Karma & Reincarnation in Hinduism
"We have the power to be what we are, and whatever we wish to be, we have the power to make ourselves. If what we are has been the result of our past actions, it certainly follows that whatever we wish to be in future can be produced by our present actions; so we have to know how to act." – Swami Vivekananda
Karma is a concept in Hinduism which explains causality. The cause here would be that beneficial effects are derived from past beneficial actions whilst harmful effects are from past harmful actions. This creates a simplified concept of “what goes around, comes around” or every action has an action throughout a soul’s life. A soul is said to have reached Moksha when the cycle or birth and death comes to an end.
In this hub, I will seek to explain the definition as well as the types of karma in which a person has and relate karma to reincarnation. I will also seek to explain the soul's path to achieving self realization and thoughts at the time of death and how that would affect our karma.
Definition of Karma
Karma can be defined as an “act” or “deed” where the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction in which Hindus believe govern consciousness. The Vedas have stated that if a person does good, they will reap goodness. If a person sows evil, they will reap evil.
Karma is done based on individual acts but rather our acts in total. As such, not all our karmas rebound immediately; some karma is accumulated and could either return in this birth or other births.
Humans are said to produce karma in four ways which are through thoughts, through words, through actions that we perform ourselves and through actions other do on our instructions.
Types of Karma
The Hindu scriptures have divided karma into three parts. These are:-
1) Sanchita Karma – This is the accumulated karma. In our lifetime, it would be difficult to experience and endure all our Karmas. This means the sum total of past karma which has yet to be resolved.
2) Prarabdha Karma – This is the fruit-bearing karma of the sanchita karma. This means the portion of sanchita karma which we are to experience in our present life.
3) Kriyamana Karma – This karma is everything which we produce in our present life. All kriyamana karma would flow into sanchita karma. It is only in our human form that we are able to exit the cycle of birth and death and we can change our destiny.
Our soul’s impressions are recorded in our higher karma during our earthly lives and in the astral/mental worlds in between earth and existences. However, it must be stated that our past negative karma can be “smoothed” through loving all beings, dutifully doing our dharma (personal obligations and duties) and sadhana (spiritual means of accomplishing a goal). That is why it is mentioned in all scriptures that we should live lovingly and religiously for the benefit of our future karma and to soften our negative karma which we may knowingly or unknowingly collected throughout our lives.
Reincarnation occurs when the soul, after the death of the body, come back to life in a newborn body. However, upon birth in the new body, the soul would have forgotten things & life in the previous body. It has to be noted that although the body has changed, the soul remains the same. The body is the “vehicle” which the soul needs to in one life to another. The family, time, place, social society and culture where the reincarnation takes place is decided by the individual soul.
A Soul’s Path to Achieving Realization
It is said that the soul dwells in the innermost body of light and super-conscious. In our conscious mind, we think and feel with our physical body. That is why when our physical body ends with death; our soul continues to occupy the astral body which is the subtle duplicate of the physical body. This subtle body consists of higher energy astral matter. As such, if the soul is highly evolved, it will occupy the astral plane known as “Devaloka” which the light of shining beings.
However, there are some seed karmas which can only be resolved in earth consciousness and because the soul’s initial realizations of Absolute Reality are only achieved when in the physical body, our soul would enter another physical body. During our many earthly lives, the soul experiences a remarkable variety of life patterns. We may be a prince or princess in one life and a pauper in another, we may also live as scientist, murderers and healers, we can reincarnate into a variety of bodies regardless of race, religions, faiths so that the soul achieves more knowledge and evolutionary experience.
Thoughts at Time of Death
Hindus are very concerned and vigilant of his/her thoughts are time of death as it is believed that the last thoughts of a person at time of death could dictate the soul’s future path. For example, if at time of death, a person’s thought’s is at his faithful dog, chances are, the soul could be a dog in his next life. However, if at time of death, a person chants & think of God during his last moments, he could be closer to achieving his goal of Moksha. That is why, it is always best to think of God everywhere & every time as ultimately, it is He who the soul’s like us want to merge with.
For a Hindu, death has to come naturally in its own course. It has to be noted that suicide will only accelerate the intensity of one’s karma. This immediately brings with it a series of lesser births and the soul is then required to return to the exact evolutionary point that brought about the suicide in the first place. This means that the karmic entanglements which was faced during the suicide moment must be faced again and resolved.
There are two sensitive process in karma which are:-
1) artificially sustaining life in an incapacitated body through life support
Where karma is involved, there is already a pre-determined time of death which could involve long suffering, peaceful or painful deaths. To keep a person on life support with the intention of continuing the body’s biological functions would nullify the karmic natural time of death. This would then keep the person’s astral body earthbound rather than released to the higher astral levels.
Karma & Euthanasia
Karma is conditioned with intent. As such, when a patient is seriously ill and is placed on life support, the intention of the doctors and nurses is that of pure healing. If the attempts to save the life is unsuccessful, the life support is then turned off and the person dies a natural death. In this case, there is no karma involved as the person has died a natural death.
However, if the patient is continued to be on life support indefinitely to prolong the biological process of the organs, it is here then that there will be full karmic consequences. If, after a long period of time, the person is then removed from the life support, this is called euthanasia and as a result the timing of death is altered and future births would be affected. It has to be noted that any person involved, whether directly or indirectly, would take on the remaining prarabdha of the dying person and will face a similar karmic situation whether on this life or the lives thereafter.
You are the Architect of Your Fate
Now, the most important person on karma & reincarnation is YOU. It is you who determine you fate, fortune, pain, sufferings and pleasure. It is you who are responsible for your present conditions. Every action you take, has a reaction.
You have the freedom to determine the result of action as well as the freedom to determine the course of action. Lord Krishna has stated:
“Karmanyeva Adhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana”
which translates to “Thy business is with action only, never with its fruits”. Presently, you are now because of what you did and thought in the past and what you shall become in the future will be the result of what you think and do now. That is why, your time is NOW to create a better future.
Relationship between Karma & Reincarnation
In life, we should seek to attain enlightenment, Self-Realization and God-Realization. This can be done by wisely controlling the creation of karma and resolving past karmas. It is through the practice of yoga & meditation that a Hindu experiences bliss. It is with this silence that he is able to reach the Absolute Reality of God. Such person is known as a Jnani, a Knower of the known knowledge. When a jnani repeats his realization, there is no longer a need for physical birth and all karmas have been fulfilled and all lessons learnt and there is God in his every state of mind, body and soul. That individual soul has attained Moksha and continues to evolve in the higher worlds with the ultimate aim to merge with the ultimate Maker, GOD.
Although God may seem distant and unreachable, He is actually close to all of us. That is why one should follow dharma, control thought through our words and deed, we have become the knowing creator and not the helpless victim of the Law of Karma.
For a Hindu, the belief in karma and reincarnation brings about an inner peace and self assurance that the maturing of the soul takes many lives and that there is hope for opportunities for the soul to learn and grow in future lives. It is these beliefs which eliminate anxiety giving the perception that everything is all right as it is.