Published by DonDavidson on

Most of us think of “karma” as poetic justice, when somebody who has been mean, rude, or foolish gets the comeuppance they so richly deserve. But for Hindus and Buddhists, karma is much more.

In Hinduism and Buddhism, karma is essentially cause and effect, but for Hindus and Buddhists it is not only a physical law but a moral law as well. Good karma comes from virtuous and altruistic thoughts, emotions, intentions, speech, behavior, and results, while bad karma arises from the opposite of these things. The strength of the karma depends upon the intensity and combination of these factors. Thus, an evil thought combined with wicked behavior and a harmful result generates much more bad karma than an evil thought alone. Similarly, murder causes more bad karma than a mere insult, since the resulting harm is much worse.

If something terrible happens to me, a Hindu or a Buddhist would say that it is not due to bad luck or punishment from above, but is the result of bad karma. In this way, suffering can become a vicious cycle by arousing negative thoughts, emotions, and actions that produce more bad karma—which results in more suffering in the future. Similarly, good karma produces favorable occurrences. To a Hindu or a Buddhist, the moral law of karma is as inevitable and unavoidable as the law of gravity.

Hindus and Buddhists believe that each of us lives many different lives, in many different forms (human, animal, and spirit)—a concept referred to as samsara, or cyclic existence. Karma can express itself over a single lifetime, present or future, or over multiple lifetimes, usually depending on the strength of the karma. Thus, a Hindu or a Buddhist would say that everything I am, and everything that happens to me, has a cause somewhere in this life or in one of my past lives.

Now let’s be clear about what karma is not. We all recognize that actions have consequences. If I put my hand in a flame, I will burn my hand. If I choose to live near the ocean, I may have to suffer through a hurricane. If I rob a bank and get caught, I will probably go to prison. But this is not karma. These are examples of our actions having consequences.

The Bible is full of examples of actions having consequences, beginning with Adam and Eve. They disobeyed God and suffered the consequences of their disobedience.

There are at least two differences between karma and the consequences of our actions. One is that karma can affect us without any direct causation, so karma can impact us far into the future, even in another life. The other difference is that karma can result not only from our actions, but also from our thoughts, emotions, intentions, and speech.

I know of no support in the Bible for the concept of karma. The closest idea might be the Old Testament belief that God punishes people in this life for their sins. For example, when Miriam rebelled against Moses, God struck her with leprosy for a week. (Numbers 12) God punished David for his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite. (II Samuel 10-12 and 15-19) Because of repeated idolatry, God destroyed the kingdom of Israel and sent the people of Judah into exile in Babylon. (II Kings 17, 18:9-12, and Kings 24-25; II Chronicles 36)

The Israelites of Jesus’ time certainly believed in this idea that God punishes people for their sins in this life. Interestingly, Jesus didn’t seem to buy into this idea. In Luke 13:1-4, he dismissed the idea that people had died because they were worse sinners than their peers. And in John 9:1-3, he rejected the idea that a man had been born blind because of sin—either his own or that of his parents.

So I do not believe that karma is real, nor do I believe that God still punishes people in this life for their sins. We often suffer the consequences of our actions and our poor decisions, but that is something wholly different.

With that said, the worst decision any of us can make is to reject God and his Christ—the Bible is clear that such rejection will have consequences in the next life, which is the life that really matters.

I discuss Buddhism in chapter 9 of my book, Beyond Blind Faith. You can find a list of contents and chapter excerpts here, and you can read a description of the book here. The book is available on Amazon.com, in both print book and e-book formats (the e-book is only 99 cents).


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