I have often wondered whether the ethical assumptions of Original Sin in Christianity and Hinduism’s Karmic consequences are not similar.

Adam and Eve losing their primordial innocence in the Garden of Eden incurred the Original Sin which was inherited by all their progeny – Mankind. Christian ethics thus burdens mankind with this original guilt and the consciousness of that guilt. The manner in which individuals deal with that guilt by engaging in righteous behaviour or then by adding further sins during the course of their lives will earn rewards and punishments on the Day of Judgement.

Karma is the accumulated and unfolding effect of good and evil deeds over several lifetimes, including the present one, producing our present circumstances as rewards and punishments. Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism subscribe to this Karmic determinism.

Both concepts of Original Sin and Karma share a fatalism and determinism in explaining the cause of suffering. The shadow of a primordial loss of innocence in the one case and Karma in past lives, in the other, determines our present fate. Both in that sense are judgmental and dwell on penal outcome or rewards for errant or good behaviour. Though their theology and dialectics are different, with variations in regard to beliefs on reincarnation and a final day of judgement, in the final analysis both are judgmental and fatalistic in accounting for suffering in the world. The premise in both imposes on the individual, a guilt from the past and salvation consists in accepting such guilt and then working to redress it through reform.

Often individuals rebel against such ethical impositions and assumptions of past wrong doing of which they have no knowledge and for which they may not feel in any way responsible

Individual circumstances of birth and the course of lives are so varied that people wonder, at least those who believe in providence, what is the justification for this inequitable diversity. One may be born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth whereas another as a slum dweller in squalour and poverty. Some enjoy untold riches without a care in the world while others struggle from birth to death. Some are born with disabilities while others are the perfect beautiful models we admire. Some are afflicted by calamities and tragedies while others sail through life with every conceivable happy circumstance one can think of.  Some experience fame while others never rise above the mundane, common or ordinary. The question arises whether fate is random or is it bound by Karmic effects. Do our sufferings and circumstances have an explanation beyond Karmic consequences or a random fate?

New Age thinkers have sought to address such questions to arrive at an answer which is neither judgmental and fatalistic nor relying on a random explanation. New Age thinking reconstructs an ethical framework by borrowing elements from the Karmic theory and restructuring it in a unique manner. While they allow for rebirth and reincarnation, dismissing the idea of a final day of judgement, they introduce the element of Choice, at variance with both random fate and inexorable Karma, to explain individual circumstances of life.

They hold that the Soul at the conclusion of one lifetime begins a process of deep introspection in the ethereal realms, assisted by peers, ‘guides’, angels, and ‘masters’ to analyse the pros and cons of the life just past. It then concludes that it needs to reincarnate in certain clearly defined circumstances to work out accumulated negativities to help in its further evolution. It is not any Law of Karma that determines time, place, and circumstances of birth, the shape and form, abilities and disabilities at birth and any fatalistic circumstances of life – rather it is the reincarnating Soul that does all this. It combines certain positive elements with other negative ones through its own pre-programmed Choice, drawing a detailed road map of the life ahead. The purpose of the rebirth is to work out persisting negativities of the previous life or lives and thereby achieve liberation from those negativities in the course of its own evolution. Such a premise clearly implies that there is no judgement. For instance when we see someone in dire straits or in unhappy circumstances,or with poverty and deformity, we can no longer assume ( as in the Karmic consequence formulation) that these may have arisen from previous wrong doing – being a choice of the Soul, there is no judgement. Equally events both positive and negative are not deemed to be resulting from fatalistic Karmic Laws but are the product of choice for the Soul’s experience and evolution.

I have sought to flesh out this New Age concept in two previous posts (1) A Valiant Choice (2) A Valiant Choice dramatized. Two of my poems are also influenced by this New Age thought (1) Visitor at Divali (2) Astronauts of Ether.

There is however a similarity in the concept of Karmic consequence and New Age choice of reincarnation. Both provide for negative and positive elements in one’s life not as punishment and reward but as experiences for the incarnating Soul’s liberation.

For those who are not comfortable with the judgmental branding of Karmic Law or the burden of guilt of Original Sin, the New Age idea that we have indeed chosen our life’s circumstances (as Souls prior to birth) is more appealing and acceptable. Yet there are some who think that the idea of choosing ones terrible plight is an abnoxious idea and they would far prefer to think that it is the result of Karmic fate. The only option if one rejects both Karmic consequence and the New Age alternative of choice, would be to believe that the circumstances of life arise from a random fate devoid of any ethical or metaphysical considerations.