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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Karma Is a Chameleon

I get so dad gum tired of people talking about Karma: "Karma is a bitch. At least karma will take care of it. My karma ran over your dogma." Everyone in America seems to parrot some line about karma when someone else does them wrong. Most have no idea what they are professing when they use this term. Rote has made it virtually meaningless to the popular culture of the United States.

Yes, I'm sure when some people refer to karma as punishment for someone's wrong, they mean "that person deserved that." However, what do Christians truly mean when they profess a believe in karma? Aren't they actually saying they believe that "what goes around, comes around"?

Karma (from the Sanskrit word karman, meaning "to act") is defined as "the total effect of a person's actions and conduct during the successive phases of the person's existence, regarded as determining the person's destiny." Those who believe in karma believe the effect of one's actions brings upon oneself inevitable results, good or bad, either in this life or in a reincarnation.

Karma is a religious belief system adopted by Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist philosophies. In Hinduism, maintaining good karma is one means of reaching Brahman -- the eternal, unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality which is the Divine Ground of all matter, energy, time, space, being, and everything beyond in the Universe. Now that is quite a thorny affirmation.

The theory of karma is all about the cycle of cause and effect. Actually, karma is not about punishment or reward. To believers, an understanding of karma makes a person responsible for his own life and how he treats other people. This belief also dovetails into a person's self-determination and strong will power to abstain from inactivity because his actions, both good and bad, come back to him in the future, helping him to learn from life's lessons and become a better person.

The belief differentiates human beings from other creatures of the world. Karma extends through one's present life and all past and future lives as well. The law of karma also states that the actions performed in previous births play a crucial role in future births. So, karma involves keeping a running tab of accountable actions throughout multiple lives.

According to karma, a person cannot escape from his actions. Good deeds will take a person closer to bliss on earth (Moksha) and bad deeds lead to suffering. Karma thus serves two main functions within Hindu philosophy:

1. It provides the major motivation to live a moral life, and

2. It serves as the primary explanation of the existence of evil.

Many Hindus believe the soul, at death, is carried by a subtle body into a new physical body which can be a human or non-human form (an animal or divine being). The goal of liberation (moksha) is to make people free from this cycle of action and reaction, and from rebirth. (Gavin Flood, "Hindu Concepts," BBC, August 24 2009) 

The theory of karma harps on the Newtonian principle that every action produces an equal and opposite reaction: every time people think or do something, they create a cause, which, in time, will bear its corresponding effects. And this cyclical cause and effect generates the concepts of the world (samsaru), birth and reincarnation. It is the personality of a human being (the jivatman),with its positive and negative actions, that causes karma.

In karma, everything affects everything else. In The Secret Doctrine Blavatsky does not see karma as a mechanical "eye for an eye" law at all. She sees karma continuously restoring the harmonious state of the cosmos whenever it is disturbed. She calls it "the source, origin and fount of all the laws which exist throughout Nature".

The theory that humans live in an interconnected, interdependent universe in which all things everywhere exist in a complex and dynamic web of interrelationships, is fast gaining acceptance in philosophical and scientific circles. This is in tune with the underlying essence of the karma doctrine.Its fundamental aspect is its balancing role in nature. 

The karmic law is more organic than deterministic.Aldous Huxley reminds us that the karmic equivalence of action and reward is not always obvious and material. "The bad man in prosperity may, unknown to himself, be darkened and corroded with inward rust, while the good man under afflictions may be in the rewarding process of spiritual growth," says Huxley.( P. Prabhath, "Hinduism -- Understanding the Workings of Karma,"

According to the ways of life chosen by a person, his karma can be classified into three kinds:

1. Satvik karma without attachment, selfless and for the benefit of others

2. Rajasik karma where the focus is on gains for oneself

3. Tamasik karma, supremely selfish and savage, undertaken without heed to consequences

In this context Dr. D N Singh in his A Study of Hinduism, quotes Mahatma Gandhi's lucid differentiation between the three. According to Gandhi, the tamasik works in a mechanic fashion, the rajasik drives too many horses, is restless and always doing something or other, and the satvik works with peace in mind.

 Where Does Karma Clash With Christianity?

Most Christian scholars believe the laws of karma are not all at all compatible with Christianity. Christianity teaches that human all have done bad things, and they all deserve punishment, but they can't atone for their misdeeds by trying to do good deeds. Salvation and eternal life (the reward) is only found through Christ. No person is more or less deserving of the reward.

Some confusion is bound to exist with the Biblical reference "you reap what you sow." Christianity holds that God can thwart the reaping of the wicked. But, on earth, many wicked souls prosper in their material ways. God, alone, determines their heavenly rewards.

In Jeremiah 12:1 one can see that the wicked actually REAP (prosper) in this world! “Righteous are You, O LORD, that I would plead my case with You; Indeed I would discuss matters of justice with You: Why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?”

Understand that Christianity believes in grace, not in karma. They are two completely contradictory ideas. How can a true believer profess adherence to both?  Karma says you get the reward or punishment that you deserve. Grace says, "You get the reward even if you deserve the punishment."

According to the Bible, atonement and forgiveness may be gained only through the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Salvation is based solely upon the work of Jesus Christ, not upon a person's merits. The concepts of reincarnation and karma are in clear contrast to Hebrews 9:27. "For it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment." Paul clearly states that the soul does not transmigrate into another living body, but goes to await judgment.

Reincarnation? For the Christian, Paul promised that death is the means to being in the presence of Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:8: "We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord (heaven). It is clear that the Bible does not allow for the Hindu concept of reincarnation. (Mark Van Bebber, "Reincarnation: Does the Bible Allow for This Possibility?"

To Christians, nothing people think, say or do determines a karmic cycle, for the Bible tells them that their “righteous works” are as filthy rags to the Lord. Isaiah 64:6 proclaims: "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." Their righteousness is only in Jesus Christ, their Savior (2 Corinthians 5:21).

It is not by faith in one's works (karma), but by one's faith in Him whereby he is saved. Ephesians 2:8-9 states: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast."

In fact, those who have the attitude of “entitlement” because of good works (even works done in His name) will be told to “Depart from Me, you who work iniquity!” (Matthew 25:41).


Ok, you say, "I just use the word karma in general terms, not as a profession of faith." I have no problem with that. But, couldn't we who have religious professions other than reincarnation, etc. just make the reference a cliche and leave it alone for a generation or two. Instead of thinking karma will punish wrongdoers, maybe we should be leave the judgment to God. Let's replace "Karma is a bitch" with "God's grace be upon you."

"Love conquers everything, even karma." -L. Mettrie

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