To some extent, our lives are determined by the choices we make. But to what extent are our choices real? This question underlies most human dilemmas.
Arjun’s doubt about whether it would be better to be killed than to fight and kill his enemies is the focus of The Gita which synthesizes Hindu philosophy. Here, God explains why Arjun must fight and He shows us that Arjun really does not have a choice.
Yet, human decisions though tethered are not fully predetermined. They depend upon our nature, our capacity to judge, our circumstances, our mood and upon the choices we made in the past. At the same time, our current actions and inactions affect our future as well as the futures of all who are touched by what we do or do not do. Thus, as much as our choices arise from our karma, they create it.
Fortunately, we are not always aware of the many big and little choices we make throughout our days. If we were fully aware of them, we would probably go crazy. Still, though fettered or made in haste, our decisions matter. So, we must do the best we can, heeding our consciences and the advice of those we respect.
See Chapter Six, Karma and Reincarnation in On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar.
According to Buddhist thought, the soul does not retain its attributes at death any more than a wave retains its identity when it dissipates in the ocean. An analogy often used to illustrate Buddhism’s perspective of the cycle of birth and rebirth is that of a candle that lights another candle as it flickers and becomes extinguished.
Buddhist belief in the process of birth and rebirth is validated by the testimony of Lord Buddha Himself, who upon enlightenment came to know all the details of His hundreds or thousands of past lives. He stated that His present life would be His last. Although Lord Buddha would not include God in His teachings and did not claim to be divine, His followers came to worship Him.
Buddhists pay Him homage, if not as God, then as the Enlightened One and Hindus see Buddha as the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver.
Read more about Birth and Rebirth in the Buddhist Religion in On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar.
Because the Gita and other scriptures consider reincarnation a self-evident doctrine, they do not make arguments to support its truth. This is much the case with most of the doctrines that are a part of scared Vedic literature. However, philosophers and teachers have made many arguments in support of their perspectives or interpretations of both doctrine and scripture. They have taught that reincarnation explains many things.
It explains why some people suffer while others do not or why some children are born with exceptional talent. It accounts for memories and emotions that seem to come out of the blue and it accounts for reports of extraordinary experiences in other dimensions.
It accounts for thousands of near death experiences reported but those who went to other realms and returned to tell what they saw and heard. Rather than rejecting these reports because they go beyond what is strictly possible, Hinduism considers many of them truthful and valuable testimony.
Quote starts with “Because the Gita and other scriptures consider….” and ends with “many of them truthful and valuable testimony.”
SeeOn Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar, Chapter Six, Karma and Reincarnation.
In the Gita, Lord Krishna Himself explains His incarnations:
You and I have passed through many births. I know them all, but you do not remember. I am born from time to time whenever the good need my protection. I am born to destroy the bad and help the good.
My birth is divine and those who understand this become part of Me and do not have to be born again.
The Gita, Chapter 4, The Sword of Knowledge, Verses 5-9
These beautifully succinct verse encapsulates Hinduism’s fundamental beliefs: the existence of God, His powers to create and destroy, God’s benevolent intent, the importance of understanding divine power, the reality of reincarnation, and the meaning of salvation which is becoming one with God.
Hinduism takes karma for granted. It does not seek to make a justification for its validity, but rather bases its principles, beliefs and guidance on the ways in which karma operates. Thus the underpinning of karma is the view or reality that actions have consequences.
While discussions of karma focus mostly on individuals, we should consider that peoples and nations also have destinies determined by consequences of prior actions. Over millennia we have seen nations rise and fall and we now see nations and national values in turmoil. Thus we should consider our behaviors not only in terms of ourselves but also in terms of our politics. Our national and international karma decides questions as momentous as war and peace.
See “Karma and Reincarnation,” Chapter Six, of On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar.
Like individuals, nations and societies own their karma. The impact of their collective actions and interactions produce consequences such as widespread prosperity, poverty or war.
On some occasions, we are put in positions that mandate war. At other times we seek war. Sometimes nations and our leaders are united in purpose. At other times they are divided. But whatever the circumstances, cause and effect are at work.
It is difficult to understand or even clearly imagine the interplay of karma involving millions, perhaps billions, of people, but I find it more difficult if not impossible to consider that collective destinies are random. History is evidence and much of what happens in the world is understood in terms of our past behavior.
See Chapter 6, Karma and Reincarnation, of On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar to understand how karma works.
The earliest Hindu references to reincarnation describe journeys to other worlds or realms known as lokas. These worlds represent astral planes to which souls can travel outside of the body after death or when the body attains different levels of consciousness. At the same time, these worlds are viewed as regions in the universe. Thus, Vedic cosmology sees a singularity or oneness in the universe that is reflected in our consciousness. The universe exists beyond us and within us at the same time. It is a multidimensional and a multitemporal cosmos. Souls migrate from one world to another and fro one body to another until, after many lifetimes they yearn to become free.
–From Chapter 6, Karma and Reincarnation, of Irina Gajjar’s book, On Hinduism
Karma and Reincarnation are not really theories in Eastern religions. Rather they are premises that have evolved over time and continue evolving. These notions do not depend upon one another, but rather complement one another to provide answers to questions pertaining to the human condition. To understand this better, see Chapter Six of On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar.
The past few days have been terrible for our planet. Howsoever we may evaluate recent events, culminating in the Israeli Palestinian hostilities and the downed Malaysian airliner in separatist held Ukraine, I think we must acknowledge that these occurrences did not come out of the blue. Bad things like changing climate including increased atmospheric turbulence and increasing divisiveness have been happening for some time, but some good things have also been going on. For better or for worse peoples are more aware of the plight of others and nations are unable to remain uninvolved in goings on far from home.
In my opinion karma is clearly responsible for what now occupies just about everyone’s attention.
Consider this excerpt from On Hinduism explaining the mechanics of karma:
. . . Multiple causes may give rise to a single effect or to a bundle of related effects or to seemingly disconnected effects. Karma is like a ripple in a pond. It can expand for a wide area and disturb the peacefulness of all the water contained within its circle. As it spreads, it dissipates until it gets lost in the waters of the pond.
Karma is a force comparable to magnetism or electricity. The laws of magnetism govern the attraction and repulsion of magnetic force and the laws of electricity govern interaction between electrically charged particles. The law of karma governs causality between moving forces. Human beings activate karma at the same time that we are subject to its power.
Gajjar, On Hinduism, Chapter 6, Karma and Reincarnation, p. 101