Karma and Reincarnation | After Life | Atma | Rebirth | Hell

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Reincarnation

Karma and Reincarnation | After Life | Atma | Rebirth | Hell

What is Karma?
Karma can be thought of as similar to Isaac Newton’s 3rd law of motion: every action must be followed by an equal and opposite reaction. When Newton discovered that law, however, he didn’t realize, or at least didn’t mention, that the same principle applies to emotions and behavior. If we get really excited, we will inevitably feel tired and depressed later. If we hurt someone, someone will later hurt us. Even our desires cause karma; they must eventually be satisfied or overcome. However, if we hurt someone unintentionally or if what we desire is also the right thing, then there is a much smaller repercussion.

Karma is a natural law – just like gravity is a natural law. It is not about punishment, and certainly not about vengeance. It is perfectly exact, just and fair and applies to everything and everyone in creation. It can be speeded up, and slowed down – but never avoided; hence it is sometimes termed the law of inevitability. In essence it is Divine simplicity itself – but its manifestations can be highly complex.

It is surprising how universal the fundamental precepts of karma are – in religion, popular culture and even science. In the Bible it says “…whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7), which describes karma simply, but perfectly. “Action and reaction are opposite and equal” stated Newton in his third law of motion, a definition commonly used to describe karma in Buddhism. In everyday conversation, people sometimes say “what goes around, comes around”, which is a loose but nevertheless truthful description of karma. The word “karma” – and the basic concept behind it – appear in songs, television programs and movies – and most people in the western world seem to have some grasp of what karma is about.

When people refer to a person’s karma, they are referring to the person’s past actions and feelings that are waiting to be balanced out with it’s opposite. As long as we have unfulfilled desires and actions that have not yet been repaid (good or bad), we we must reincarnate to neutralize them, which keeps us from merging completely in God. The difficulty is that each time we come back to balance out our previous actions, we create even more karma. Before we know it we have lived millions of lifetimes and have a seemingly insurmountable store of karma.

Of course there is free will, or how we choose to respond to a situation. If someone hurts you, and you hurt them back, then they hurt you back, this cycle of karma could go on indefinitely.

Karma gives us all individual tuition 24 hours a day. Each lesson is perfectly tailored to our spiritual needs, and we are never presented with any test we cannot pass. Karma gives us experience, and experience gives us the opportunity to learn to live in harmony with the eternal laws which are God. As we learn, we advance – coming ever closer to ever higher spiritual states of consciousness, and enjoying ever greater spiritual freedom.

Viewed in this light – the terms “good karma” and “bad karma” become almost meaningless in a way – because in fact all karma is good for us, even if it might feel unpleasant in the short term.

Reincarnation and karma are core concepts for several religions of India, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

Basically, both concepts have to do with an understanding of time and how we as human beings are propelled forward through life in time.

Reincarnation is sometimes called transmigration of the soul. To believe in this is to believe that the soul migrates through many different physical lifetimes. The soul undergoes rebirths into different kinds of lives – human, animal or even supernatural – until it reaches its final destination.

So, reincarnation implies a cyclical understanding of time instead of a linear understanding. In the Western world, people tend to think of time in a linear way – you are born, you live, then you die. Depending on one’s belief about afterlife, the soul may live forever in a place of suffering or blessing. But, it does not return to earth to live again as a human or animal.

Those who believe in reincarnation, however, hold to a cyclical view of time in which the soul undergoes cycles of life, death and rebirth. The soul may be born into a human body and then, when the human body dies, it may be reborn into an animal body or the body of a supernatural being (angels, demons, etc.). This cycle may be repeated many hundreds of times.

What propels the soul forward from life to life? What determines the kind of rebirth or life the soul will have in the future? The answer is karma.

Karma is the positive or negative energy that accompanies all actions of moral worth. Hitting someone with a stick brings negative karma to the person who does it. Using the stick for a positive reason brings positive karma to the person.

So, each person – each soul or atman – goes through life doing both positive and negative actions and accumulating the karmic energy or “baggage” that comes with them. The nature of one’s karma determines the nature of one’s rebirths in futures lives. Negative karma over many lifetimes will cause an unfavorable rebirth as an animal. Positive karma will cause a favorable rebirth as a human or auspicious spiritual being.

This belief in karma and its impact on future rebirths is at the heart of basic ethical sensibilities in Hinduism and in all the other religions that affirm it. People should do good actions and avoid bad actions so as to not accumulate bad karma to themselves.

Karma and reincarnation are inseparable and reincarnation is a logical consequence of karma. When someone dies, they will not have worked out all their karma. What has been “sown”, will not all have been “reaped”, and there will not have been an “opposite and equal” reaction to their every thought and action. Therefore, logically speaking, although they have left their body, they cannot cease to exist. They have to come back.

Between incarnations we spend a period of time on another “plane”, also called another “realm”, of Earth, which exists at a different frequency of vibration. These realms are physical – but physical at a higher or lower frequency than this realm. The existence of these realms explains the orthodox notions of “heaven” and “hell” – the higher realms being the “heavens”, and the lower realms – the “hells”. After death, we go to the realm which best suits our level of spiritual evolution, prior to being reborn here. The more basic level, or levels, of so-called “heaven” are sometimes referred to as “the spirit world”.

When all the lessons which reincarnation on Earth can offer have been learnt, we then either go through the initiation of Ascension, or begin the experience cycle of another, more advanced planet.


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Karma in the Dharma based Religions

Hinduism

Karma first came into being as a concept in Hinduism, largely based on the Vedas and Upanishads. One of the first and most dramatic illustrations of Karma can be found in the great Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. The original Hindu concept of karma was later enhanced by several other movements within the religion, most notably Vedanta, Yoga, and Tantra.

Hinduism sees karma as immutable law with involuntary and voluntary acts being part of a more intricate system of cause and effect that is often not comprehensible to one bound by karma. It is the goal of the Hindu, as expressed succinctly in the Bhagavad Gita, to embrace a ‘sattvic’ lifestyle and thus avoid creating more karma (karma is not qualified as good or bad). By ceasing to create more karma, the jiva-atma or individual soul is able to move closer to moksha, or liberation.

To the Hindu, karma is the law of the phenomenal cosmos that is part and parcel of living within the dimensions of time and space. All actions, thoughts, vibrations of any sort, are governed by a law that demands perfect rebound. So all jiva-atmas (individual souls) must experience karma if they live and experience the phenomenal universe. To escape the cycle of life, death and rebirth, one must exhaust one’s karma and realize one’s true Self as the highest truth of Oneness that is Brahman (or for dvaitists (dualists) bliss with the Supreme Godhead).

In Hinduism, karma is of three kinds:

Prarabadha Karma

This karma is unchangeable within the scope of one life, since it is the ‘setup’ for the life in question. It is the karma of one’s past lives. After death, the atma leaves the body, as the casting off of old vestments, and carries with it the samskaras (impressions) of the past life of thoughts and actions and events. These samskaras manifest themselves in the unchangeable situation into which one is born and certain key events in one’s life. These include one’s time of death (seen as governed by an allotment from birth of the total number of one’s breaths for that life), one’s economic status, one’s family (or lack of family), one’s body type and look: essentially, the setting of one’s birth, the initial base.

Samchita Karma

The samskaras that one inherits from the last lives create one’s personality, inclinations, talents, the things that make up one’s persona. One’s likings, abilities, attitudes and inclinations are based on the thoughts and actions of past lives. One’s samchita karma is somewhat alterable through practice and effort towards change. This might be seen through the Hindu system of yoga and the dynamic of the gunas. An example would be someone who, through meditation, slowly evolved into a more stable personality.

Agami Karma

Agami karma is the karma of the present life over which the soul has complete control. Through it one creates one’s karma in the present for the future of the current life and in life-times to come.
The Hindu cannot say, sometimes, if a major event in life is the doing of Prarabadha or Agami Karma. The idea of “bad things happening to good people” is seen by the Hindu as a result of Prarabadha Karma, more simply understood as karma from a past life.

In Hinduism, karma works within a cyclical framework that sees the phenomenal universe being created and eventually dissolving back into itself, back into realization that it was nothing other than Maya imposed on the truth of Brahman. So Karma will eventually be worked out.

Karma does allow for anirudh (Divine Grace). Through exceeding devotion and love of God, the Hindu believes one can be helped to speed through Karma phal (Karmic fruit). By developing ‘vairagya’ or ‘detachment’ from the fruits of one’s karma, as Lord Krishna most famously summarized, one can transcend karma and be liberated. One is aided by love of God. All the Yogas of Hinduism seek to transcend karma through different means of realization.

Buddhism

In Buddhism, only intentional actions are karmic “acts of will”. Often misunderstood in the West as “cause and effect”, in actuality, Karma literally means “action” – often indicating intent or cause. Accompanying this usually is a separate tenet called Vipaka, meaning result or effect. The re-action or effect can itself also influence an action, and in this way, the chain of causation continues ad infinitum. When Buddhists talk about karma, they are normally referring to karma that is ‘tainted’ with ignorance – karma that continues to ensure that the being remains in the everlasting cycle of samsara.
This samsaric karma comes in two ‘flavours’ – good karma, which leads to high rebirth (as a deva, asura, or human), and bad karma which leads to low rebirth (as a hell-sufferer, as a preta, or as an animal).

There is also a completely different type of karma that is neither good nor bad, but liberating. This karma allows for the individual to break the endless cycle of rebirth, and thereby leave samsara permanently.

This seems to imply that one does not need to act in a good manner. But the Buddhist sutras explain that in order to generate liberating karma, we must first develop incredibly powerful concentration. This concentration is akin to the states of mind required to be reborn in the Deva realm, and in itself depends upon a very deep training in ethical self-discipline.

This differentiation between good karma and liberating karma has been used by some scholars to argue that the development of Tantra depended upon Buddhist ideas and philosophies.

Understanding the universal law of Karma provides order to a beginningless and endless universe. Alongside this view is the related notion of Buddhist rebirth – sometimes understood to be the same thing as reincarnation – which has its roots in the principle of Karma.

Jainism

Jains believe that karma is a form of matter. Mahavira described karma as “clay particles”. Jains do not believe in “good karma” or “bad karma”; they try to avoid all karma.

Parallels with Christianity

Christian teachings do not usually include the idea of Karma, although some parallels can be made, as exemplified by biblical verses of ‘God is not mocked, what a man sows he must reap’ and ‘Vengence is mine says the Lord’.

For the most part, however, the idea of the Abrahamic God makes the concept of Karma redundant for Christians.

It is also worth noting that most interpretations of Christianity do not emphasize the religious importance of thoughts and intentions (volition), that are usually understood to be a major form of Karma by the doctrines that use that concept.

Western Interpretation

According to Karma, performance of positive action results with the reaction of a good conditioning in one’s experience, whereas a negative action results in a reaction of a bad response. This may be an immediate result following the act, or a delayed result occurring either in the present life or the next. Thus, meritorious acts may create rebirth into a higher station, such as a superior human being or a godlike being, while evil acts result in rebirth as a human living in less desirable circumstances, or as a lower animal. While the action of karma may be compared with the Western notions of sin and judgment by God or gods, Karma is held to operate as an inherent principle of the Universe without the intervention of any supernatural being.

Most teachings say that for common mortals, having an involvement with Karma is an unavoidable part of day-to-day living. However, in light of the Hindu philosophical school of Vedanta, as well as Gautama Buddha’s teachings, one is advised to either avoid, control or become mindful of the effects of desires and aversions as a way to moderate or change one’s karma (or, more accurately, one’s karmic results).

New Age and Theosophy

The idea of karma was popularized in the west through the work of the Theosophical Society. Kardecist and Western New Age reinterpretations of karma frequently cast it as a sort of luck which is associated with virtue: if one does good or spiritually valuable acts, one deserves and can expect good luck; contrariwise, if one does harmful things, one can expect bad luck or unfortunate happenings. In this conception, karma is affiliated with the Neopagan law of return or Threefold Law, the idea that the beneficial or harmful effects one has on the world will return to oneself.

Health, Relationships, Abilities, Genius, Free Will, Opportunities

Sickness or afflictions have been attributed to misdeeds in the past, as well as merits, fortunes, etc. to meritorious works, etc.. Karma is said to affect the quality of relationships. For example, people who either love or hate each other tend to attract each other (See also Parabadha Karma). Karma dictates that an individual is responsible for his current situation and future situation. Current abilities, talents and inclinations can attributed to past development of these talents or involvement with the same(See also Sanchita Karma and Samskara). In this context, DNA and genes only accomodate and do not determine talents and abilities. In other words you can develop more talents and abilities. Karma however is not a rigid iron-cast system. e.g. Accidents happen outside the workings of karma and free will is a powerful factor in determining the course of life. Getting hit by a car may really be accidental and not karmic at all. A person must also exercise his free will in determining his destiny despite karmic factors. Karma also dictates that opportunities are also increased depending on how one deals with what one has. i.e. Take advantage of what is already available at hand and more will be given.

To be sure, this subconscious memory has an effect and influence on how we think, how we react, what we choose, and even how we look! But the component of free will is ever within our grasp.

 

 

 


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