New Religious Ideas
Among the many new expressions we must learn in order to understand the Eastern religiosity coming in the form of numerous guru sects and yoga classes are the words samsara and karma. Actually, they are the key ideas to the understanding of all religions from the East.
The words cannot really be translated into the languages spoken in other parts of the world. We have no corresponding terms in our Western spiritual tradition. Therefore, the new Western Hindus find it easy to interpret them in a way alien to the original philosophy connected to these words. This is not to say that they do have any connection to the genuine Hinduism to which the words point. It is just beneath the surface in writings and speeches, and frequently, it emerges into the light.
Paul: Make Sure That You Sow
An illustration to the contrary - i.e. that the old, well-known truths have a completely different meaning without anyone really noticing it - is a quotation from the Apostle Paul which is constantly used in the books and magazines of guruism written to support the teaching of karma: "a man reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6:7). Is that not what karma is all about? Is that not a sign that Paul believed in what the Hindus believed in: that everything you do comes back to you, as fortune or misfortune, as health or sickness, all depending on whether you have done good or bad in the past? Does Paul not say that the results of my acts will inevitably hit me sooner or later?
No, actually Paul expresses the very opposite thought, the context of the text shows that the intention of the apostle is the following: Make sure that you sow, otherwise you will have nothing to reap in due time at the Day of Judgment (Galatians 6:9)! The Hindus come to the opposite conclusion: by all means, do not sow, because if you do then you will have to reap someday. This is the very attitude behind the yogic and meditational endeavor to stop all karma.
The Teaching of Karma
The teaching of karma (literally translated the word means "action") indicates that karma is something negative, that acting is wrong. Karma is something you must be released from. Karma is the reason for the poverty of the beggar, the illness of the sick, and the hopeless situation of the oppressed. They reap what they have sown in past lives. Karma is the reason for the prosperity of the rich, the good health of the robust, and the fortunate position of the oppressor. They are well off because they sowed well in the past. Thus, everyone is as well off or bad off as he or she deserves. There is a strong element of fatalism in this teaching of karma.
The teaching of karma tends to make the poor, the sick, and the oppressed accept his/her situation, as it is inescapable. The only thing I can do to change my karma is to passively wait for the bitter harvest of my actions from the past to be "spent" so that I can reap new and hopefully better fruits from my present life. And the teaching of karma influences the rich, the healthy, and the oppressor to self-confidence, contentment, and impenitence, as he has deserved his good position in life. He does not need to help the rest. For you cannot mix karma. The person who has made his/her bed must lie in it. You can give a coin to the beggar on the street, but to change the poverty of the people is impossible.
Nowadays, the enlightened and well educated Hindus try to connect the teaching of karma with Western humanism, as they claim that karma gives the believer reason to practice benevolence and philanthropy. If you are good to others, these modernistic Hindus maintain that you will reap "a good karma" in the future. However, the Indian scriptures do not know that kind of logic. According to their philosophy, the good karma is a result of the fact that man avoids polluting himself, that he avoids desecrating objects and associating with people without caste. Good karma is a result of what you have avoided, rather than what you have actually done.
Eternal Transmigration of Souls
The reason why the teaching of karma has this inhuman consequence is the intimate connection to the sanskrit word samsara, describing the "wheel of life", the eternal cycle of everything. Night and day, summer and winter, birth and death alternate eternally. The karma which I reap now has been sowed in a previous life. The body, the family, the nation, and caste into which I was born have been determined by actions carried out in the previous lives I have lived. As a whole, people whom we see around us right now are only bodies, each carrying an exceedingly old soul which has lived in other bodies innumerable times in the past. Each soul has been born, has lived and suffered, has found death and been reborn millions of times in endless generations. This is the basic idea.
Samsara is also called transmigration of souls, for the teaching first of all concerns the human soul's eternal movement from body to body. In many ways this teaching reminds one of the belief in ghosts - the belief that certain souls cannot find rest in their graves and are therefore walking the earth, unable to die. We are - according to the teaching of samsara - restless souls, bound to walk from place to place, from body to body, unceasingly.
Samsara is also called reincarnation (which is Latin and means "again in the flesh"), as it indicates that previously the soul has lived in other bodies, has lived in other surroundings. More and more people accept the teaching of reincarnation, because they find it attractive to have other incarnations to look forward to. Western people who believe in reincarnation start remembering their position in past lives - often on the basis of exciting positions, such as princes, princesses, Red Indian chief, or the like. Rarely, someone remembers having been a farmer, a housewife, or a pipefitter in a previous incarnation.
As a whole, Western neo-Hindus tend to misunderstand some basic issues of the teaching of reincarnation. For they associate it with modern evolutionary optimism. They believe that reincarnation gives them the opportunity to have a chance to do better next time - to pass from the good to the better. But the purpose of genuine Hinduism is to escape reincarnation altogether, to release people so that they can reach final deliverance from their lives on earth.
Separation of Body and Soul
The essence of it all is to realize that body and soul are two separate elements. An important means of this separation is yoga. The very purpose of yoga is to deliver the soul from the captivity of the body. The Eastern religions' deep longing for freedom from the "coarse material body" is now shared by a large number of Westerners, which becomes apparent from the frequent stories about people who have had out-of-body experiences or who have experienced soul flight or exteriorization (to step out of the body).
But actually, these are not innocent, spiritual exercises. Body and soul are closely connected to each other and are mutually dependent. In fact, practicing these psycho-experimental experiences means practicing madness. It is possible to give oneself an experience of having been outside one's own body, but it is in no way useful. This experience is psychological.
The Belief in Resurrection
The thought of reincarnation is a relatively new idea, measured by the standards of mankind and history of religion. The teaching of samsara was not found in a written form until a few centuries before Christ (in the later Hindu Upanishads). Belief in reincarnation is contrary to the belief that someday all people shall rise from the dead and face the Last Judgment, and that after that they shall enter either Heaven or Hell. Actually, the belief in resurrection as a human phenomenon is older than the belief in reincarnation.
What is so special about the Biblical teaching of resurrection is that Jesus Christ is the Lord of life and death. By virtue of unity with Jesus Christ, Christians expect the resurrection of the dead. The love of God in Christ brings the Kingdom of God to us. The land of the dead, "Hades," will never overcome this love. This love alone is a piece of heaven on earth - it holds eternal life.
Eternal Life as Damnation
But wandering in samsara is also a kind of "eternal life." How humanity arrived at this inverted way of thinking where eternal life means eternal death, is a mystery which we can only guess about. The oppressive climate on the Indian peninsula may be part of the probable explanation, together with the endless catastrophes of nature always ravaging the same part of the world. The Indian history is also one long narrative of wars, and of conquering armies from the north. The Indians have had good reason to feel life as a curse. Besides, Hinduism is not only highbrow culture and philosophy; large and important parts of the Indian population consist of primitive tribesmen with shamanism as their religion (a religion encouraging out-of-body experiences). Much suggests that in the course of time, this more primitive religion was admitted to the sophisticated Sanskrit culture and has thus formed the basis for the belief in transmigration of souls and even for the development of yoga.
Eternal Life as Salvation and Freedom
The teaching of samsara describes eternal life as eternal death. The Christian belief in resurrection describes eternal life as life and freedom. The more the belief in samsara is spreading, the more suffering is spreading. And that is not something which has been claimed by the Christian. It is said in the holy writings of the East, and all Buddhist and Hindu religions are attempts to save oneself from the suffering of samsara, from the bonds of the many reincarnations.
Do We Walk Towards the Light - or Do We Walk in the Light?
The difference between occultism and Christianity is very simple; we, as Christians, walk in the light, the light which is Jesus Christ, who walks as a light among us.
We walk toward the final deliverance where all the darkness of occultism has disappeared and Jesus Christ as "light of light, true God of true God" subdues all, and finally himself is made subject to God the Father, so God becomes all in all. This is the final goal of life which we long for.
As we walk toward the light of God, we walk in the light of Christ, who was born into this world to give light to all people. This is the answer of the Christian faith to the darkness of occultism and to all who feel threatened by the nightmare of reincarnation.
When we die, and we all die, then we can receive Jesus Christ who comes to us as the "Light of the World" and follow him directly to our Father in Heaven. We are under no necessity to wander into all the detours of transmigration of souls, for we know that they are blind alleys which do not lead to the goal, but away from the goal. We choose the direct way home!
Let no one believe that the teaching of reincarnation is an offer of a new, positive philosophy; on the contrary, it is a strong "no" to the love of God through Jesus Christ. For there are only two possibilities, and they are mutually exclusive. Either the teaching of reincarnation is true, and then each person must carry his karma life after life, or the Christian Gospel is true, maintaining that God became a man through Jesus Christ, so that he can bring remission of sins to all of us through his death and resurrection.No man can or must carry his own sins (or his "bad karma"). Christ carries it. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:16,17).