Does the system of karma and rebirth imply that there is no forgiveness?
From Geeta Mataji:
Relevant Quote of Christian scholar and pioneering Sanskritist, Sir William Jones:
“I am no Hindu but I hold the doctrine of the Hindus concerning a future state to be incomparably more rational, more pious and more likely to deter men from vice than the horrid opinions inculcated by the Christians on punishment without end.”
Transcription by – Sesa Vishnu Das
Edited by – Sesa Vishnu Das
Question : one of my friends is a Christian and he says that there is no forgiveness in Hinduism, there is simply karma and rebirth and that’s why one just goes on in the cycle of birth and death unless one comes to Jesus ?
Answer: firstly there are two principles- there is justice and there is forgiveness. The two are not contradictory. The two work in complementary ways. Without justice the principle of forgiveness becomes sentimental and becomes a recipe for disorder. When there is genuine repentance there has to be forgiveness. That’s what fulfils the purpose of justice. Let me explain this. In the judaio-christian worldview as it is presented in the mainstream versions there is no acceptance of reincarnation and although there is some sense of something like karma where they say as you sow so shall you reap but that is just a saying. The biblical worldview doesn’t explain how people will sow what they reap because currently they believe that there is only one life and we can see that there are so many people who do so many things and they don’t suffer for those things. Even if we say that they will suffer in eternity in hell as a result that doesn’t answer the question that there are people who suffer in this life who have not done anything wrong in this life. For example babies are born with diseases- what wrong did they do? If there is no previous life then why are babies born say handicapt or deformed or in other ways sickly? What wrong did they do? Did they fold their legs in a wrong way in their mother’s stomach that’s why God is punishing them? Basically the worldview that this life is the only life that we have, removes justice from our vision of the world and it makes God into an arbitrary person who allows suffering to victimize anyone arbitrarily for no reason. In fact justice is a principle which has to come before forgiveness. If there is no justice at all then who will want to worship such a God? If God is irrational and arbitrary and allows sufferings to come in anyone’s life anytime then what is the point in worshiping such a God? Now you may say suffering doesn’t come from God, it comes from devil and God will ultimately overcome devil. Ultimately is fine but what about intermediately? Intermediately I will have to suffer and why does God let devil cause all these sufferings? Not just suffering, suffering is not just the problem, we could understand that the suffering is the test, but the problem is not suffering but the problem is differential suffering. Now if a teacher was conducting a program giving the exam is fine but if one student gets an easy paper and another student gets a very tough paper a then that will be considered discriminatory. So the biblical vision of this life being the only life makes God both arbitrary and discriminatory. Arbitrary in the sense that anyone will get suffering at any time and God doesn’t do anything to stop it and discriminatory means if everybody will be getting suffering we could say that yes this is a test but some people get more suffering and some get less suffering. Why is that? And when this question is raised usually the answer is given that “Oh God’s will, intelligence and justice is different from ours.” Yes that is true, God’s justice is different but the difference should be that God’s justice and intelligence has to be better than that of ours. God’s justice should be higher than ours, not as ours. Now if any Government starts punishing people arbitrarily and discriminatorily we would consider that Govt as brutal, dictatorial and we want to throw that Govt and it is because of the abhramic religions this vision of God as arbitrary and discriminatory has been propagated that is why thousands and millions of people have gone towards atheism. Of course the vision of God in the bible if you study carefully is different and the vision of Christianity as it is there now, they don’t reflect the teachings of the bible fully. So there are hints towards reincarnation in the bible also. But they are not highlighted at all. So the Christian vision makes God discriminatory and arbitrary and therefore rebels people from worshipping God. It pushes practically people to go to atheism.
Now coming to forgiveness- yes there is a law of Karma, the answer that is given in the vedic wisdom tradition about justice is that there is a law of karma that operates on multiple lifetimes. That’s why if we are suffering something now, it is because we have done something bad in our previous life. whatever wrong people are doing now they will get their consequences, if not in this lifetime then in next lifetimes. So essentially there is justice. Now beyond the law of karma and justice that it promises there is also forgiveness and that is the supremen potency of God and Krishna states in BG 18.66 Sarva dharman parityajya…. You just devote yourself to me and then what will happen? Aham tvam sarva papevyo, I will free you from all sinful reactions. I will free you from all reactions and do not fear. Yes there is justice but for those who devote themselves to God then there is a principle higher than justice that is mercy. So both these worldviews are there in the BG where as the idea of justice is absent from the conception of God in the Christian tradition as it is depicted and although there is forgiveness as it is supposed to be given that forgiveness is very restricted. Forgiveness is restricted to what? The idea is that jesus is the only way to God. Because of this again all the people who don’t know jesus who were born before jesus and all the people who surrender to jesus they actually don’t get God’s mercy. On one side we say that God is very forgiving and on the other side God’s forgiveness is restricted to only one gateway. Anybody who doesn’t come to that gateway then that person is condemned to hell forever. So in contrast in the vedic tradition sambhavami yuge yuge. Krishna says that I come in age after age and Krishna comes in many incarnations and in the vedic traditions, the acharyas have considere3d jesus as a representative of God. So the devotees of Krishna they accept when Krishna says that I will forgive. But we don’t limit ourselves to that because to limit God’s forgiveness through only one agent means to limit God and it is to deprive all people who can’t for whatever reason connect with him. Whereas in the vedic tradition actually God’s forgiveness is not limited. There are many incarnations of God and there are many sayings of God. They all teach the path of love of God. And what brings forgiveness is devoting oneself to God. It doesn’t matter if one devotes oneself to one incarnation or to the other incarnation, what matters is that principle of surrender and in this way the forgiveness of God is available without any artificial limitations within the vedic tradition. In fact this is not just our opinion because we are following the vedic wisdom tradition, there is a famous Christian scholar, one of the pioneer sanskritist William james, he came to India and he was a pious Christian. He came to India and studied the hindu philosophy. He himself made a quote giving a comparative scatology- the final destination within Christianity and within hinduisim. I will read this quote for you. “ I am no Hindu but I hold the doctrine of the Hindus concerning a future state to be incomparably more rational more pious and more likely to determine from vice than the horrid opinions inculcated by the Christians on punishment without end”. So this is a Christian who says the horrid opinions of Christians about punishment without end. So what is he talking about here? In the mainstream Christian view now the idea is that if one has only one lifetime to surrender to God and there is only one way to surrender to God i.e. jesus. And if people don’t do that then they are going to hell forever. That means God is far from forgiving and he is terribly unforgiving. Even an ordinary parent will give his children more than one chance and here God is giving only one chance and if you don’t accept that chance that person will go to hell for ever. So this is a very selective form of forgiveness given to people who accept only one pathway to God. Actually such a notion limits God and distorts God and that’s why it paints the picture of God not as forgiving but as highly unforgiving. And such a vision of God is actually what causes people from going away from God and embrace atheism. The vision of God that is given in the bhagavad Gita is just both forgiving. The justice brings orderliness in this world so that people know that we are indeed accountable for our actions. The forgiveness comes to those who surrender to him that enables people to come out of the cycle of birth and death. So the cycle of karma and rebirth ensures justice and the principle of bhakti and saranagati offers grace mercy and forgiveness. So in that sense both justice and forgiveness are present much more fully in the vedic tradition than they are in the current version of the mainstream Christianity. Thank you.
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