Karma and Reincarnation
Quotations on Reincarnation
Quotations on Karma
“He has set forth His karmic law of cause and effect governing human action as a teaching mechanism to prevent incarnate souls from being caught forever in the outward pull of delusion.” ~ P. Yogananda
Karma and reincarnation are associated. Perhaps the best place to start is with reincarnation, as it is likely the most contentious of the two topics. Karma appears to have become part of the accepted jargon of today’s world, even in the West. Not necessarily so with reincarnation. The association between the two will follow.
Reincarnation was not part of the original plan of creation. Originally, all created forms were to exist in a harmonious environment on the screen of space and time and were to simply dissolve into their pure essence of Spirit after their adventures in the cosmic playground were over. Reincarnation became necessary when humans succumbed to the powerful cosmic hypnosis of maya and avidya and identified themselves too strongly with their bodily vehicle, thus forgetting their true nature as individualized extensions of Spirit. In so doing, once their allotted time in a physical form came to an end, they still had desires associated with the body that needed resolving. As well, with their god-consciousness largely suppressed, their ego-consciousness led them to violate laws that were built into the cosmic game of creation, such as carrying out harmful activities against their fellow man and the cosmic playground. These violations needed to be atoned. Since the body form “died” before all desires were satisfied and before amends for violations of cosmic law had been made, reincarnation became a requirement.
Without reincarnation, this would be an unjust world. If there were only a single physical existence, it would be difficult to fathom the inequities in life, e.g. the death of an infant or child vs living into old age; being born into a life of misery in an impoverished region or war zone vs life in a region of abundance and peace; a life of chronic pain vs one of health; being born blind or deaf vs having all sense faculties intact; mental illness vs a sound mind, etc.
“Some babies are still-born, or die only after a little while, without having had a chance to experience life. People of all ages are stricken with suffering, diseases and death. There is no certainty about life….. If this life is the beginning and the end, then I say it is a terrible injustice. It is ruthless. We don’t want to think of a God who would create such a life – this world would just be God’s great zoo, with us as merely experimental animals, His human guinea pigs. If God deliberately made specimens with great talent and others with poor mentality, some beautiful and others deformed, then there is no justice.” ~ P. Yogananda
A belief that one is rewarded or punished after death as a result of actions during a single physical existence could not possibly apply for a death involving an infant, child or the mentally impaired.
Previous lives are stored in one’s subconscious mind. In most cases, one does not remember previous lives. However, there have been many cases of individuals who have done so. Such cases have been documented in many books. As well, advanced mystics routinely remember previous physical existences.
“I find my earliest memories covering the anachronistic features of a previous incarnation. Clear recollections came to me of a distant life in which I had been a yogi amid the Himalayan snows.” ~ P. Yogananda
“God-realized and liberated souls can well remember previous enactments if they choose to do so.” ~ P. Yogananda
Eastern religions include reincarnation as a basic tenet. Western religions do not. However, recent surveys indicate that roughly a quarter of Westerners believe in reincarnation.
Additional quotations on Reincarnation are shown on the left.
Reincarnation and Christianity
While modern Christian doctrine does not include reincarnation, it was accepted by the early Christian church and endorsed by the Essenes, the Gnostics as well as many church fathers such as Clement of Alexandria , Origen and St. Jerome. References to reincarnation were removed from the Bible around 550AD following the Second Council of Constantinople by the religious authorities of the time for reasons of their own choosing. However, some references still remain.
“The early Christian church accepted the doctrine of reincarnation, which was expounded by the Gnostics and by numerous church fathers, including Clement of Alexandria, the celebrated Origen (both 3rd century), and St. Jerome (5th century). The doctrine was first declared a heresy in A.D. 553 by the Second Council of Constantinople. At that time many Christians thought the doctrine of reincarnation afforded man too ample a stage of time and space to encourage him to strive for immediate salvation. But truths suppressed lead disconcertingly to a host of errors. The millions have not utilized their “one lifetime” to seek God, but to enjoy this world - so uniquely won, and so shortly to be forever lost! The truth is that man reincarnates on earth until he has consciously regained his status as a son of God.” ~ P. Yogananda
In Revelation 3:12, Jesus says “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out”, i.e. once one has attained the requisite development he shall no more reincarnate.
In John 9:1-5, the disciples ask Jesus about a blind man. “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” Since the man had been born blind, asking if the man had sinned had to relate to an action in a previous lifetime. In responding, Jesus did not correct his disciples on this, thus signifying that Jesus found his disciples’ question regarding reincarnation to be pertinent.
In Matthew 16:13-15, Jesus asks his disciples, whom do people say that I am? His disciples respond, “Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets”. This question by Jesus and the answer by the disciples clearly indicate a discussion on reincarnation.
Jesus twice referred to the previous lifetime of John the Baptist as the prophet Elijah, first in Matthew 11:14, “and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who was to come” and later in Matthew 17:13, “but I say to you that Elijah has come already … then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.”
Many Biblical scholars have noted the remarkable similarities between the lives and actions of the mystic Elisha, who was Elijah’s spiritual heir, and Jesus. In fact, the contemporary mystic Paramahansa Yogananda has stated that Elisha was the previous incarnation of Jesus, the incarnation in which Jesus, as Elisha, gained complete liberation and enlightenment. Coming back to earth as a fully liberated soul, a rare occurrence, allowed Jesus to do great spiritual work.
Edgar Cayce, the ”sleeping prophet” was a rather uniquely gifted person who could put himself into a trance state during which he could delve into the subconscious minds of people who came to him for help, typically to cure physical or mental disorders. He lived in the southern United States from 1877 to 1945 and was a simple, humble and deeply religious fundamental Christian. During his lifetime, he gave over 14,000 “readings” for people who flocked to him for cures. These readings were each recorded and are now kept in a library in Virginia Beach, managed by the non-profit Association for Research and Enlightenment. During many of these trance readings, Cayce would trace the cause of a physical or mental ailment to an action that had been taken by the individual during a previous lifetime. Initially, Cayce was deeply disturbed, as reincarnation was inconsistent with his fundamental Southern Christian beliefs. In fact, he decided to stop doing readings because of this. However, after doing a personal reading on himself during which he was told that if he stopped his readings, his life mission would be finished, he decided to continue. Gradually, Cayce came to terms with reincarnation. The readings that he did for many, many individuals provide fascinating accounts of their previous lives spent in earlier times, some from the ancient times of earth’s civilization.
The law of karma is closely associated with reincarnation. The law of karma states that all actions by an individual under the direction of his ego-conscious mind results in similar actions that will come back to him. If one kills another, he will in turn be killed. If one gives money to someone in need, he will be helped should he later be in need.
Karma becomes confusing because of the time delay that is inherent in the law. A killer may not he killed in the same lifetime and similarly, someone who does much good may not see the rewards of his goodness until a future lifetime. Thus it may appear that an evil individual may be getting away with all kinds of wrong deeds while a good person appears to be suffering. The correlation between cause and effect may not be seen over the course of a single lifetime.
“Many people confuse karma with what they call fate. The effect of action for which a person is responsible may not come to him until a long time afterward, when he has forgotten about the action. Not being able to account for the effect because he has forgotten its cause, he decides that he must be a victim of fate.” ~ P. Yogananda
“Everything we are now, and everything that is happening to us now, comes from the past… You should not be a fatalist, going through life feeling beaten and thinking that everything disagreeable that happens to you is caused by an unjust fate. Nothing rules you. You are the architect of your destiny.” ~ P. Yogananda
The time delay between an action and reaction is a compassionate inclusion in the law of karma. For example, if one does harm in some way, it would be expected that harm comes back to that person. However, a time delay is built in to allow the person to fully appreciate that the harm done was a mistake. Should the person be truly regretful and determine never do that action again, the karmic reaction may be foregone. In other words, karma is part of the learning experience for the ego-conscious mind to evolve to god-consciousness. One can either acquire the learning through “the school of hard knocks” or gain the learning on one’s own before the hard knock arrives.
“Seeds of past karma cannot germinate when roasted in the fire of wisdom.” ~ P. Yogananda
The karmic time delay between action and reaction also applies for good actions. For example, one could choose to help another solely to be rewarded by a positive karmic reaction, without feeling any empathy for the other person. Little benefit is accrued in such a case. The time delay allows one to acquire true empathy, possibly by seeing the positive effect of one’s helpful action on the other person and thereby developing an expanded consciousness that extends beyond one’s immediate self. A positive karmic return would then be forthcoming.
Because karma can be hard to grasp, metaphors can be helpful. One can envision the universe to be a “cosmic mirror”. All one’s actions are sent out to the mirror and then reflected back to oneself. The cosmic mirror can have a magnifying effect on an action, such that the impact of a bad or good action will come back to oneself in an enhanced way, to help quicken the learning experience. Another metaphor that can be used for bad actions is the “cosmic arrow”. When one sends a harmful “arrow” in the direction of another, the cosmos automatically sends a harmful arrow back at you. The time between the arrow’s launch and when it strikes you is the time you have to acquire the understanding of the error of your action. If one does not acquire this wisdom in the allotted time, the arrow will strike and the school of hard knocks prevails.
“We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.” ~ Kahlil Gibran
"If you want to know your past life, look into your present condition; if you want to know your future life, look at your present actions."
~ Boddhisattva Padmasambhava
“The equilibrating law of karma … is that of action and reaction, cause and effect, sowing and reaping … Each man, by his thoughts and actions, becomes the molder of his destiny. Whatever universal energies he himself, wisely or unwisely, has set in motion must return to him.” ~ P. Yogananda
Resolving one’s karmic debt from both the present and previous lifetimes is a major cause for reincarnation. The other main factor is attachment to the body. As long as one is attached to the desires associated with the body and the senses, one will be given the opportunity to return into a new body to experience them. Since attachment to the body is such a strong impulse induced by the cosmic hypnosis of maya and avidya, it takes many, many lifetimes until the cumulative suffering associated with human existence (death, disease, wars, grief, etc.) outweighs the pleasures of the body, thereby causing the soul to actively seek its original blissful state. Once lost, the paradise of the blissful God-conscious state is hard to regain. If one could but once experience such an ecstatic state, then all interest in the relatively paltry pleasures associated with the body would be immediately forsaken. However, it’s not that easy. Between dealing with karma and bodily attachments, the mystics say it typically takes tens of thousands of lifetimes before one is finished with human rebirths and regains one’s original state of infinite, bliss consciousness.
“The karmic law requires that every human wish find ultimate fulfillment. Desire is thus the chain which binds man to the reincarnational wheel.”
~ P. Yogananda
“[God] can free souls only with their permission and cooperation ... [man has] such a delusive attachment to the instrumentality of a physical body that even if God were at this moment to offer liberation to the masses, I daresay not many would be eager to depart ... The body-identified sense-oriented are rigidly unconvinced that it is worthwhile to forgo known pleasure for the arcane bliss of Spirit. So many learning experiences must be undergone ...Earth, in the meantime, is the schoolhouse.”
~ P. Yogananda
Reincarnation assures that even those who have built up huge karmic loads can ultimately work through their karma over extended lifetimes and regain their lost original enlightened state.
God-tuned masters and mystics are able to look into the sub-conscious minds of others and project future events, based on viewing their karmic history. The predicted futures are the most-probable events, based on the individual’s most likely choices leading to the future event. The examples below are taken from The Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda;
"Sir, what a sour fruit! I could never like strawberries!" My guru laughed. "Oh, you will like them - in America. At a dinner there, your hostess will serve them with sugar and cream. After she has mashed the berries with a fork, you will taste them and say: 'What delicious strawberries!' Then you will remember this day in Simla." Sri Yukteswar's forecast vanished from my mind, but reappeared there many years later, shortly after my arrival in America. I was a dinner guest at the home of Mrs. Alice T. Hasey (Sister Yogmata) in West Somerville, Massachusetts. When a dessert of strawberries was put on the table, my hostess picked up her fork and mashed my berries, adding cream and sugar. "The fruit is rather tart; I think you will like it fixed this way," she remarked. I took a mouthful. "What delicious strawberries!" I exclaimed. At once my guru's prediction in Simla emerged from the fathomless cave of memory. It was staggering to realize that long ago Sri Yukteswar's God-tuned mind had sensitively detected the program of karmic events wandering in the ether of futurity.
Before leaving for his cremation, Kalanos had embraced all his close companions, but refrained from bidding farewell to Alexander [the Great], to whom the Hindu sage had merely remarked: "I shall see you shortly in Babylon." Alexander left Persia, and died a year later in Babylon. His Indian guru's words had been his way of saying he would be present with Alexander in life and death.
As it pertains to karma, one of the most beneficial human values is forgiveness. One who can forgive does not carry toxic hatred that harms the body, mind and soul. In addition, forgiveness helps mitigate karma. One who harbors hatred toward another who wronged him or his loved ones, will ultimately, in this lifetime or a future one, be given an opportunity to similarly harm the offending soul (in whatever body it is then occupying). If the reciprocal harm is carried out, then the karmic bond between the two moves back to the other person again and the cycle continues until one chooses to forgive. Forgiveness is such a strong positive quality that it can also cancel or offset other bad karma that the forgiver may have accrued.
“It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.” ~ Francis of Assisi
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.” ~ Nelson Mandela
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
“We learn to live and then we forgive
O'er the road we're bound to go.”
~ Bob Dylan, from the song When the Deal Goes Down
”Tout est pardonné.” ~ Charlie Hebdo, following the shooting of staff members in 2015
Similarly, the edict to “judge not, that ye be not judged” is intended as a means to mitigate one’s karma. A very judgmental and spiteful person can be sure that the school of hard knocks will be judgmental on his failings. Correspondingly, one who does not judge others may have some karmic debts “judged” lighter by the cosmic law.
“The just is close to the people's heart, but the merciful is close to the heart of God” ~ Kahlil Gibran
Karma can also be accrued by groups of people who carry out actions together. For example, mystics have said that the turmoil going on in the Middle East today has been going on for millenniums. The same groups of players keep coming back in different bodies to carry on their unresolved differences. This will continue indefinitely until one side decides that it has had enough and will no longer harm the other. At that point, the karmic bond for that side will be broken. Many other interesting examples of group or mass karma can be found in the “readings” of Edgar Cayce. Karma can be accrued on a group, country, region or planetary basis. Negative planetary karma can result in world wars or as intense vortices of negative energy that can manifest as tornadoes, hurricanes or other “natural” disasters. Similarly, positive planetary karma can manifest as extended periods of abundance and world peace.
“This same law applies to groups of people, as they act together. There is karma for families, for tribes, for races, and for nations. For example, when a nation of individuals started a war in a previous lifetime and are reincarnated, a war will be committed against that nation. Only when such a nation is defeated in humility by a nation with justice and mercy, will the karma of war be lifted from the defeated nation.” ~ Edgar Cayce
Karmic transfer to spiritual giants is also possible. Great spiritual teachers can take on some of the karma of their followers or disciples. Similarly, fully liberated or enlightened souls will sometimes come to earth at specific times and in specific regions for the primary purpose of using their positive energy vibrations to counteract intense negative energy vibrations.
“Fortunately for his disciples, Sri Yukteswar burned many of their sins in the fire of his severe fever in Kashmir. The metaphysical method of physical transfer of disease is known to highly advanced yogis. A strong man can assist a weaker one by helping to carry his heavy load; a spiritual superman is able to minimize his disciples' physical or mental burdens by sharing the karma of their past actions. Just as a rich man loses some money when he pays off a large debt for his prodigal son, who is thus saved from dire consequences of his own folly, so a master willingly sacrifices a portion of his bodily wealth to lighten the misery of disciples.”
~ P. Yogananda
“By a secret method, the yogi unites his mind and astral vehicle with those of a suffering individual; the disease is conveyed, wholly or in part, to the saint's body. Having harvested God on the physical field, a master no longer cares what happens to that material form. Though he may allow it to register a certain disease in order to relieve others, his mind is never affected; he considers himself fortunate in being able to render such aid.”
~ P. Yogananda
“The spiritual law does not require a master to become ill whenever he heals another person. Healings ordinarily take place through the saint's knowledge of various methods of instantaneous cure in which no hurt to the spiritual healer is involved. On rare occasions, however, a master who wishes to greatly quicken his disciples' evolution may then voluntarily work out on his own body a large measure of their undesirable karma.”
~ P. Yogananda
“Jesus signified himself as a ransom for the sins of many. With his divine powers, his body could never have been subjected to death by crucifixion if he had not willingly cooperated with the subtle cosmic law of cause and effect. He thus took on himself the consequences of others' karma, especially that of his disciples. In this manner they were highly purified and made fit to receive the omnipresent consciousness which later descended on them.” ~ P. Yogananda
The karmic law of cause and effect is built into the rules of the cosmic playground. It is impersonal and normally immutable. However, the mystics say that under certain circumstances, negative karma can be averted or avoided, such as by the following;
“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the
eternal rule.” ~ Buddha
“It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.” ~ Francis of Assisi
“By putting on the ailments of others, a yogi can satisfy, for them,
the karmic law of cause and effect. This law is mechanically or
mathematically operative; its workings can be scientifically
manipulated by men of divine wisdom.” ~ P. Yogananda
“Even he with the worst of karma who ceaselessly meditates on Me
quickly loses the effects of his past bad actions. Becoming a
high-souled being, he soon attains perennial peace.” ~ Krishna, from
the Bhagavad Gita
“The deeper the Self-realization of a man, the more he influences the
whole universe by his subtle spiritual vibrations, and the less he
himself is affected by the phenomenal flux.” - Sri Yukteswar
“Karma is not greater than free will. It is what a person does with
these influences and urges, how they react to them, which makes
the difference in their soul development. Because of karma, some
things are more probable than others, but as long as there exists free
will, anything is possible.” ~ Edgar Cayce
“Karma governs … one’s destiny, but karma is governed by one’s will
power. What is to be does not necessarily have to be. Man’s free will
and divine determination can change the course of events in his
life.” ~ P. Yogananda
Santosh yet hopes for time to change his father's materialistic views. I beseech you, Master, to help the man." "Very well; for your sake." My guru's face was impassive. "The proud horse doctor is far gone in diabetes, although he does not know it. In fifteen days he will take to his bed. The physicians will give him up for lost; his natural time to leave this earth is six weeks from today. Due to your intercession, however, on that date he will recover. But there is one condition. You must get him to wear an astrological bangle; he will doubtless object as violently as one of his horses before an operation!" Master chuckled. After a silence, during which I wondered how Santosh and I could best employ the arts of cajolery on the recalcitrant doctor, Sri Yukteswar made further disclosures. "As soon as the man gets well, advise him not to eat meat. He will not heed this counsel, however, and in six months, just as he is feeling at his best, he will drop dead. Even that six-month extension of life is granted him only because of your plea.” … "Tell your teacher that by eating meat frequently, I have wholly regained my strength. His unscientific ideas on diet have not influenced me." It was true that Dr. Roy looked a picture of health. But the next day Santosh came running to me from his home on the next block. "This morning Father dropped dead!" … This case was one of my strangest experiences with Master. He healed the rebellious veterinary surgeon in spite of his disbelief, and extended the man's natural term on earth by six months, just because of my earnest supplication. Sri Yukteswar was boundless in his kindness when confronted by the urgent prayer of a devotee.
One of my friends, Sasi, spent a number of happy weekends in Serampore. Master became immensely fond of the boy, and lamented that his private life was wild and disorderly. "Sasi, unless you reform, one year hence you will be dangerously ill." Sri Yukteswar gazed at my friend with affectionate exasperation … A year later I was visiting my guru at the Calcutta home of his disciple, Naren Babu. About ten o'clock in the morning, as Sri Yukteswar and I were sitting quietly in the second-floor parlor, I heard the front door open. Master straightened stiffly. "It is that Sasi," he remarked gravely. "The year is now up; both his lungs are gone. He has ignored my counsel; tell him I don't want to see him." Sasi burst into tears and brushed past me. He threw himself at Sri Yukteswar's feet, placing there three beautiful sapphires. "Omniscient guru, the doctors say I have galloping tuberculosis! They give me no longer than three more months! I humbly implore your aid; I know you can heal me!" "Isn't it a bit late now to be worrying over your life? Depart with your jewels; their time of usefulness is past." Master then sat sphinxlike in an unrelenting silence, punctuated by the boy's sobs for mercy. An intuitive conviction came to me that Sri Yukteswar was merely testing the depth of Sasi's faith in the divine healing power. I was not surprised a tense hour later when Master turned a sympathetic gaze on my prostrate friend. "Get up, Sasi; what a commotion you make in other people's houses! Return your sapphires to the jeweler's; they are an unnecessary expense now. But get an astrological bangle and wear it. Fear not; in a few weeks you shall be well." Sasi's smile illumined his tear-marred face like sudden sun over a sodden landscape. "Beloved guru, shall I take the medicines prescribed by the doctors?" Sri Yukteswar's glance was longanimous. "Just as you wish - drink them or discard them; it does not matter. It is more possible for the sun and moon to interchange their positions than for you to die of tuberculosis." He added abruptly, "Go now, before I change my mind!"
“Do you recognize that woman?” "Yes.” The man was evidently struggling with emotions new to his nature. “I have been foolishly spending my money on her, though I have a good wife. I am ashamed of the motives which brought me here. Will you forgive me, and receive me as a disciple?” "If you lead a good moral life for six months, I shall accept you.” The master enigmatically added, “Otherwise I won't have to initiate you.” For three months my employer refrained from temptation; then he resumed his former relationship with the woman. Two months later he died. Thus I came to understand my guru's veiled prophecy about the improbability of the man's initiation.
Additional quotations on Karma are shown on the left.