Archives for posts with tag: Karma

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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.

 

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Credit: networkedblogs.com

Credit: networkedblogs.com

We saw in the previous post that New Age thinkers had introduced a paradigm shift in the concept of the soul. Eastern metaphysical thought now mingled in their minds with the experiences of renowned psychics, mediums, healers, channelers, creative visualizers  and mystics who believed in Ascended  Masters, Angels, Guides, and Teachers mainly in the western world. Frequent reports of rebirths recalled, near death experiences, glimpses of after-life in a coma or through a medium, recollection of past life through regressive hypnotism, Auric phenomena and photography, poltergeist phenomena, telepathy, tele-kinetic feats, out-of-body vision, distance vision, morphic resonance, ESP, and other supernatural and para normal phenomena also worked to develop a new mind-set.

What helped evolve their thinking further were the amazing findings of Quantum Physics and the examination of the para normal by the scientific establishment, though tentatively, as also eminent academic institutions. There was also a growing tribe of courageous and eminent scientists who revealed their thinking about the metaphysical and mystical implications of the new discoveries and findings of science.

They were also influenced by the thought of certain mystical groups in the West which did not find favour with orthodox religion and the church and  had become  esoteric and secretive. Thus the ideology of the Kabbala. the Rosicrucians, Free Masons, the Hermetic order, Theosophists, Church of Scientology etc all came to have influence on New Age thinkers in formulating their concepts on the soul. The Christian and Jewish concepts of the soul equally played an important role in determining the emerging New Age concept of the soul.

In the Judaic and Christian traditions the concept of the soul is quite different from that of the Eastern traditions, though changing in inflection from faith to faith and order to order. While the Hindu tradition imparts divinity to it and goes so far as to assert that it is a fragment of the Divine Essence, even God in miniature within, the Judaic traditions distinguish it from ‘Spirit’. Though occasionally it is called immortal, the sense of immortality is different from the Hindu tradition. In Hinduism the immortality is an attribute of divinity, whereas in the Jewish and Christian traditions it is immortal in the sense that it outlives the demise of the body,  and after the Day of Judgement dwells in Heaven or Hell for all times. Dante’s Divine Comedy shows souls in Heaven, Purgatory and Hell.

Furthermore the soul is not considered eternal in the sense of existing before ‘birth’, as it comes into existence only by God’s will at the time of conception or birth, though remaining in existence thereafter. The soul rules the action of the personality and becomes identified with it and a man’s actions. However as the person does not survive death it is his soul then that becomes him in after-life and is held responsible for the deeds of the person and subject to rewards and punishment. We see therefore that the soul and the person it inhabits are indeed identical. There is here no principle of the eternal purity and divinity of the soul as in Hinduism. Western mystical traditions differed in degrees ( Meister Eckhart) from the orthodox formulation but eventually appear to have gone along with it.

The foregoing Jewish and Christian views of the soul therefore also had their impact, in addition to the other influences discussed, in shaping New Age thinking about the soul.

New Age thinking therefore combined all these elements, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, mystical, scientific, esoteric, psychic, and paranormal in constructing  a new and unique concept of the soul which differed both from that postulated by the Eastern faiths and Christian and Jewish traditions of yore.

As I began my blog with a consideration of the Hindu concept of the soul, I propose to compare and contrast the New Age concept with that and in the process we would also see how the concept differs substantially from the Jewish and Christian concepts.

We saw in the previous post that New Age thought adopted several features of the Hindu concept: (1) The soul is eternal, immortal and ethereal ( as distinct from being created at birth by the will of God) (2) The soul is subject to incarnation on the earthly plane (3) The soul is subject to reincarnation through numerous life-times.

Aside from these features, where there is concurrence with Hinduism, new elements are introduced which are a departure. Though the New Age soul is ethereal, immortal, and eternal, it is not a fragment of God residing within the body. This position substantially changes the concept of the soul from Hinduism because the entire history of Hindu worship, spirituality, mysticism, music, dance, literature i.e. culture hinges on the divinity within. If the soul is not divine then the poetic yearnings of Indian mystics, their songs and prayers are all irrelevant and in vain.

The New Age thought is close to the Christian and Jewish traditions when it holds that the soul rules the personality unlike the Hindu position that it neither dictates to the ego-personality-body nor participates in its activities, thus in Hinduism the soul does not assume responsibility for the personality’s actions and remains untainted, as God himself remains untainted by the activities of man.

New age thought then postulates that the soul incarnates to heal negatavities that develop within it. The soul is likened to an enormous body of light and energy in ethereal realms corresponding to  Sol in the solar system. On this ethereal sun, sun-spots develop for some reason requiring healing. It then engages in a massive reduction of its enormous energy to create a personality through which it incarnates. The entire soul does not incarnate as it is too powerful and grand. Only the portion of the soul that has corrupted becomes the personality and arrives on the physical plane in birth. This appears to have echoes of ‘original sin’. The personality is therefore that part of the soul which needs to heal. The rest of the glorious radiant soul remains in the ethereal realms. The personality which is the souls negative part now becomes the vehicle for the souls healing and eventual evolution to higher levels of ‘vibration’.

At the end of a life-time the incarnated part returns to the mother ship either improved, healed or become worse and if necessary is then returned through another personality for further improvements to Earth School. This of course is at variance with the Hindu concept where the personality alone acts and accumulates Karmic effects till they are eliminated after many life-times. The only similarity is that in both cases the personality is at full liberty to act and can neither be dictated to nor forced to do the right thing.

The other major difference is that of   ‘choice’. In the Hindu concept there is no question of choice of incarnation as the Law of Karma determines the pros and cons of a lifetime and arranges a new body which would help in resolving negatavities. The soul in that case assumes the new body arranged by the Law of Karma without protest. In the New Age version while there is a law of Karma it has no role in determining the next incarnation which the soul is to inhabit. The massive mother ship soul force uses its own volition to create a personality of its choosing from the parts of itself it wishes to heal, as Gary Zukav calls it –  ‘a unique and perfectly suited instrument’ for the particular incarnation.

However in both the Hindu and New Age versions the soul as Indweller (Hindu) and the Mother Ship (New Age) remain the source of good inspiration and wisdom for the personality which in both cases is free to ignore it.

In addition to the Mother soul the New age thinking also introduces Guides, Teachers, Angels and Masters who assist in aligning the personality with the soul to heal it. These entities are also souls but ones without blemishes and at a higher level of vibration. The splintered Mother soul seeks their help not only to align the personality but also in conceiving a new personality for further healing. The entire purpose of life on the physical plane is to enable souls to heal and evolve.

Whatever the argument or cosmology, both versions emphasize the need for human evolution but each takes a different cultural approach for the identical goal. While the New Age version is attractive as it firmly places the initiative in the hands of the soul as the agent of action rather than leaving it to a Karmic fatalism, it in the final analysis goes against the grain of both Eastern and Christian/Jewish belief systems. For instance how would the long history of belief and emotion tied to the concept of divinity within be able to reconcile to the new paradigm? It cannot afford to lose the anchor of its cultural moorings. On the other hand for Christianity the problem would be the concept of rebirth and a soul not answerable before God on the day of judgement but its own master to deal with its need to heal. The new concepts would only be palatable to those who are not tied to their traditional moorings, but have taken their ship to the high seas for dropping anchor at another shore.

The Avatar KrishnaAs a young cowherdCredit: ISKCON

The Avatar Krishna
As a young cowherd
Credit: ISKCON

The idea of Avatar was borrowed by the West from India, more particularly Hinduism, much like the concepts of Guru and Pandit were. James Cameron adapted it for his blockbuster film of the same name and PCs the world over for the abstract representation of users in the virtual world, but with modifications. The Hindu concept is actually neither of ones extension through a transporting machine into an alien world, nor of an imaginary portrayal of one’s persona on the web. The Sanskrit word simply means ‘descent’ and has come to mean divine manifestation through incarnation.

But every soul’s reincarnation from the spiritual realms to the material world does not qualify. The incarnation of the Universal Essence (Brahma). as an anthropomorphic saviour on the physical plane, alone qualifies to be called an Avatar. In the Gita, Krishna the Avatar, assuming the deep sonorous voice of his true Self, the Universal Essence, explains when such a descent into the world becomes a painful necessity – the extraordinary embodiment of the Godhead, making it subject to all the trials and tribulations, pains and pleasures, fortunes and misfortunes of a mortal existence ( Christ on the cross), subject to all the earthly conditions, save one. The Avatar remains exempt from the Law of Karma and accumulates no effects, which would otherwise necessitate enforced rebirth under Karma’s inexorable and inflexible regime of cause and effect. Why the exemption, one may ask? Because the Law cannot touch or take into account actions that are dispassionate and made with no egotistical purpose. The Avatar’s actions are all altruistic and meant to ameliorate the sorry plight into which the material world has degenerated at the moment necessitating its incarnation.

The Avatar is in fact the Hindu counterpart or approximation for  prophet, messenger or ‘son of God’ concepts in other cultures. The difference being that the Avatar is not regarded as a representation of divinity but divinity incarnate itself, God in a human guise.

The most popular of such Avatars are Rama of the Epic Ramayan and Krishna of the epic Mahabharat, whose discourses on the battlefield become the message of the Bhagawad Gita. The Hindu pantheon also includes (apparently without permission) the Buddha, as its latest Avatar, without dwelling on his teachings or philosophy, which quite often is at variance with Hindu thought. Like other cultures, Hinduism also holds out the hope for the coming of yet another saviour. The present age is called the Age of Kali, Kaliyug, the age of vice. The Avatar to come as saviour in this age, Kalki is portrayed as a warrior on a horse with sword in hand ending evil with the apocalypse which accompanies him.

Kalki , the avatar to come.Credit: yoga-philosophy.com

Kalki , the avatar to come.
Credit: yoga-philosophy.com

Except for sages, philosophers, yogis and mystic-saints, most ordinary Hindus, while acknowledging a formless God (Nirgun) as the Universal Essence, generally engage in adulation and worship of the Avatars Rama and Krishna, while others worship the incarnated form of the Universal Energy (Shakti), depicted as a female deity riding a tiger or lion.

ShaktiCredit: shaktiwomyn.com

Shakti
Credit: shaktiwomyn.com

The Avatar is etched deeply in the Hindu psyche and arouses a range of emotions from admiration, adulation, ecstasy and love, expressed through worship, prayer, meditation, song, poetry and dance.

 The Avatar then is an extraordinary phenomenon. On the one hand it has the charm and charisma of a leading film star, breathtaking to view and irresistible to the surging mob of fans. On the other, he has also the dignity, majesty, serenity and power of a king of kings into whose audience you are ushered, overwhelmed and awestruck. He has also the compassion and humility of a saint, melting your ego like a candle in tears and the love of a mother you meet after years of yearning separation. He is also Superman with supernatural abilities he is loath to use but of which one is aware. This film star who happens to be a king, a saint and Superman, all rolled into one finally is also your best friend who arouses unbearable emotions of love and intimacy. If you can succeed in conceptualizing all these amazing attributes together in one person for a moment, then you can picture an Avatar standing before you.

1445buddha

Reincarnation - RebirthCredit ISKCON

Reincarnation – Rebirth
Credit ISKCON

 (CONTINUED FROM PREVIOUS POST)

We now arrive at the theory of reincarnation. Though Hindu, Buddhist and Jain cosmologies are entirely different from one another, the common denominator in all three faiths is the belief in rebirth. Here of course we shall solely be examining the concept of reincarnation in the Hindu context and more particularly as expounded by the Gita.

Let us begin by asking, whose rebirth? When we say ‘your’ rebirth we do not mean rebirth only of the personality-ego complex which represent you in your subtle body, now modified for the next lifetime at the moment of rebirth. What is also meant is the rebirth of the entrapped soul force within you, the ‘indweller’, the one who during the lifetime was shrouded by your body, ego and personality. The eternal soul now sheds the deceased body/personality and assumes a new one. Here let us see what the Gita has to say:

”It (the soul) is neither born nor does it die. Coming into being and ceasing to be, do not take place in it. Unborn, eternal, constant and ancient, it is not killed when the body is slain.”

”As a man casting off worn out garments puts on new ones, so the embodied one (the soul), casting off worn out bodies, enters others that are new.”

The analogy is aptly one of  shedding an old garment and wearing a new one. But the new garment, to extend the analogy further, is not one which the soul can choose. It cannot demand an exquisite garment from a designer shop. On the contrary it lies before the soul, tailor-made according to Karmic specifications. The traces, effects and ‘odours’ registered in the Subtle Body ( discussed in an earlier post – The subtle body and the law of Karma) determine the kind of new garment the soul is obliged to ‘wear’ – the new body/personality which will embody the soul for the next lifetime. Thus rebirth takes place with a new modified entity as the host of the soul.

Reincarnation - RebirthCredit: ISKCON

Reincarnation – Rebirth
Credit: ISKCON

(CONTINUED IN NEXT POST)

(CONTINUED FROM PREVIOUS POST)

In the previous post we saw that the soul is not the agent of action, the ego is. We also saw that it does not dictate terms to the ego. We are also familiar with the idea that the soul is a fragment of the Divine Essence and the ‘indweller” in the body. Often in India the devout call God the indweller (Antaryami) and when in prayer or meditation they look inwards to the God within. Does the fact that divinity resides within us make us divine? No it does not. The content is divine not the container. There is divinity within you but you are not divine.

As this is so, the question arises whether a person can identify himself with his soul. When he says ‘I’, whom is he referring to? The ‘I’ of a person is his personality and ego, his actions, acts of omission and commission, in the present and in past lives, which have registered in his subtle body and which produce the Karmic dynamics for shaping his future incarnations. Like the DNA of a cell, his actions past and present are the determinant of his future form and incarnation. the ‘I’ is therefore not his soul under any circumstances. The soul is within the host but distinct. One may call it the benign Alien within.

(MORE IN THE NEXT POST)

(CONTINUED FROM LAST POST)

credit : Elena Duvernay

credit : Elena Duvernay

In the last post we saw that the subtle body incurs the effects of action under the law of Karma but the soul, though dwelling within it ( Indweller – Sanskrit: Antaryami ) does not. Through all the actions generated by the ego – personality-body, the soul remains untouched, pure, eternal and uncontaminated by these actions of the ‘shell’ or ‘shroud’, standing aside as it were, observing but not participating. We must remember that it is indeed a part of the Universal Essence, the Supersoul. It is after all, God in miniature within your body even if that body or personality is immersed in sinful activity. Just as God is not responsible for your good or bad deeds neither is the soul. The Gita explains that the soul incurs no sins committed by the body it inhabits and forever remains untainted. Why so is the obvious question. The answer lies in several verses/cantos of the scripture:

” he truly sees who knows that all actions are done by Prakriti (nature or the acting body’s inherent characteristics and impulsions ) alone and the Atma (soul) does not act”

and again

”….he who in imperfect understanding looks upon the Self (soul ) as the agent (of action) – he does not see at all.”

and again

Having mentally renounced all actions, the self disciplined indweller (soul ) rests in the city of nine gates ( the body and the senses), neither acting nor causing action.”

The ‘agent’ often spoken of in the Gita is the ego-body complex. It is free to act the way it wishes. This is not a deterministic puppet show with human puppets on a string controlled by an inexorable fate or divine command. The human entity, the body-ego-personality, is free as was Hitler to commit the gravest atrocities based on free will while of course, accumulating negative Karmic effects with dire consequences in this and future incarnations. On the physical plane there is total freedom and free untampered will to act for good or ill. Thus the Gita explains:

”The Lord (God) does not create agency or actions for the world. He does not create fruitful consequences for actions. Nature ( the ego- personality complex as doer and the Law of Karma meting out consequences) does all this.”

The law of Karma (like the law of gravity) is the inexorable natural law at play on the earthly plane and like any body of law strictly applies measured consequences for actions committed. The soul merely councels prudence but does not dictate – it is the voice of your conscience which you are free to ignore.

(MORE IN NEXT POST)

 CONTINUED FROM PREVIOUS POST)

We learnt that it is the Ego and not the soul that dictates to the physical self what it needs to do to survive in the world of senses. The actions that the physical self performs to satisfy the ego’s demands produce Karmic effects. Here the law of Karma comes into play. The nature of actions, good, bad or indifferent create Karmic results and effects which inexorably get registered as marks, scars, or odours ( called Sanskars in Sanskrit) left by previous and present actions, inclinations, desires and acquired potential. Where are these marks registered? This brings us to the nature of the physical self as understood by Indian philosophical traditions.

These traditions hold that the physical ‘body’ is not merely what appears to the eye. What is visible is merely the gross body. but enveloping it are other layers of physicality, even though not visible to the naked eye of an ordinary person. That is what in the West has been termed as Auric phenomenon.Subtle body These are pulsating fields of energy   falling within the defination of the physical, which hover around the gross body and are an integral part of that body. We  need not here go into details but briefly these sheaths are those of the vital force ( Prana- the harmonized bodily functions that allow the body to function in good health ), the mind and the understanding. Even though the other sheaths are not clearly manifest and tangible, like the gross body is, they are essentially a physical category as opposed to the spiritual one and are known in India and elsewhere in mystical circles as the subtle body.

It is in this subtle body that the ‘History’ of every act and its effects are registered indelibly (much like in present day Personal Computers) and which sets in motion the dynamics of the Law of Karmic effects – ‘as you sow, so shall you reap’. While the subtle body is marked by all the traces and effects and ‘odours’, its ‘Indweller’, the soul is not.

English: Illustrative image showing the Soul B...

( CONTINUED IN NEXT POST )

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