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Meaning of Karma

Discuss about the Hindu Doctrine of Karma.

The doctrine of Karma is a persistent belief system in the Indian tradition of religion that strikes the most consistent difference between the western and the Indian religious custom. The Hindu doctrine of Karma unites the self salvation of the own effort with the metaphysical attainment of men. Even though western spirituality makes effective explanation of evil, where the suffering of an individual is accounted for by their previous erroneous activities, the Hindu religious system combines the idea of Karma retributions with the concept of multiple incarnations to explain all the suffering by the previous wrongdoings of the individual. In this way the Indian belief system gives a consistent explanation of evil and human sufferings. According to several researchers, the doctrine of karma and reincarnation provide the Hindu religion an intellectually and emotionally fulfilling explanation of human sufferings and evil than the archetypal western solutions of the evil problems.

If the literal meaning is considered, Karma means the doing or the act, which is the outcome of the previous action of an individual. It can also be seen as the principle of cause and effect, or like the action and reaction of the deeds that governs the later life. The Hindu doctrine of Karma refers to the legitimacy of the rules of the universe and is visualized as a cosmic belief where every individual will face the consequences of their own works. The principle puts stress on the responsibility of the actions of each individual consisting their well beings and misfortunes. It also considers the human to be the maker of their own fortune. There is always a belief of justice lying in the clarification of the doctrine. It acts like a guiding principle of Hindu and Buddhist school of belief conducting them in the moral world. In the Hindu belief system, it plays the most significant role, as it determines the place where someone is born in the next life. Many researchers claim that it is a blind faith in the fatalism, but it is certainly not that but is opposed to all the morality. The doctrine highlights the transmigration of spirit and the cycle of life and death, through which the soul needs to pass before they realizes the quest of excellence. Like any other scientific theory, the Hindu doctrine of Karma enlightens regularity, complexity of the phenomena and the simplicity, at the same time it emphasizes certain intelligible experience like other social theory. Both the physical and mental sufferings are considered to be a part of telling of Karma. It is never seen as a punishment of the wrongdoings, rather just the consequence of the law of the universe, therefore rationally defensible. Researchers observed that sometimes Karma acts as a comforting thought in the tragedies of life, stating that the crises are the outcomes of Karma of the individual and not any kind of unjust.

The doctrine of Karma started formulating towards the end of Vedic period in India. The concept of ‘rta’ is found in Rig Veda, which entails the existence of the cosmic law holding the nature in an orderly and rational manner, even the Gods are bound by the supremacy of the law. The concept of Karma is not considered as cruel or merciful, but bound by the morality. However, it is believed that there is no escape from the doctrine, but there is always hope to design the future by strictly watching the actions of an individual in the present life. In fact, in Hindu belief system, the God is considered to be a mere spectator of the functioning of the cosmic law and even he is not powerful enough to interfere the application of the law. In the Hindu religious books like Upanishad, the God is defined as the witness, not the mediator. The Bhagavad Gita has several examples of the doctrine of Karma. When Arjuna denies to fight against the rival army which is comprised of most of relatives and near and dear ones, Lord Krishna advises him to fight for integrity and pursue his niyata karma, which is the predestined duty of the individual. The Karma gets performed without mere expectation of the preferred result. The Bhagavad Gita explains that there is no place in the universe, where the individual can find any escape from their karma. It also defines to be the reason of rebirth and sometimes, the successive lives. However, the later explanations of the doctrine accept the concept of divine grace. In the Bhakti tradition the gurus, with the help of God, were presumed to be capable of improving the consequences of Karma. These modifications provided enough space in avoiding the consequences of the misdeeds of an individual.

Implications of Karma

If the details of the doctrine of karma are stated, it is no less than a complete principle of philosophical functioning, motivation and human thinking. Although the doctrine is considerably vague and open to diverse interpretations, often the understanding of the concept is liable to be varied with the theories of the primary doctrine as articulated in Hindu thought. There are numbers of interpretations of the doctrine and people who are facing major crisis in life and they find no other plausible explanations. For a long time, the concept has been providing convincing explanation to people facing misfortune in lives. The primary concern with the doctrine of karma is more than the philosophical canon; it lies in the popular idea and rituals. The concept also reflects in various narratives of Indian origin.

According to Indian beliefs, the karma theory is able to explain every suffering of human life, even the misery of innocent children; however, his is entirely against the Western thoughts. There are numbers of objections raised against this doctrine, which raised some serious obstruction to the concept of Karma. The first objection was the Memory problem, which is concerned with the absolute lack of memory of the previous life. Several researchers try to point out the strangeness of having no memory of previous complex lives. The individual, who is suffering in his present life because of some misdeed in the previous life, he is having no clue about the reasons for the sufferings. Another problem that was pointed out with the Karma theory is the proportionality problem. It cannot give justification to the proper proportionate to the wrong and right, also the degree and kinds of sufferings men see in real life. Those who face torturous sufferings in their life, or innocent children suffering from serious diseases, it is difficult to accept that all the sufferings are legitimately earned. The third objection raised against the doctrine of karma is the infinite regress problem, dealing with the relationship between the events of previous and present life. The karma theory refers to the events of previous life, in order to define the circumstances of the present life. The question that rises is the how the cycle of karma works. Several researchers question the process of working of karma and found the explanations to be inadequate. Another problem, the doctrine has, is the explanation of death. If the theory is discussed in details, it seems that the death is presented as a punishment, rather presumed. It seems that an individual is punished through rebirths. For most of the explanations of the theory, death is not even taken that critically to define in a proper manner. The final problem rose with the doctrine that many researchers objected the theory of rebirth as it cannot be verified. There is no evidence to make this theory justified; it remained just as a theory.

However, despite the huge array of objections on the doctrine of karma, there is a real connection between the suffering of an individual and the procedure of healing. The doctrine seems to have an unenviable approval by the Indians. Although the principle is called vague an unsatisfying by many scholars, the concern of the common mass was not to dig into the particulars of the doctrine rather to deal with the crisis of life. The focus was mainly upon finding a convincing reason for the sufferings in life. The doctrine provided a culturally certified clarification to felicitate the moving on with life. It seems to be deeply embedded in the mind of Hindus and they also manifest a normal tendency to appeal to this in several situations in life. It is considered more than an anchor in life while dealing with disaster. Among the common mass, especially in India, traditional Hindus view this as a mean to cope with the sufferings and a strategy o reduce anxiety. The doctrine entirely sustains the faith of and individual and it was evident even though Hindus believe in the theory, they do not rule out the roles of gurus in their religious practice. It is believed that the utilizing of the doctrine as an explanation is a vibrant process. Different situation demands different explanation of the principle and the effectiveness of the doctrine are deep rooted in the faith of an individual and offer a justifiable explanation and rationalization for human sufferings.

Reference List

Barnett, Lionel D. Hindu Gods and Heroes. Lulu. com, 2015.

Fitzpatrick, S. J., Kerridge, I. H., Jordens, C. F., Zoloth, L., Tollefsen, C., Tsomo, K. L., ... & Sarma, D. (2016). Religious perspectives on human suffering: Implications for medicine and bioethics. Journal of religion and health, 55(1), 159-173.

Fuchs, Martin. "Worldview and relationships to the world: The concepts of karma (n) and bhakti in Weber’s study on Hinduism and Buddhism11From the conference,‘Translating and editing Max Weber: experiences, insights and irritations’, on the occasion of the one hundred an." Max Weber Studies 16.2 (2016): 211-227.

Gary E. Kessler, Studying Religion: An Introduction Through Cases, 3rd edition (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2008), ch. 8.

James C. Livingston, Anatomy of the Sacred: An Introduction to Religion 2nd edition (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993), ch. 10.

John Hick, Death and Eternal Life (Glasgow: Collins, 1976), ch. 16.

John Hick, Philosophy of Religion 4th ed. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1990), chs 4 & 11.

Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger, Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, 4th edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), ch. 8.

Nick Trakakis and Monima Chadha, “Karma and the Problem of Evil: A Response to Kaufman”, Philosophy East & West 57 (2007): 533-56.

Roy Perrett, “Karma and the Problem of Suffering”, Sophia 24 (1985): 4-10

Whitley Kaufman, “Karma, Rebirth, and the Problem of Evil: A Reply to Critics,” Philosophy East & West 57 (2007): 556-60.

Whitley Kaufman, “Karma, Rebirth, and the Problem of Evil”, Philosophy East and West 55 (2005): 15-32.

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