Buddhism; - sin and Salvation.
The Problem of sin is the problem for all mankind. It is an inescapable reality, whether we understand or grasp its true cause in the first fall of our original parents, known to us as 'original sin' or not, the problem still remains.
All the ancients could see the reality of our flawed human nature; that left to itself tends to corruption both in itself and in our moral tendencies. Hence we can see that all good men of the past have always taught the necessity to strive for virtue to help to counteract the natural tendencies of this defective human nature. That said, fighting against it is one thing, but overcoming it completely is another thing all together. What is more is there is always the dilemma, of past sins, and washing them away before the all powerful God who ultimately will hold us accountable for them. For as St. Paul could rightly point out: "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment" - Heb 9: 27
It is true that the burden of life and death are something that is laid upon us as a heavy burden. Hence we can see that in trying to escape this the Buddhist seeks as his ultimate goal, nirvana, or in Christian terms 'salvation'.
Ultimately sin at its core, is the turning away from God and turning to creatures as our ultimate end. At the heart of the problem, is that, we are not able to remove the consequence of that first original sin, namely death, and nor are we able to wash away the reality of our sins, for sin is an offence committed against God, who is infinite, hence we can never of our own accord wash away even one offence.
Sin, for the Christian, is to disobey God and fail to honour him as creator (Romans 1:21). Humans sin by trusting Satan’s lies (Genesis 3:1–7) and worshipping God’s creation rather than God (Romans 1:21–25). This great sin brings the punishment of death. No human is able to wash away that sin. That is why all people need salvation from sin; from God.
Buddha could recognise this dilemma hence we read :
'When Buddha was travelling and living in this world, there was an old Brahman priest who wore white robes who asked the Buddha, "How will all men and all Brahman continue in their merit-making so as to escape the results of sin?" - The Buddha answered, 'Even though all of you give alms according to the 5 precepts, the 8 preceps, the 10 precepts or the 227 precepts for 9 trillion years and you raise your hands and offer yourselves as a burnt offering, or you pray 5 times a day, you will still not escape the results of your sins. If you do this every day, your merit gained will only be equal to the smallest strand of hair of an unborn infant extremely small. You shall not enter heaven's doors.' (the religious encyclopedia, volume 23, book #29.)
Again, as he was approaching his death (483 B.C.) Buddha told his followers, "Regardless of how many laws you have kept, or even if you pray 5 times a day, you cannot be free from your sin." (Manuscript, Praising Temple, Chiengmai Thailand).
Hence it is clear that the Buddhist grasps the problem that sin presents to us. No man is able in reality to save himself. He needs his salvation from above. As Christ so well put it "Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit." - John 3:5-6.
In other words, our own flesh has its set limits only He that is from above can take away our sins and lead us by his divine power to that which is above. No amount of 'good works' as Buddha could see, is going to actually wash away our sins.
As much as the contemporary Buddhist may wish to claim that salvation is gained by ones own merits and wisdom, the reality is that Buddha himself could acknowledge that this was neither possible nor true.
No amount of wisdom or good works is sufficient to grant us forgiveness or grace. These things are beyond the human power. This why Christ points out in his conversation to Nicodemus that "no man hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven." - John 3: 13. In other words the world of heaven, the place of salvation is only known to us mortals by what is communicated to us from Him, who comes and lives there, namely Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, who came incarnate in human form to communicate that message to us and enlighten us from above to the reality of forgiveness, redemption and salvation.