By Marcia Montenegro
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 myself once 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.
Others try to justify the term karma, loosely or strictly, 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” (Galatians 6:7, 8).
So, how to view “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 of 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 and Hindu site Hinduwebsite.) Reincarnation is:
“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 views of reincarnation, one returns as a person.”
Reincarnation, a doctrine of Eastern belief systems, is however opposed to Scripture:
“For it is appointed unto man to die once, and then the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
Penance, Forgiveness, and Karma
For the purposes of this article, the focus is on reincarnation as part of non-dual Hinduism, not dualistic Hinduism. Non-dual Hinduism is the view that there are no distinctions and all is ultimately one. This type of Hinduism is what has influenced the New Age Movement, and it is the primary Hindu spiritual influence in the West.
The consequences, in karma, are mechanical and ongoing; there is no forgiveness or way to avoid such consequences except, according to some teachings, through the specific actions of a guru 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:
“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.”
Also, one must ask, on what values or standards is karma based? It is based on the values found in Hindu teachings, which are diverse and complex. Hinduism is not one monolithic religion but rather a network of wide and multifarious beliefs depending on from which particular texts, gurus, sects, schools of thought, or region of India they stem. Also, each Hindu can choose which deity they prefer as a main deity (the one god is believed to appear as numerous deities). In New Age beliefs, teachings on karma can vary according to the one teaching it.
The need for a sinless sacrifice of another to pay the penalty for sin is absent in Hinduism; if there is any penalty or consequence, 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 and spiritual progress through many lives.
Sowing and Reaping in Galatians
What is the meaning and point of the Galatians verses about reaping what one sows?
“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.”
This passage in Galatians is written to Christians and is part of an exhortation as we see in the next two 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 an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6: 9-10).
This has nothing to do with the popular notion of “what goes around comes around,” but rather that our deeds are either undertaken to gratify the flesh, that is, the fallen nature, and will end destructively, or they are done according to the power of the Holy Spirit and for God’s glory, leading to results that have eternal value in accordance with eternal life.
The contrast is between sowing to the flesh (fallen nature) 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. Nor is it denouncing pleasure. Rather, this is about living by the fallen nature, that is, the sinful nature, vs. living by the Holy Spirit. The results will be different depending on which way one chooses.
Karma and Christ
In Hinduism and Hindu-based New Age beliefs, the way out of karma and reincarnation must be through one’s deeds and realization of one’s true nature (which is allegedly divine), among other possible paths and complex teachings. 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, both in Hinduism and in Buddhism.
In contrast, God tells the 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 has forgiveness of all sins and inherits eternal life.
God sent Jesus who willingly laid down His life on the cross to take the penalty for sins so that all who believe in Him have eternal life. Jesus died “once for all.” It was a final act that brings eternal results. Even if one were to hypothetically have thousands of reincarnated lives, he or she could never be good enough or do enough good things to earn salvation.
Christ and karma cannot co-exist. Karma would make Christ’s sacrifice of no import, and Christ nullifies karma.
Should Christians Use the Word Karma?
While it is certainly true that there are consequences for one’s actions and 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.
Moreover, using the word karma may give others the idea that the Christian agrees with the Hindu concept of karma or somehow endorses it. Using the word karma lightly may insult someone who believes in karma and thus alienates that person from hearing the truth. There is no good reason for Christians to use this word except as a platform to contrast it with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
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.
 Christian Answers for the New Age, The Occult: Brief Explanations of Various Terms and Concepts, (accessed 10/13/2017)
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