The Hindu word “karma” is used more and more often with a Western twist in meaning. Often people say it to mean “luck” (good or bad) or even as a gleeful expression of revenge. I have seen this word on bumper stickers and heard it said lightly, as a joke. I myself once sincerely held a belief in karma when I was following Eastern and New Age beliefs, and often thought of how someone who had wronged me would eventually suffer karma for what they had done to me. By no means, however, is the term or concept of karma a joke. Others – including some Christians -- try to justify the term karma with the idea of consequences as seen in Galatians 6:
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Gal. 6:7, 8
So should a Christian use the word “karma?” First, what is karma?
Karma and Reincarnation
Karma in Hinduism means “action” and the law of karma refers to the consequences of action. However, although there is a karma relating to consequences from actions in the present life, the usual meaning has to do with the consequences of previous lives (reincarnation), and actions in this life that sow the seeds for consequences in future lives (if interested, see explanations on Christian site, Karma2Grace, at http://bit.ly/1Pcq4yj, and on Hindu site at http://bit.ly/1UrHaMp and http://bit.ly/1n12TQY).
Quote==Generally speaking, the belief that one lives many lives, returning after death to life in another body, time, and place. This belief is an essential part of Hinduism. One accumulates karma, which are the actions of a person in life, which will influence the person's subsequent lives…..In Hinduism, one can return as an animal or insect (called 'transmigration'), but in Western reincarnation, one returns as a person.==From CANA document at http://bit.ly/1XiASRD
Reincarnation, a doctrine of Eastern belief systems, is totally opposed to biblical teachings, as is the concept of karma.
“For it is appointed unto man to die once, and then the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27
Penance, Forgiveness, and Karma
The consequences in karma are mechanical and ongoing; there is no forgiveness or way to erase them except, according to some teachings, in cases of a guru who claims to do so for you in this life or possibly by performing a ritual. Even then, while a temporary erasure has been done, karma continues and will continue in future lives.
Here is advice from a Hindu site on Prayaschitta, which is penance:
Quote==The doctrine of karma is complex, with many subtle distinctions and categories. But for the purpose of understanding penance, we may consider karma as two-fold: the meritorious or good, called punya or sukarma in Sanskrit; and the undesirable or bad, termed papa or kukarma….[….]…In the broadest sense, the entire system of reincarnation is an elaborate form of penance, for we are born with the body, family, circumstances and even longevity and propensity toward disease brought about by our past actions. Prayaschitta is, however, an act of limited aim, intended only to mitigate or avoid altogether the karmaphala, "fruit of action," of some action we have taken in this lifetime. Actions from our past lives are not considered within reach of ordinary prayaschitta. The karmas of past lives can only be assuaged or erased altogether by intense tapas or austerities under the guidance of a guru, or by the extraordinary grace of God. Manu Dharma Shastras 11.54 states, "Penances, therefore, must always be performed for the sake of purification, because those whose sins have not been expiated are born again with disgraceful marks."==From http://bit.ly/1Rd42Sr
Also, one must ask, what values or standards is karma based on?
Answer: The values found in Hindu teachings, which are diverse and complex. Hinduism is not one monolithic religion but rather a set of wide and multifarious beliefs depending on which particular texts, gurus, sects, schools of thought, and even the region of India they stem from. The need for a sinless sacrifice of another to pay the penalty for sin is absent in Hinduism because if there is a penalty, it is paid by each person through karma. The only release is moksha -- liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth – dependent on one’s actions in many lives.
The Meaning and Purpose of Sowing and Reaping in Galatians
What is the meaning and point of the Galatians verses about reaping what one sows?
The Expositors Greek New Testament comments on verse 8:
Quote== Every action produces an effect on the character of the actor corresponding as exactly to its motive as the fruit to the seed. If it springs from selfish desire, it stimulates the growth of evil lusts, and issues in a harvest of inward corruption. If, on the contrary, it be done in obedience to the spirit, it quickens spiritual growth, and issues eventually in a harvest of eternal life. The heart of man resembles a field in which he sows, by the mere exercise of his will, a future harvest of good or evil.==See this and other commentaries at http://bit.ly/1OI4qrz
This passage in Galatians is written to Christians, and is part of an exhortation as we see in the next 2 verses:
“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Verses 9 and 10
Also read the beginning of the sixth chapter to get the context. This has nothing to do with the popular notion of “what goes around comes around,” but rather that our deeds either are done for the flesh, that is, the fallen nature, and will end destructively, or they are done according to the power of the Holy Spirit, leading to results that have eternal value, in accordance with eternal life.
From the Pulpit commentary on this passage:
"That is, he that expends thought, time, effort, money, upon the furthering, in himself and in others, of the fruits of the Spirit, shall receive, from that Holy Spirit to whose guidance dwelling within him he resigns himself, that quickening of his whole being, body, soul, and spirit, for an everlasting existence in glory, which it is the proper work of that Divine Agent to effect." From http://bit.ly/1OI4qrz
The contrast is between sowing to the flesh and sowing to the Spirit, the flesh vs. the Holy Spirit being a common theme in Paul’s letters. “Flesh” here does not mean the body, as though the body is bad, nor is it about one’s spirit being good, since it’s about the Holy Spirit. Rather, this is about living by/pleasing the fallen nature, i.e., the sin nature, vs. living by the Holy Spirit. The results will be different depending on which way one chooses.
So Should Christians Use the Word Karma?
While it is certainly true that there are consequences for one’s actions and that often one does “sow what one reaps” in this life, equating karma with the concepts found in Galatians of sowing and reaping, or elsewhere in Scripture, is invalid, as has been shown.
Moreover, using the word karma may give others the idea that the Christian agrees with the Hindu concept of karma or somehow endorses it. There is no good reason for Christians to use this word except as a platform to contrast it with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Karma and Christ
The differences between karma and Christ are deeper than any ocean or as distant as galaxies we don’t even know exist. In Hinduism, the way out of karma and reincarnation must be through one’s deeds – the various Yogas -- and realization of his true nature, which is allegedly divine, among other possible paths and teachings (see http://bit.ly/1Z3I0FZ to understand how complicated this all is). This realization only comes after many lifetimes and is dependent on one’s own actions to reach moksha, liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth.
In contrast, God tells man that due to man’s separation from God due to sin, and man’s inability to bridge that gap by his own deeds, Jesus came once for all to offer Himself on the cross to pay the penalty for sins. Through faith in Jesus, knowing that His payment makes the way to God possible, one is forgiven of all sins and inherits eternal life.
Once for all:
"But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption." Hebrews 9:11, 12
Note here the similarity to the Galatians passage of exhortation to good works as a result of living in Christ:
"…..since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh), and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works." Hebrews 10:19-24
If one has eternal life through faith in Jesus, why use the word “karma?” Does karma offer “no condemnation?” No, it does not. Only Christ can do that through faith in His work on the cross:
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1-4
Marcia Montenegro's web page, www.Christiananswers forthenewage.org, is filled with well thought out articles about the occult and the New Age. Marcia is my "go to" person for all things in these areas.
Eastern Roots of the New Age
The New Age: What Is It?
Worldviews in Contrast
Christian site, Karma2Grace
Hindu and Christian Concepts of Self, Karma2Grace
Contrast between Hindu and Christian Beliefs
Disclaimer: The beliefs about karma and reincarnation are complex, and differ in many ways in the New Age from Hinduism. I realize what is written above are simplified explanations and I do not claim to be giving an all-encompassing summary.
Photo credit: "Shiva" by Alice Popkorn, licensed under CC BY 2.0