Lesson 6: Karma, Yoga & Cosmic “Do-overs”
Scenario: After a meeting at work, you’re having coffee with a co-worker and they say, “I’m doing the yoga class HR mentioned, and it really helps me focus.” Looking to you, they ask, “What are your thoughts on it?” How do you answer?
Before we jump into a quick answer, let’s pause and look at the broad themes of the belief system called Hinduism (origin of yoga). First, let’s develop a picture of the tenets framing their worldview, and then we can ponder opportunities for conversation. There are many, many sects and variations within the Hindu community, but for this post we’ll stay within the boundaries of the more common major beliefs.
I. The Framework
- The Term Hindu – An ancient Sanskrit word, historically referencing the Indus river basin. It is mainly practiced in India, and surrounding areas.
- The Beliefs – According to L.T. Jeyachandran (an authority on Hinduism), it’s best described as the confluence of two seperate (and sometimes conflicting) streams of thought – Polytheism (many gods, numbering in the millions) and Pantheism (all or everything is god).
- The Worldview – Dharma is the Hindu word that describes a way of life, mindset, or philosophy as opposed to a creed or doctrine. Their holy writings are an “open canon” (as opposed to our closed canon of a 66 book Bible). For example, a modern scholarly writing could be canonized, and recognized as credible. This “open” approach creates a complex and personally diverse belief system that avoids absolutes.
- The Process – The goal of “Self-Realization” is a key component in Hinduism. The two main methods for facilitating that pursuit are Yoga (Sanskrit word meaning “union”) and Transcendental Meditation (TM). It’s important to know that the seeker is attempting to clear away the illusions clouding the realization of the connection (or union) that already exists with Brahman (their name for Ultimate Reality that’s impersonal and unknowable), not to achieve union. This is why there is a focus on mental clearing and emptying.
- The Results – Reincarnation (the cosmic “do-over”) is taught as the on-going, continual process of returning to life after one’s death at a higher or lower level each time based on deeds in the present life. For example, a bad person comes back as a dog, and a good person comes back as a prince. This is orchestrated by Karma (the cosmic “traffic cop”) directing people to their destinations.
- The Goal – Ultimately a Hindu hopes to achieve Nirvana (the final stop, not the rock band) in which ultimate realization is found. The idea is once a person has accomplished enough good by overcoming the difficulties of life, then they’re simply reabsorbed back into Brahman like a cup of water poured into a river.
II. The Conversation
When having a conversation with a Hindu, or someone interested in themes of their belief system, we need to stop and ask, “What are the core longings of their heart?” In other words, what are they hoping to find as result of such pursuits? Consider these 4 possibilities…
A. Seeking Fulfillment – it’s easy to see the pursuit of “something bigger” in following this path of teaching. In Acts 17 Paul notices extensive pagan idols around him in Athens. When challenged by the philosophers of the day, he observed their religious passion and gave them truth within the framework they understood. For example in verse 23 he begins by referencing their altar “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD”. Using that as a springboard, he preached how they could actually know Him, and continued explaining by quoting their own poets (v.28). The Bible says in verse 34 that some believed, and followed Christ.
Hindus want to know the “Ultimate Reality”, and the Bible teaches God is by nature relational. His triune nature describes Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relating to each other in perfect fellowship. Adam was not only created, but invited into that fellowship. Colossians 1:19 tells us all of the fullness of God dwells in Jesus, and He is the one that reconciles us to God. By Christ’s sacrifice, we are invited into fellowship with Almighty God, not as an alternate or additional path, but the only path (John 14:6).
B. Seeking Purpose – We are made by God. Psalm 139:13-18 tells the beautiful story of how God intimately makes us. Knowing Him through Christ gives us incredible purpose. For the Christian, good works aren’t something driven by ulterior motives for a better next life, but a foundation for a now life of thankfulness. A life filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:20).
C. Sense of Inner Peace – As Paul says in Ephesians 2:14, Jesus is our Peace. Yoga & Transcendental Meditation both focus on emptying or clearing the mind. Maybe a person would think, “Hey, what’s wrong with that?” Well, for the Christian the Bible teaches a different idea of meditation. Philippians 4:8 instructs us to meditate with a focus on something, not emptying. We are to place our attention on the truth of scripture, and be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). The Holy Spirit will always lead us back to the person of Christ and His teachings.
D. Seeking A Good Ending – The hope of a cosmic “do-over” may relieve some concerns temporarily, but we’re all ultimately appointed to die AND face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). The problem is that the standard for judgment isn’t me versus another person, but me versus the perfect standard of God, and I cannot measure up (Romans 3:23). Paul explains in Romans chapter 1 how we can’t even live up to our own consciences, much less perfect God.
In conclusion, our only true hope is in Christ. To find real purpose, a sense of inner peace, and a good ending, I must rely on something more certain than cosmic guesswork. The Bible tells the story of God’s love for us and sending Jesus to make a way to know Him. “For by grace you have been saved through faith…” (Ephesians 2:8). What an incredible find for those seeking to know the truth!