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Karma and Christianity

Updated on October 9, 2012

The Key Equation from Karma to Christians

Buddhism has as one of its core concepts the idea of "karma". Most Americans know this term and use it in conversation. You might hear one person tell another, when yielding his seat to a pregnant lady, "It's good karma." In another instance, one friend grabs the arm of another and says, "Do you really want to steal that? It's bad karma!"

We have all seen someone judge someone harshly, saying, "That Mary, she knew that guy was all bad news, now look at her. She lost her job and got pregnant. She should have listened to me." Then, six months later, the gossiper is on the burned-out end of a bad relationship, lost her own job, and thinks she might have been pregnant.

How does that work?

The Buddha came and offered an explanation. The buddha concentrated his definition around why some people are rich, talented, and loved and others are poor, unskilled, and rejected. According to buddhanet.net (yes, with two nets):

"All living beings have actions (Karma) as their own, their inheritance, their congenital cause, their kinsman, their refuge. It is Karma that differentiates beings into low and high states."- Buddha

To explain this to a Christian, just tell them, "Actions have consequences." Explain that the Universe exacts a payment for a bad action. Christians read the Jewish Torah, which they call the Old Testament. Quote for them these rules:

Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

You can find this in Exodus, chapter 21, verses 24 and 25. To a Christian, just say "Exodus twenty-one, verses twenty-four and twenty-five" say it smoothly and keep moving. Displaying scripture and verse knowledge freezes most of them in their tracks. They don't really read the Bible much at all. When facing someone with superior understanding of the Bible, fear sets in. American Christians just do not read the Bible they believe- at least not like the Buddhists, who understand exactly what they believe in.

Your concern is for when you meet a Christian who actually understands a little of what Jesus is about. A studying Christian almost always counters with this:

"But, Matthew five twenty-eight (5:28) says, 'Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."

So, what should an evangelizing Buddhist answer?

The Difference Between Karma and the Golden Rule of Christianity

The Buddha came, saw, and explained. It is "Vini, Vidi, Theory", instead of "Vini, Vidi, Vici" of the Roman conquerers. Buddha wanted people to understand what they observed in life: People that beat others eventually get beaten up. Those who live by the sword eventually get killed by the sword.

So, quote this fact back to the Christian. Tell him or her that Matthew also wrote this:

"Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again your sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." (Mat 26:52, KJV)

So, say, "Jesus did not cancel out Karma." The Universe continues to dole out karma. This is very likely to end the discussion. Christians stupidly believe that Jesus canceled out the 10 Commandments, and God's laws in the world. In fact, it is the "law of Moses" that Jesus nullified. In fact Jesus himself reiterated all the commandments, and obeyed them all in his life. American Christians suffer from a too-common American trait: superficiality. They prefer to appear Christian more than they actually want to live and be Christian.

Foreigners think America is the wellspring of Christianity. They are amazed when they come here and see that Christians don't understand the Golden Rule as Matthew recorded it:

"In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets." - Jesus

Quote this one also to them, if they tell you that Jesus canceled out the law of God. So, now you have established to your Christian who "doesn't get it" that the idea of karma is contained in Christianity.

If you want to continue the conversation, you should know the key differences between karma and the Golden Rule.

Differences Between Karma and the Golden Rule

There are some major differences in how Buddhism and Christianity address the quid pro quo law of living.

One for One?

First, Buddhism promotes the idea that, if you steal a bicycle, someone will steal your bicycle. Christianity does not have a one-for-one penalty ratio. In scriptures, they learn that "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap." (Galations 6:7, KJV). However, the original Greek says "sow and sow and sow". The Christian God is longsuffering and patient. He does not push a penalty immediately.

Equal for all?

Additionally, in Christianity, someone who does not understand he is doing wrong is not punished by God the same as someone who knows better. Here are some scriptures to show or quote to the Christian:

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. (1 Corinthians 15:56)

Jesus said to them, If you were blind, you should have no sin: but now you say, We see; therefore your sin remains. (John 9:41)

The Source of Karma

Buddhism attributes karma you cannot explain (a good person who volunteers, helps friends, raised successful children, gets cancer, e.g.) to past lives. Christianity says, "...it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment..." (Hebrews 9:27) The Christian Bible tells them that there is no reincarnation. The only way a Christian can be "born again" is to reject their old life (rules for living, beliefs and behavior) to become a child of the Living God. In this way, they call God "Father", just as Jesus did. They become not only children of God but also they inherit the Kingdom, as heirs.

In Christianity, however, there are generational curses, and generational blessings. Most of these are listed in the Torah, in the book titled Deuteronomy. One of these is the "curse of the bastard child" which falls upon a child who is born not knowing his/her father. This curse lasts 10 generations. So, the woman with cancer may not have done bad things in a previous life, as Buddhism teaches. Instead, a Christian understands the negative manifestations to be the result of "the sins of the fathers."

Good Karma treated differently than Bad Karma

Your Christian listener will be interested to know that, while karma is one for one consistent, the Golden Rule treats good acts differently than bad acts. "But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands." (Ex 20:6, NLV). So, to be sure your Christian friend understands the big picture, be sure to explain that karma is one for one. A person in a business who was lazy and did not work in one life will have to deal with the same kind of person in another life, Buddhism teaches. Christianity teaches you should give the lazy person three chances, then fire them and hire someone else.

The biggest issue is going to be how bad karma is erased. You must explain this to the Christian. In Christianity, bad karma is addressed much, much differently. Do you know how?

How Bad Karma is Erased

In Buddhism, bad karma is erased by living it yourself. You do not have to suffer, or feel it the same as your victim from another life or earlier in this one. For example, if you called someone an "idiot driver" in a hot moment and that person just exploded (and cried for hours, but you didn't know about it), in karmic law, someone will call you an "idiot driver" to cancel out the karmic debt. However, if you are a more spiritually developed person, you can shrug it off and continue to enjoy your day.

Christianity addresses bad karma very, very differently: The Christian receives full forgiveness of all bad karma (they will say 'generational curses' and/or sin) simply by asking Jesus to forgive them! There are some requirements. First, Christians must also forgive everyone else who has ever done them wrong. Second, Christians must believe that Jesus is the Son of God and died for the sins of any and every man, woman or child who believes and repents. Third, Christians must "repent", by which they mean to turn from living that generates bad karma and embrace a life of love. Jesus said that all of God's commandments reduce to just these two:

Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul. Love others like yourself.

So, a Christian receives full forgiveness of bad karma. But, they keep the good karma of their forefathers.

Likely Problems

You should anticipate some problems in convincing the Christian to accept your belief over theirs. Here are some of the most likely:

1. Buddha was a man, looked around, and used his mind to generate a theory. God created the world, and is simply telling us how it works. God knows, and Buddha is just offering a reasoned explanation of how it might work.

2. There are no such thing as reincarnation. Unexplained bad things happen to us not because of action in a previous life, but because of the devil attacking and because of the sins of our forefathers.

3. Why should I believe in karma if I have forgiveness of sins (bad karma consequences) from Jesus?

Here is how you should respond to these challenges from a Christian:

Ask your friend how you, too can be forgiven of your bad karma and receive Jesus to be forgiven and receive eternal life.

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    • Man from Modesto profile imageAUTHOR

      Man from Modesto 

      6 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine (formerly Modesto, California)

      Buddhist teachings only address the same topics addressed by God. But, they explain them very differently. Jesus, who is the Christ, for whom we Christians are called, preached the importance of loving God first with all your heart, and loving our neighbors.

      However, Jesus was not for those who refused to embrace love. Jesus was especially against teachers of false religion.

      Jesus spoke the truth that God speaks. Those who wanted to have their own religious methods hated the competition. To protect their way, which they preferred, they falsely accused Jesus and had Him killed.

      Does Buddhism teach the most important thing in all Christian prophecy: The Messiah who absolves all sin (bad karma)?

      If a buddhist can have all his bad karma erased, won't he stop the (theoretical and untrue) cycle of life?

    • KimberlyLake profile image

      Kimberly Lake 

      6 years ago from California

      @righterone I agree with you. Buddhist teachings are similar to Christian teachings. I have studied both. The Buddha teaches love and compassion to all, so should

      the Christian. Great hub voted up awesome.

    • RighterOne profile image

      RighterOne 

      6 years ago from Chicago, Illinois - USA

      Great hub! Very thorough, and to the point, and you also command scripture quite admirably.

      The problem for me is that these arguments are essentially irrelevant in this day and age, since we are way too close to 'zero-hour' to be arguing religious semantics.

      Truth is that Jesus may have been the son of God, but we are all children of God, and all prophets are His messengers. Without accepting this simple truth, these 'pseudo-Christians' will never accept the second coming without a bloody world war to wake them up.

      Jesus was not THE prophet - and he himself knew this quite well. That is why instead of his message taking the world by storm like the Mochiach's message was supposed to do, at least according to preceding Jewish prophets and sages, it stopped at the boundaries of the European civilization of his day.

      Jesus knew full well that he had to die a bloody and painful death with 'a smile on his face,' as it were - to get his message through the thick sculls of his followers.

      He also knew full well that Karma and reincarnation are both real and very prominent. It's a known fact that he vanished for a period of some 20 years, exploring Eastern faiths - and I can pretty much guarantee you that he himself thought Buddha and Krishna to be great prophets of God, and incorporated their teachings into his world view.

      He promised he'd be back, right...? If that is not a clear sign that re-incarnation played a crucial role in his understanding of reality, then I don't know what is.

      I have so much more to say, but my fingers and eyes are tired from typing on my iPhone, so I'll end here.

      Once again, great hub (voted up, interesting, useful)

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 

      6 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      Karma teaches that: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The Old testament taught an eye for an eye. Jesus taught if you slap me onthe right side, offer up the left side too, so what's the big deal?

    • Man from Modesto profile imageAUTHOR

      Man from Modesto 

      6 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine (formerly Modesto, California)

      Kelly & Angela: yes, we reap what we sow. However, the teaching of "karma" is very, very different from the teachings of Jesus.

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      6 years ago from United States

      I am a Christian, and I have studied the Bible extensively. I don't think that the Christian faith says there is no karma. There is. For everything there is a consequence. That's just a fact of life. I don't think Jesus is dismissing the fact that there is bad consequences for bad things, and good consequences for good things. I think he's just saying, we need to be respectful and forgive. The truth is, our act of forgiveness would bring us good karma, but that doesn't negate the bad karma the other person does for hurting us.

    • KellyPittman profile image

      Kelly Pittman 

      6 years ago from Walker, LA

      --- This Christian sees it differently than the stereotypical you've explained here. But I understand that there are vast majorities and I guess that, yet, I am not one of them. To me, there IS karma... But that is just a vocabulary word. I'm a Christian that has accepted that My God is incomprehensible to my mere human mind and that I cannot ignore that I've witnessed 'karma'. I see the universe as being energized. You DO reap what you sow. There is Good & Evil. Yes, Good things happen to those people who appear "good" but WE don't know that they are "good" and then again, sometimes greater things come out of trials. To this ,some say, "The Lord works in mysterious ways". I understand that there are many "Christians" or better yet, Christian "RELIGIONS" that practice certain laws and traditions, but I also believe that there is a new movement among Earth that the real true message of Christ will eventually be heard. It's so much simpler than these people make it. It goes hand in hand with every other religion. LOVE. That is it. Call it a rule, quote scripture, or a god, or a gospel, or a savior..... Each is the same. Just Love. Give Good to Receive Good. The important part is MEANING it. Oh! Thanks for letting me comment. I like you Hub. Great Writing, Good message. Voted Up and interesting. Thanks for sharing. ;)

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