“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
I must admit that there are times when considering the state of the world I long for a cosmology that includes karma. Not exactly that I want rewards or retributions, but a sense that there is an order in the midst of chaos. Watching an unfair verdict come in from a trial, innocent citizens caught in a war; you may have wondered about theodicy. Theodicy is the concept of divine justice. It’s an ordering to the world. Our Universalist ancestors were often criticized for their belief that a loving God wouldn’t punish anyone eternally in hell. Some wondered how that was fair? Others criticized the Universalists for ignoring evil. God loves everyone, but really? Everyone?
There are other religious answers to the question of divine justice.
Hinduism is an expansive religion, truly a collection of diverse religious practices with a shared cosmology. Hinduism received its name from the British who had difficulty in accurately pronouncing the name of the river Sindhuo. Thus those who lived in the region of the Sindhuo became known as Hindus and their religion (which seemed monolithic to the British) became known as Hinduism.
To make any statement about karma and rebirth would be a serious simplification of the practices, worldviews, and cultural diversity within Hinduism. There is a wide range of understanding of karma, coming from the word denoting religious action/sacrifice. Generally, however, karma is understood to be in three forms: karma experienced in this life, one’s store of karma in this life, and karma sown for the next life. While it’s a popular American idiom to accuse someone of accruing “bad karma” of course the theological understanding in Hinduism is much more complicated.
Karma is just one answer to the question of what order there might in the universe. When the Universalists were criticized for their loving God, what was missing is that they did believe in little states of heaven and hell on earth. Here on earth there was much of hell or heaven to be experienced. It’s difficult for me to embrace a cosmological order where beings are reincarnated into life situations that compel them to confront past mistakes. I find it to be pure luck (or lack there of) to be born where and when we are born. Of course, I’ve seen the power of generational poverty or wealth. I’ve known the karma of one person’s decision in a family and the ripple effect it had upon that family. Jesus even offers the parable of the sower and the seed to illustrate the power of what we sow and where we sow it. This kind of here and now karma I can understand. Even in my life so far I’ve known little deaths and rebirths. None of us remains the same person forever.
In Hinduism, karma is referred to as being sown, like a seed. As the new year unfolds already marked with violence in Paris, I invite you to consider what you are sowing? Have you accrued some good karma or bad karma? And are your intentions sown in soil that can receive it?