This is a claim that Buddhists make, in part I believe because they look at the overly legalistic understanding of sin that is common among many Western Christians. In practice, it seems to me that they have something very close–they certainly have an understanding of wrongdoing and of selfish cravings that pull people away from compassion and enlightenment. I recognize that there are very different metaphysical assumptions behind the Buddhist doctrines of tanha and “unskillful actions.” But traditional Buddhism clearly doesn’t think that people are just fine and only need to relax and accept themselves (even Zen seems a bit edgier than that). They do have an understanding that radical change is needed, including practices of spiritual discipline that will result in inner transformation. (Yes, I know that in Mahayana this is about realizing what is already there, and that perhaps what I’ve said applies better to Theravada.)
live more peaceful lives. That the history of Buddhist nations is more peaceful.
As rossum says, I think this is more about Western ignorance of Asian history than anything else.
That Buddhist meditation really does give people a more transcendent experience of unity with God (or with the universe) than sitting in a cold church on your knees can do.
Well, there are some problems with modern Western Christian practice in that regard–pews were a bad idea from the start, in my opinion. The Orthodox have a much better approach, and one that is much more similar to medieval Western Christianity. But praying in a medieval church can be a powerful spiritual experience. You Europeans don’t know what you have! (Well, I’m actually a citizen of an EU member nation myself, but I’ve lived in the U.S. since I was six.)
Does anyone know the history of East Asia better than I do? Has Buddhism been used as an ideology to justify horrible things in much the same way that Christianity has?
The most glaring example of this is the use of Zen by the Japanese during WWII, which was preceded by centuries of links between Zen and the warrior ethos of the samurai. There are plenty of scandals in Buddhist countries if you pay attention. Not that I think listing the scandals of other religions is a good idea, but they are certainly there.
The bigger issue is that Buddhism coexists more comfortably than Christianity with cultural patterns that violate Buddhist teaching. Christianity has certainly compromised its ideals many times. But there has always been a good deal of discomfort with this. Because of the Buddhist understanding of rebirth and karma, it’s accepted that it may take people many lives to become enlightened. So in countries like Burma, which have been Buddhist for centuries, monarchs might do plenty of violent things and make up for it by building monasteries and donating to them lavishly (much like medieval Christian monarchs). People who engaged in such violent acts would be acquiring bad karma, but they could make up for it to some extent by supporting monks, and while they wouldn’t become enlightened right away they have plenty of lives to work on it.
Mahayana Buddhism holds out more hope of immediate enlightenment, which means that it may affect the lives of laypeople more directly. But for some reason Mahayana has rarely taken over a country entirely (Tibet is an exception if you consider Tibetan Buddhism Mahayana–it’s actually a somewhat different variant with heavy Tantric influence). In most Mahayana countries (China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam), Buddhism coexists with other traditions (Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto, etc.) and is generally seen as giving people hope for the afterlife rather than providing a comprehensive guide to daily life.
In other words, you can’t argue directly from Buddhist ideals to the behavior of lay Buddhists or Buddhist governments. There is at least as huge a gap there as in Christianity, and it seems to me that by and large Buddhists are less worried about this than Christians are. The positive side of our belief that we only have one life to get things right (which is arguably responsible in part for our greater hurry and worry) is that we are more disturbed by our failure to live up to our ideals.
At least, so it seems to me. I’m no expert on Buddhism.