The First of Buddhism’s “Four Noble Truths” is, “that composite things (existing phenomena) are, by their very nature, in a state of dukkha.  There no no precise English equivalent for thatterm, which encompasses dissatisfaction, anxiety, frustration, suffering, pain and misery” (Nigosian, 2000, p. 82).  Salvation, then, for Buddhists, means the extinction (Nirvana) of dukkha.  That is, because misery and suffering stem from Tanha (a desire or craving for sentient material possessions or intellectual gratification…deliverance from that suffering means the elimination of desire (Nigosian, 2000, p. 82). So, the ultimate salvific goal of the Buddhist is to be delivered from suffering via the extinction of all desire.

There is inherent contradiction in what Buddhism posits here. That is, if the elimination of desire is the ultimate goal, how can a Buddhist justify the pursuit of Nirvana? Is not the pursuit of the extinction of desire stem from inherent human desire? The pursuit of Nirvana (inspired by desire for freedom from suffering) actually perpetuates the very problem Nirvana is intended to solve.

“Buddha taught that those who follow the Noble Eightfold Path, will ultimately break the bonds that tie them to life and to their craving for existence” (Nigosian, 2000, p. 83). How can Buddha teach that deliverance lies in the elimination of craving while maintaining that it is desire for deliverance itself that drives one to pursue the very Noble Eightfold Path itself?

Christianity, on the other hand, suggests that it is not desire at all that is the source of the human dilemma of suffering. While Christianity maintains that suffering is certainly a problem, the source of that problem is a broken relationship with the Creator God. While desire plays a role in Christian redemption, it is not the elimination of desire that characterizes the Christian message, rather, the reshaping of the human will towards that which is good. It is restored (justification) and maintained (sanctification) relationship with the Creator God that transforms not only human desire, but the individual and communal identity altogether. The result of this is suffering becomes an opportunity for transformation. Suffering is to be embraced by the transformed heart of the Christian, as demonstrated by the Cross event.

This is why Christianity offers a true redemption. Buddhism offers escape from human suffering and Christianity offers a change in the posture of the human heart that allows for suffering to become a powerfully redemptive dynamic in the lives of believers.  Rather than pursuing the extinction of all desire (and I would contend personhood as well), Christians have the chance to obtain self-actualization through reconciliation with the Creator God and other persons.

Reference

Nigosian, S.S. (2000). World Religions: A Historical Approach. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.


Matt Ayars

President of Wesley Biblical Seminary

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