity for evil. I've met many a Western Buddhist with a kind of happy go lucky superficial attitude because "everything has Buddha nature, man!" Of course there are analogous superficial Christians as well. But I think a case can be made that the Christian approach lends itself more to realism.

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