Karma, Dharma & Reincarnation 

According to the Christian belief, Creation had originally been perfect, but Adam fell and mankind has since been in bondage to sin. Through Christ, mankind will be saved and restored to its original perfection. The Christian is thus born in sin and in an impure state, and cannot redeem himself by his own inner resources, but only through Christ. Salvation is centered on an external entity – the mystical body of Christ in which the Christian must participate in order to be saved. This is the rite of baptism. Considered in another way, a child born today is considered as born in sin and has to suffer for the Karma of Adam; the only escape is baptism and belief in Christ.

In Hinduism, divinity is present in all beings and at all times, commencing from birth. The child is not burdened with guilt for a sin committed by an ancestor. It is illusion and ignorance that makes people not realize their divine origin and the glorious nature of their Being. The redemptive potential to realize this great truth resides in each individual who has only to engage in meaningful meditation and lead a proper life with the guidance provided by the Scriptures and Saints and thereby get rid of this false identification with the world of pleasures. Salvation in Hinduism thus is obtained through exertion of one’s own higher intelligence and the practice of Dharma which is duty to society. Dharma emphasizes detachment and selfless service.

Karma is not fatalism.  We are endowed with intelligence and discrimination to learn to live our lives in a manner that will release us from our karmic accumulation. These include wisdom that is developed through detachment and discernment, love that is developed through compassion and forgiveness and inner strength that is developed through selfless service to society.

Karma theory also explains why some are born in deficient circumstances. It warns that one is responsible for the consequences of one’s actions in the present life. If, therefore, one does not practice Dharma and render service to the needy and the society, one will reap the negative consequences of such neglect both in this life and in the next one. Most religious-minded practitioners of Hinduism do follow the injunctions about practicing Dharma which lays emphasis on compassion and Charity. In one of the famous passages (a convocation address to departing students) in the Taittiriya Upanishad we are given the advice:

Shraddhaya deyam, ashraddhaya adeyam. Hriya deyam, bhiya deyam, sriya deyam, samvida deyam.

(Give with reverence; do not give disrespectfully. Give with humility, give with a sense of awe, give generously, give with compassion.)

For many, the notion of reincarnation is consoling because it is contrasted with the Christian idea of heaven and hell. They find the traditional Christian idea that a person has only two possibilities after his/her death—namely, either being allowed to enter heaven or being sent to hell—with purgatory as a possible intermediate step. It is depressing that such an eternal and irrevocable decision can be made in or after only one life. The notion that someone is sent to hell forever seems also to be unfair: why should one not have a second chance? Why should one not be able to try and make amends for one’s prior acts? Why is hell immediate and irrevocable?

The notion of reincarnation is then more consoling because it leaves a great deal of room for one to make amends for mistakes. After this life there is another - and so on, until perfection is finally reached. In a succeeding life one can make amends for the mistakes of the previous life, do penance for them or continue to suffer – the choice is one’s own. Ultimately, however, one learns and acts to reach salvation through one’s own efforts.

Belief in reincarnation and the Karma theory is generally viewed as a grace given to a person so that he may attempt once again, in a new life, continue to build on what has already been done. Thus, there is the hope for people to liberate themselves from evil, sin, suffering and guilt. Since, ultimately, one can redeem oneself, this belief is consoling because it is more pleasant to control one's own fate than to realize that one has reached the end of the road. The idea of self redemption does not imply that people must do it all alone on their own strength; for they can seek and receive help not only from fellow humans but also from higher spiritual beings who can share the suffering, help carry the burden and at times even assume some part of their karma. The final outcome, which is moksha or liberation, is attained through one's own efforts over many births.