Living in Thailand, I have talked with a few people about the idea of karma as it relates to what happens when you are “reincarnated.” Buddhists believe that what is done in this life will affect your quality of life in the next. For instance if I am wealthy and able to travel in this life, I may have been an angel in my past life. If I suffer hardship, disease, poverty etc. in the life it was because I did not acquire merit in my past life. If this is not a true representation of karma teaching, it is at least “street theology” from a smart Thai person who considers themselves a Buddhist.
In contrast, Christians believe that we have one life which will soon pass then we will stand before God our creator for judgement. Humans stay human always and only come around once. We don’t believe it because it pleases our ear the best, but because we believe it is true. (Hebrews 9:27)
As I was talking with my friend one day I asked her why most of the rich and globally mobile people of the world were not Buddhists? I didn’t say none of them were, but most are not. Many are a variety of other faiths or have no faith at all. My reasoning went like this, “If I lived a good life in the Buddhist way, gaining merit for myself by doing various good deeds specified by Buddhism, and I came back as a rich Westerner who has no faith in Buddhism or who doesn’t live in a Buddhist majority country, isn’t that counterproductive?
Shouldn’t karma automatically know that I would not be thankful enough to come back as a stronger Buddhist, even as a Buddhist teacher or monk.” Why did I get to come back as a flaming capitalist living in America or Europe or a Saudi Muslim oil billionaire? Of course, I ask these questions “tongue in cheek.”
My other question was, “Isn’t harder to have compassion on someone who is suffering if you believe they actually deserve what they are getting because of their bad deeds in a former life”, to which my friend had no reply except for acknowledging that it does seem that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people in this life and that it didn’t really make sense.
Finally, I wanted to know if Karma is true then why has the world’s population continued to grow every year? Where are all of the new souls coming from? With all of the bad in the world continually growing and less people turning to Buddhism globally for the help needed to gain a better life next go around, you would think we would have more animals and LESS humans!
Think about the monks who recently got caught up in sex scandals (see article below). Clearly in the Thai Buddhist mind they were well on their way to gaining Nirvana, but then they broke their vows and essentially wiped out their “merit bank account” practically guaranteeing that they come back as an amoeba, a protozoa, or some other sub creature! Now they have to start all over climbing the karma ladder when they were oh so close!!
To be fair, Christians do believe in what we call the “law of sowing and reaping” which basically says that we will reap what we sow, whether in this life or at the judgment of God. If we sow to the sinful nature we will reap death, but if we sow to the Spirit, we will reap life. This article sums up the Bible’s teaching best:
Job 4:8 says, “As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.” Psalm 126:5 says, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” Luke 12:24 says, “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” In each of these instances, as well as all the other references to reaping and sowing, the act of receiving the rewards of your actions takes place in this life, not in some future life. It is a present-day activity, and the references make it clear that the fruit you reap will be commensurate with the actions you have performed. In addition, the sowing you perform in this life will affect your reward or punishment in the afterlife.
This afterlife is not a rebirth or a reincarnation into another body here on earth. It is either eternal suffering in hell (Matthew 25:46) or eternal life in heaven with Jesus, who died so that we might live eternally with Him. This should be the focus of our life on earth. The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 6:8-9, “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
We must always remember that it was Jesus whose death on the cross resulted in the reaping of eternal life for us, and that it is faith in Jesus that gives us this eternal life. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Therefore, we see that the concept of reincarnation and karma is incompatible with what the Bible teaches about life, death, and the sowing and reaping of eternal life.
To me, this is what makes sense.
What about you? How do you view it? If you have a belief in karma determining your lot in a next life, how do you answer my honest, though tongue in cheek, questions?