Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
Hinduism and Karma
Did you know that Hinduism is the third most practiced religion in the world? It is the largest of the non-Abrahamic religions and has followers all over the world.
Hinduism is often misunderstood outside of Asian cultures, but one thing that everyone seems to catch on is the concept of karma, the cosmic scale that determines reincarnation in the Hindu cycle of rebirth. But how well do you really understand karma? If it's a concept that you believe in, even a little, then it's one you want to fully understand. After all, being wrong about karma is pretty bad karma.
The Law of Karma
For people in the Western world, karma is often seen as the principle of ''what goes around, comes around.'' While that's not exactly incorrect, a more appropriate axiom may come from the realm of physics. According to the third law of Sir Isaac Newton, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That's karma.
In Hinduism, karma is not simply some passive wisdom; it's an active law of existence, one that describes the spiritual cosmos much as Newton's law describes the physical world. Thus, we generally refer to the governing rules of karma as laws. Karma has many laws, but if you hear someone talking about the law, it's generally the law of cause and effect, also known as the Great Law or the Law of Karma. Basically, the Law of Karma states that every action you take will have an equal reaction. In Hinduism, this concept is explained through a garden metaphor: if you plant wholesome seeds, you will grow wholesome fruit.
So what does this mean? Basically, your actions can be categorized in two ways. Either they are wholesome, or they are unwholesome. Try not to conflate these terms with ''good'' and ''evil''; that sort of dichotomy doesn't hold up as well in Hinduism. An action is wholesome if it has positive effects in the world, while it is unwholesome if it they are negative.
Here's where the karma comes in. If you commit an unwholesome action, you have generated unwholesome karma. This means that you are likely to experience negative consequences for your actions. In some cases, this could simply mean that your life will become less wholesome and you'll be less happy.
For instance, if you start stealing, then you become dishonest, your neighbors will stop trusting you, friends will abandon you, and you could end up alone and miserable. In this case, your unwholesome action had an unwholesome reaction. If you build up enough unwholesome karma, it will impact you beyond this lifetime. Too much unwholesome karma can result in rebirth in your next life as an animal, spirit, or other non-human and restless entity.
At this point, you're probably trying to tally up your negative karma, but don't panic: there's wholesome karma too. When you resist the temptation to take an unwholesome action, when you act in kindness and honesty and when you preach Dharma (the moral law of the cosmos), you increase your wholesome karma. Again, in general, this is expected to create a reaction within your own lifetime.
A wholesome existence leads to better relationships, health, happiness, and moral contentment. It can also offset unwholesome karma and help prevent your soul from being reborn as a worm in hell (yes, that's a possibility in Hinduism). Basically, you can work off your negative karma through intense suffering in the next life, or through good deeds and avoiding unwholesome actions in this lifetime. The choice is up to you, but just remember: you reap what you sow. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Karma always catches up.
In the Indian religion of Hinduism, there are few concepts as important as karma. Karma itself if the cause-and-effect relationship between actions and consequences, specifically as they refer to the cosmic moral standard and your personal life and soul.
Unwholesome actions produce unwholesome karma, which can manifest in misery in this life or reincarnation as a non-human entity or animal in the next. Wholesome actions produce wholesome karma, which in turns feed positive relationships, happiness, fulfillment, and a better placement in the next cycle of rebirth. This premise is known as the Law of Karma. It's a concept that governs the lives of hundreds of millions of people today, as universal and unyielding as any law of physics.
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