question As a Christian moral philosopher, I find very obvious evidence of sin entering the subconscious minds of humans as habits of thoughts and actions which become psychologically conditioned over time with positive reinforcements causing humans to do destructive things which are not rational. Buddhists of course do not see any such problem. That nihilism is not credible, and it promotes the problem instead of overcoming it.
answer Advayavada Buddhism maintains that by following a Path such as the Middle Way as taught by us one is able to return to the fold of an overall existence which, expressed purely in terms of human perception and experience, is undeniably sequential and dynamic in the sense of ever becoming better than before. It is an extraordinary teaching, with enormous societal implications, because the Buddhist Path is, of course, applicable, not only to individuals as you and I, but to societies as well. As things stand now, however, humanity lacks the qualities required to govern itself properly, and this fact is at present very much aggravated by the prevailing dumbing-down tendency undermining the entire Western world.
question Is it not quite apparent that there is a sin problem which is not being solved – in Buddhism as well as every place else?
answer The shambles humanity is in is, indeed, the result of sin and ignorance. The recurrence of genocide is particularly sad and disappointing. But we must be careful not to become a carrier of sin and part of the problem ourselves by refusing to place our trust in the whole, by whatever name you wish to identify it, and in the resilient natural goodness of our Buddha-nature – the major religions and beliefs, which cynically cultivate and live off the failings of humanity, including their own, are unfortunately on the rise again. Our own clear and important message and invocation is instead one of reconciliation with the wonders of overall existence. Nirvana, which is there for all, is indeed when we experience our own existence in the present moment as being completely in tune with existence as a whole becoming over time now in its right direction – the total extinction of all suffering is a direct result of our full reconciliation with reality as it truly is beyond our commonly limited and biased, and all too often sadly deluded, personal experience of it.
question I’m curious to know how dependent origination, pratityasamutpada, fits in with your idea of progress as the fourth sign of being.
answer Interdependent origination is how wondrous overall existence becomes over time. “Dependent origination is the explicability and coherence of the universe. Its emptiness is the fact that there is no more to it than that” (Jay L. Garfield, The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, New York 1995). Now karma, as we see it, is our share of interdependent origination at the sentient level, including personal choices and responsibility – karma is, so to say, our stake in incessant pratityasamutpada, and what we feel and experience as good, right, wholesome, and beneficial, indeed as progress, is that which accords with the overall, otherwise indifferent, direction of existence becoming over time. The Taoist sage follows the Tao by imitating Nature – the Advayavadin understands the Noble Eightfold Path as nothing less than an ongoing reflexion at the human level, and in human terms, of the whole of existence becoming over time: the Advayavadin sees the Buddha as the prophet of existence as it truly is, as it truly is beyond our own commonly limited and biased personal experience of it.