Reincarnation and redemption

Karma, reincarnation and redemption                  

  1. According to Hindu belief, the individual person who has acted under illusion and to that extent has performed acts that are unenlightened must bear the consequences. These consequences – karma – must be resolved eventually, if not in this life then in another life or by some other means. Only when the ‘seed’ of one’s evil deeds has been rendered useless through being ‘burnt’ by tapas (which means both ‘heat’ and ‘ascetical practice’) or initiation or by some other means, can a person escape from the cycle of rebirths.

That is my understanding in simple terms.

2. Slaves were an essential feature of the Roman Empire. The slave was the property of his master and could be bought and sold, and could also be freed. If the slave earned enough money or if the master decided to do the paying, the slave would be ‘sold’ to the god of a temple. In other words, a sum of money would be paid to the temple, and the god was then deemed to own the slave. The slave still remained a slave but was the slave of a god and therefore in fact a free man as far as society was concerned. There is a temple in Delphi, Greece, on whose foundation are carved the names of the many slaves who were ‘sold’ to the god, i.e. freed.

The New Testament has echoes of this practice. The idea is that the human beings have been enslaved to Satan. They are then ‘sold’ to God himself. The price was paid, not in gold but in Jesus’ blood. (I Peter 1:18-19) They are then free. This is process is called ‘redemption’, which literally means ‘buying back’. The imaged of ‘saved by Jesus blood’ is linked to the Roma system of slavery.

This Roman practice no longer applies in our society. There may b another way of seeing things.

  1. In Indian terms, the authentic guru has all the power and the wisdom and qualities of the Divinity. He is the visible manifestation of the Invisible. His role is to teach and to free the disciple from illusion. And by initiating the disciple he burns up the ‘seed’ of karma, which cannot now germinate and produce its unfortunate results. Those who have been initiated may look the same as before but they no longer have the seed of karma and will not be reincarnated. They are liberated.
  2. I understand Jesus as the ultimate, ‘guru’, one who has had shown the ultimate loving compassion by choosing to join himself with the living and the dead, experiencing the life and death of every person, and so he is the ‘lord’ of all humanity past and future.

This interplay of life and death in him marks him out as unique compared to the other great teachers of humankind. He has fullness of knowledge and experience.

Having known every height and depth, which only the divine has the power and the purity to do, he is acknowledged as of truly divine nature, one with the God from whom he is sent.

He is most able to impart his whole personality and life because he has gone through life and death and comes to us from beyond life and death. He lives the ‘archetypal life for our benefit’.

The disciple who accepts Jesus as his guru and has a ‘living faith’ in him and is initiated by him, takes on all the qualities of the guru, his mind and heart. Jesus the guru imparts his very essence and character. In this sense he relieves ‘the faithful from their karmic debt’. He and the disciples become one body, so to speak. The disciple, too, goes beyond life and death in his identity with his teacher. The disciple sacrifices his ego, as you put it well, since he commits himself to someone who had no ego of that sort. To see the disciple is to know the master.

  1. On the question of reincarnation. There is a sense in which the Christian tradition has a place for reincarnation. That is, the community of the faithful is not like a set of marbles in a barrel, a collection of monads. The group of believers believe in each other also, and share each other’s lives. Each lives again in the other, and shares the experience and emotions and history of the other. The one member lives the life of the other members and indeed of all humanity. In this sense they are reincarnated in each other and this ‘reincarnation’ can be experienced by those who are particularly aware.

The idea that each person has only one individual life makes that life extremely precious. There is an intense focus on the life in the here and now. I cannot ignore another person’s troubles, saying that they will have better luck next time. Again, the choices I make in the here and now are of eternal value.

Let’s remember also that reincarnation is not a blessing in Hinduism and Buddhism, but a something to be liberated from. Also what is actually reincarnated? It is not the individual – most Indian traditions say there is not such thing – but his karmic force. We Westerners tend to think of reincarnation in terms of the Greek metempsychosis.

In short, we can leave aside a theology which is tied up with the practices of slavery in the Greco-Roman world, and take up images from the Hindu world which I find more appealing and more universal.


About interfaithashram

Rev. Dr. John Dupuche is a Roman Catholic Priest, a senior lecturer at MCD University of Divinity, and Honorary Fellow at Australian Catholic University. His doctorate is in Sanskrit in the field of Kashmir Shaivism. He is chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and has established a pastoral relationship with the parishes of Lilydale and Healesville. He is the author of 'Abhinavagupta: the Kula Ritual as elaborated in chapter 29 of the Tantraloka', 2003; 'Jesus, the Mantra of God', 2005; 'Vers un tantra chrétien' in 2009; translated as 'Towards a Christian Tantra' in 2009. He has written many articles. He travels to India each year. He lives in an interfaith ashram.
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