Karma and Grace

by Dr.Ezhamkulam Samkutty

The cardinal elements of the different concepts of ancient Hindu philosophy concerning individual eschatology are gathered together in the single poem Chintaratnam composed by Shree Sankaracharya. His philosophy is known as ‘Vedanta Darshanam’, the literal meaning of which is “the end of all Vedas”. In other wor-ds the book is believed to be a synthesis and summarized conclusion of all concepts propounded in Hinduism till 700 A.D.

Shree Sankara flourished between 700-800 A.D. in Kalady, Kerala. Sankara’s book has always enjoyed equal position with ancient religious writings of India. The poem is written, as the prologue says, in response to the request by one of his lady disciples for serious advice in ethical and spiritual matters. His long advice in verse, which gained universal attention, is also known as “advaita sithantham” or ‘the concept of the unity of everything in the world.’

Sankara, who concentrates on individual eschatology in Chintaratnam, believes that the individual can attain four kinds or stages of moksha (release): salokyam (oneness with universe), sameepyam (close communication with God), saroopyam (spiritual likeness to God), and Sayoojyam (complete identity with God (11:1981-86).

Towards the end of his discourse, Sankara indicates in clearest language that people who have not attained the fourth stage of moksha, but still have achieved all the other three stages, can also go to heaven. Nevertheless, they have no choice but to come back to earth again as soon as their punyas (good works and blessings) are exhausted (11:2038-43). This idea, elaborated with examples in the lines that immediately follow, implies that a man who gathers much money can live in richness only until the amount is completely spent, after which he has to earn more. Likewise, a man can enjoy a certain number of years in heaven proportional to the blessings he has invested through karma (good works). After the blessings are exhausted, he must return to earth to earn more blessings for another period of happiness. If he fails to do this on earth, he will find his soul transmigrated into ferocious animals.

Here a word is in order about the uniqueness of biblical eschatology. In comparison with it, Hindu eschatology is weak since it leaves many questions unanswered as well as readers confused. There is always a possibility that a Hindu can die very young before attaining any of these four stages of moksha. There is no definite idea about what kind of a destiny he would have. But the emphasis of the Bible is on grace, and not on works. Good works are the result of salvation, not the means for it. Christians generally believe that man cannot work out his way of salvation; if it were so, there would be no purpose in the crucifixion. The theological consequence of the crucifixion is that any man is ready for salvation the moment he appropriates the grace of God for his personal life. Every believer, young or old, mature or immature, is given salvation. Though the more pious, mature believer would be given a better reward, not even the least one is denied salvation. Punishment in Christian theology is for denying Christ and refusing his atonement.

One may be tempted to raise questions concerning the validity of the Hindu eschatological notion that the evil person’s soul transmigrates until he is cured of all sins. If, for example, a man is made a tiger at his second cycle, there is no guarantee that the tiger would every try to compensate for the evil it did while it was a man in the previous cycle. If this logic is pursued, the rebirth cycle would serve no purpose at all.

In the Hindu concept, the evil man becomes some kind of an animal later because of bad deeds (karma). The sinner is the man; but the victim who suffers the penalty is not man, but an animal. Along with other contradictions in Hindu eschatology, this problem adds a new one, especially because of the fact that in Hinduism all cruelty to animals is prohibited since everything in nature is a part of Brahma, which is one reason that some Hindus do not eat meat. In Hindu eschatology, innocent animals become the scapegoats for man’s sin for another million years. But in Christian eschatology, punishment is given only to the real criminals – those who refused Christ and followed their own wicked deeds.

Dear friends, salvation comes not by karma, but by the grace of Jesus Christ. Christ performed the supreme karma on the cross of Calvary. Just accept the ‘karma’ achieved at the cross. Your case is settled on the cross – now and forever. “It is finished”. Where the WORK is finished, grace begins.

MGM Ministries-Article Source: http://www.trumpetmagazine.com/read.aspx?lang=1&id=4&mid=32 – May 2005