Essay on Karma and Rebirth in Hinduism

The world is not only spiritual but also moral. Life is an education. In the moral sphere no less than the physical, whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. Every act produces its natural result in future character. The result of the act is not something external to it imposed from without on the actor by an external judge but is in very truth a part of the act itself. We cannot confuse belief in karma with an easy-going fatalism. It is the very opposite of fatalism.

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It deletes chance, for it says that even the smallest happening has its cause in the past and its result in the future. It does not accept the theory of predeter­mination or the idea of an overruling providence. If we find ourselves helpless and unhappy we are not condemned to it by a deity outside of ourselves. The Garuda Purana says:’ No one gives joy or sorrow. That others give us these is an erroneous conception. Our own deeds bring to us their fruits. Body of mine, repay by suffering.’

God does not bestow his favours capriciously. The law of morality is fundamental to the whole cosmic drama. Salvation is not a gift of capricious gods but is to be won by earnest seeking and self-discipline. The law of karma holds that man can control his future by creating in the present what will produce the desired effect. Man is the sole and absolute master of his fate.


But so long as he is a victim of his desires and allows his activities to be governed by automatic attractions and repulsions he is not exercising his free­dom. If chains fetter us, they are of our own forging and we ourselves may rend them asunder. God works by persuasion rather than by force. Right and wrong is not the same thing and the choice we make is a real one.

About future life there are three alternatives possible: (i) the soul die with the body, since it is nothing more than a function of physical life. Hindu re­ligion does not accept this mechanical view, (ii) the soul goes either to heaven and eternal bliss, or to hell and eternal torment, and remains there. For the Hindu, the doctrine that the soul has only one life, a few brief years, in the course of which it determines for itself an eternal heaven or an eternal hell, seems unreasonable and unethical, (iii) the soul may not be fit for eternal life and yet may not deserve eternal torment, and so goes from life to life.

This life is not the end of everything. We shall be provided with other chances. The soul does not begin with the body nor does it end with it. It pursues its long pilgrimage through dying bodies and decaying worlds. The great purpose of redemption is carried over without break from one life to another.

All systems of Hindu thought accept the idea of the continuous existence of the individual human being as axiomatic. Our mental and emotional make-up is reborn with us in the next birth, forming what is called character.


Our strivings and en­deavours give us the start. We need not fear that the spiritual gains of a long and strenuous life go for nothing. This continuity will go on until all souls attain their destiny of freedom, which is the goal of human evolution. If there is not a shred of empirical evidence for it, the same is true of other theories of future life also.


From the beginnings of Hindu history the culture has been formed by new forces which it had to accept and overcome, in the light of its own solid and enduring ideas. In every stage there is an attempt to reach a harmony. Only the harmony is a dynamic one. When this dynamic harmony or organic rhythm of life is missing it means that the religion stands in need of reform. We are now in a period of social upheaval and religious unsettlement the world over, in one of those great incalculable moments in which history takes its major turns.

The traditional forms are unable to express the growing sense of the divine, the more sensitive insight into the right way of life. It is wrong to con­fuse the technique of a religion with its central principles. We must reform the technique so as to make it embody the fertile seeds of truth.


In my travels both in India and abroad I have learnt that there are thousands of men and women today who are hungry to hear the good news of the birth of a new order, eager to do and dare, ready to make sacrifices that a new society may be born, men and women who dimly understand that the principles of a true religion, of a just social order, of a great movement of generosity in human relations, domestic and industrial, economic and political, national and international, are to be found in the basic principles of the Hindu religion. Their presence in growing numbers is the pledge for the victory of the powers of light, life, and love over those of darkness, death, and discord.

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