A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF THE MAJOR WORLD RELIGIONS FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
by Ernest Valea
The goal of this site is to investigate whether or not there is sufficient evidence to prove that world religions are complementary and equally true, according to the model inspired by an old Indian tale - that of the blind men who tried to describe an elephant. It is said that once upon a time a king gathered a few men who were born blind. They were asked to describe an elephant, but each one was presented with only a certain part of it. To one was presented the head of the elephant, to another the trunk, to another its ears, to another the leg, the body, the tail, tuft of the tail, etc. The one who was presented with the head said: "The elephant is like a pot!" The one who was presented the trunk answered, "The elephant is like a hose". The one who touched only the ears thought that the elephant was a fan, the others said that it was a pillar, a wall, a rope, a brush, etc. Then they quarreled among themselves, each thinking that he was the only one right and the others were wrong. The obvious truth is that the elephant is a unity of many parts, a unity that they could not grasp in their ignorance. According to the pattern suggested by this tale, it is often said that world religions form a unity, and only this unity provides the right perspective on ultimate truth. A similar syncretistic trend is encouraged by the suggestion to consider the various world religions as alternative paths to the same transcendental finality or, using a known illustration, many paths to the same mountain peak. Although this vision is arousing a lot of enthusiasm in many people today, it is important to know that it is not the only one, as Christianity and Islam each claim to be the only right path to God. Therefore the other option is that world religions are not pieces of the same puzzle (parts of the same spiritual "elephant") or alternative paths to the same goal. Judging theoretically, both possibilities exist. Therefore, a proper evaluation of such opposite views must be done before we decide on a course of action. If the first is true (all religions lead us to the same finality), and we choose the second (only one of them is right), we have not lost anything. Despite our ignorance, we will arrive at the same happy
end as the other travelers who have chosen other spiritual paths. A less happy situation would be given by the second possibility, that a single spiritual path is valid and we have chosen the wrong one. In this case religious syncretism is only a way of misleading the travelers to spiritual disaster, so they at least should be warned. A third possibility, that all spiritual paths are wrong, is denied by the nature of our spiritual quest itself, which demands a real fulfillment. Otherwise, our hunger for ultimate truth could not be justified and all religions would be nothing but human fantasy. The following articles are not meant merely to generate a conflict of rational proofs for justifying one or another alternative. No matter how complex and logical the rational proofs on behalf of one or the other cause might be, it is possible to find counterpoints of the same nature, so that at a rational level, the dispute could fill a lot of books with no benefit to anyone. Nobody can be persuaded or converted to one or another religious perspective only through rational proofs. This may be possible in science, but not in religion. However, rational proofs have to be considered because we are rational beings. Reason should not be rejected and experience proclaimed the only way of knowing truth. No divorce between reason and experience should be accepted, because they are complementary and work together, so that neither can exclude the other. As a result, we do not have to reject a priori the proofs of reason in our spiritual quest in order to abandon ourselves to the arms of mystical experiences, whatever their nature might be. Rather than generating sterile debates, the information presented here should help you clarify your own stand toward comparative religion and develop a critical ability to analyze today's spiritual market. Suggestions, comments and critiques are strongly encouraged, with the hope that they will improve the content of this site. Please make them as specific and clear as possible. The comparative analysis presented here is focused on Christianity and the major Eastern religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism, because they play a major role in defining today's world spirituality. This is an obvious phenomenon on the Internet too, where a lot of spiritual movements indebted to classic Eastern doctrines and practices can be found. Some may believe that a comparative analysis of the major world religions like this may fuel religious hatred and intolerance, but this is wrong. Religious tolerance and freedom cannot be built on ignorance but rather on the understanding of commonalities and differences. Jesus Christ is the perfect example of teaching love for one's neighbor despite religious differences (see The Parable of the Good Samaritan). Unfortunately, some of His followers did the opposite. Loving the person is possible even if one rejects his or her religious convictions. The Christian approach will be done on an ecumenical basis, grounded on The NiceneConstantinopolitan Creed as statement of faith, which is common to all three branches of Christianity - Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism. The Holy Bible (NIV ecumenical translation) is acknowledged as the first doctrinal authority, and second the doctrinal commentaries of the Church Fathers of the first centuries AD, as far as they are accepted by each of the three branches of Christianity.
The analysis will survey a comparison of the following defining aspects of all world religions: THE ULTIMATE REALITY IN WORLD RELIGIONS Each world religion admits an Ultimate Reality that is eternal and unchanging. But is it the same? If the world religions are only parts of a global and unique spirituality, it should be the same. There are three fundamental ways in which Ultimate Reality is defined: personal being (a personal and loving God), impersonal being (as origin and target of all personal beings) or an eternal truth or principle that governs the universe. Are these three possibilities mere manifestations of the same Ultimate Reality?
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------The Ultimate Reality in Hinduism Hinduism is not a unitary religion, but a multitude of religious and philosophical trends. Three main patterns can be identified among them. First, there is henotheism, the religion of the ancient Vedas and later Vaishnavism and Shaivism, which states that many gods exist, but one of them is more important than the others. Second, there is pantheism, the perspective brought by the Upanishads and later Vedanta, which considers Ultimate Reality to be an impersonal transcendent being. Third, there are the Samkhya and the Yoga darshana of Patanjali that admit two ultimate realities. Let's briefly describe them following an approximate chronological order. The Vedic gods The oldest sacred scriptures of Hinduism are the four Vedas (Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Veda). They are four collections of hymns (Samhita) describing deities, their works and the praises that must be addressed to them in religious rituals. Each of the four collections of Vedic hymns is associated with three other kinds of Vedic literature - the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads. Together they represent the most sacred religious literature (Shruti) of Hinduism. (NB: Remember that throughout the content of this website by “Vedas” we mean only the four collections of hymns, and not the whole corpus of Vedic literature.) The hymns of the oldest Veda, the Rig Veda, are almost all praises addressed to gods. The ancient Aryans worshipped many gods, associated with the elements of nature, among which we can discern at least two important generations. The oldest supreme god, according to the Vedas, seems to be Varuna, the sustainer of creation and guardian of universal order. A hymn in the Atharva Veda proclaims:
but rearranges after his conquest. and from in front. and security. (Atharva Veda 4.
. the King. took the lightning (vajra) shaped by god Tvashtri and. Vishnu.16. His sovereignty over the world is not so striking as it was with Varuna. on the other hand he is benevolent. If one will go away beyond the heavens. killed the demon and brought back the rain on earth (Rig Veda 10.3-4) A second generation of Vedic gods has Indra as the most important representative.1-2) It is important to notice that although Indra takes over the role of fertility god from Varuna. people appreciate him more than Varuna. with less important roles in the Vedas. Valiant are the arms of thee. Once proclaimed sovereign Lord. still he cannot escape King Varuna. which he doesn't create. our savior. At humans' demand. Lead us to a free world. Two other gods of this generation. a role that will certainly develop in his later special position.113).15. and consequently on the sacrifices done by people (which represents a weakness). Indra consumed a large quantity of ritual drink (soma). are Rudra (forerunner of Shiva) and Vishnu. we will take to their vast shelter. His envoys move about here from the heavens. Vritra had locked the waters in the sky. divine healer and protector of cowherds. he fulfills it with much more effort than his predecessor does. has a minor role in the Vedas. on the one hand he is monstrous. but can influence Indra through the sacrifices and therefore get the earthly blessings they seek. On the other hand. whose ends are far apart. and has to fight in order to maintain the universal order. thousand-eyed. he is an intermediary between gods and people. He takes over all the functions of Varuna after saving mankind from demon Vritra's influence. the embodiment of the rough aspects of nature. Indra depends on the ritual drink soma. At the same time. from the middle. Vritra-slayer and furtherer of our highest aims. from behind. they look upon the earth. murderous and savage. and the heavens. the powerful. Both the oceans are the loins of Varuna. May he be our protector from the end. (Atharva Veda 19. wise one. being just one of Indra's helpers in his combat against Vritra and in building the universe. Indra takes over the title of maker of the universe. They didn't understand Varuna's ways. Rudra has a dual aspect. which caused a catastrophic drought on earth. sunlight. where lie divine luster. too.This earth belongs to Varuna. and He is merged within the small water drop. That is why he is praised in the hymns: Adorable Indra. but which will play major roles in later theistic Hinduism. with the help of other gods. and.
an entity that was the source of all existing beings and worlds: At first was neither Being nor Nonbeing. seen as a cosmic creative energy through which the unmanifested becomes manifested. this Prajapati created the world using the power released by his ardor. all wrapped around by darkness. Of night or day there was not any sign. Another important element is the preexistence of an impersonal reality (the One) against personal beings. Darkness was there. and 2) the whole process was realized by the power of ardor (tapas). unfathomable and deep? There was no death then. beyond the gods we mentioned. that can be found in a similar version in the Atharva Veda (19. The same way as the golden egg appears as a result of ardor. The One breathed without breath. there are passages in the Vedas that suggest another kind of Ultimate Reality of the universe.
. the animals and the duality of the sexes.6) and in the Taittiriya Aranyaka (3. This passing from a personal Ultimate Reality (represented by the gods) to an impersonal One is an important feature of early Hinduism that will have major implications for later developments. This idea is very important because it opens the way towards the notion of One (a primordial matrix that encapsulates all existence) and also toward asceticism.12). adding the appearance of a Creator (Prajapati) from the golden egg (Shatapatha Br. including our physical world. There was not air nor yet sky beyond. by its own impulse. Then That which was hidden by the void.Along with praising the gods. His words are fulfilled as a result of ardor and the material out of which he builds the universe is his own body.129. One of the most important Hindu cosmogonies is that of the golden egg (Hiranyagarbha). 11. (Rig Veda 10. Considering an impersonal Ultimate Reality above the gods is a pattern that will dominate most Hindu religious elaboration. By his consuming himself in the fire of creation all of the worlds came into existence. the four-caste system. According to this hymn. the product of the golden egg is the giant Purusha. came to be. nor yet deathlessness. both being produced out of that impersonal One of the Rig Veda 10. Gods and men are said to have their origin in this primordial impersonal entity.129) There are two important aspects to be noticed here: 1) primordial water produced the One. Other than that was nothing else at all. There is no doubt that Purusha and Prajapati are equivalent. A similar view is presented in the Purushasukta hymn (Rig Veda 10.1. that One.90). emerging.6). And all was Water indiscriminate. What was its wrapping? Where? In whose protection? Was Water there. Stirring. The cosmogony of the golden egg is continued in the Brahmana texts in a similar fashion as in the Rig Veda. through the power of ardor (tapas).
The Ultimate Reality according to the Upanishads and Vedanta philosophy Already in the Brahmana writings (Shatapatha Brahmana 6,1,1) it is stated that the whole universe has its origin in non-existence (asat), meaning that existence must be the product of manifestation of some unmanifested potentialities. This topic is made clear in the Upanishads, which claim that the origin of any manifestation is Brahman, the One of the Vedic hymns: As the spider moves along the thread, as small sparks come forth from the fire, even so from this Self [Brahman] come forth all breaths, all worlds, all divinities, all beings. (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2,1,20) According to the Upanishads, the Ultimate Reality is Brahman. It (neuter gender) is at the origin of any physical, moral or spiritual activity (see also Brihadaranyaka Up. 4, 1-2; Chandogya Up. 3,18,1-6; Taittiriya Up. 2,6; 3,1). Paradoxically, Brahman has two aspects: immanent, or manifested, and transcendent, or unmanifested. For a better understanding of this concept, we can compare it to the "Big Bang" theory on the origin of the universe. The point of infinite mass out of which all celestial bodies is said to have originated, according to the astronomic theory, has its ideological correspondence with the unmanifested Brahman of Hindu cosmogony. However, in the manifestation of Brahman, the product is not only matter, but also living beings, gods and humans. The cause of the manifestation process is Brahman's desire to be multiplied: “Let me become many, let me be born” (Taittiriya Up. 2,6,1). (However, in a pantheistic context, this is a strange and contradictory idea, because the impersonal being cannot have desires. Probably a more accurate term would have been that of necessity of becoming manifested.) After the manifestation is completed, all its products tend to return to the initial state of unmanifestation, evolving from one level of manifestation to another. Then another manifestation will occur: As from a blazing fire, sparks of like form issue forth by thousands, even so, O beloved, many kinds of beings issue forth from the immutable and they return thither too. (Mundaka Up. 2,1,1) Similar to the day and night cycle, the transformation of Brahman between the manifested state and the unmanifested one is everlasting (Kaushitaki Up. 3,3). The philosophical system (darshana) that follows the pantheistic teachings of the Upanishads is called Vedanta. The most important organizers are Badarayana (4th century AD) and Shankara (9th century AD), the one who conferred to it a pure monistic character as Advaita Vedanta - "the Vedanta of pure monism". Shankara's vision of the relation of the Absolute with the phenomenal world is reflected in an old Hindu parable, that of the rope mistakenly perceived in the dark as a snake. As the coiled rope in the dark is thought to be a snake, the same way the empirical world is mistakenly considered to have a distinct existence, independent to the Absolute, through the illusion (maya) produced by ignorance (avidya). As only the rope exists, not the snake, only Brahman has a real existence (sat) and is the true reality. The phenomenal world is real only if perceived as Brahman, as the "reality" of the snake's existence lays in the substratum that produced the confusion, namely the rope. The plurality of the phenomenal world is an
illusion (maya), a veil that has to be put aside in order to perceive Brahman. The universe is not unreal, but has the same value as the snake in the parable - it produces confusion and causes man to pursue a wrong spiritual direction. All that goes beyond this vision of the world is illusion, produced by ignorance. Shankara tried to settle the relation of the Absolute Brahman (Nirguna Brahman - the One without any definable characteristics) with the origin of the world by proclaiming two distinct points of view: the absolute (paramarthika) and the relative (vyavaharika). In an absolute sense, Brahman is above any duality and external relation; nothing real exists outside him. But from our empirical and relative point of view, Brahman is the cause of the universe we know. In fact there is no real causality; the world is only an illusory sight of Brahman, as with the rope seen as a snake. Brahman's activity in the world and among human beings is nothing but lila, divine play. In conclusion, the Vedanta of Shankara is somehow different from Upanishadic philosophy; the universe is only a phenomenal appearance (vivarta-vada) of Brahman and not his transformation (parinama-vada). From a substantial manifestation, the universe becomes only a dream (or self-forgetting) of Brahman. The gods of theistic Hinduism According to the pantheistic view of the Upanishads and Vedanta, the gods are merely inferior manifestations of the supreme impersonal Brahman. However, they continued to play an important role for the average Hindu. The gods that are worshipped today are not the same as in Vedic times. The most important ones became Vishnu and his avatars (especially Rama and Krishna), Shiva and the goddess Kali. Here is what is said in Vaishnavism about the relation between Brahman and Vishnu: Just as light is diffused from a fire which is confined to one spot, so is this whole universe the diffused energy of the supreme Brahman. And as light shows a difference, greater or less, according to its nearness or distance from the fire, so is there a variation in the energy of the impersonal Brahman. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are his chief energies. The deities are inferior to them; the yakshas, etc. to the deities; men, cattle, wild animals, birds, and reptiles to the yakshas, etc.; and trees and plants are the lowest of all these energies.... Vishnu is the highest and most immediate of all the energies of Brahman, the embodied Brahman, formed of the whole Brahman. On him this entire universe is woven and interwoven: from him is the world, and the world is in him; and he is the whole universe. Vishnu, the Lord, consisting of what is perishable as well as what is imperishable, sustains everything, both Spirit and Matter, in the form of his ornaments and weapons. (Vishnu Purana 1) Some pantheist thinkers consider that devotion is nothing but an easier path to the same impersonal union with the impersonal Ultimate Reality. According to them, devotion can serve to attain the extinction of personhood, the main source of illusion (maya). As the adored god is nothing but a form of Brahman, the mystical union with him would be, in this case, nothing more than the same impersonal fusion atman-Brahman. However, the theistic
Hindu thinkers strongly disagree with this. They see the personal creator God (Vishnu in Vaishnavism or Shiva in Saivism) as having no preceding origin. Consequently, the One of the Rig Veda, Purusha of the Purushasukta, and Brahman of the Upanishads are considered nothing but the supreme personal God (Vishnu or Shiva). He is both the creator and the substance of the world (as a result of creating the world out of himself), the One that both creates and disintegrates the world at will, and the target of all religious rituals and devotion. The best known piece of literature representative of Hindu theism is the Bhagavad Gita, where the worshipped god is Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. Although in classic Hinduism Krishna is a manifestation of Vishnu, and Vishnu himself is one of the first manifestations of Brahman (along with Brahma and Shiva), in the Bhagavad Gita Krishna is granted a fundamental theological importance. He claims to be eternal (4,6), “the supreme Lord of all planets and demigods” (5,29) and the source of existence: “I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from me” (10,8). He is not only the creator but also the substance of the universe (9,16-19; 8,4; 10,20-42). The cycle of permanent transformation between the manifested state and the unmanifested one is characteristic for Krishna too, as it was with Brahman: At the end of an era (kalpa) all creatures disintegrate into my nature and at the beginning of another era I manifest them again. Such it is my nature (prakriti) to follow again and again the pattern of the Infinite manifestations and disintegrations. (Bhagavad Gita 9,7-8) Krishna has to "follow the pattern of the Infinite manifestations and disintegrations", which implies that the process is a necessity that surpasses him. He is just a detached (but also helpless) spectator to it. Therefore it is hard to accept his dominion over creation along with the periodic manifestation of nature (prakriti). Rather, we should conclude that the creation of the world is not an option for him, but a necessity at the end of each cosmic cycle, as was the case with the manifestations of Brahman of the Upanishads. Disagreeing with this, theistic commentators see this "necessity" rather as a divine play in which Krishna creates and disintegrates his creation at will. (For more information on this debate on the character of Krishna see our special file on the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita.) The excess of Krishna's superlatives and his identification with the whole existence grants him a personal portrait that is difficult to grasp. A better Hindu theism will be founded later in time by the great theistic Hindu thinkers Ramanuja (1017 - 1137 AD) and Madhva (1238 - 1317 AD). They refused the idea that the Ultimate Reality is the impersonal Brahman, who has no attributes, no initiative and no influence on man. As it is impossible to take Brahman as an object of worship, both thinkers accepted the god Vishnu as Ultimate Reality. He is not limited by karma, time, space or any other factor, and has an infinite number of attributes (unlike Nirguna Brahman), the most important being love, absolute knowledge, and compassion. According to Madhva, Vishnu is said to be totally different from the substance of the world. Neither nature nor the souls of the universe fuse with him to form an impersonal primordial state. He created the world out of a primordial substance (prakriti) and helps it to attain perfection. In fact, creation is periodic and dependent on the karma acquired by souls in previous existences. At the moment of creation, karma works out the fruits of the soul under divine providence. However, that means that the act of
movement. purity and knowledge. rajas is responsible for activity. and the real organizer is considered to be Ishvara Krishna (5th century AD). 3) after producing ahamkara. Its manifestation is a result of the existence of three inner tendencies. the five cognitive sense organs (sight. is the Yoga Sutra.creation is still not totally independent. but has to create it in order that souls may work out their karma. touch. The categories of prakriti's manifestation are. what is mentioned here is valid for both schools. the principle of individuation (the sense for the "I"). They are the material which evolves into the categories of existence when one or the other gains a dominating force. who only systematized the ancient traditions preserved until his time. prehension. He is not free to create the world at will. as an act of God’s sovereign will. As most of their metaphysical basis is common. the first product of manifestation. The origin of the Samkhya system is attributed to Kapila (7th century BC). as in Vedanta). Samkhya and Yoga are dualistic philosophies. in the absence of any supplementary explanation. As a result of the duality postulated by this system. in hierarchical order. where we focus on man's destiny in the two darshanas. heaviness and ignorance. and tamas opposes action. excretion and reproduction). energy and dynamism. rajas and tamas. More will be said about purusha in the next file. which represents today the reference writing on this topic. Sattva is the tendency that brings light. Unlike Brahman. considered to be a mass of pure energy appeared as a result of the guna sattva domination. Under the influence of the guna sattva. the psychical evolutes are produced: mind (manas). The writing in which Patanjali formulated the essence of the Yoga system. buddhi. the primordial substance. the evolutionary process bifurcates. The world and individual beings came into existence as a result of the disturbance of the initial state of equilibrium between the three gunas. The Yoga system was structured by Patanjali (sometime between 2nd century BC and 3rd century AD). Considering how reality is defined. as follows: 1) mahat. producing darkness. 2) from mahat evolves ahamkara. the material world is the product of the manifestation of prakriti and has real existence (not illusory. Prakriti. The Ultimate Reality in the Samkhya and Yoga darshanas Samkhya and Yoga are two of the six Hindu orthodox schools (darshana) developed in the post-Upanishadic period. Its psychic aspect is the intellect. stressing two fundamental notions: purusha (the equivalent of atman) and prakriti (the primordial substance). Under the influence of the guna tamas
. is an impersonal matrix capable of manifestation through transformation. taste and smell) and the five conative sense organs (speech. In some way it resembles Brahman through its periodic manifestations. it does not contain the spiritual principle purusha. Any known form in which we see the world is generated by the participation of a certain proportion of the three gunas. hearing. called gunas: sattva.
because its theology is grounded on two deities that did not belong to the Vedic pantheon: Shiva and the Mother Goddess (Shakti). It can be found in Buddhism too (where it generated the Vajrayana school). Together with his divine consort Shakti. For both Tantrism and Hatha Yoga. as stated by the Upanishads. Tantrism appeared in the 4th century AD. and also in Chinese Taoism. He and his followers used three sources to ground the new doctrine: Tantrism. touch. all creatures were born. at it was systematized by Patanjali. The majority of the Yoga darshana metaphysics. The Ultimate Reality in Tantrism and Hatha Yoga As a distinct spiritual trend. fertility and life. They all belong equally to Tantrism. the unmanifested Brahman.24).52. water. Ishvara.earth. the Ultimate Reality of the universe is the god Shiva. which shares the same metaphysic with Tantrism.69-77. but rather a macro-purusha that was never involved with psycho-mental activity and the law of karma (Yoga Sutra 1. through which the phenomenal manifestation occurs. Its forerunner is considered to be Goraknath (13th century AD). seeming to be a true panasiatiac movement. that is Shiva. this Ishvara is not a personal god. sound. Hatha Yoga reached its full development through Svatmarama (15th century AD). The philosophy and ritual of Tantrism have penetrated most forms of today's Hinduism.
. they form a state of primordial unity and unmanifestation that corresponds in the Advaita Vedanta to Brahman Nirguna. taste and smell) and the five gross elements. air.92. in discussing man's possible relation with Ishvara as it is stated in the Yoga darshana. The world and the human beings came into existence through the dissociation of the primordial unity of Shiva and Shakti. We will return to this subject later.the physical evolutes are produced: the five subtle essences (the essences of color. The two deities Shiva and Shakti became the fundamental terms in which Tantrism developed a pantheistic view of life. However. In the Shiva-Samhita 1. and Shakti as the immanent and dynamic aspect. with matter. the pure existence. The guna rajas provides the force required for this evolution. which emerge from the essences (the five fundamental elements in Hindu cosmology . fire and ether). the goddess of land. Hatha Yoga is also a pantheistic school. Shiva as the transcendental aspect. that is Shakti. It is possible that it doesn’t have Vedic origin. is presented in the Shiva-Samhita 1. and by the interaction of one on the another. devotional Saivism and ascetic practices of the so-called siddhas (the perfect ones). Other important writings are the Gheranda-Samhita and the ShivaSamhita. It only adds the existence of a divinity. it is stated: Out of the combining of the spirit. The same manifestation of the Absolute in creation. comes from Samkhya. the author of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika treatise.
all things are produced by causal actions and all beings are governed and bound by causal actions.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------The Ultimate Reality in Buddhism Buddhism is another important Eastern religion that extended beyond the boundaries of India. It is said that the Mahayana sutras were revealed many years after the master's death. What we see is only a product of transitory factors of existence. spread in China. do not represent the basis for morality. nor a spiritual or material substance that exists by itself as Ultimate Reality. Therefore he refused to speak about things considered to be irrelevant or even hindrances in reaching nirvana. There is quietude but none tranquil. represented by the Theravada school. Mahayana takes a different stand on the person of Siddharta Gotama. spread mainly in Sri Lanka and southeast Asia. There is the path but none walks upon the path. which depend functionally upon each other. (Sutta-Nipata 654) That gods exist is not rejected. teaches that there is neither a personal god. The Buddha expressed it in the following words: There is grief but none suffering. and was organized by Nagarjuna in the 2nd century AD. (Majjhima Nikaya 1. Gods are not worshipped. In Mahayana Buddhism he is
. and this included a definition of Ultimate Reality. There is no doer though there is action. Two main forms of Buddhism are known today: the conservative branch. but they are only temporary beings that attained heaven using the same virtues as any human disciple. The Buddha said: The world exists because of causal actions. between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD. and the liberal branch . they sometimes contradict conservative doctrines of the Theravada school. and are not the givers of happiness.the Buddha (6th century BC). Tibet. Although the texts of Mahayana Buddhism claim to be a recollection of early speeches of the Buddha. The world as we know it does not have its origin in a primordial being such as Brahman. The Theravada school. Visuddhi Magga 16) We will assess these concepts in the next article aimed at analyzing the human destiny in Theravada Buddhism. fixed by the pin of its axle shaft. Korea and Japan. which claims to have guarded the unaltered message of its founder. Mahayana Buddhism emerged later. shortly after it was proclaimed by its founder. According to the traditional view he was a physical being. Siddharta Gotama . The Buddha was concerned only with finding a way out of suffering. The Ultimate Reality is nothing but a transcendent truth. the founder of the four noble truths and the first man that reached nirvana. because at that time the world was not yet able to understand them. which governs the universe and human life.Mahayana. They are fixed like the rolling wheel of a cart.
they should see Buddha everywhere. and are too concerned with carnal lusts. the substitution of the Hindu gods with the Buddhist boddhisattvas. has three levels of perception. according to Mahayana Buddhism. Which existed before heaven and earth. It is the Tao. The dharmakaya state is also called suchness or emptiness because it is devoid of any permanent attributes. Why? They should not see Buddha in just one thing. Soundless and formless. yet without either arriving or not arriving there. have no more interest in getting spiritual wisdom. in all things.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Ultimate Reality in other Eastern Religions Taoism Like the Hindu Vedanta or Buddhist Mahayana. at the same time. because Buddha's body is incorporeal. one phenomenon. The same message appears in the discourse of Krishna of theistic Hinduism (Bhagavad Gita IV. because space is incorporeal. in all places. material or immaterial. and dharmakaya. Reality. the pure state dharmakaya. sambhogakaya. the immutable and unchanging principle that is the basis of multiplicity and the impulse that generates all forms of life. there are at least two important aspects that suggest the contrary. This is the second resemblance. the ultimate nature of all things. Lao Tse (6th century BC). It operates everywhere and is free from danger. the physical body of the founder. it depends on nothing and does not change. which might be interpreted as a penetration of the Hindu bhakti tradition in Buddhism. in the same way Buddha is omnipresent. Taoism states an impersonal Ultimate Reality that is both the creator principle and the eternal truth of universe. manifesting a body for the sake of sentient beings. the absolute body of the Buddha and. the compassionate being that help other humans to find liberation. The founder of Taoism. the body of the boddhisattvas. It may be considered the mother of the universe.
. in all lands. one land. in all places. (Garland Sutra 37) This nature of the Buddha allows him to become manifested whenever people become ignorant. Just as space is omnipresent.7-8).considered to be only one of many Buddhas. the fundamental nature of the universe is described in the same way as Brahman: How should enlightened beings see the body of Buddha? (dharmakaya) They should see the body of Buddha in infinite places. known also as the three bodies (trikaya) of Buddha: nirmanakaya. Tao-te Ching: There was something undifferentiated and yet complete. The resemblance is even greater by the fact that the boddhisattva beings (as the Hindu avatars) are spiritual guides towards liberation. stated in his important writing. one body. First. that is subject to change. in all beings. one being . yet neither arriving nor not arriving there. Although any resemblance to the Hindu Vedanta is denied.
I call it Tao. It is the flow of nature. he gave them a mere ethical interpretation. (Chuang Tzu 6) The Taoist divinities are probably reminiscences of an ancient Chinese pantheon. Tao is the source in which originate and return all the manifestations of the world: All the flourishing things Will return to their source. many of them being humans at their origin and then proclaimed gods as time passed. acting as manifestations of Lao Tse. firm from ancient times. activity and progress). This return is peaceful.the female principle of darkness. life and death. hidden and eternal: There is no place in the highest heavens above or in the deepest waters below where the moral law is not to be found. but more metaphysical speculations about heaven and afterlife are useless (Analects 7. is a true religion. rites and symbolic images are foreign to the spirit of Taoism. omnipresent.the male principle of light. (Tao-te Ching 25) In the same way as the Hindu Brahman or Buddhist Dharmakaya. seasons. An eternal decay and renewal. Deities like the Jade Emperor (Yu-huang) and The First Principal (Yuan-shis Tien-Tsun) are considered in some traditions to be gods. The supreme principle in the universe according to him is the moral law. Confucius (6th century BC) founded an ethical system in order to harmonize social relations in the Chinese state. it gave birth to heaven and to earth. priests. as a way of making it more acceptable to the lay people. gods or humans.
. being merely inferior and temporary forms of its manifestation: [Tao] is its own source. a universal principle. It gave spirituality to the spirits and gods. Later religious developments such as deities. its own root. For this reason it is hard to say that Confucianism. and Yang . (Tao-te Ching 16) Tao holds two complementary and opposite modalities that are present in all creation: Yin and Yang (Yin .I do not know its name. receive their wisdom from Tao. (Doctrine of the Mean 12) Following the moral principles means to conform oneself to the will of heaven. potentiality. Their dynamic and the proportions in which they become mixed at a certain moment determine any given aspect of nature or living beings: day and night. at least in its original form. Any personal existence. regression. Before heaven and earth existed it was there.20). temples. while other deities like the three Pure Ones (San-ch’ing) are more like Buddhist bodhisattvas. This is probably the result of a late syncretism that tried to combine devotion to the ancient Chinese gods with classic Taoism. Although Confucius respected the religious traditions of his time. Confucianism Rather than a religion.
Father. The term used for the impersonal essence of reality was ousia. without beginning and without having his origin in a primordial impersonal essence. The novelty brought by Christian theology is the fact that each person of the Holy Trinity has the fullness of divine nature. nor as a mono-personal God that assumes successively three distinct forms (the modalistic heresy). The intuition of the wise men of the East almost never diverged from pantheism as the determinant view of existence. A major contribution in defining this aspect was made by the Cappadocian fathers of the Church (Basil the Great. the Dharmakaya of Mahayana Buddhism or the Chinese Tao. but the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and coequal. Son and Holy Spirit . Shiva of Tantrism. and its determined. Initially used in the Greek ancient theater for the actors’ mask.CHRISTIANITY. Christianity holds a totally different position. singular forms were called hypostasis. Most forms of theistic Hinduism are no exception. but only as Father. it should have said that the hypostases . The Ultimate Reality of the universe is the personal and triune God. The Holy Trinity should be understood neither as a sum of three Gods (tri-theism). the term designated in Hellenistic philosophy "the masked face of the impersonal being". So there cannot exist an Ultimate Reality "beyond" or "above" the Holy Trinity. God’s being does not exist outside the three persons. nothing greater or less. as their gods are merely inferior manifestations of the impersonal Absolute. all represent an impersonal Ultimate Reality. He exists as God the Father. JUDAISM AND ISLAM The three great monotheistic religions of the world have a personal God as Ultimate Reality. The personal and triune God of Christianity Christianity presents an Ultimate Reality totally different to all we have found in the other religions. If Christian theology had been only a form of Hellenistic philosophy. and they are the only way for God's existence. Brahman of the Upanishads or of Shankara's Vedanta. Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzen). There are some important things to clear up about the origin and meaning of the term "person" (Latin persona. Son and Holy Spirit. and then show the distinctive aspects of Judaism and Islam.are mere functional aspects of the divine nature ousia. As the Athanasian creed states: In this Trinity there is nothing before or after. God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------ULTIMATE REALITY AS A PERSONAL GOD IN THE THREE MONOTHEISTIC RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD . First we will present the difference brought by Christianity among the world religions in defining what God is. as in pantheism (Brahman as the ultimate
. Greek prosopon). in the Holy Trinity "of one substance". and the ontological character of the Ultimate Reality is defined only by the reality and relation that exists between the three hypostases.
In defining divinity. and (derived from it) the term "human person". On the Holy Trinity. each person existing not just for himself. manifestations that will finally be absorbed by it. and of the Godhead of the Holy Spirit. He is sufficient in Himself and by Himself.8) this should not be interpreted as an expression of the impersonal primordial energy. Associated with these characteristics are justice and immutability. in a perfect communion of love. They are only aspects of an impersonal Absolute. Christian theology overthrew the values of Hellenistic metaphysics in order to adapt its terms to the new revealed reality. apart from me there is no God (Isaiah 44. but an absolute stability in truth and good. Therefore none of the three hypostases.6). omnipotence and omniscience.14). but just once. as a quality. Son and Holy Spirit. Likewise. a god that comes and goes.nature of the gods). God does not create the same world many times. (The following links should be helpful for understanding the concept of Holy Trinity: Gregory of Nyssa. Neither can He be equated with the "Hindu trinity" Brahma (the Creator). The triune God of Christianity is different from Krishna. but that He is love. Here is the origin of the term "divine person" (from the Latin persona). but as form of expressing the supreme unity of the tri-personal communion. He is not an Ishvara manifested out of Brahman (or a Deus manifested out of Deitas. the accent must be transferred from an impersonal Ultimate Reality to the personal character of the Holy Trinity and the relation between the three hypostases. He proclaimed to Moses: "I am who I am" (Exodus 3. but for the others. His existence is expressed through love. will and deed. when the Apostle John proclaims that "God is love" (1 John 4. The "Hindu trinity" cannot be an equivalent of the Christian Holy Trinity. according to Eckhart). but rather a kind of pagan tri-theism. The God of the Bible has no equivalent in the other world religions. a kind of Brahman. and then not out of a necessity that surpasses him. among which there is perfect unity and harmony. The three Hindu gods are reminiscences of the old Vedic polytheism. There is no deeper Ultimate Reality above him. not depending on any exterior element. Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer). who is a slave to the cyclic manifestation and annihilation of the universe (Bhagavad Gita 9. can be considered a kind of Hindu Ishvara. Early Christians on the Trinity) The God that presents Himself in the Bible cannot be equated with any god of the Hindu pantheon. The triune God of Christianity exists by Himself. None is manifesting itself by infringing on the other because the Holy Trinity is perfect in love. God’s immutability is not a reminder of Brahman Nirguna's immobility. as Meister Eckhart suggested. According to Christianity. On "Not Three Gods". a first manifestation of the impersonal Brahman. The triune God of Christianity does not admit the existence of a "deeper reality" in which He originated. It doesn't just mean that God has love.7-9). located far beyond the impersonal absolute.
. that this is His way of being in the Trinity. from where they have been later assimilated as primary products of Brahman's manifestations. because He says: I am the first and I am the last. Father.
What once existed in unity becomes multiplicity and manifestation. Creation ex nihilo is not an artifice of Christian philosophy. The beginning or cause of the world is not an impersonal necessity or a blind manifestation of an undetermined nature. God creates the universe out of nothing (ex nihilo) and not out of his own substance (ex Deo). pantheism has to consider the physical world and man as manifestations of Brahman. but the product of the free choice of the personal and triune God. Christianity cannot be assimilated as a form of bhakti-yoga.25-27) The creation presented in the book of Genesis is an act intended and completed by the Creator. i. but a transformation of the Ultimate Reality from one ontological condition into another. But you remain the same. This "nothing" has no ontological statute. nothing existed except God. (Psalm 102. In pantheism creation is always a transformation (or manifestation) of a primordial impersonal unity. but the only possibility compatible with the existence of a personal God as Ultimate Reality. where prakriti (the primordial substance) transforms itself into the forms of the world. They will perish. because prior to creation. For this reason. but of love. an actualization of preexistent virtualities. that aims at the impersonal Absolute. Things are different with the creation presented in the Bible. In the Psalms we read: In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------God and creation in Judaism and Islam
. The nature of creation in Christianity Directly linked to what we accept as Ultimate Reality is the significance we grant to the physical world. and the heavens are the work of your hands.As a consequence. It is not a replacement of "nothingness" with "something". not out of necessity. they will all wear out like a garment. manifestations of the same primordial essence to which they are destined to return. a way accessible for the inferior and weak people to attain the impersonal Ultimate Reality of the world. We will return to this aspect in a further file. Being consequent to the idea of the fundamental unity of the world in Brahman. it is not a primordial substance. An unprecedented element in world religions. and your years will never end. and an inferior exoteric way (para-vidya) for those who are so limited that they are satisfied with a personal manifestation of the absolute. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. it is absurd to define a superior and esoteric way (apara-vidya). without the manifestation of his potentiality. but you remain. A similar situation is to be found in the Samkhya-Yoga.e. it can be said that the impersonal Absolute is incomplete without his "creation". The manifestation of Brahman is a necessity derived from its very nature.
The Triune God of Christianity is considered to be a heresy. the eternally Besought of all! He neither begets nor was begotten. so that the Old Testament is common to the two religions. documentary and archaeological analysis) “The Textual history of the Quran and the Bible”.The God of Judaism is the God of the Old Testament. In time. Islam. The God of orthodox Judaism is the same as God the Father of Christianity. but rather an equivalent of the Hindu Brahman. also has a personal god as Ultimate Reality. Allah is presented in the Quran as an eternal being. not tri-personal. the One! God. verily. such as the Kabbalah for instance. and compassion). Judaism accepts only God the Father as the true God. However a strictly mono-personal. caring and good. Such a god is conditioned by his creation in order to be loving. since the influence of the Old Testament on the Quran is beyond doubt. A god that depends on his creation (mankind) to be perfect (or perfect since creation) in his personal attributes is less than perfect. And there is none comparable unto Him. God cannot be perfect in his personal attributes because some of them are defined only in relation with another person (for instance love. This “simple light” or “endless light” is not the personal creator of the Old Testament. He is God. A possible solution to this problem would be that God and creation should always coexist. In the 112th Surra it is stated: Say. given the many episodes taken over from the Bible and reinterpreted. But there is no god but One God. a painful torment will befall the unbelievers among them (Quran 5. both in Judaism and Islam. "Allah is the third of the three [in a Trinity]". the upper simple light has filled entire existence” (The Tree of Life. The following links should be helpful for understanding how the content of the Bible and the Quran was transmitted during history: “The Bible and the Quran” . God the Father of Christianity. unbelievers are those who said. 1). some Judaic sects. but this would mean
. Allah seems to have the same attributes as God the Father of the Old Testament. And if they cease not from what they say. Allah cannot be the same with God the Father of the Old Testament. by John Gilchrist. however. an attempt against monotheism. Although there are some hints pointing to the Triune God in the Old Testament. rejected the personal God and adopted a pantheistic view of Ultimate Reality: “Bear in mind. because otherwise he has no one toward whom to express these attributes.An Historical Comparison (manuscript. transcendent and almighty.73). The rejection of Jesus Christ as God the Son represented precisely the appearance of Christianity as a new world religion. Therefore. goodness. having the same attributes. because he clearly states that belief in the Trinity is one of the worst possible heresies and sins: Surely. The other great monotheistic religion of the world. that before the emanations were emanated and the creatures were created.
or the lack of any transcendental being. The only possible solution is the Holy Trinity "of one substance" in which there is an absolute communion of nature. none of which is ultimately real. and that is absurd. will and deed. What is man? According to pantheist religions. a small part of the Ultimate Reality locked up by the illusion of physical experience. Dualistic religions. man has been attracted by life's mystery: its origin. and finality.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Conclusion The world's religions hold very different views on Ultimate Reality. are positions that cannot be reconciled with the personal God of the monotheistic religions. the Brahman of Vedanta. According to others.1). a temporary combination of five aggregates. a personal God as Ultimate Reality cannot be at the same time a manifestation of an impersonal Absolute (as in some cases of Hindu theism) and a being above whom there is no deeper reality (as the monotheistic religions claim). THE HUMAN CONDITION IN WORLD RELIGIONS Ever since he existed. life. who balances between the manifested state and unmanifestation (the same as Shiva in Tantrism). the impersonal Brahman of the Upanishads. but all religions need to give an answer to the fundamental questions concerning creation.that God is not the creator. state that man is a spiritual being originated in another world. He must be either tri-personal (the triune God of Christianity). Indeed. who creates man not out of necessity. Consequently. not only Hinduism. and death. they are even irreconcilable one with another. or parts toward the same transcendental finality. defined as a moral barrier against our Creator? Or are we rather a product of the periodical
. a person created in the image and likeness of God. like Gnosticism and Manicheism. and whither do we go?” (1. Vishnu of the theistic trends stated by Ramanuja and Madhva. Even among the many branches of Hinduism are stated irreconcilable positions (see for instance the gods of the Vedas. More than different. According to monotheistic religions. nothing but an illusion. we cannot accept the claim that the world's religions are parts of a unique spirituality. On the other hand. as stated by Theravada Buddhism. Considering all these alternatives. The author of Shvetashvatara Upanishad asks: “Whence are we born? Whereby do we live. or monopersonal (as in Judaism and Islam). but out of his superabundant love. and Ishvara of the Yoga darshana). Even the three great monotheistic religions of the world state irreconcilable positions concerning the nature of God. meaning. like Theravada Buddhism. What is man's present condition? Are we departed from the created status as a result of sin. a kind of angel fallen in his present miserable condition.
or faults against one’s neighbor: If we have sinned against the man who loves us. which are either errors in performing the right religious ritual. The Purushasukta hymn (Rig Veda 10. or do we keep it for a further existence? Is our destiny limited to this present existence or do we inherit an eternal one. or a comrade.6). people ask for forgiveness.7) To the fire god Agni. who created the world and humans out of his own body. (Rig Veda 5. Closely related to how human nature is defined are the values we pursue in life and the kind of relation we have with our neighbors. The neighbor of long standing or a stranger. especially Christianity. Have wronged a brother.90) states that the product of the golden egg is the giant Purusha. we have seen that the world religions do not agree on what they hold as Ultimate Reality.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------The human condition in Hinduism The Vedas According to the Vedic cosmogony of the golden egg (Hiranyagarbha). 11. Beginning with Hinduism. and thus ignoring our true spiritual nature? Do we have a soul that predated our birth or not? Is our personal character illusory.85. In the previous file. but also for material welfare: Shining brightly. and if eternal.129). Indra. his origin and present condition. The prayers people address to Varuna. the animals and the duality of sexes. conformed with the character of the Creator or absorbed into the impersonal nature out of which all things emanated? These are some of the aspects that define human condition in the world’s religions. the four caste system. man is responsible to them for how he lives his life. both gods and men have their origin in an impersonal primordial entity (Rig Veda 10.manifestation of the Ultimate Reality. Agni. Man constantly asks for forgiveness for the sins he does. who burns away sins through the fire ritual.1. Agni or other gods denote a sinful human nature. and through his sacrifice by the gods the physical world was built. O King Varuna. The Brahmana texts add the appearance of a Creator (Prajapati) from the golden egg (Shatapatha Br. a dear friend. Could it then still be possible that humans share the same condition? The same destiny? Following the pattern used in the previous file. Although the Vedic hymns do not clearly state what role the most worshipped gods played in the creation of man. Remove from us this stain. drive away
. by the power of his ardor (tapas). we will continue with the other Eastern religions and finish with the perspective of monotheistic religions. is it personal or impersonal. we will analyze the way man is defined in relation to Ultimate Reality.
the departed relatives constituted a holy hierarchy. flow you on. The last one deceased was commemorated individually for a year after his departure and then included in the mortuary offerings of the monthly shraddha ritual (Rig Veda 10. Indu! (Rig Veda 9. Indu! Make me immortal in that realm where movement is accordant to wish. For Indra. nothing of thy body here by any means be lost (Atharva Veda 18.2. is sovereign over the souls of the dead and also the one who receives the offerings of the family for the benefit of the departed. For good fields. and shine wealth on us.24).1-11). asu and manas. Shining bright. (Rig Veda 1.97. where the worlds are resplendent. and manas is the sum of psycho-mental faculties (mind. not by an impersonal law such as karma. In the third region. drive away our sin. For Indra. This ritual was necessary because the dead could influence toward good or bad the life of the living (Rig Veda 10. Here is how the worshippers of Indra express their longing for personal immortality: Make me immortal in the realm where the son of Vivasvat (Yama) reigns. 17).113. the third heaven of heavens. One of their functions was to cast the wicked into an eternal dark prison from which they can never escape (Rig Veda 7. nothing of thy vital fluid.15. for wealth. man is a personal being dependent on the gods. flow you on. The belief in the preservation of the three components after death is proved by the fact that the family addressed the departed relative in the burial ritual as a unitary person: May nothing of thy manas. with whom he should fuse after death. we made our offerings to you. According to Vedic anthropology. Where lies heaven’s secret shrine. Soma and Indra. Asu is the vital principle (different from personal attributes). Shining bright. Beginning only with the Brahmana writings
. Divine justice was assured by the gods Yama.1-2) According to the hymns of the Rig Veda.15. for good homes. and his destiny is eternal life in a celestial world. drive away our sin. nothing of the limbs. the components of human nature are the physical body.3. where are those waters that are ever young. feeling and will). nothing of the asu. As was the case in ancient Chinese religion too.6).8-9) Yama.104. It is important to keep in mind that the Vedas do not consider man as a part of an impersonal Absolute. the god of death (mentioned in old Buddhist and Taoist scriptures too).our sin.
4). which are the first to mention a primitive idea of karma and reincarnation. it does not fluctuate. that is. both at a transcendent and an immanent level. as the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad states: This is the great unborn self who is undecaying. man’s spiritual being. irreducible. Verily. as we’ll see later). He who knows this becomes the fearless Brahman (4. undying. he is not injured (Brihadaranyaka Up.4. man's purpose in life is to join the returning process of all manifestations to the initial state of non-manifestation. immortal. he does not suffer. thought). As a result of illusion. He is indestructible for he cannot be destroyed. In their search for a fundamental entity of human nature. 1. In fact.(after the 9th century BC). the impersonal matrix equivalent to the One of the Rig Veda (10. this was not the spirit of early Hinduism. 4. the Hindu rishis defined the concept of atman. Given his condition as a product of Brahman’s manifestation.1) it is stated that breath (prana) is the “oldest and the best” principle that assures the functioning of all other psycho-mental capacities (sight. Brahman is fearless. and realizing the identity between his self and Brahman. This self is the foottrace of all this. He is incomprehensible for he is never comprehended. However. did the tendency appear to abandon the idea of preservation of personhood after death. speech. or man’s soul. atman is of the same ontological quality with Brahman. He is unfettered. just as one can find again by footprints (what was lost)” (Brihadaranyaka Up. but a spiritual entity distinct to personhood and to the physical body. eternal and pure: The self is not this. it is expressionless. hearing. something that should be the unifying principle of all psycho-mental faculties. and this knowledge is equivalent with attaining effectively the atman-Brahman identity. which came to designate the self. Unlike all other manifestations of Brahman. as it is sometimes mistakenly translated. Discerning between the two conditions is possible by gaining a deep mystical knowledge of atman: “The self is to be meditated upon for in it all these become one. both as the absolute atman and the relative (gross) manifestations (body and psycho-mental faculties). Brahman. there is the obstacle of illusion (maya) against getting this intuitive knowledge. At the same time.1. However. He is unattached for he does not attach himself. for by it one knows all this. This is possible only through dissociating the self (atman) from the corporeal and psycho-mental experience (that has an illusory value. Brahman is already present in man. In the Chandogya Upanishad (5. “Meditating on the self” means getting the knowledge of his essential identity with Brahman.4. Therefore atman is not the seat of personhood. That is why from the notion of breath (Sanskrit “an” = “breathing”) derived the notion atman (reflexive pronoun). the Upanishads state that there is an ultimate unity of the world in Brahman.25). However. Maya deceives man about the true nature of existence. The unity atman-Brahman in the Upanishads and Vedanta At a macrocosmic level.2. not this. channeling his wishes toward the phenomenal world that is ever changing. there is an important aspect to emphasize here: Man’s return to Brahman is a concept that could raise confusion. fearless. maya strengthens the confusion of atman with the psycho-mental activity and the physical body. but above their temporal fluctuations.129).7). man
that he attains” (4. This prevents him from entering the celestial world after death or limits his stay there. As a result of karma’s retribution. Karma is the direct link between desire and reincarnation. so is the deed he does. even so all creatures here go day after day into the Brahma-world and yet do not find it.2). It follows only the necessity imposed by karma. as animals or plants. The “desire” is that of experiencing the physical world. see our special file on this topic. as a result of karma’s retribution.22). as is his will.2. . any thought.4.3. do not know any other good. Reincarnation functions independently of how good or bad actions are. where it is mentioned that “one becomes good by good action.) What he has done or what he has not done does not burn him” (Brihadaranyaka Up. the present and the next lives.13).4. and consequently illusion. 8. to the situation of being totally controlled
. which builds a total inter-conditioning mechanism between the previous. The practical way one reaps the fruits of his deeds is reincarnation (samsara). for they are carried away by untruth (Chandogya Up.grants true spiritual value to what is unstable and changing instead of knowing his eternal immutable self.” An important aspect to emphasize here is the fact that reincarnation should not be understood only as solution for punishing bad deeds.7) it is stated: “Some souls enter into a womb for embodiment. 4. word or deed of this life will find its reward in the next life. This ignorance (avidya) is the cause of atman’s captivity in the world of material experience: Just as those who do not know the field walk again and again over the hidden treasure of gold and do not find it. It is also stated that the reincarnation cycle is started by desire: “As is man’s desire so is his will. (For more information on the subject of reincarnation. Having enjoyed in the high place of heaven won by good deeds. Its origin is found in the exegesis of the benefits of sacrifice. bad by bad action”. In the Katha Upanishad (2. whatever he does. they enter again this world or a still lower one. an impersonal and amoral law.2. In the Mundaka Upanishad (1. . Between atman and moral values there is no possible connection: “He (atman) does not become greater by good works nor smaller by evil works. the law of action and retribution according to one’s deeds. As a result of ignorance. others enter stationary objects according to their deeds and according to their thoughts. Good deeds only provide a short reward in heaven.5). forcing him to come back in this life and reap the fruits of his deeds. according to how badly we acted and how gross our ignorance was in detaching from the material world. The Upanishads mark a transition from the point where man's condition is determined by divine personal agents (such as the Vedic gods).10) is stated: These deluded men. regarding sacrifices and works of merits as most important. all his other acts need a reward too. It teaches that we live further lives as humans or.2. but then the soul has to return to earth and continue its struggle. in the spiritual world a process develops similar to the law of action and reaction that works in the physical world. (. at the same level. and “that he attains” is the fruit reaped in a further life. It was thought that the same way sacrifices bring good results to the one who performs them. The first clear mention of samsara is in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (3. This is karma. As a result of karma. any action has an effect on its performer.
and with tamas in control man is inert. Samsara works the same way as in pantheism. All these categories belong to prakriti. immutable and perfect. these two darshanas are dualistic. is capable of manifestation and produces all the physical and mental aspects of the world. through the loss of balance of the three gunas. The human condition in Hindu Tantrism and Hatha Yoga As both Hindu Tantrism and Hatha Yoga describe in a similar way man’s condition in the world. intellect. In this situation man is alone facing his destiny. we arrived at the pantheistic view of the Upanishads. the self. autonomous. Although there is not much known about how the initial balance between the three gunas was affected and how purusha got involved with the manifestations of prakriti. devoid of any attributes and relations. rajas produces passion. Not only the physical world is a product of prakriti’s manifestation. an objective that will be foundational to all Hindu religious systems. contradiction. when rajas dominates there is passion and nervousness. None is the manifestation of the other. emphasizing the differences just where it is needed. The confusion of the two opposite realities. wisdom and goodness. where the impersonal law of karma is ruling the world. and ignorant. As we anticipated before. Purusha and prakriti have different natures and do not aim to reconstruct a unique essence. The psychological human states are combinations of effects produced by the three gunas. we will analyze them together. of a universe governed by a sovereign god (such as Varuna) through a law that was subordinated to him (rita). indifference and depression. in the present or further lives. prakriti. Purusha can have relations only with itself. or consummation. illusion. indifferent. For instance. Sattva produces virtue. the cause of purusha’s captivity in the illusion of psycho-mental activity. is the spiritual entity that defines human existence from a transcendental point of view. as was the case in pantheism. the primordial substance. the eternal purusha and the sum of psycho-mental activities. but also the world of psycho-mental phenomena. confusion. according to the deeds performed by the individual in ignorance toward his true identity. time and space. the soul is calm and tranquil. and tamas is responsible for generating ignorance. All actions demand a fulfillment. Persistence in this state is a result of ignorance (Yoga Sutra 2. It is the eternal substrata of the individual being. On the other hand. without beginning or end. this situation is the source of all problems. above senses. The human condition in the Samkhya and Yoga darshanas As we have seen in the previous file. lazy. It can know only itself and contemplate itself. is maya. having the duty to escape by his own efforts from the vicious cycle avidyakarma-samsara. Purusha will reincarnate as many times as needed.
. Purusha. from the polytheistic perspective of the Vedas.by the impersonal law of karma. until true knowledge about the nature of purusha is attained. agitation and wickedness. when the sattva dominates.24) and starts the process of karma and reincarnation. accepting the real status of primordial substance (prakriti) beside purusha (the equivalent of atman).
God’s relation to the world is similar to that existing between soul and body.92). According to them. Out of the many forms of theistic Hinduism that exist in the present. matter and mankind depend totally on God. Illusion (maya). they cannot exist without him. The works of Ramanuja and Madhva represent an extraordinary contribution to Hindu spirituality. The ontological differences between God. On the one hand. is stated: Out of the combination of spirit. with matter. the existence of the universe and of individual beings depends totally on God. If one's soul is
. and they have no reason to be responsible to him. Although they depend entirely on God. He conducts the souls. ignorance (avidya). The individuality of each soul (jiva) is not an illusion that has to be discarded through knowledge. by the special way they understood the relation between man and divinity and the significance of salvation. The souls enter into connection with material bodies according to the karma they acquired in previous forms of existence. Karma is an instrument used by God to punish evil but also to remind humans of their true status and what they should actually seek in life. he cannot have any role in sustaining them. Shiva and Shakti (also in her forms as Durga or Kali). and through the interaction of one with the other. corresponding to atman) in the Ultimate Reality represented by Shiva (the equivalent of Brahman). Following the pattern of other pantheist schools. However. a text that is common to both religious schools. karma and reincarnation are described in a similar way with other Hindu schools. For Madhva too. The self (atman) is considered to be Shakti. the fact that God . who lives in the human body as a spiritual energy called kundalini. But the question of how souls first came under the power of karma is unanswered. As the body cannot exist separately from the soul. but a metaphysical fact. humans and matter are fundamental and eternal. we will analyze briefly only some aspects of Vaishnavism as it was stated by the great theistic Hindu thinkers Ramanuja and Madhva. which is Shakti. but have also energies and activities of their own. the personal god who is accepted as Ultimate Reality. if God didn't create souls. (There is also available a special file aimed to analyze the theism of the wellknown poem Bhagavad Gita). According to Ramanuja. man has a totally different nature from Vishnu. Personhood and empirical knowledge are two main categories that produce false attachments and have to be surpassed. poses difficulties in understanding the relationship between them. the goal to be pursued is the return of self (Shakti. eternal. because the cosmic process has no beginning. souls and karma are eternal. In the Shiva Samhita (1. unique. individual souls are real.The world and mankind appeared through the dissociation of the primordial unity of Shiva and Shakti. The main causes of their present state are ignorance (defined as the illusory idea of independence from God) and the desire for seeking material goods. which is Shiva. beginningless. and possess intelligence and conscience. and there is no impersonal atman-Brahman fusion that has to be attained. The human condition in theistic Hinduism The main Hindu theistic schools are those which worship Vishnu (including his avatars such as Rama and Krishna). all creatures were born.
the Buddha described the human condition in very harsh terms: Behold this painted body. a nest of diseases and very frail. plastered over with flesh and blood. perpetuating in this way the chain of samsara.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------The human condition in Buddhism Following the ascetic tradition of his time. God chooses to have each soul undergo the fruits of his past labours. as long as the souls are not created? Simply adding the fact that karma is under the sovereignty of God is an artificial and useless theory. A soul can only be responsible to the one God who created it. In a famous text he stated: There is grief but none suffering. how can God and karma be reconciled? It is stated that there are three phases in the existence of a soul: 1) the dormant state. giving each soul what it deserves? Karma is a law that can work by itself. Buddhism adopted a similar attitude towards the futility of empirical knowledge (provided by senses and psycho-mental activity). This kind of information is considered to be illusory. As a result of their accumulated karma. The soul (purusha) in Samkhya is eternal and doesn't depend upon any god for its existence. which further means it isn't responsible to him. Why should the situation be different in Dvaita. This heap of corruption breaks in pieces. From this point the Buddha went further than the ideologies of his time. God is the one who introduces the soul into the stream of transmigration so that it might discover its spiritual nature. feeding the sense of individuality and the bondage of karma. so it doesn't require a god. as it is in the Western religions. 2) the transmigration process.
. On the other hand. His new doctrine was centered on two other fundamental pillars: suffering (dukkha) and nirvana. excluding from his metaphysics even the fundamental concepts of Upanishadic philosophy: atman and Brahman. a body full of wounds.beginningless. What delight is there for him who sees these white bones like gourds cast away in the autumn? Of the bones a citadel is made. (Dhammapada 147-150) The all-pervading reality of suffering as motivation for seeking liberation is not a new element in Hindu spirituality. as it does in Samkhya (which also states that souls are beginningless). It is stated that in the incarnated state. and in it dwell old age and death. But on what authority? Why should God be the controlling force. Karma operates without the need or intervention of any god. The Upanishads also have exploited this topic. and full of many thoughts in which there is neither permanence nor stability. This body is worn out. pride and deceit. diseased. it means it isn't created by God. put together. the physical and subtle bodies produce the illusion of independence toward God and also attachment to the physical world. life indeed ends in death. transmigration and liberation. 3) the liberated state. Following the existent branches of Hinduism. its radical solution.
are impermanent (anitya). the existence of a soul or a transcendent Ultimate Reality. and 5) consciousness (vijnana) . the false notions of person (puggala).the taste of any experience. start debates that lead us astray from our real problem.the states which initiate action. The only link from one life to the next one has a causal nature. (Majjhima Nikaya. a state where they all lose any importance. If there is no self. what is reincarnated from one existence to another? The Buddha answered that only karma is passing from one life to another. In the same manner.1) This means that Buddhism denies the reality of atman. see our special file on this topic. and are hindrances in attaining liberation. The Buddha argued that the answers we would like to know about the character of the universe. as the ultimate ground for human existence. If there is no self. which is supposed to be permanent. undergo constant transformation. beyond the five aggregates nothing else can be found in man. (For some critical comments concerning the way Theravada Buddhism defines its fundamental doctrines. 4) mental constructions (sankhara) . but because in nirvana there is no one left to get them. Therefore. The heap of aggregates generates the illusion of personal existence. which is escaping from suffering (Majjhima Nikaya 1. The rejection of a self has most of all a practical significance. All the five elements. and have no abiding principle or self. vital principle (jiva) and atman. which is derived from other candle without having a substance of its own. 3) cognition (sanna) .the process of classifying and labeling experiences. There is quietude but none tranquil. 2) feeling (vedana) .There is no doer though there is action.426). Man usually thinks that he has a self because of consciousness. consciousness cannot be identified with a self. There is the path but none walks upon the path. who is actually suffering the pain of which the Buddha was speaking so much? Other problems arise concerning the significance of reincarnation. as well as human existence itself. which suffer from constant becoming and have a functional cause-effect relation: 1) the body (rupa) . not because the answers are found. All discussions and philosophical debates on the existence and definition of atman have as the only result persistence in suffering.that consists of material form and senses.the awareness of a sensory or mental object. Some immediate problems raised against Buddhism came from the way it described man as having no abiding principle or self. Its illusion is generated by a mere heap of five aggregates (skandha). using the illustration of the light of a candle.)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------The human condition in other Eastern religions
. there is rebirth without the transfer of a self from one body to another. But being itself in a constant process of becoming and change. He discouraged speculative thinking on these issues in order to concentrate all one's efforts in reaching nirvana.
Then knowledge and wisdom are born Along with hypocrisy. with which he has to be in resonance (gan ying). don’t do to them”). He is a small universe permeated by the Tao.11). how could you serve the spirits?” (Analects 11. doing good for the benefit of others (jen) and loving and respecting your parents. [. feelings and imagination have to be allowed to manifest freely. . he gave them a mere ethical interpretation. The same is true with regard to worshipping gods or spirits. which understands man as a rational and moral being. but metaphysical speculations on this topic and on life after death are futile (Analects 7. . cannot be attained by religious rituals or meditations. according to what is true and morally right. Like the universe itself. but only by using proper education and respecting moral values. and the principles that should govern it in order to assure social balance and peace in the society.] If we could abolish duty and justice Then harmonious relationships would form. and personal life.20). and not even a new philosophical system. according to him. Taoism states that man is a being that has to align his life to the pulse of nature.Confucianism Confucius did not establish a new religion. his social life. early Confucianism had no religious beliefs. family. Therefore. The Confucianist morality is criticized because it is considered to be an illusory and dangerous way of departing from the essence of Tao: When the Tao is forgotten Duty and justice appear. The most important ethical principles emphasized by Confucius were reciprocity (shu) (“what you do not want others do to you. religious traditions have value only as means of moral living. man has an ascending
. When a nation falls to chaos Then loyalty and patriotism are born. Human perfection. Confucius denied their importance saying: “If you cannot serve people. imitating nature. (Tao-te Ching 18-19) Man is a reflection of the universe. Following the moral principles means implicitly to conform oneself to the will of Heaven. In conclusion. with certain moral duties toward society. When harmonious relationships dissolve Then respect and devotion arise. it pursued only the perfection of human character by fulfilling one’s social and familial duties. His main concern was man. Although Confucius respected the existent Chinese religious traditions. All instincts. All his efforts were channeled into finding an ethical system that could solve the chaos of the Chinese society of his time (6th century BC). Taoism Unlike Confucianism.
is chaotic because man does not know how to keep up his vital force.27). but the only
. the same is the situation with the nature of man and his present condition. There is no ontological continuity between the nature of God and that of man. man was created to have communion with God and to rule “over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1. Unlike the physical world. Origenism or some dualistic philosophies tried to speculate. The two dimensions generate the unity of human being according to the Creator's design. Although man was created to be a witness of God’s glory and to enjoy it. According to the Christian teaching. this is not a necessity for God’s being. The creation of man follows the act of creating the physical universe. nothing existed except God. so that man is not a preexistent celestial soul fallen into a material body as Platonism. Progression and regression are constant developments in the universe and also in the human body. Physical life. The natural result is reincarnation. it is not a primordial substance. as is mentioned in the Genesis account: The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. God creates the universe out of nothing (ex nihilo) and not out of his own substance (ex Deo). which ends in death. before yin and yang can naturally separate and his being return into the Tao. According to the Genesis account. because the communion among the hypostasis of the Holy Trinity was sufficient and perfect. (However. which leads him to the climax of his existence. He would not have been incomplete without man.life and a descending one. as between Brahman and atman. He dies as a result of his ignorance. This "nothing" has no ontological statute. The ascending life is considered to be the intrauterine one. reincarnation is a topic developed only later in Taoism. God's only motivation for creating mankind was the over-abundance of His love. birth. For this reason it is said in the Tao-te Ching that the one ”who is filled with harmony is like a newborn” (55). Both are created by God at the same time. man cannot understand this dynamic and subscribe to it. repeating physical existence until liberation is attained. and the man became a living being (Genesis 2.)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------The human condition in the monotheistic religions Man’s creation and condition in Christianity As the triune God of Christianity is completely different from the Ultimate Reality of the other world religions. Another important aspect to be emphasized here is the fact that the creation of man was not a necessity for God. Creation ex nihilo is not an artifice of Christian philosophy. because prior to creation. unlike the intrauterine one. Because of his ignorance. probably two centuries after Lao Tse.7). but a fundamental difference that excludes any pantheistic resemblance. man has a physical dimension (the body) and a spiritual one (the soul). but the only possibility compatible with the existence of a personal God as Ultimate Reality.
and over all the creatures that move along the ground. but the act of life giving. feel and will. which God has transmitted to man. Clement of Alexandria. In other words. and especially by his ability to have communion with his Creator and other people. Therefore. "Let us make man in our image. According to the Church fathers of the first centuries. is not a small part of God’s essence (a kind of atman).27). as was the case with purusha and prakriti in the Samkhya and Yoga darshanas. In the same way in which God exists only as Person. exists only as person. accomplished by a personal unfolding of each toward the other. If God's image is imprinted on man and remains in him as his personal character. While the image is an ontological fact of human nature. which marked the beginning of experiencing self-consciousness or personal identity. Man does not have the nature of God. the “likeness” is defined as a way of being. Nowhere in the Holy Scripture is it taught that they should be annihilated in order to grasp a higher impersonal Ultimate Reality. It has nothing in common with the Eastern doctrine of illusion (maya). “the breath of life” (Genesis 2. (The Vedic ritual suggests a different situation.innate object relation. the “image” conferred to man represents the personal character of God. over all the earth.16-23) and using the will for good purposes (Tit 3. but for man's sake. Here the sacrifices performed by the priests are necessary in order to sustain the universe and the gods.26-27). the Cappadocians. in our likeness. The command says: ”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10. It corresponds to a free will relation of obedience to the Creator. so that man may have eternal communion with the Ruler of the universe. etc. The fact that man was created in the image (eikon) and likeness (omoiosis) of God does not imply that God has a physical nature. Both body and soul define human personhood and neither of them is intrinsically bad or illusory.) Image and likeness Then God said.8).
. Irenaeus of Lyon.condition in which man can be in harmony with his Creator. This position is held by most Church fathers of the first centuries. male and female he created them (Genesis 1. God created man not for His sake." So God created man in his own image. over the livestock. Man’s personal character is defined by self-consciousness. discernment between good and bad feelings (Galatians 5. It is by no means a subject . As the hypostases of the Holy Trinity are defined only in relation with each other. This relation is a reciprocal fellowship. Nor do the elements of psycho-mental life have anything bad in themselves. as ontological fact of creation. too. but suggests that man received by creation an existence resembling that of the Persons (hypostases) of the Holy Trinity. According to Christianity. in the same way the human hypostasis is defined only in relation with God and other humans. Christian soteriology does not state any need for detaching the soul from an illusory association with the body. human nature.7). ability to think. in the image of God he created him. and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air. but only qualities resembling His. the likeness is an attribute that has to be built up through exercising the relation with God. reason for which Christianity demands the renewal of mind (Romans 12.2). human personhood has real and unique value.
both terms being translated as ahamkara. the principle of individuation (the sense of the "I". as well as abhinivesha . any other element that may define human existence belongs to the domain of illusion (maya). In Christianity. is a source of karma and by consequence has to be annihilated. like the material universe. In order to reject any element that may lead to attachments. the very reason man was created. In pantheism man is a manifestation of the impersonal Absolute and therefore his self (atman or purusha) has an impersonal nature too. we should examine some aspects that define the nature of evil in Christianity. but is the premise for grounding a personal relation with the Creator. in Hinduism there is not stated a clear differentiation between personhood and egoism. This is of fundamental importance to man’s condition. in other words without the quality that makes one person different from another (which should not be understood as individualism). All elements that define personhood have an illusory value and have to be annihilated. The origin and essence of evil in Christianity Evil exists since before the creation of man. with the role of being used in order to attain likeness with God. The annihilation of personhood is a necessity in most Eastern religions. Except the impersonal self (atman or purusha). Its origin is to be found in the world of angels. pantheist religions all agree concerning the illusory status of the personal character of man and the hindrance it represents in attaining liberation. the idea of personal communion with God. all that belongs to personhood has no room in the system and therefore personal communion with God cannot be the purpose of man's existence. such as egoism. not the sense of the “I” itself is the cause of problems (as it belongs to our created status). of duality and separatedness from others) is considered to be one of the most important causes of illusion and suffering in the world. Man is created as a personal being by a personal God. There is no room in Christianity for a Buddhist “no-mind” attitude or practice. The spiritual gifts that God has put in human nature must awake in us the desire to live in his likeness. but the wrong usage of it generates bad products. Desires are a product of our free will and have to be channeled to function in obedience to God. God created them in time immemorial. Personhood is only a result of the coming together of the five skandhas.On the other hand. Ahamkara. not to be annihilated. but without having the same essence with Him. and thus have a nature
. Before this. In conclusion. on the other hand. Unfortunately. (In Buddhism there is a similar situation. Christianity brings a major difference in defining human nature.) Another consequence of our personal status is that desire does not have an evil nature in itself. Personhood holds nothing wrong in itself. as does the Hindu trishna (the desire to experience existence). Without personhood and self-consciousness. It belongs to the nature of man. a source of illusion and karma. They were created ex nihilo.the will to live. Buddhism rejects even the notion of atman in defining human nature. Some other contrasts will be emphasized in defining man's present condition. in order to integrate themselves in the divine harmony through obedience and communion. is absurd. as personal and immaterial beings endowed with free will. Because in the pantheistic religions Ultimate Reality is impersonal.
However. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds. The nature of sin By creating a new kind of beings endowed with freedom of will. Their number was very large and had a hierarchy among them (Hebrews 12. God assumed again “the risk” that they may rebel against Him. the knowledge of
.7-10. As mentioned in our file on the nature of evil in Christianity. the desire to be independent of God. It is an ontological process rather than an epistemological one. In the book of the prophet Isaiah we can read the following metaphorical description of this incident: You said in your heart.16-17).22). one of God’s cherubs. for when you eat of it you will surely die" (Genesis 2.12). Having this nature.different from that of God. knowing that humans are created to succeed where they (the fallen angels) failed. but is a perversion of His creation. It is a parasite of good. evil is not created by God. The same way as knowing God is not just a mental operation. a result of using free will against the very purpose for which it was created (obedience to God in a communion relation based on love). who is now called Satan (“adversary”). It is not a matter of conceptual elaboration. feelings (Luke 15. I will make myself like the Most High. These beings have mind (Acts 12. the very purpose of man’s creation. including communion with God. knowledge (gnosis) means experiencing and getting mixed with another reality. not submitted or inferior to Him. Evil was not intended to exist in God's creation and is not linked to the essence of God. I will raise my throne above the stars of God. In this Biblical text. Satan and the demons do their best to thwart God’s plan with mankind. on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. 1 Peter 1. a rebelled existence against God. rebelled against this order. God’s command to man was: You are free to eat from any tree in the garden. The cause of his fall was pride. freedom of will could be wrongly used and turned against the very purpose of its creation. will (Jude 6) and are not limited by a physical body. gnosis means to be in communion with something and live according to it. This element of risk is not a proof of God’s incapacity to create infallible beings. Here must be emphasized the following important aspect: The knowledge (gnosis) of good and evil does not have the meaning of getting some new information. as happened in the realm of angels. a science of good and evil that would explain rationally two opposite concepts without judging them morally. Evil appeared in the world of angels when Lucifer. It also makes possible real communion among personal beings." (Isaiah 14.13-14) This angel. but a participation and subscribing to His will. nor abstract information. I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly. because freedom of will is the most important element that defines personhood and makes us different from robots. but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.10). Lucifer wanted to be by himself more than his created status could permit him. Rather than to know (as we understand it). "I will ascend to heaven. was expelled from heaven together with all the angels who joined him in his act of rebellion. It is neither a kind of a science (episteme).
” (Genesis 3. it is an act of perverting the relation established by God in His creation. Satan tempted him. with other people.17) and continues to suffer because of sin (Romans 8. as it can be seen in the Genesis account and in all human history. As a result. His temptation can be summed up as “to be like God”. The fall into sin is the breaking point in man’s relation with God.good and evil is an existential experience.” the serpent said to the woman. but a warning concerning the possibility of getting involved with the nature of evil.God or the devil. They found out that they were separated from God and also from the perfect environment where they lived (3. As man's source for meaning cannot be found in himself but only in his Creator. but God did say. The biblical meaning of sin does not correspond to some pantheist interpretations. neutrality is not a possible option. In this context. knowing good and evil. to attain likeness with Him. The “good” thing that Adam and Eve came to know was the fact that they were naked (3.1-5) An analysis of this text reveals that Satan suggested that any interdiction should be excluded. with himself and even with the physical world.’” “You will not surely die. ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?" The woman said to the serpent. which consider it to be the loss of a pantheist view of reality (“the perception of the ONE”) and the subsequent appearance of duality and illusion. that God’s command is not just and that rebellion against Him would bring total freedom. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened. ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden. We are not meant to find an inner "true spiritual nature" or a "higher self" inside us. because the Absolute Good is God himself and there cannot be anything good in separation from Him. The human fall is a consequence of man’s wrong decision toward independence from God. What good thing could man get to know from one who was totally and eternally separated from God? Unfortunately. This attitude is called sin. or you will die. Creation itself suffered (3. and you will be like God. Only an appearance of good. his status in the spiritual world can better be described as a river bed rather than a spring. Therefore we are a river bed that chooses what spring will flow through it. casting doubt on the justice of God’s demands: “Did God really say. man's identity (and obviously his morality) is fashioned by the spiritual source he chooses to obey . that is. to find all resources in oneself and follow the same path of rebellion he had followed earlier.7).24). This is the ultimate ability we have in attaining "a higher spirituality".
. Being envious of man's destiny and seeking to perpetuate his own fallen nature. in order to find (an illusory) auto-determination.22). God’s command is not a hindering from getting necessary knowledge or an artificial limitation of man’s freedom. This other reality was the world of Satan and the fallen angels. “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden. man has chosen rebellion against his Creator. of participating in another reality than that intended by God. an accommodation to a state that is not indifferent to human nature. which already was a barrier between them. His temptation was more effective by the fact that it presented a mixture of evil and an appearance of good. but to adjust to the character of God. and you must not touch it. As a river bed is clean or dirty according to the water that flows through it.
which we all inherit. is a suffering that surpasses any imagination.23). the temporary statute of hell in Eastern religions is not a result of divine love. In the spiritual world there is no possible option for independence. hell was not intended for humans. It suggests that man has missed the mark that God has intended for him. Buddhism and Jainism hell is analogous to the Catholic concept of Purgatory. It is often questioned: How can a loving God condemn man to such a horrifying punishment? First. This world is hell. It is not an eternal damnation. The Apostle Paul draws a remarkable description of this situation in the Epistle to the Romans. but only be the instrument of this impersonal law.) The Eastern concept of hell is different from the Christian one. not for unknown mistakes done against some unknown laws of God (see Romans 2.3. However. man became slave to sin (Romans 6. God blames us for what we know is wrong but still do.17) and to Satan (John 8. conferring to it a hereditary perverted status. as the devil promised. one of the most used terms in the New Testament is the Greek word hamartia. where the separation from Him and any good thing He created is eternal. The Tibetan Book of the Dead).20). the Apostle Paul states that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3. “He who is not with me is against me. hell being only a real chance offered to him to spend all eternity outside His presence. In order to define sin. It represents a natural tendency toward evil and manifests itself through the conscious sins we
.) Sin has thoroughly affected human nature.41). (See our next file on salvation in Christianity. and he who does not gather with me.1-15). Would not God be unjust if He would force humans to live in His presence against their will? Second. it has to be remembered that the decision for independence from God belongs to man. but rather a necessity imposed by the cyclic manifestations of Ultimate Reality. and Yama. but for demons. death and life after death. The punishments man has to bear in hell are according to his karma. Instead of finding total freedom. mentioning deeds consciously done against the standards revealed by God (see 1. but only a place to expiate bad karma. the consequence of this situation would have been that God should respect man’s desire to live a separate existence from Him (as a guarantee of his free will). Calling us sinners. According to Christianity. This is called “the sinful nature” or “original sin” (see Romans 7-8). In Hinduism.44). (See some comments of the Early Church Fathers on hell. According to God’s justice. However. and to abandon man in a world where God withdraws His presence and any intervention. but only for obeying or disobeying God. in order that the purified soul can continue his advance toward liberation (see Markandeya Purana 13-15.18 . acts in accordance to the demands of karma. Living in that world.23). scatters” (Luke 11. in total isolation and privation of any good aspect of existence. Sutta Nipata 67276. He cannot forgive. In his conclusion. accompanied only with the attitude of rebellion against God. Jesus Christ said.The Bible states that mankind has fallen into a rebellious position against God and his demands. he will reach the same destination as his leader. God has prepared a solution for those who want to return to communion with Him. since man rejects God and follows the devil during his life. the lord of hell. a place where Satan and all demons will be isolated for all eternity (see Matthew 25. literally translated “to miss the mark”.
according to some Gnostic interpretations. but by God and not by karma. In Christianity there is no room for the impersonal law of karma and reincarnation. Gregory of Nyssa explains: He who is the healer of our sinfulness. Man will certainly be judged for the way he lived.do with our thought. (For instance. The notion of sin. Another aspect that must be emphasized here is the fact that we are all equal before God through our “merits”. Man does not “pay” for sins committed out of ignorance in previous lives. but the sinful nature of mankind. but separation. aparadha . physical death is the gate toward spiritual life. It is important to notice here that we neither inherit the particular sins of our ancestors. but by being sent to hell. speech and deeds. chapter 8. somehow trying to affirm that karma is the will of God. the giver of life. with which God clothed Adam and his wife after the fall (Genesis 3. The “death” Adam and Eve received at the moment of their sinning was separation from God. Man didn’t get his physical body after the fall.mistake).any form of wrongdoing. by getting out of the communion with Him. these “garments of skin” are not the physical body.) Karma is a concept that does not fit in Christianity. has no correspondent in the Eastern religions. but for individual and conscious sins committed here and now. was. The two are mutually exclusive. This liability to death. for a coat is something external put on us. but a cure for sin. and be cured of sin. what we inherit is not karma. Therefore the attempt to reconcile God and karma is absurd. then. but at the moment of creation. but an act against dharma (the moral order) and against one's own self (leading to accumulation of karma). taken from the brute creation. adharma . the Creator. Therefore.acting against one's own dharma. Although it looks more like a punishment. Mortality was added after the fall.13). What we all deserve is the same prize: death. in which man was allegedly trapped after being a purely spiritual being. According to the Church Fathers. The origin of "sinful" conduct is spiritual ignorance
. nor sins we have done in alleged previous lives. they do not represent a crime against God. but not indigenous to its nature. physical death means separation of soul and body). What would our world become if there would be no death to sinners? Death is added to our fallen condition in order that we could still inherit spiritual immortality. the new condition of man’s being mortal is suggested by the expression “garments of skin”. if man accepts God's terms for receiving it.21). as stated in Christianity. and also not by being sent into another body.1. Not that it was to last for ever. of His foresight invested man subsequently with that capacity of dying which had been the special attribute of the brute creation. lending itself to the body for a time. the place deserved by those who reject his love. Although there are some Hindu terms translated as "sin" (papa . This is why the banishment from Eden was not a revenge of God. In the expression used by the Apostle Paul “you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2. The biblical meaning of this term is not passing into nothingness. (There is available a special file on this topic. and therefore does not represent a constitutive element of man. by returning to God. made to envelope the nature created for immortality. provisionally. Colossians 2. In other words. “death” means a state of separation between man and God. but a necessity after sin has been committed. where the Absolute judge is God. In his Great Catechism. Physical death is a result of the fall but at the same time an instrument to stop the effects of sin. determined by sin.
The prophet Isaiah proclaimed: “Your iniquities have separated you from your God. Romans 9. arrogance and folly. saying.15). so that he will not hear” (59. lewdness.28). purusha) and all resources to overtake his state of ignorance. it is stated that God created man with an evil inclination and gave him the Mosaic Law as antidote: The words of the Torah are like a perfect remedy. man has in himself the divine nature (atman. will (Romans 1. slander.4. adultery. This is the only “true inner nature” of man. envy. your sins have hidden his face from you. Jesus Christ stated: For from within. emotional and volitional life. which is not an illusion or a lack of perfection. deceit. “My son!
.' (Mark 7. Therefore. the headquarters of mental. No matter how many efforts are made today by psychoanalysis to redefine sin as imperfection (an idea developed by C. make decisions (2 Corinthians 9. Being a manifestation of the Absolute.28). Romans 1. sexual immorality.4. for which he must pay the consequences in samsara.(avidya).18). the very cause of man’s (and Satan’s) fall.3. come evil thoughts.7) and also participate in salvation by expressing faith (Romans 10. in the New Testament. and then put a plaster on his wound. rejoice (Ephesians 5. the “heart” is the core of man’s being.21-23) According to the Judaic understanding of man. the heart is depicted as something that can think and understand (Matthew 9.2).20). However.14-15). the Judaic view of man’s creation and present sinful condition is similar to the Christian one. but a moral barrier between man and his Creator. Consequently. 13.19). Sin has produced the perversion of our mind (2 Corinthians 4. theft. According to Christianity. Jung from Eastern religions). heart (Ephesians 4.18 . and our being as totality (Romans 1.G. this attitude is a result of spiritual pride. the central problem of mankind is sin. This may be compared to a man who inflicted a big wound upon his son. From a Christian point of view. For instance.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------The human condition in Judaism As the Old Testament belongs equally to Judaism and Christianity. He does not live in harmony with a moral system that he did not create and that surpasses him. He needs help to reason the right way and realize that he is responsible for his actions.2). greed. The Bible teaches that man does not possess an intrinsic divine nature. out of men's hearts. such as the Talmud. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean. man continues to be accused by his conscience for the failures of his moral living (see Romans 2. malice. There is no deeper level of man’s nature that could hide a superior spiritual self. late commentaries on the Old Testament.9-10). The situation is like this because man has a sinful nature. be troubled (John 14. and thus is incapable of saving himself from his fallen state. murder. which was the context of Jesus’ saying. a “sinner” needs only instruction and not condemnation. present some deviations from Orthodox Judaism.1.
Allah said: “What prevented you Iblis. it is not for you to be arrogant here. “My children! I created within you the Evil Inclination. But if you remove it.” (Quran 7. which state that God is the only Creator. as described in the Quran.56). which he accomplished in a similar way to that described in the Biblical account (see Quran 7. This demand is very similar to the Eastern idea of surpassing ignorance (avidya) in order to know his true spiritual nature (atman). as necessary elements in order to reach the highest level of spiritual development. and him You created from clay. However. then you will be delivered into its power. for you are of those humiliated and disgraced. being contrary to the purpose of creation. they repented and were forgiven.11-13) After this episode Iblis planned to deceive man and make him disobedient to God. This is why the mystical view of the Kabbalah is closer to Eastern religions than to Orthodox Judaism in defining man and his relation with God. Although Adam and Eve sinned. You created me from fire. man is exhorted not to repeat the mistake of Adam. “Prostrate to Adam”. he refused to be of those who prostrate. Iblis.” Even so did God say to the Israelites. However. We created you (your father Adam) and then gave you shape (the noble shape of a human being). Satan (Iblis) opposed this command and only then was banished from heaven: And surely. But if you do not occupy yourselves with the Torah.
. the doctrine of the fall is a logical teaching only in the monotheistic religions. In his present condition. it will break out into sores. when I commanded you?” Iblis said: “I am better than him (Adam).
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------The human condition in Islam The Quran describes the creation and fall of man in a way similar to the Judeo-Christian tradition.” (Kiddushin 30b) According to the mystical tradition of the Kabbalah. As long as you occupy yourselves with the Torah. except Iblis (Satan). then We told the angels. so that their sin had no repercussions for the rest of human race. get down from this (Paradise). and they prostrated. but I created the Law as its antidote. God created man and commanded all angels to worship him. Islam teaches that man and angels were created to worship Allah (Quran 51.As long as this plaster is on your wound you can eat and drink what you like.. that you did not prostrate.20-21). but still needs improvement in order to discover his spiritual identity and feel the spiritual worlds above him. and you will suffer no harm. The Quran states that evil was not yet present in the world at the moment of man's creation. man is perfect from the Creator’s point of view. Other elements that suggest the relation with Eastern philosophy are the belief in reincarnation and the need for mystical experiences. and all its activity will be against you. In fact. Allah said: “O. the Evil Inclination will not rule over you. Get out. creation was good in itself and evil has a personal existence. in Islam there is no such thing as original sin. and bathe in cold or warm water. the creation of man. has a major difference from the Biblical account.
defining human condition as a mere process of becoming in which are involved the five aggregates. understood not as ignorance for one's "true inner nature". two guardian angels appointed to learn [man’s doings] learn and note them. that will present the records at the final judgment: Behold. The only reality of human existence is that of suffering. The two elements are inseparable. Personhood has nothing bad or illusory in itself. All sins and good deeds a man is performing are noted by two angels. However. The result of sin is hell. Their position is too divergent for a possible reconciliation
. without any permanent self being involved. according to man's decision during this single earthly life. Hinduism (excepting some theistic trends) stated that the core of human nature is the impersonal self (atman).27). by Jay Smith. or Shiva in Tantrism). An impersonal Ultimate Reality determines that the essence of man. of the same essence with Ultimate Reality (Brahman in Vedanta. Christianity and Islam. The barrier between man and God has a moral nature. is also impersonal. or his innermost nature.and also warned that the devil attempts to cheat him by all means (Quran 7. The major problem that defines human existence is sin. because the role of Supreme Judge belongs only to God. Not a word does he utter but there is a sentinel by him. Buddhism denies the reality of any permanent self residing in man. Karma and reincarnation are excluded. it deals only with the passing of karma from one life to another. all people sin because of the passion to which they are subjected by Satan and because they are careless about the demands of the Quran. Although reincarnation is fully accepted. a state of definitive separation from God. being the major condition for having personal communion with God. there is no harmony among the world's religions concerning the status of man and his present condition. one sitting on the right and one on the left. an impersonal law started by spiritual ignorance that forces the self to reincarnate until true knowledge is attained. This is the case in the pantheistic religions.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Conclusion The way world religions state what Ultimate Reality is inherently determines their teaching on human condition. ready to note it. And the stupor of death will bring truth before his eyes. “This was the thing which you were trying to escape!” (Quran 50. The monotheistic religions state man's personal created status as a fundamental element of their theology. They have no room in Judaism. as in the Eastern religions. of an impermanent nature too. but as crime against the Creator.17-19) (In order to understand other basic differences between Christianity and Islam see the article Six Muslim Beliefs and a Christian Response. Man's present condition is governed by karma. not an epistemological one. Beginning with the Upanishads. In conclusion.
and therefore accept grace unconditionally. the attempt to formulate a common doctrine on man would surely contradict their major tenets. Salvation means removing this moral barrier and restoring a personal communion with God. As emphasized in the previous file. so that man needs salvation from his present condition. performing rituals. asceticism. and therefore man’s problem is epistemological. the actual way of getting saved and the meaning of salvation from an eternal perspective. etc. a bodhisattva. etc. meaning a discovery of and conformity of oneself with an eternal law that governs existence. This can be God. However. good deeds. accumulation of wisdom.to be stated. Dualistic religions see man’s salvation as a return to an initial angelic state. Pantheist religions consider the human self a part of the impersonal Ultimate Reality. following how Ultimate Reality and human nature are stated. Other Eastern religions. some religions claim that salvation can be attained by using only inner human resources. man doesn’t manifest his purpose of existence. In this file we will analyze closer these alternatives. which will endure forever. the monotheistic religions state that the barrier between man and God is sin. They demand the use of meditation. Concerning the first two aspects. such as Buddhism and Taoism. As concerning the meaning of salvation from an eternal perspective. Other religions state man can be saved only through the grace granted by an external personal agent. Therefore. SALVATION AND ETERNAL DESTINY IN WORLD RELIGIONS As we have seen in the previous file on the human condition. Salvation means liberation from ignorance and corresponds to the fusion of the impersonal self with the Absolute. Three important aspects must be analyzed here: The nature of the resources needed for attaining salvation. take salvation as an illumination. the meaning of salvation and eternal destiny differ to a great extent from one religion to another. meaning dissolution of subject and object. an avatar.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Salvation and eternal destiny in Hinduism The Upanishads and Vedanta philosophy
. Life is far away from pursuing the ideal claimed by religion. Man’s duty is to recognize his impossibility to get saved by his own effort. knower and known. from which he has fallen in a physical body. In other words. There are also combinations of the two cases. there are also important distinctions to mention. one of the few elements that world religions share is the fact that man doesn’t live in harmony with the Ultimate Reality. trying to understand to what extent they can still be compatible with each other.
as animals are the opposite. The liberation of atman from the chain of reincarnation can be attained only during a human existence. the wakeful state (jagrat).) According to the Upanishads.3. Some later developments concluded that in this stage atman is only temporarily united with Brahman.3. since they are not yet fully developed in the Upanishads. when the unity of atman-Brahman is perfectly attained. He who knows Brahman becomes Brahman” (Mundaka Upanishad 3. when the world’s illusion ceases to manifest itself (Brihadaranyaka Up. The following text indicates that the gods like to encourage man’s ignorance: Now. (This trend gets special attention in the Bhagavad Gita and also in Buddhism. which is desire. so does each man serve the gods. so we are in a privileged stage of spiritual evolution. it causes anguish to the owner.2. Even if one animal is taken away. The first state of consciousness. First mentioned in the Brahmanas as necessary for knowing the laws of sacrifice. the Infinite. There is also to be noticed the importance
.8-9). thinking. the Upanishads view the problem man has to face as belonging to the domain of knowledge. They are in a stage of reaping one’s positive merits during a lifetime.10) Atman’s liberation from samsara is called moksha and represents its return to Brahman. 7. in which the phenomenal world is completely involved in one’s psycho-mental activity.4. He is like an animal to the gods. the Self-luminous.32).2.8-15). At this point any element of personhood is annihilated and the process of reincarnation ceases. The cycle avidya-karma-samsara can be broken only by knowing and destroying its primary cause.As we have seen in the file on the human condition. vidya) here receives its full spiritual meaning. the stage of reaping bad merits.1. resembling the fusion of a drop of rain with the ocean. 4. The self is one with Brahman. thus becoming one with it: “As rivers flow into the sea and in so doing lose name and form. intuitive knowledge (jnana. if a man worships another deity. That is why devotion to a god is not a valid way toward liberation. We have a better position even than gods do. the state of sleep with dreams and the dreamless sleep (Brihadaranyaka Up. a mere projection of the real one.” he does not know. 1. 4.9-19). 1.10) and Tat tvam asi (“You are that” . 6.in the Brihadaranyaka Up.4. (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1. how much more so when many are taken away! Therefore it is not pleasing to the gods that men should know the truth. the process of attaining intuitive knowledge of atman and liberation from desires requires passing through three states of consciousness. This kind of liberation is actually an impersonal fusion of atman with Brahman. “He is one and I am another. categorized as the wakeful state. There is no need to mention here actual methods for attaining liberation. but illusion prevents man from grasping it. Two important meditation formulas (mantras) are Aham Brahma asmi (“I am Brahman” .in the Chandogya Up. freed from name and form. As many animals serve a man. as it perpetuates the illusion of personal existence. and for this reason a fourth state (turiya) was defined. Vedic sacrifice (according to Mundaka Up.7) and the knowledge of the Vedas (Chandogya Up. attains the Supreme Being.3) have no value in attaining liberation. In the stage corresponding to sleep with dreams (svapna) the psycho-mental is detached from the objective world and engaged in a virtual world. so even the wise man. represents the normal human state. Participation in the phenomenal world stops only in the dreamless state (susupti).
The Samkhya and Yoga darshanas Liberation in the Samkhya and Yoga darshanas represents detaching purusha from any manifestation of prakriti. Ishvara is not a personal god. For a critique of pantheism. unable to be normally perceived because of ignorance. equanimity. 3) possession of six virtues: calmness. but only through getting spiritual knowledge can liberation be attained. forbearance. indeed. reflection and contemplation. prakriti with all its manifestations departs from purusha. There are four qualifications prescribed for the one who follows this path: 1) discrimination of the eternal from the non-eternal. and M) and the three states of conscience mentioned above.e. U. Thus one becomes united with it as the arrow [becomes one with the target]. Brahman is spoken of as the target of that. between which no relation can exist. they are absorbed into prakriti and the self finds liberation (Samkhya Sutra 3.84). which is said to exert a powerful influence on the one who knows to use it and understands its metaphysical importance. The moment when discrimination (viveka) between the two categories has been fully realized. and 2) the fact that liberation cannot be attained by spiritual knowledge only.” The same finality is stated in Shankara’s Vedanta. the way it states liberation and its significance click here and see our special file on this topic.56) nor by the help of Vedas (3. one’s self.of the sacred syllable OM (AUM). The finality in this darshana is a world of free and totally isolated purushas. is metaphysical knowledge. The Mundaka Upanishad (2. It is to be hit without making a mistake.2. The liberation of atman is attained through intuitive knowledge. turning away from sense-objects. but rather a macro-purusha that has never been involved with psycho-mental activity
. In the Yoga darshana of Patanjali there are two elements added: 1) Ishvara. It involves abandoning all common values that are created by our mind and thus do not belong to purusha.4) states: “The syllable aum is the bow. out of the domain of psycho-mental experience. and 4) longing for release. “like a dancer who leaves after satisfying her master’s wish” (Samkhya Karika 59). i.69). but as thinking itself belongs to prakriti. From that moment on the liberated purusha contemplates only itself and has no concern about the relation of other purushas with prakriti. the confusion generated by the physical and mental world ceases. Samkhya holds that liberation is a mere acquaintance with purusha’s eternal freedom. analyzing and understanding the external and internal structures of nature and psycho-mental activity. By knowing the absolute state of purusha. The Mandukya Upanishad establishes a correspondence between the three letters that compound it (A. The self escapes from the illusory relation with prakriti and has nothing to do with it anymore. It is stated that neither through sacrifices (Samkhya Sutra 1. but that a specific ascetic technique is needed. in Samkhya. The way of attaining it. 2) no attachment to the things belonging to this or any other world. is the arrow. This is the way humans understand the liberation of the self. The method that has to be pursued has three parts: study of the doctrine. nor by doing good deeds (1. an entity improperly called God.25-26). concentration and faith in the doctrine.
resembling that existing between a compass and the magnetic field of the Earth. the attention granted to the body has a single purpose: to make it fit for getting control over the mind and thus liberating the self.or with karma. joined with respiratory techniques. Then kundalini traverses a spiritual channel of the subtle body. vidya) or asceticism (tapas). represented in the form of kundalini energy. Here we summarize just a few key elements in order to get a global understanding of them. the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Tantrism and Hatha Yoga Both schools are pantheistic. Ishvara is considered to be a “God” just of the Yogis. Hindu theism The liberation of self (atman or purusha) through metaphysical knowledge (jnana. or in other words. viewing liberation as the return of the self to the impersonal Ultimate Reality represented by Shiva. as stated in the Upanishads and Vedanta. The instinctual relationship between purusha and Ishvara is possible only because of the similarity of their structures. the Ultimate Reality of the universe. clearly states that Hatha Yoga has to be taught only in order to reach the Raja Yoga level (1. For more information on the Yoga technique as described by Patanjali see our special file on this topic.2). they hold a different view than Vedanta philosophy concerning the role of the human body. Having no personal status. Although both schools are pantheistic. While the Upanishads and Vedanta despise the body. The help of a teacher (guru) in assisting the practitioner is absolutely necessary. considering it the primary source of illusion that holds atman captive in the reincarnation cycle. It is rather a metaphysical sympathy. see our special file on this topic. There is also available a special file aimed at analyzing some difficulties of the Samkhya and Yoga metaphysics. The liberation of purusha has the same meaning as in Samkhya. the most important writing of this school. has to be awakened through complicated physical exercises (in Hatha Yoga) and also sexual practices (in Tantrism). cannot be a valid
. Tantrism and Hatha Yoga take the body as the main instrument in attaining liberation. as the awakening and rising of kundalini is full of potential dangers for the Yogi. merging with the impersonal Ultimate Reality. Ishvara can help the Yogi towards liberation only as he is chosen as the object of meditation. contemplating himself and without any relation with other purusha or with Ishvara.77). so that in the Yoga darshana of Patanjali. as in other Hindu schools (Vedanta or Samkhya). and also an evaluation of the experiences they produce. The self. and the moment it reaches the top of the head it unites with Shiva. However. which means “the integration of mind in a state where the subject-object duality does not exist” (4. Despite the fact that it is sometimes believed that Hatha Yoga is only a kind of harmless physical training. It is a process similar to the fusion of atman with Brahman. This goal cannot be attained just by spiritual knowledge. which corresponds physically to the spine. Ishvara cannot have a personal relationship with man. He remains isolated forever. In order to get a brief description of the actual techniques used by these two schools. as was the case in the previous schools of Hinduism.
Hindu theism has three main branches: Vaishnavism. according to an innate nature. The most important gods worshipped today are Vishnu and his avatars (especially Rama and Krishna). However. between God’s grace and karma? The solution offered by Madhva to this dilemma is the idea that souls have a certain inner inclination. it does not lose its individuality in order to become one with God (as in Vedanta). The way of attaining liberation requires devotion. They stated the most coherent forms of Hindu theism known today as opposed to the traditional pantheistic schools. sustenance and dissolution of the world (and consequently of physical bodies). if all souls are entirely dependent on God for their functioning and he is the one who causes the creation. God is no longer the one who determines the souls’ actions. invocation of his help to attain salvation and understanding salvation as uniting with god or attaining a perfect and eternal relation with him. He stated that nothing can happen in the world or to souls without God’s will and initiative. There is available a special file on this topic. and
.solution for the average Hindu. Humans have to realize that independence from God is illusory and that material cravings distance them from God. Out of the many schools of theistic Hinduism existing today. the more he is loved. but they are less important and we will not refer to them. how is it possible that some souls deserve liberation. moral perfection and knowledge of God. liberation can be attained only by the grace of Vishnu. the others being left to themselves. Man can attain liberation only by God’s grace. Vishnu uses reincarnation to punish one's evil deeds and also to help the soul discover its true spiritual nature. while others do not? In other words. souls are subject to karma. To avoid total predestination. these are two inseparable aspects. We will not discuss here salvation according to the most famous writing of Hindu theism. Shaivism and Shaktism. this implies that any spiritual progress of the soul is nothing but God’s work. we will limit this brief presentation to the Vaishnava schools grounded by the great thinkers Ramanuja and Madhva and mention a few elements of their understanding of man’s salvation and eternal destiny. Shiva and the goddess Shakti (also in her forms as Kali or Durga). he is known. They have the following defining characteristics: acceptance of a personal god as Ultimate Reality. how can a just balance be set up in this system. the more he is loved. Although Madhva’s theism is genuine. Madhva stated that they are granted a small amount of free will (dattasvatantrya) and therefore can perform a small improvement of their nature from one existence to another. Consequently. especially to the Advaita Vedanta of Shankara. performance of a certain ritual in order to worship him. But by giving this solution. and God reveals himself only to the ones who deserve it.1317 AD). If God’s will is responsible for both bondage by karma and liberation. On the other hand. Only those of the first category will reach liberation by God’s grace.) According to Madhva (1238 . those of mixed inclination (rajasa) and those with base inclination (tamasa). The moment the soul attains liberation. The more God is known. (Similar views have been developed in the Shaivite tradition. There are three kinds of souls according to these inner inclinations: those of noble inclination (sattvika). This is the reason why most people adopt a certain devotional practice (bhakti) in order to transcend the world of suffering. the Bhagavad Gita. there are some weak points in the way it defines free will and the role of karma. but becomes perfect and shares an eternal communion and harmony with God.
This is the second view on grace (the marjara school). The one engaged in prapatti acknowledges that he is not good enough to deserve liberation by performing rituals and moral obligations. Hindu spirituality went through radical transformations. I. without losing its individuality and conscious existence. stating that the devotee must be like a young kitten.1137 AD). liberation is not the union of the raindrop with the ocean (as in Vedanta). cheerfulness and hope. nor the identity of the soul. There is no doubt that from the laborious techniques of other Hindu schools. submit to you the burden of saving my soul (Nyasadashaka 2). who am nothing. to the prapatti alternative. man is responsible for his acts and capable of choosing between good and evil. that stressed the attainment of liberation through personal effort. where man plays a certain role in his liberation (through the rituals and moral obligations he has to fulfill). written by Vedanta Deshika. The following elements are included: discrimination of food. Two important notions here are the transferring of merits (bhara-samarpana) from God to man and taking refuge under God’s feet (sharanagati). picked up by her and carried here and there. doing good to others. He asks God to undertake the control of his life and use him as instrument in the world. the whole prapatti philosophy can be summarized in a single verse. There are basically two classical viewpoints on grace in theistic Hinduism. so that the whole merit for attaining liberation pertains to God. where there is no more room left for personal merit. but the adding of a new cell to a living body. and with faith and prayer. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------Salvation and eternal destiny in Buddhism Theravada Buddhism
. longing for God and continuous meditation on him.his total control over them is abrogated. a 14th century follower of Ramanuja: Lord. Once liberated. having good intentions and truthfulness. According to Ramanuja (1017 . that of the monkey and that of the cat. Ramanuja grounded an even more radical way towards liberation. but becomes perfect through his integration into the functionality of God. integrity. the soul is not dissolved in the Ultimate Reality. The first view (the markata school) states that man has to cling to God like a monkey clings to its mother. So it is not only about stimulating positive feelings. In a few words. thus having an important contribution in attaining salvation. What we experience now as evil in the world is the result of people’s past ignorant deeds against God. called prapatti. freedom from passions. totally dependent on its mother’s will. Through this kind of liberation neither the transcendental supremacy of God is lost. where man is humble and helpless before God. conform to your will and desist being contrary to it. but also using the intellect and will in order to love God with both heart and mind. Liberation from the bondage of ignorance can be attained only by devotion. This contradiction arises out of the impossibility to reconcile the role of karma with the grace of an omnipotent god. well-illustrated by two famous analogies. Therefore man has to give up the control of his life to Vishnu and leave to him all responsibility for salvation. Starting from this point. Using a proper illustration.
meditation (samadhi) and wisdom (panna). The first is aimed at producing deep concentration (samadhi) by developing a capacity of the mind to rest undisturbed on a single object of perception. because any personal existence belongs to the domain of illusion: Oneself. calm meditation is about controlling the defilements of the mind. action and livelihood. is one’s savior. There are two complementary types of Buddhist meditation: calm meditation (samatha) and insight meditation (vipassana). and collected in mind. 2) Suffering is caused by desire. Morality means right speech. while insight meditation is about letting them go completely as a result of understanding the nature of the world. Meditation requires perfection in effort (right attitude of the mind). and do not rely on external help. indeed. or thirst (tanha) to experience existence. and ideas in such a manner that he conquers the cravings and depressions of ordinary men and is always strenuous. for what other savior could there be? With oneself well-controlled one obtains a savior difficult to find.. is possible only for the one who accepts and follows the four noble truths: 1) The nature of existence is suffering. suffering and no-self. which is characterized by impermanence. It has to generate a perfect state of self-control and contentment. and do not look for refuge to anything beside yourselves. It is important to mention here that the one who engages in this path has to rely exclusively on his own inner strength. friendliness and compassion). mindfulness (awareness of mental and physical processes). moods. feelings. The second aims at understanding the true nature of things. consisting of the eight practices of self-training. either now or when I am dead. one has to follow the Noble Eightfold Path.(Digha Nikaya 2. 4) In order to escape suffering and attain enlightenment. if he is anxious to learn. The eight practices of self-training can be classified in three categories: morality (sila).. Wisdom requires perfection in view (through understanding the impermanent nature of the world) and intention (cultivating desirelessness. Ananda. and concentration (introversion and cessation of empirical consciousness). Rely on yourselves. you must be lamps unto yourselves. according to the Buddha. 3) The complete cessation of desire leads to the cessation of suffering.(Dhammapada 160)
.Escaping from suffering. A brother becomes his own lamp and refuge by continually looking on his body. selfpossessed. In other words.99-100) There is no grace available from a personal god. The Buddha taught: So. Hold firm to the truth as a lamp and a refuge. Whoever among my disciples does this. will reach the summit. perceptions.
His karma is burned out and at the time of his death he will cease to exist. for ever and ever. he becomes an arahat (“living enlightened one”). The devotional way. see the special file on this topic. because such a thing doesn’t exist. that reduces its goal in becoming an arahat.as a ransom to rescue all sentient beings in states of woe and enable them to gain liberation. By gradual practice all obtain the Fruit of the Way. it is said that all beings will eventually attain perfection: The Dharma of the Buddhas by the constant use of a single flavor Causes the several worlds universally to attain perfection. Here is a part of a bodhisattva’s vow: I should accept all sufferings for the sake of sentient beings. including nirvana. a kind of incentive toward a higher becoming. Why? I would rather take all this suffering on myself than to allow sentient beings to fall into hell. Why? Because I have set my mind on enlightenment in order to liberate all sentient beings.) Salvation in Mahayana Buddhism. valid only for those who cannot accept the idea of becoming a bodhisattva (Saddharmapundarika. and enable them to escape from the abyss of immeasurable woes of birth and death. Instead of seeking nirvana just for oneself in order to become an arahat. while Hinayana is the “narrow/inferior path”. the bodhisattva beings help humans to work out their liberation. (Saddharmapundarika Sutra 5) As was the case with the Hindu avatars of Vishnu. The true enlightenment is the becoming of a bodhisattva being (Saddharmapundarika.Once one has attained nirvana. Thanks to the help granted by the bodhisattvas. the nether world . I should accept all suffering for the sake of all sentient beings in all worlds. The first significant difference between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism is a new goal to be pursued in life. Nirvana is neither a reabsorption in an eternal Ultimate Reality. From here derives the name given to the two branches of Buddhism: Mahayana means “the larger/superior path” (that of becoming a bodhisattva). I should be a hostage to those perilous places . without falsehood. nor an annihilation of a self. This represents the end of suffering but at the same time the end of any aspect that may define existence. because there is no self to annihilate. a celestial being that postpones his own entrance into parinirvana (final extinction) in order to help other humans attain it. the disciple of Mahayana Buddhism aims to become a bodhisattva. (Garland Sutra 23) For its selfish way of seeking nirvana. The proper image to describe it is the flame of the candle that is blown out. in all states of misery. “I vow to protect all sentient beings and never abandon them. the Theravada school was considered by Mahayanists an inferior spiritual path. 3). He swears not to enter nirvana until he fulfills this noble mission. I do not seek the unexcelled Way for my own sake.hells. animal realms. It is rather an annihilation of the illusion of an existing self. What I say is sincerely true. and still always cultivate foundations of goodness for the sake of all beings. The Theravadin view of nirvana is considered only an intermediary step of becoming. (For some critical comments on the way Theravada Buddhism defines its fundamental doctrines. This new development was interpreted as a penetration of the
According to its doctrine. Voidness cannot injure voidness! (Tibetan Book of the Dead. In Japan was founded a very influential form of devotional Buddhism known as Pure Land Buddhism. even if one only hears his name and memorizes it. let him be continually thinking of Buddha until he has completed ten times the thought. Let him do so serenely with his voice uninterrupted. However. or mental Buddhas) help the dead to avoid a bad reincarnation. the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists. The most famous bodhisattva of Tibet is Avalokiteshvara. Tibetan Buddhism seems to accept a self that reincarnates.30) The reward for invoking Amida with sincere devotion is rebirth in his Western Paradise. this impersonal entity cannot really suffer. anger at being injured is unnecessary! The Yama Lords of Death are but arisen from the natural energy of your own awareness and really lack all substantiality. if they simply accept the doctrine he preaches to them.Hindu bhakti tradition in Buddhism. The pattern of devotion. Amida is able to save even the most despised sinner by his grace (tariki). Sukhavati (known also as Pure Land or Pure Realm). “Adoration to Buddha Amida. Buddha Amida. This trend will become the religious path for lay Buddhists. According to the text. do not be afraid! Do not feel terror! You have a mental body made of instincts. In Tibetan Buddhism it is stated that the help of the bodhisattvas is available even after death. is a reincarnation of this bodhisattva. trying to lead them toward happier lives in which they will be able to attain nirvana easier. taking Amida as "the Buddha of Infinite Light". 12)
. It is not possible to get there using other means as meditation or good deeds. which seems to be a natural tendency of the human soul. the dead is advised: When it happens that such a vision arises. during every repetition. but only by his grace. expiate the sins which involve him in births and deaths during eighty million kalpas. who is said to be able to help anybody. he promised to save all sentient beings that would only repeat his name ten times: Let him utter the name. repeating. Today it is considered that the Dalai Lama. Concerning the form in which the dead person survives in the transitory world and is punished in the temporary hells. In his great compassion he assumes as many forms as necessary in order to save all beings (including people and demons in hell). In his vow. The mantra used for his invocation is Om manipadme hum. (Meditation on Buddha Amitayus 3. works here the same way as in Hinduism. which means that the torments one has to suffer (because of his ignorance during lifetime) are in fact all hallucinations generated by his bad karma. even if it is killed or dismembered. it cannot die! Since in fact you are a natural form of voidness. According to the Tibetan Book of the Dead (8th century AD) the five bodhisattvas of Tibetan Buddhism (the Dhyani-Buddhas.” On the strength of [his merit of] uttering the Buddha’s name he will. for whom liberation through intuitive knowledge is not at hand.
a religion highly devotional. 36). Salvation in Mahayana Buddhism. Although the resemblance to Advaita Vedanta may be striking. granted by an external agent (a bodhisattva). consisting in an absolute extinction of life and a simple worship of the memory of its human founder . and the law of karma. It was first stated in the Prajnaparamita Sutra (1st century BC) and then developed by Nagarjuna (2nd century AD). but rather an adjectival quality of the dharmas. as only the merits he accumulated during lifetime make him able to accept the “rays of grace”. They cannot have any inherent nature of their own. which means that the whole world is just a web of interdependent baseless phenomena. emptiness is not a substance (as Brahman) which composes the dharmas. For this reason it is wrong to pretend that the bodhisattvas save the dead through their grace. highly ceremonious and clerical. As a result. we are again faced with the incompatibility of grace. souldenying. In conclusion.when we see it superseded by a magnificent High Church with a supreme God.we are fully justified in maintaining that the history of religions has scarcely witnessed such a break between new and old within the pale of what nevertheless continues to claim common descent from the same religious founder” (The Conception of Buddhist Nirvana. philosophic teaching of a path to personal final deliverance. The Abhidharma tradition ("the third basket" of the Pali Canon) had already stated that the five aggregates can further be broken down into smaller units called dharmas. The way of intuitive knowledge. known as the doctrine of the void (shunyata). but just a way of referring to reality as being incapable of being pinned down in concepts.
. a salvation by the divine grace of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Such a self is. a salvation not in annihilation but in eternal life . Their nature is emptiness. As was the case in theistic Hinduism. we can see that Mahayana has brought significant changes to classic (Theravada) Buddhism. New doctrinal developments on the theme of no-self were the basis for founding a new doctrine. According to the Theravada school all physical and mental events have as ultimate building blocks 82 such dharmas. This is the self. The Madhyamaka school of Nagarjuna pointed to the fact that these dharmas themselves must be seen as impermanent and empty of a self. as can be observed in the following text: Every being has the Buddha Nature. since the very beginning. with an ideal of universal salvation of all living creatures. which make him fall deeper and deeper into the intermediary state (bardo). It is neither a thing. Nirvana means realizing this fact. p. Liberation through knowledge is the other important trend in Mahayana Buddhism. or else the principle of impermanence would be violated. That is why a man cannot see it. the constituents of physical and mental phenomena are to be considered like a dream or a magical illusion. As Dr.Although the bodhisattvas offer their help to the dead person. nor nothingness. Stcherbatsky writes: “When we see an atheistic. or dharmakaya). he is unable to accept it because of the projection of his bad karma and the attraction of “samsaric impurities”. It seems to be an actualization in the Mahayanic context of the atman-Brahman identity. that emptiness (shunya) is the true nature of reality (the Buddha nature. under cover of innumerable illusions. surrounded by numerous pantheon and a host of saints.
psychedelic drugs. breath control (tai-yin). big or small. It is like the gold which the poor woman possessed and yet could not locate. according to the different Taoist schools: a special form of physical and spiritual exercises (Thai Chi). Wang Ch’ung. She is glad. which is the cask of true gold . had to correct the superstitions that invaded his religion. The Tathagata shows all beings the storehouse of enlightenment. etc. knows where the gold is hidden. meditation. O good man! The same is the case with a man’s Buddha Nature. sexual techniques (fangshong shu) similar to the Tantric ones. How can you know?” The man then digs out the hidden gold and shows it to the woman. (Mahaparinirvana Sutra 214-15)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Liberation and eternal destiny in Taoism Given the human condition in Taoism. Learns no-learning. I now let people see the Buddha Nature which they possess. “No one in my house. Values no-value. but if you show my son where the gold is hidden. I will show it to your son.
. These methods are considered to revitalize the vital fluid of the body and assure long life. And returns to the places that people have forgotten (childhood).” The man says. Lao Tse taught neither physical immortality nor personal survival after death. The seeking of physical immortality seems to have been added to Taoism at the time when it became mixed with alchemy (the search for an “elixir of life”) and religious rituals. but no one knew where it was. by expediency. stating clearly that there is no involvement of deities in peoples’ lives and man does not become a ghost at death. It is foreign to the initial spirit of Taoism. understand them and not strive against nature: The sage desires no-desire. but to follow the natural order of things. but controlling the inner universe by practicing the principle of non-acting (wu-wei).19). the solution for attaining perfection is not holding Confucian morality or rituals.” The woman replies.O good man! There was a poor woman who had gold hidden somewhere in her house.” The woman answered. Wu-wei does not literally mean to do nothing. No one can see it.their Buddha Nature. I will work for you. alimentary diet. a similar concept to the demand of Krishna presented in the Bhagavad Gita (3. and begins to respect him. which taught indifference to life and death as a condition for one’s integration in the flow of nature. to be spontaneous in all actions. speaks to the poor woman. But there was a stranger who. but which was hidden by illusions. an important Taoist thinker of the 1st century AD. There are no clues in the Tao-te Ching indicating such things. (Tao-te Ching 64) In order to attain harmony with Tao a combination of the following different methods can be used. “I shall employ you to weed the lawn. “I know the way. However. so they have to be later additions to Taoism. “I cannot do it now.
Although the triune God is perfect in His justice and holiness. sin did not mark an irreconcilable end of God’s relation with man. and was happy as a butterfly. implying that sin should have kept man eternally separated from His presence. The remission of sins in the Old Testament vs. Soon I awaked. Chuang Tzu. and there I was. this is complete harmony. the next and final doctrine of the Bible is not the judgment and eternal damnation of man. or whether I am now a butterfly. the role He plays in salvation and what our attitude should be towards Him. His love for us is also perfect. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly. The transition is called the transformation of things. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly. When one is united with the sound and breath of things. religious patterns of other nations
. one becomes vacuous. completely foreign to any other religion. there are some basic differences between them on how sin is to be overcome by man. However. Being one with the Beginning. The great awakening is a return in the primordial state of non-being. where all transformations cease and personal existence is annihilated: By cultivating one’s nature one will return to virtue. empirical and mystical knowledge are interchangeable. one is then united with the universe. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. dreaming I am a man. Out of this balance of God’s character and attributes. the three monotheistic religions of the world Judaism. One does not know what reality is: the state as man or as butterfly. dreamed I was a butterfly. on the identity of Jesus Christ. Therefore. This unity is intimate and seems to be stupid and foolish. One will then be united with the sound and breath of things. Christianity states a unique doctrine of salvation. A famous parable of Chuang Tzu says: Once I. (Chuang Tzu 12)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Salvation in the monotheistic religions Unlike the pantheistic religions of the East. Christianity and Islam .do not regard salvation as an impersonal merging with the Absolute. one becomes great. but as liberation from the bondage of sin and re-establishing a personal communion with the Creator. unaware that I was Tzu. one will be one with the Beginning. and being vacuous. when the disciple understands that life and death are only two aspects of the same Ultimate Reality. veritably myself again. attained when any duality is surpassed. After stating that all mankind is sinful.The only true spiritual knowledge is the mystical one. When virtue is perfect. This is called profound and secret virtue. Salvation in Christianity According to Christianity.
"Look up at the heavens and count the stars-.if indeed you can count them.The account of man’s restoration from his fallen state begins in the first book of the Old Testament. The tendency to manipulate the gods is obvious in Vedic ritualism and was the cause for its decline. promising that he would become the ancestor of a blessed nation. In the Old Testament. No wonder that asceticism appeared as a revolt against this order. wealth.5). Israel had to obey God and to live according to the demands of the law in order to have a right relation with Him (Exodus 19. Sacrifices are not
." Abraham believed the Lord. Abraham trusted God against all odds. "So shall your offspring be.all ritualism was labeled as wrong and in need of correction. determined that God would declare him righteous and the beneficiary of an overwhelming promise: He took him outside and said. This given order redemption-law-temple was not randomly chosen. Although all nations had priests. God called Abraham to leave his country and his father's household and follow Him to an unknown land. which was later replaced by the Jerusalem temple. and this attitude. presented the law according to which they should live (20-24) and then indicated the way to solve any trespassing of the law. prescribed only as solution for repairing the failures in fulfilling God’s demands. Obedience to the law was of first importance and the sacrifices in the temple were second. They were attempting to satisfy their gods and even fulfill their needs through the religious rituals performed in temples. and he credited it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15. After all. This was meant in a time when mankind turned its back to the real God and sin became man’s “true inner nature”. victory over enemies.showing that communion with God was always man’s greatest need . providers of fertility. Soon they came to perform even human sacrifices. The other nations of that time had a different view of worship. God’s chosen people to make Himself known in the midst of nations and correct their wrong patterns in understanding Him. In the book of Exodus is recorded how God redeemed Israel from the Egyptian bondage through His grace (chapters 1-19). The priests held the ropes of heaven and soon became more important than the gods. Following this principle. the condition for maintaining a proper relation with God was obeying and conforming to His revealed standards. God instituted the Mosaic Law as a covenant with His people after redeeming the nation from slavery. The temple and the sacrifices in the Old Testament have different meanings from the other religions of that time. the nations that surrounded ancient Israel (and many more) had to bring more and more substantial offerings in order to accumulate more and more influence on the gods. through the tabernacle (25-40). In this way their priests reached a point where they were actually manipulating the gods and considered themselves (through the rituals performed) the keepers of universal order. offerings and temples . etc. The nation born out of Abraham is Israel." Then he said to him. The tabernacle (and later the temple) was the place where sacrifices were brought in order to solve the trespassing of the law and to keep in mind their total dependence on God. called faith.5-6). it was their sacrifices that kept the universe properly functioning. not the performance of religious rituals that could empower Him to fulfill His divine attributes.
However. we will emphasize the significance of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Only in this way was he cleansed of his sins and therefore capable of performing the atonement ritual for the nation. but for the sake of sinful people. or more specifically. as the solution for their trespassing of the law. located in the Most Holy Place of the temple. especially by worshipping other gods. If not absolved.necessary for Him. the sacrifice had to perform its work in man. a temple. Under the atonement cover were kept the Ten Commandments carved on stone. they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. priests and sacrifices. Through the ritual performed by the priest. Out of the many sacrifices and religious feasts mentioned in the Old Testament. the act of the priest symbolized the covering of the transgressions with blood. See that you do all I command you. not in God. as the Old Testament indicates. The goat for the Lord was slaughtered and the blood sprinkled on the atonement cover. as the other nations. God commanded: The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. The principle pointed to the fact that the punishment for sin had to be borne by an innocent animal. the giver of the law. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task” (v. because in worshipping their gods. saying. The animal became man’s substitute in order to fulfill God’s justice. The high priest had to offer first a bull as an atoning sacrifice for his own sins. as substitute for the sinner. so that their relation with the Holy God could continue.29-32). This perverted way of relating to God had to be corrected through Israel. This is why the tabernacle and the sacrificial system is added to the covenant with Israel (Exodus 2024). through its blood. Then the high priest had to “lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites . But when you have driven them out and settled in their land. as ransom price paid for their remission. the Israelites did transgress the Mosaic Law very often and seriously. an act forbidden by the very first command.all their sins . They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. the function of the Temple
. do not add to it or take away from it (Deuteronomy 12. 21). the sins of the people would have brought God’s punishment on the nation. described in Leviticus chapter 16. Its purpose was to remove all the sins committed during the year and mark the rededication of the nation to God. Then he took two goats and established one for the Lord and the other as scapegoat." You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. their role was different. could forgive the sinner. It was performed once a year. and after they have been destroyed before you. At the time the prophet Jeremiah lived (627-580 BC). The Israelites thus learned that any trespassing of the Mosaic Law is a sin and any sin demands a specific sacrifice.and put them on the goat's head. This symbolically represented the fact that the sins were carried away from the people. in order that God. As they represented the witness of the high standards of God that were transgressed by the people. be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods. Therefore. Although Israel also had. only by the high priest and for the benefit of all God’s people. it was clearly shaped in the mind of any Israelite the fact that his sins are forgiven due to the animal sacrifice. as a further grace. "How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.
but this doesn’t mean that Satan has any rights over man at the moment he wants to return to his rightful master. This is why the solution for the problem of sin could not be a simplistic one. the perfect solution for our sins The Apostle Paul expresses God’s attitude toward sin in very straightforward terms: The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness (Romans 1. It seemed that all the sacrifices failed to produce a change of attitude in the people’s hearts. Although God is omnipotent. limiting Himself into space and time in order to be the perfect and unique sacrifice for us. as if he became the one in charge of man’s destiny and therefore should have received a reasonable price in order to set him free again. wisdom and power. As a result of this attitude they were punished by the Babylonian captivity. It is important to remember here that Satan is not the one that had to receive satisfaction. but made himself nothing. taking the very nature of a servant.18). The doctrine of the kenosis involves the veiling of His preincarnate glory (John 17. and also available for all nations. He could have thrown us all into hell instead. = “emptying”). where he doesn’t even mention Satan. but also in His love for us. on the other side. did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. without any desire to obey God’s Law (see Jeremiah 7. The New Testament reveals how God took the initiative to solve the problem of sin by using the most dramatic solution ever stated in the world religions: God the Son willingly left His divine glory.1-11. but God Himself. as He is holy and just and we are all sinners. This is what the New Testament speaks about. taking on Himself the likeness of human sinful flesh (Romans 8. Although taking a human nature was a real humbling for God the Son. However. His love would not be perfect if not united with His justice. as some people suggest.5). Man came under the dominion of Satan because he deliberately rejected God. His wrath toward sin.
. This “making Himself nothing” performed by God the Son is called in theology “the kenosis of Christ” (lit. He could not simply erase all people’s sins by a decree. being in very nature God. The Apostle Paul makes this point clear in the first chapter of his Letter to the Romans. The Apostle Paul states: Christ Jesus.itself was perverted.3) and the temporary nonuse of divine attributes during His earthly ministry. could have been reconciled only by His initiative. Jesus Christ. A better sacrifice was required to solve the problem of sin once for all. on the one side. but the addition of humanity with its consequent limitations. being made in human likeness (Philippians 2. God is perfect not only in power and justice. took a human body and descended into our world through the virgin birth. according to the idolatrous patterns of other religions. it did not involve the giving up of any divine attributes. and those who came to worship there were condemned for performing empty rituals aimed at gaining God’s goodwill. It does not mean a subtraction of deity. and His love for man and desire to bring him back into communion with Him. one that should be perfect and unique. by His power and wisdom. 22-23).6-7).
we unite in teaching all men to confess the one and only Son. therefore His association with it was real. there cannot be any real association of god with a physical body. which is considered a classic heresy in Christianity. thus the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us. Due to considering the physical body a mere garment that is put on and off (according to Bhagavad Gita 2. Therefore the avatar fits best in the Docetic understanding of Christ (the appearance of a physical body. We also teach that we apprehend this one and only Christ-Son. and we do this without confusing the two natures. but are together the one and only and only-begotten Word <Logos> of God. This selfsame one is perfect both in deity and in humanness. the Lord Jesus Christ. thus the Symbol of Fathers has handed down to us. Jesus Christ is the only incarnation of God.22). This double nature of Jesus Christ is the key for understanding His mission of reconciling man with God. then. it is very difficult to speculate on how their divine nature combined with the physical one (animal or human). According to Christianity. He is not a mere avatar. The double nature of the incarnated Christ." for us and behalf of our salvation. this selfsame one was born of Mary the virgin. by Peter van Minnen. and now in these "last days. sin only excepted. but the unique incarnation of God the Son. a periodical incarnation of a Hindu god. without contrasting them according to area or function. You can use the following links for getting information on this: Dating the Oldest New Testament Manuscripts. Lord.
. As they have no historical basis. perfect in both His divine and human nature. the "properties" of each nature are conserved and both natures concur in one "person" and in one reality <hypostasis>. is of fundamental importance for His mission. Christ came to redeem the physical body as well. For the same reason there is so much accent laid on His physical resurrection. They are not divided or cut into two persons.in two natures. The distinctiveness of each nature is not nullified by the union. with no intrinsic value to it). which for a Hindu avatar would be completely absurd. We do not intend to analyze here some important historical issues of Christianity. without dividing them into two separate categories. descended into our world with a unique and nonrepeatable mission in history. in respect of his deity. only-begotten -. this selfsame one is also actually God and actually man. become God the Man. divine and human. Instead. thus like us in all respects. with a rational soul <meaning human soul> and a body. without transmuting one nature into the other. (For more information on classic Christian heresies click here). as is the case with the periodical incarnations of Vishnu. Here is a fragment of the definition of Chalcedon on this topic: Following.The kenosis of Christ was His free will initiative and not a necessity imposed by His nature. Thus have the prophets of old testified. In Vaishnava Hinduism none of the avatars has a perfect union of the two natures. our Lord Jesus Christ. He is of the same reality as God as far as his deity is concerned and of the same reality as we ourselves as far as his humanness is concerned. who is God-bearer in respect of his humanness. There are enough reasons to accept that it was not written later than the first century AD. the holy fathers. Historical and archaeological research have proved that the New Testament is a reliable information source on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Before time began he was begotten of the Father.
30) have a totally different meaning. Because of this. This means that the formula "Aham Brahma Asmi" ("I am Brahman") and Jesus’ words "I and the Father are one" (John 10. because they are addressed to a totally different context. this “Word” was neither the sacred syllable AUM.14). 1) and “through Him all things were made” (v. A Response to "From Jesus to Christ". when interpreting His sayings. The Uniqueness of Jesus. If He had preached there. so that anyone could understand Him. who believe that everything is a manifestation of Brahman and the spiritual masters are special incarnations of the divine. where it is stated that “the Word was God” (v. He didn’t preach in India to some pantheist gurus. exhorting people to find their “forgotten divine nature”. see the following articles: Jesus' Claims to be God. who took the initiative to descend into His own creation: “The word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1. surely He would not have been sentenced to death. having the same nature with the Father.Textual Criticism and Manuscript Interpretation.) He never did teach as a Hindu guru. The Founder Of Christianity. using common language. He always claimed to be divine. The Deity of Christ. R. Beyond Blind Faith. He was always extremely explicit. but the Person of Jesus Christ. we have to remember that Jesus Christ came to Israel. by Sue Bohlin. France Now let us turn to the significance of the life and death of Jesus Christ. nor the manifestation of Brahman as Ishvara (the Hindu Logos). Lunatic. as being valid for anyone. Such a schizophrenic attitude would be the last thing of which He could be accused. Liar. This and all other speculations that try to prove the equivalence of His sayings with those of the East ignore the cultural and religious context in which they were taught. by Don Closson. the claims about His divinity were interpreted as blasphemy by those who refused to see in Him the fulfillment of the Old Testament’s messianic prophecies. The same is true of the hypothesis that He lived in India from the age of 12 until 30. by Pat Zukeran. However. Judaism clearly stated the notion of a personal and unique God. Jesus Christ was not the manifestation of an impersonal Ultimate Reality. For an analysis of Jesus' sayings concerning His divinity. T. On the contrary. by Rick Wade. not to the Far East. Therefore. or Lord?. but the Person of God the Son. Unlike other religions of the world. Gnosticism and its writings present a false portrait of Jesus. The Gospels As Historical Sources For Jesus. (Click here for more information on this topic. totally out of His real context. The are also other resources available for evaluating the claims that Jesus was a remarkable man who only became a deity in the minds of his followers. The sayings of Jesus concerning His divinity must not be interpreted from a pantheistic point of view. As a result. Jesus could not give pantheistic teachings in a strictly monotheistic culture such as the Judaic one. to the only monotheistic culture of that time. Anyone daring to claim divine attributes was guilty of blasphemy and had to be sentenced to death. by Paul Little. by Prof.
. Another attempt to find Eastern connotations in the New Testament uses the prologue of John’s Gospel. 3).
The Apostle Peter states in his epistle: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree. yet we considered him stricken by God. Jesus is more than a great teacher. But he was pierced for our transgressions. In Greek. by his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2. While dying on the cross.18-21. is the cornerstone of Christianity and its non-paralleled element.18). If man had the slightest chance to rehabilitate himself through his own power or wisdom. He is the Master of masters and has no equal among them. Toward this fulfillment pointed the sacrifices of the Old Testament (see Hebrews 9. However. He did not die only in physical appearance. The prophet Isaiah wrote about this event about seven centuries before it happened: Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. Jesus paid in full the price required for the salvation of mankind from sin. 1941. one to be followed. Jesus shouted. who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1. p. and afflicted.30). Jesus Christ as “the Lamb of God. the great Indian leader. Mocked and spit upon by the human race. he was crushed for our iniquities. The most striking differences concern His death.Jesus Christ cannot merely be placed in an equal position with other spiritual leaders of the world because He is God the Son. which means. the spiritual misery in which we are all stuck and the impossibility of saving ourselves. The tragedy of the cross proves the reality and gravity of human sin. put it like this: "I cannot ascribe exclusive divinity to Jesus. the expression used was “Tetelestai”. Even if there are attempts to find some similarities between His life and that of other important religious leaders.24. but not the only Son of God. such an extreme solution would have been absurd. given His identity. Was the suffering of Christ on the cross a mere illusion? Obviously not! His torment and death were so real that none of those who saw it could expect a future victory over death.the crucifixion of the incarnated God . Jesus Christ should be considered as one of the great spiritual masters of the world. as Jesus once proclaimed:
.29). see also 1. he couldn’t destroy Him. Ahmadabad. By His death. “the debt was paid in full”. On the contrary. Jesus Christ took our place in punishment. but not to be worshipped. and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53. He is as divine as Krishna or Rama or Mohammad or Zoroaster" (M. 113). Although man did his best. the punishment that brought us peace was upon him. through eternal torment.was reversed to become the very source of our salvation. so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness. smitten by him. What was meant here is the debt that man deserved to pay for his sins in hell.12-14) and the highlights of prophecies. the most horrible crime ever committed by mankind . who came into our world to reconcile us with the Creator. experiencing suffering in its fullest sense. According to the syncretistic trend of our days. His death proves both the seriousness of our sin and the unfathomable love of God. This proves the full incarnation of God the Son. they cover only a few aspects of His life. “It is finished” (John 19. nailed on a cross and forsaken by the Father. but as a poor miserable man. as the Docetist heresy suggests. Here we reach the turning point of His incarnation: Jesus had to die on the cross for our redemption from sin and reconciliation with God. 3. Christian Missions. Gandhi. Gandhi.4-5).
. This is emphasized by the fact that the Resurrection was a physical one. as He took our sins away from the presence of God. Escape from suffering by the destruction of personhood. A physical resurrection does not solve anything from an Eastern point of view. as those produced in spiritualistic manifestations. His death on the cross put an end to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. not only in the spirit.For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.16). Jesus Christ is the perfect fulfillment of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). etc. Concerning the second. (Click here for an examination of the Gnostic interpretation of Jesus' mere spiritual and mystical resurrection. by Prof. as all others. demanding the abolition of life. William Lane Craig Evidence for the Resurrection. the resurrection of the body is absurd. Tammuz. Jesus appeared to “more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time” (1 Corinthians 15. Given the cruelty of the crucifixion method. He fulfilled both the role of the goat for the Lord. If so. Despite the fact that there are legends in the mythology of other nations telling stories of other “resurrected saviors” . by the fact that He shed His blood for us. full of affirmation of life. The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus. because He had no sin. You can use the following links for getting more information about the proofs of Jesus’ resurrection: Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. according to the model represented by Jesus Christ.6). the best way to confront suffering would have been Eastern pessimism. For this reason the resurrection of Jesus is usually understood as a physical resuscitation of His body (as some Yogis can do today). although the resurrected body was a transformed one. that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3. but an optimistic one.as Osiris. bound by the impossibility of conquering suffering and injustice. Christianity is not a pessimistic religion. would have been the natural result of man’s failure in his combat against evil and suffering. Adonis. and of the scapegoat. it was not an ethereal form. death and hell had no power over Christ and couldn’t hold Him captive. The Disciples' Inspection of the Empty Tomb. they are nothing but nonhistorical legends. According to the Eastern view. However. The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus. but one completely liberated from any terrestrial limitation. by the negation of life. Christianity would have been a hopeless religion.in comparison with the resurrection of Jesus. Mithra. as the liberation of the self cannot be a return to the physical wrapping.) During the 40 days He spent with His disciples after the Resurrection. Attis. a view which holds that the physically resurrected body was only an illusion. in the body. Of what use would have been a special spiritual master if he too. But Christianity holds a unique element: the morning of the Resurrection. by Josh McDowell
. so that people could accept the reality of His bodily resurrection. the first possibility is out of the question. or as a purely spiritual resurrection. could not defeat death? What meaning would His teachings and His example have for us? Without His resurrection. it only brings man back to his initial unsolved problem. The Gospel (“The Good News”) does not end with the crucifixion.
but He also ascended “at the right hand of the Father” in this body. the value of this present physical life would have remained unclear and our interest placed only on the other side of the grave. into a transformed life of eternal communion with God. etc. taking care not to involve himself in any association with the physical world. (On this topic see our special file How can those who never heard about Christ be saved?) The Eastern religions are not so exclusive regarding liberation because they are not grounded on such a dramatic solution for our salvation as the one Jesus Christ offers. when he will survive in his true spiritual essence .6). These religions emphasize the role of one's own efforts in order to reach the Ultimate Reality. but the only way to God. ignoring the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. liberation (salvation) is not deliverance from personal existence. According to Christianity. By His atoning death. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14. as He claimed Himself: I am the way and the truth and the life. Another crucial element of Christianity is the fact that Jesus Christ is not one of the many ways to God.Not only did Jesus keep His physical body after the Resurrection. The jivan-mukta has to act in the world completely detached. which is a personal attitude toward the Creator. meditation. They are said to have pierced the veil of cosmic illusion and realized their true spiritual nature. However. asceticism. If the only victory of Jesus over death had been the survival of his spirit. by rituals. morality. The true problem of man is not his involvement in the physical world. Only if we are convinced that this earthly life is important can we engage in solving its problems. But Christianity proclaims the victory over death to be won here and now. this does not mean that those who never heard about Christ are damned to spend all their eternity in hell. The resurrection of Jesus contradicts such a perspective. True liberation (moksha) is defined against any personal existence and must break any bondage of the physical body. simply because they had no opportunity to hear about Him. The difference to be emphasized here is that jivan-mukta despises his body and awaits to get rid of it at physical death. The idea of finding liberation through the merits of an external savior cannot be reconciled by any means with
. sacrifices. and this embodied victory gives us hope and strength in our struggle with suffering and sin. The reality of the resurrected body overthrows misconceptions about the illusory state of the physical world and emphasizes the value of life here and now. Jesus Christ crushed the power of Satan over us (1 John 3. The doctrine of karma has a strong contribution to this attitude. indicating that the created matter has nothing wrong or illusory in itself. There exists the concept of jivan-mukta in Hinduism (the “liberated from rebirth while living in a human body”) and that of arahat in Buddhism. As most of them cultivate trust only in the efficiency of one's own resources. This statement is very bold. rather it is a moral problem called sin. clear and embarrassing for those who try to find other ways to God. but redemption out of slavery to sin and Satan.8) and liberated us from the curse of sin. It is true that Eastern religions also claim the possibility of attaining liberation during the physical life.of atman or purusha. they reject any possibility of accepting a Savior.
no one can deserve salvation on the basis of his own resources. good deeds. raja yoga (the way of controlling the mind. it has no equivalent to the Christian idea of grace. the need for grace cannot exist either. because there is no personal God as Ultimate Reality against whom one could sin. called grace in Christian theology. so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2. He cannot ascend by himself from the misery of sin. because grace is the result of His
. Although Mahayana Buddhism accepts the help of the bodhisattva beings. man doesn’t need forgiveness. because the personal forms of manifestation of the impersonal Ultimate Reality cannot be above this law. Only by perseverance on this doctrine can liberation be attained. Remember the theistic schools grounded by Ramanuja and Madhva in India.8-9). not forgiven. There can be no escape from the consequences of karma by grace. Without God’s grace. sin is mere ignorance. Unlike the founders of other religions. The major spiritual paths for attaining liberation in Hinduism are karma yoga (the way of good deeds and fulfillment of social duties). these theistic trends have only secondary importance in Eastern religions. The Apostle Paul wrote: For it is by grace you have been saved. the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is our only chance for returning to a communion relation with our Creator. The bodhisattvas help people by bringing them to heavenly realms where they have the privilege to hear the proper doctrine.) In Christianity. for which he must pay the consequences in samsara. If there is no need for forgiveness. Although remarkable. Excepting some developments in bhakti yoga. This solution is the gift of God to mankind. Most Eastern religions refuse this possibility.and this not from yourselves. Consequently. all are based on human effort and capacity for attaining liberation. This is the major difference. Sins have to be paid for. The Christian perspective on salvation is that no one can deserve the grace of God by performing rituals. through faith . In most Eastern religions. there are also trends that invoke the necessity of grace from a personal god. therefore God the Son had to descend to man’s state and lift him up. (See our file on the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Christianity and Buddhism. Jesus Christ didn’t bring us only wisdom and parables. which represents a remarkable similarity to the Christian view of grace. but also His flesh and blood. They stated that grace is an absolute necessity to attain liberation. The meaning of salvation in Christianity According to the Bible. However. A similar situation is to be found in Pure Land Buddhism. the situation is completely different: Man has no chance to save himself. as the ascetic technique of Patanjali requires) and jnana yoga (the way of getting spiritual knowledge). an undeserved gift.karma without contradicting its basic demands. bhakti yoga (the way of devotion toward a personal deity in order to accumulate merits). as they consider that all resources to attain liberation are inherent to human nature.not by works. which cannot simply be ignored. so that the “sinner” needs only help to reason the right way and realize that he is responsible for his actions. it is the gift of God . asceticism or meditation.
the Scripture describes a total change of that mentality. It was progressive in the Old Testament and reached its climax in the incarnation of Christ.12).) Christianity is often criticized because its solution to man’s present condition is too simple. pride is a bad product of personhood. God’s revelation touched human history. through faith. Faith has as object the Person of God. repentance had a wider meaning than simply regretting the mistakes of the past. “How could one receive it without hard perseverance.1). On the other hand. Saving faith means more than to know that God exists and what He says is true. It must be accepted personally by the sinful man. the only “name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4. but then also mostly as an instrument to accumulate merits. toward considering him God the Son. In order to accept God’s free gift in Christ. “How could it be possible to attain salvation only by the merits of Christ?”. He was not a mere man. The initiative of God to make Himself known to us. as potential solution. this does not mean that man has no responsibility and is saved whatever his attitude toward the Savior might be. it is not enough that the grace of God exists. The same change of attitude toward Jesus is required today.38). being in fact just a form of positive thinking. while positive thinking requires trust in oneself. repentance meant to be sorry for rejecting Jesus Christ as Savior (see Acts 2. under this attitude stays hidden an offended pride. man has to constantly admit his failure to attain salvation by himself. Although man’s desire to do something for his salvation seems to be justified.22-37).initiative. prophet. (Only in the bhakti movements it came to be oriented toward a god or a guru. In the Epistle to the Hebrews faith is defined as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (11. accompanied by a subsequent change of mentality: If until that moment the Jews considered Jesus to be only a strange guy that pretended to be equal with God. not a mere form of positive thinking. that of shraddha. We are all sorry for the mistakes we do. In order to be forgiven and brought back into a personal relation with God. without which we couldn’t know anything about Him by our initiative. This situation conflicts sharply with his tendency toward self-justification. is called in theology revelation. an undeniable historical event. is called repentance. In that given context. an attitude he should have
. but this is not repentance as required in the Bible. but the Savior of the world. followed by personal acceptance of the atoning sacrifice of Christ as the God-given solution for salvation. etc. Only then can the atoning death of Christ become an actual solution for one’s sins.19). incarnated for their salvation. This is a knowledge that even demons believe “and shudder” (James 2. Hindu “faith” has its origin in Vedic ritualism and meant trust in the efficiency of the ritual. through asceticism and meditation?”. Faith requires total trust in God's promises. It is the proper human response to God’s initiative. However. and we therefore meet another paradox: The follower of Eastern spirituality refuses the grace of God as a result of his pride. The “effort” man has to do in order to be saved is to open his heart and receive the free gift of God. When the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost. This historical element confers to the Christian faith enough relevance to be set apart from both positive thinking and the parallel concept in Hinduism. which is why the Christian faith requires trust in a certain line of historical events that culminate with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The Apostle Peter used this term in his preaching on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2. guru or something similar. The recognition of one’s sinful state. with his pride.
But this has nothing to do with others being rejected from attaining salvation. than to continue your asceticism? Looking for an answer in human nature. This raises important questions about the Eastern religion’s consistency within itself.9). This means that Christianity isn’t at all a “simple” alternative. as it demands us to abandon the very thing we love most: our pride.30). Balaam among the prophets (Numbers 22-24) and Judas among the apostles were both chosen for a special ministry. to be saved. The only “freedom” left to man is the possibility to give a detached
. The responsibility for “opening the door” belongs to each of us. and he with me (Revelation 3.20). If anyone hears my voice and opens the door. Nor does Christianity support the idea of some people being predestined to hell while others to paradise. we could ask: Which of the two alternatives is harder to follow: the one which requires abandonment of self-justifying pride or the one of personal hard striving? If Christianity is such a simple way. Spiritual freedom is the real possibility offered to man to choose one out of two eternal destinations. God wishes that all people should accept His gift of salvation (see 1 Timothy 2.4. but without forcing anybody to do it. karma discredits any notion of individual freedom. one's salvation does not depend on if he is chosen or not for a certain ministry appointed by God. Universalism is rather a characteristic of Eastern religions. Being chosen in the Bible has to do with God's sovereign will in choosing some people for a special ministry. for instance the prophets in the Old Testament and Jesus’ apostles in the New Testament. Christianity does not proclaim universalism. It is possible that even chosen people may end in eternal damnation. I will come in and eat with him. on how they respond to God's grace. For instance. who could randomly choose some people and reject others. the answer is obviously positive. and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12. without exception. preferring to attain salvation by his own efforts. corrupted by sin and full of rebellion against God. even if it would take several lives. On the other hand. but not as a result of divine love. Paradoxically. the doctrine of universal salvation of all souls. As man finds it so hard to give up his pride. heaven or hell. the tendency to prove our independence from God. regardless of their spiritual option during this earthly life. why is it refused by so many? Is it not really harder to constantly defeat your pride and consider yourself powerless before God. in the Eastern religions. It is hard to imagine a loving God who chooses to enter our world and die on a cross. he seeks to destroy his personhood. Christianity proclaims man’s free will and responsibility toward God. is impossible. A third option. that of absolute independence. Jesus Christ says: I stand at the door and knock. rather than a bad attachment of it (pride). as Jesus Christ himself stated: “He who is not with me is against me. In other words. according to his own Eastern religious teaching.eradicated from his life. 2 Peter 3. but rather of the necessity imposed by the cyclic manifestations of the Ultimate Reality. the one who continues to ignore Christ in this life will after death spend the rest of his eternal existence behind the closed door. However. but because of their disobedience were rejected from salvation. Therefore it depends solely on humans.
the Christian point of view states that we live only once in this physical world. On the other hand. Those who will be there will know why. Although the second possibility is frightening (and because of this some people accuse God of being cruel). manifested through indifference or desire for independence. which means resignation to fate. if God would not isolate evil. Refusing karma and reincarnation. What more do we expect from God as proof of His love and concern for us? In order to accept His sacrifice. but to annihilate sin and its products which compromise His image in us. (Click here for some comments of the Early Church Fathers on hell and eternal punishment. Not having available (at least) two possible destinations to express a real choice (God or Satan). a real freedom of will cannot be defined. There is nothing unfair or cruel in God’s withdrawing any intervention from this alternative existence. we should remember that God the Son was so deeply concerned with mankind that He entered space and time. it has to be remembered that according to Christianity. (For more information on reincarnation and its relation to Christian theology click here.19-31). If someone persists in his rebellion toward Him. The fact that hell is an eternal torment (according to Matthew 25. and then follows the judgment of God (Hebrews 9.59-60). without questioning divine justice (see the parable of Lazarus in Luke 16. God does not intend to annihilate our personhood in order that we might discover an impersonal hidden nature. if He would accept in His eternal presence those who do not want it. He doesn’t allow it without first offering us as solution the free gift of salvation through the atoning death of Jesus Christ.) After death man either enters into a close and eternal communion with God. Hell is the result of man's choice to be independent from God and reject His offer. but a state of perfect and eternal communion with God.46) cannot be called a cruelty on God’s part.41. God does not force him to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The Christian solution is much better than those of the East. where this man should worship Him against his will. Instead of calling Him cruel. the eternal destiny of man is not the annihilation of soul and personhood. or into a state of total isolation from Him. the highest experience human beings could have is not merging with an impersonal Ultimate Reality but entering into a perfect communion of reciprocal love with God our Creator.sense to his predetermined actions (see Bhagavad Gita 18. Belief in the survival of personhood after death is not an illusion but is grounded on the creation of man as a person. one life is enough. according to the option chosen during this earthly existence. took a human body and died on a cross as our substitute.) In conclusion. Nothing can save us from this unwanted destiny except Him. the only freedom left is that of “choosing” the predetermined destiny stated by karma.27). This would be an abuse against man’s freedom. which leave man alone in his endless struggle with karma.
. He wouldn’t be just. Whatever man chooses. finally he has to return to the impersonal origin of all existence. on the promises of the Bible and the resurrection of Christ. Therefore. In other words. but only one (the unique impersonal Ultimate Reality).
like Adam (3. by John Gilchrist Six Muslim Beliefs and a Christian Response. by Abd al-Fadi Sin and Atonement in Islam and Christianity.30-31). By performing these works. An Historical Comparison
. that he was not God (5. Allah reserves the absolute right to send the deceased to wherever he pleases. Those who do not conform their lives to the demands of Islam will surely be thrown into hell. Christianity is not the only religion that claims to be the only valid way to God. 4) charity. and so he will reach the paradise of material and sensual delights (56.61) and that salvation can be attained through observing the Five Pillars of Islamic practice: 1) the belief that Allah is the only god and Muhammad his messenger. Islam states the same: “Whoever seeks a religion other than Islam. by Iskander Jadeed Christ in Islam and Christianity. One also has to have faith in Allah and believe that salvation is by his grace and mercy. because they have deviated from monotheism.157-158) and that he announced the coming of Muhammad (61. believe in Allah and do good deeds (2. was not crucified (4. 5) the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime.171).85). the Muslim hopes that at the judgment day his good deeds will exceed the bad ones. by Iskander Jadeed The Cross in the Gospel and the Qur’an. Jews and Christians are all said to be misled by their religions (9. by Jay Smith The Bible and the Qur’an. It is said that he was created out of clay. a place of extreme physical pain (56. 3) fasting throughout the month of Ramadan.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Salvation in Islam Islam teaches that all people are sinners (Quran 16. by Abd al-Masih The Textual History of the Qur’an and the Bible. 94-95).42-45.62). Jesus Christ has a totally different character in the Quran than in the Bible.16-41).60). it will never be accepted from him and in the hereafter he will be one of the losers” (3. There are some useful sites you are invited to visit in order to get more information on a comparison between Islam and Christianity: The Person of Christ in the Gospel and the Quran.17-72) but just an apostle (4. if one can afford it. giving to the poor. by John Gilchrist A Question that Demands an Answer. despite all deeds. Therefore they should convert. paradise or hell.6). Yet. 2) performing the five daily prayers.
Concerning the meaning of salvation from an eternal perspective. the views are again irreconcilable. most other religions. meditation techniques. excepting some schools of devotional Hinduism and Buddhism. it is hard to believe that they could ever be reconciled. stating that we cannot do anything to deserve salvation and eternal communion with God. Others. take salvation as an illumination. materialized as good deeds. accumulating wisdom. having the ability to pursue the religious path by his own strength. stating that our “true inner nature” is sin and therefore all our efforts aimed to earn God’s favor are useless. most theistic religions demand good deeds and devotional rituals in order to earn God’s grace and therefore deserve heaven. whether the self remains eternally isolated (according to the Samkhya and Yoga darshanas). By no means can man have God indebted to him. In the pantheistic religions salvation means liberation from ignorance and corresponds to the fusion of the impersonal self with the Absolute. Dualistic religions see man’s salvation as a return to an initial angelic state. at His initiative. While pantheistic religions stress certain meditation and ascetic techniques aimed at discovering man’s inner nature. The situation in Christianity is again opposite. from which he has fallen into a physical body. However. devotional rituals.Conclusion Considering all these views on salvation and man’s eternal destiny. the actual way of getting saved will take two divergent possibilities. It is God who takes the initiative and descends into His own creation in order to save man. knower and known. but only to accept His grace revealed in Jesus Christ. The world’s religions hold rather irreconcilable positions in all of the three aspects mentioned in the beginning of this file: the nature of the resources needed for attaining salvation. etc. Christianity holds the opposite view. The resources for attaining salvation belong strictly to our human nature according to most of the Eastern religions. According to Judaism and Islam. This is the case with most religions in the world. Based on the resources human nature has. not man accumulating merits and working out his way toward God. Religions that claim we have all the resources in ourselves for attaining salvation naturally stress personal effort. The monotheistic religions define salvation as entering a state of eternal communion with God. merges with the Ultimate Reality (in pantheism). For most Eastern religions liberation leads to extinction of any personal existence. they differ greatly on the way man can be saved and on the role Jesus Christ has in it. physical asceticism. the actual way of getting saved and the meaning of salvation from an eternal perspective. such as Buddhism and Taoism. Only God can save man. by his own strength. or is itself an illusion that ceases to exist (in Buddhism). meaning a discovery of and conformity of oneself with an eternal law that governs existence. Man needs only to know the right things in order to be saved. salvation is attained by performing good deeds and following the
. which means that personhood will not be abrogated but perfected. Therefore the course of action in salvation has an opposite sense in Christianity vs. implying dissolution of subject and object.
There are three major religious alternatives in explaining evil. dualistic and monotheistic religions. 2) the Upanishads and the whole corpus of pantheistic writings.moral law. stated by the pantheistic. it is impossible that the world’s religions could be only aspects of the same true spirituality.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Evil in Eastern religions Evil in Hinduism As mentioned in a previous article. Let us analyze these perspectives and see to what extent they are compatible with one another. in the environment. According to Christianity this is not enough and the role of Jesus Christ as Savior is essential. as present day syncretism suggests. As god of heaven. In the monotheistic religions. he has no comparable opponent in the Vedic
. omnipresent. and thus endless questions about the meaning of life. The contradictions between them are so significant that there can be no way to reconcile them. around us and even inside us. evil has a personal identity. Concerning the relation between Ultimate Reality and evil. omniscient and infallible. It is a being that has fallen from an initial good status as a result of misusing his freedom of will. Out of our direct confrontation with evil results suffering. Evil is present everywhere: in our society. there are at least three major perspectives. good and evil are two eternal and rival principles. nature and end of evil. That is why all religions have to give a proper answer regarding the origin. Given these facts. Neither has created the other one and each acts according to its own nature. given by: 1) the Vedas. In the dualistic religions. Hinduism is a complex mixture of religious trends. Human suffering is a product of spiritual ignorance gathered in previous lives and distributed in the present one according to the dictates of karma. THE PROBLEM OF EVIL IN WORLD RELIGIONS
The problem of evil is a touchstone of any religion. Pantheistic religions regard evil as ultimately unreal. Evil in the Vedas The oldest Vedic hymns consider Varuna to be the sovereign god. 3) the Epics and Puranas.
pantheon. Evil is a matter of not fulfilling his laws by humans or not performing the ritual properly. Very often it has a moral significance, meaning that people are evil-minded or commit adultery (Rig Veda 4,5; 10,10). Those who commit evil deeds repent before Varuna (Rig Veda 5,85) and try to repair their faults through ritual sacrifices. The next generation of Vedic gods has Indra as sovereign god. However, he doesn’t have the same power over creation as Varuna. He has to fight with the demon Vritra in order to save mankind. In this fight he needs to be strengthened by the sacrifices performed by humans and also needs help from other gods. Starting with the hymns addressed to Indra, the combat against personalized evil becomes a main feature in Hindu mythology, which will develop in the Epics and Puranas. Evil in the Upanishads The Upanishads ground a pantheistic perspective on Ultimate Reality and introduce karma as explanation of human suffering. The only true substance of the universe is Brahman, so that evil cannot be real. Ignoring the one and only reality of Brahman launches karma into action and therefore brings suffering to the soul in further lives. Although it is difficult to determine the very beginning of karma’s manifestation, a text in Kausitaki Upanishad (3,8) indicates that Brahman himself causes the good and evil done by humans, and so he must be the one responsible for the origin of karma: He (Brahman) causes him whom he wishes to lead up from these worlds to perform good action. This one, indeed, also causes him whom he wishes to lead downward, to perform bad action. As the manifestations and dissolutions of the world are eternal, so is karma, meaning that suffering is a part of the eternal cosmic cycle. Logically then, the ultimate origin of karma must be in Brahman, because he is the source of any manifestation and the origin of souls. Man cannot be considered guilty for the evil in the world, not even for his own bad deeds, because all of them originated in past lives, of which he cannot be aware. Suffering in the present life is the natural consequence of past lives’ ignorance and it has to be endured without questioning. (For more details on karma and reincarnation, the way they act and solve the problem of evil, see our article on reincarnation) The real problem of man is to get the impersonal self (atman) out of the cycle ignorancekarma-reincarnation and find liberation. The belief in the real statute of evil is a major hindrance in attaining liberation, as well as granting value to human personhood. As only a personal witness can experience evil, the solution for escaping it is getting rid of our sense of personhood and withdrawal from this world of illusions, by taking a right view on reality through meditation. (For more information on the nature of Eastern meditation and its trustworthiness as source of knowing truth, click here.) Evil in Samkhya-Yoga Although the Samkhya and Yoga darshanas are not pantheistic, they follow a close reasoning in defining evil. As philosophies that grant no significance to human personhood,
evil is a matter of how much one is caught in the psycho-mental illusions generated by the primordial substance (prakriti). It contains the three gunas, and two of them (rajas and tamas) are causing the manifestations of what we call evil in the world, both in the physical aspect and the mental one. Evil is a part of nature and man has to get along with it from one existence to another through his karma. The true problem is finding liberation from the manifestations of prakriti through meditation and asceticism, and this means complete cessation of suffering. Evil in the Epics and Puranas These writings adopt a middle way in explaining evil, between the dictates of karma and the responsibility of the gods in producing it as sovereign agents in the universe. As these two elements are irreconcilable and mutually exclusive, the solutions to the problem of evil are themselves contradictory. The character of the gods becomes ambiguous in the Epics and Puranas. They are responsible for producing both good and evil. Here are some examples: Indra, the ex-hero of the Vedas, commits adultery in the Skanda Purana (2,7,23,8-40) and justifies himself by the effect of his past karma. In the Mahabharata (12,258,42) he is excused for seducing Gotama’s wife by being in a process of working out a result of karma. No wonder that in the Ramayana (7,30,20-45) he is accused of having brought adultery into the world by his bad example. In a late Upanishad he even encourages his followers to act immorally: “I killed the three-headed son of Tvashtri and delivered the ascetics to the jackals; I broke a treaty and overcame the demon Prahlada and the descendants of Puloman. Yet not a hair of my head was harmed. So he who understands me is not injured by any deed, not even by stealing, killing an embryo, matricide or parricide. If he has committed any evil, he does not become pale.” (Kausitaki Up. 3,1) Although Krishna points to himself as the example for his followers in the Bhagavad Gita (3,23), when committing adultery in the Puranas he justifies himself in reference to human behavior, saying: “Since even the sages are uncontrolled and act as they please, how could one possibly restrain Vishnu when he becomes voluntary incarnate?” (Bhagavata Purana 10,33,35). Brahma, the creator god, is often accused of being creator of both good and evil. In one situation described in the Mahabharata, he grew jealous of people and their heavenly destiny and planned to delude them: “Formerly, all creatures were virtuous, and by themselves they obtained divinity. Therefore the gods became worried, so Brahma created women in order to delude men. Then women, who had been virtuous, became wicked witches, and Brahma filled them with wanton desires, which they in turn inspired in men. He created anger, and henceforth all creatures were born in the power of desire and anger (Mahabharata 13,40,5-12). According to the Vishnu Purana (1,5,1-18), evil precedes and accompanies Brahma’s creation, this being the reason why mankind is evil: “His fourth creation produced creatures in whom darkness and passion predominated, afflicted by misery; these were mankind.” In the Markandeya Purana (45,40) it is said that he created both “cruel creatures and gentle creatures, dharma and adharma, truth and falsehood”.
Not only is evil inevitable in creation, it is said to be a good thing, a necessary dynamic factor in the universe. For instance, in the Devibhagavata (4,13), Brihaspati, the guru of the gods says: “All creatures, even gods, are subject to passions. Otherwise the universe, composed as it is of good and evil, could not continue to develop.” According to the Vishnu Purana (1,5,59-65), the evil in creation is both the will of Brahma the creator and the result of karma’s obligation: “Brahma’s power is the will to create, and he is impelled by the powers of things to be created.” In the same situation is Vishnu (Linga Purana 2,6,1-57), who also creates both good and evil, “good people and bad people, those who follow the right path, but also the heretics”. These ambiguous solutions to the problem of evil in Hindu mythology are caused by the fact that the gods cannot be at the same time sovereign, manifestations of an impersonal Ultimate Reality (Brahman) and also in tune with karma. As an effect of the cyclical manifestations of Brahman, good and evil follow one after another during the four ages (yuga) of each manifestation, so that nothing in the universe is eternal and nothing dies, neither good nor evil. Man is not responsible for the evil in the world, but only the impersonal karma or the gods of mythology. If the gods are responsible, they either create it willingly (and are evil themselves) because the universe has to contain it, or are forced to create it by the higher law of karma or fate (and then are consequently weak). There is no significant distinction between these two variants. The universe must contain good and evil and so it is created by a certain god. In conclusion, in Hinduism and the other pantheistic religions in general, there is no central concern to understand and solve the problem of evil. Good and evil are often confused. The attempt to define them is itself a false problem that gets the treatment false problems deserve. The major concern is spiritual ignorance, in relation to which evil and morality have a secondary importance. Through knowledge, it is said that man reaches above good and evil, attaining an impersonal domain that justifies this attitude. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------Evil in Buddhism Buddhism rejects the authority of the Vedas and the other writings of Hinduism, explaining the nature of evil through the process of constant becoming. Evil is the perpetuation of illusion by the factors that fuel the chain of dependent origination (paticca-samuppada). Ignorance in perceiving that the world is impermanent, devoid of a self and in constant becoming leads to suffering. The Buddha proclaimed that in fact the whole of existence is suffering: The Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha) is this: Birth is suffering; aging is suffering; sickness is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering; association with the unpleasant is suffering; dissociation from the pleasant is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering - in brief, the five aggregates of attachment are suffering. (Samyutta Nikaya 56,11)
if impersonal Ultimate Reality has true ontological nature. In this case the impersonal Ultimate Reality has to be questioned. on the one hand suffering derives from ignoring Ultimate Reality and prompts man to seek it. or in other words. cognition. Not only is this contradictory. mental constructions and consciousness). as two contradictory principles are stated: The all-pervading reality of suffering leads man to seek liberation. which do not belong to the realm of true existence. human personhood and suffering are illusory.There are three fundamental defilements of the mind that combine and interact leading to suffering: greed (raga). so that suffering cannot be accepted as the true generator of man's quest for liberation. suffering or the impersonal Ultimate Reality? If suffering is real. On the other hand. Their origin is desire to experience existence in personal form. which are hindrances on the way towards liberation. according to most Eastern religions. derived from a wrong way of understanding reality. Therefore we reach a significant inconsistency in understanding the relation between suffering and liberation. directly involved in man's condition by his grace. the way of knowing Ultimate Reality and escaping suffering demands ignoring suffering. suffering emerges from not putting the right view into practice. the first noble truth proclaimed by Gotama Buddha states that the only reality of human existence is the all-pervading reality of suffering. The question that arises naturally from here is: What has true ontological nature.
. In order to attain liberation. but while on the way towards liberation they ask us to ignore human suffering. but such denial of suffering can be accomplished only by denying life itself. aversion (dvesha) and ignorance (avidya). the desire to perpetuate the illusion of personal existence produces suffering. There is no suffering if there is no person left to perceive it. On the other hand. Consequently. so its extreme solution must be the abolition of personhood. Proper spiritual knowledge can be attained by the practice of meditation. For this reason. because suffering can be perceived only at personal level. the impersonal Ultimate Reality. a situation that is the ground for the pessimistic view of Eastern religions on human existence. man's personal status has to be real too. and on the other hand. The paradox of evil and suffering in Eastern religions The general pattern in Eastern religions is to consider evil illusory. In other words. spiritual practice demands that suffering should be ignored in order to find the "true reality" towards which it prompts us. man has to ignore evil and suffering. feeling. The ultimate cause of this situation is the lack of a personal Creator. Eastern religions promise to help man escape suffering. As personhood is nothing but an illusory result of the temporary gathering together of five aggregates (the body. considering one's personal suffering to be real leads to bad attachments (kleshas). This perspective is valid for most of the Eastern religious thinkers that followed the period of the Upanishads. The only possibility to escape suffering is to know the true nature of things. Paradoxically. which requires withdrawing oneself from the world.
Evil belongs to the nature of the world. so man has to subscribe to the universal harmony and respect the equilibrium of the two polarities. holy Merv. Thereupon came Angra Mainyu. In the Tao-te Ching it is stated: When beauty is abstracted Then ugliness has been implied. Even if Yin is considered a negative principle.” In the latter tradition of Zurvanism. the result of a lack of balance between the two opposing principles. created. each one creating according to his own nature: The first of the good lands and countries which I. which brings death to the cattle. and he counter-created by his witchcraft the fly Skaitya. a work of the devils. created. was the plains in Samarkand. who is all death. Zoroastrianism probably stated the first true religious dualism. and he counter-created by his witchcraft sinful lusts. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------Evil in dualistic religions According to the dualistic religions there are two antagonist and (usually) coeternal deities involved in creation and in governing the destiny of man. Ahura Mazda. nothing can be considered to be truly evil in the world. What is usually called evil. by the good river Araxes. in action. both the physical and mental aspects.
. as necessary elements of our world. was Paradise. corresponds to a bigger participation of the Yin principle. Ohrmazd and Ahriman) are the two coeternal gods responsible for the existence of good and evil in the world. Tao is eternal and so are the two principles Yang and Yin.3-5). The third of the good lands and countries which I. it never manifests itself alone.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Evil in Taoism As long as any aspect of the world is a manifestation of Tao. so that good and evil must be eternal. created. Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu (or. When good is abstracted Then evil has been implied.3) states: “There are two fundamental spirits.In thought and in word. The Yasna (30. was the strong.. (Tao-te Ching 2) Every positive factor involves its negative or opposing one. who is all death. Ahura Mazda. who is all death. The second of the good lands and countries which I. they are two: the good and the bad. corresponding to a different participation of the Yin and Yang principles. and he countercreated by his witchcraft the serpent in the river and winter. Ohrmazd and Ahriman are twin brothers. Thereupon came Angra Mainyu.. according to a later tradition. twins which are renowned to be in conflict. (Videvdad 1.. Thereupon came Angra Mainyu. Ahura Mazda.
being aimed at undermining their basic tenets. However. Reincarnation works until one recognizes his heavenly origin and purifies himself in order to be accepted back where he belongs. matter in general and the physical body in particular are evil and produce suffering to the captive soul. In Catharism the god of the Old Testament is considered to be the ultimate representative of evil himself. the soul is overwhelmed by ignorance and forgets his true origin. Matter and the physical body are considered intrinsically evil as they derive from the bodies of the dead forces of evil (the Archons). See On the Morals of the Manichaeans and Concerning the Nature of Good. Manicheism was confronted successfully by Augustine in many of his writings in the 4th century AD. Reincarnation occurs until the soul is released from its earthly sufferings. Contrary to the Bible. He created the physical bodies of humans and locked angels inside them. the mother of Ialdabaot). Satan and Jesus are the enemies of Ialdabaot and teach humans how to attain true knowledge that may save them from ignorance. His creation is therefore hazardous and generates nothing but problems. However. having the duty to choose always the good and thus help it defeat the evil. that of a spiritual being fallen or imprisoned in a physical body. In conclusion. Bogomilism and Catharism (as well as other dualistic religions that swept through the medieval world) all acknowledge the God of the Old Testament as creator but deny his goodness. his physical body keeps him bound to a miserable condition. according to these dualistic religions. Gnosticism. Ignoring this reality leads to suffering and reincarnation into various bodies (human or animal) until true knowledge (gnosis) is attained. A detailed study of Gnosticism and its contradictions and incompatibilities with Christianity can be found in Irenaeus' treatise Against Heresies.Man is in the center of this eternal conflict. Manicheism. This reality hinders man from knowing his true spiritual identity. human souls are angels who served the good God but were tempted by Satan to experience earthly pleasures and could not resist them. but their souls fell into physical bodies. The only way out of this is the attainment of true knowledge (gnosis). The original bodies and spirits of these angels remained in heaven. a new religion that appeared in Persia in the 3rd century AD. Marcionism. and see the physical world as the product of his ignorance of higher spiritual deities (the Aeons). which perpetuates through reincarnation. man is superior to his creator due to the fact that he was endowed with a spiritual essence by the Aeons. Most dualistic religions that developed after the 1st century AD were influenced by the Genesis account of creation but interpret it in a totally different manner. In Gnosticism the creator god (Ialdabaot) ignores the higher deities whose descendent he is and creates a world over which he claims to be the only god. As a result of his captivity in the bodily prison.
. A similar stand was adopted by Manicheism. Their position is sharply anti-Judaic and anti-Christian. man is superior to him due to the fact that he received the spirit of life from a higher Aeon (Sophia. Against the Manichaeans. According to radical Catharism.
the Absolute is the Triune God.5). evil is nonbeing. in his writing On the Incarnation of the Word.14). therefore when they lost the knowledge of God. He should want to stop evil.17. This is what the Church Fathers mean in some of their writings by the fact that evil is without substance. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being. anyone can clearly see that evil exists in our world. according to the formula “I am who I am” of Exodus 3. evil is non-being".6). The context of his words is as following: For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature. Ch. but an ontological perspective on the fallen state of God's creatures that lost communion with God. so were they now on the way to returning. yes. if He is omnipotent.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Evil in Christianity According to Christianity. God created all things. He could stop it. From here arises one of the major accusations brought by the opponents of Christianity: If God is all-good. Athanasius says that "God alone exists. In other words. and beside Him there is nothing else with the same attributes. This means that evil is neither an inherent quality pertaining to God or to His creation.8) and all-powerful (Revelation 19. 7. but cannot). but this doesn’t make Him the creator of evil. Malachi 3. Ch. a personal being or a mere illusion. The Apostle John states: “God is light.14. an impersonal substance (as a part or a form of our world).31). The same meaning is attached to the words of Gregory of Nyssa when mentioning that "there is no evil other than wickedness" in his Great Catechism. through corruption. how could this puzzle be solved? First we have to define what evil really is. When God finished His creation. they lost existence with it. for it is God alone Who exists. Only He exists by Himself. to non-existence again. According to Christian theology. or both. in an awful measure. He appreciated that “all that He had made was very good” (Genesis 1. This is not an affirmation of the illusory status of evil. it is true that evil cannot exist by itself. so God lacks either all-goodness (if He can stop evil but does not want to) or omnipotence (if He wants to stop evil. inevitably. claiming as God: “I am who I am” (Exodus 3. that it is merely an illusion? If we use the terms that characterize only God’s existence. In this case could it be true that evil does not exist. As God is declared to be all-good (1 John 4. For instance. only God has in Himself and by Himself Absolute being. 1. not an impersonal substance as in pantheism. This act separates man from His presence and
. Gregory of Nyssa states that God is not responsible for man's turning away from Him through sin. However.6). the negation and antithesis of good. and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence. He is the only personal subject that is eternal and immutable (James 1. The context here is his address to the heretics that claimed that man is the creation of an evil deity (in order to explain the fallen human nature). nor an eternal personal being (as in polytheistic or dualistic religions). but evil exists in the world. in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1. reality. being or existence.
and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. it exists not by itself. I made a spectacle of you before kings (Ezekiel 28. one cannot say evil doesn't exist. The cause of his fall was pride. and cannot be contemplated as a subsistence. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty.22). one of God’s cherubs. a result of using free will against the very purpose it was created for (against free will obeisance to God in a communion relation based on love). Evil was not intended by God and is not linked to the essence of God and creation. God created them in time immemorial. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence. withdrawing their minds from this disposition to regard the gratifications of the senses.10). and thus have a nature different from God’s.consequently from real existence. Although evil has no ontological status with reference to the nature of God. as personal and immaterial beings endowed with free will. rebelled against this order. feelings (Luke 15. For no evil of any kind lies outside and independent of the will.7-10. to refuse submission and inferiority to Him. He Who formed the sight did not make blindness. He had the ability to choose either to obey God or a selfish way. the desire to be independent from God. Here is Gregory of Nyssa's commentary on the nature of evil: Since. These beings have mind (Acts 12. and I expelled you. they had looked at the nature of existing things dispassionately. They were created ex nihilo. the same way as the material universe. as only God is the source for it. Therefore the God of things that are is external to the causation of things that are evil. was expelled from heaven together with all the other angels who joined him in his act of rebellion.12). This angel. and. Lucifer wanted to be by himself more than his created status could permit him. and you sinned. if their thoughts had taken a loftier view. Evil existed even before the creation of man. who became Satan (“adversary”) out of Lucifer (“angel of light”). since He is not the Maker of things that are non-existent. and the Maker of that which has no substantial existence is not the Maker of things that have substantial existence.15-17). they would have understood that there is no evil other than wickedness. In the book of the prophet Ezekiel we can read the following metaphorical description of this incident: You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Satan’s fall couldn’t have occurred without a real freedom of choice. His choice for the second alternative constitutes the origin of evil in the universe. O guardian cherub. Their number was very large and had a hierarchy among them (Hebrews 12. but it is the non-existence of the good that is so denominated. So I threw you to the earth. from among the fiery stones. Now all wickedness has its form and character in the deprivation of the good. Now that which is not has no substantial existence. in order to integrate themselves into the divine harmony through obedience and communion. 1 Peter 1. will (Jude 6) and are not limited by a physical body. Evil appeared in the world of angels when Lucifer. Its origin is to be found in the world of angels.
. but is a perversion of His creation. aimed at considering himself the source of his existence. Evil is not created by God.
That is why Satan and the demons (the fallen angels) do not keep in themselves any remainder of good. and the apostles did also (Acts 5. When he lies. a created being needs the possibility to choose it freely. and you want to carry out your father's desire. the Apostle Paul emphasizes that “Satan himself is masquerading as an
. disease. He was a murderer from the beginning.16.). Satan and the demons do their best to thwart God’s plan with mankind. they will exist forever. In order to have perfect communion with the Creator. Jesus Christ said to the Pharisees who didn’t believe in Him: You belong to your father. proves that evil has an end. evil is a parasite of good. so it has a personal character.21-28. The Apostle Peter warned his fellow Christians that Satan is a real and dangerous presence: “Be self-controlled and alert.). that is has no eternal existence in God’s creation. It is conscious loneliness. for there is no truth in him. as horrifying as it looks to be. murder. the temporary status of evil and hell in Eastern religions is not a result of divine love.). Having this nature. The Eastern religions have no equivalent for Satan as evil personified. etc. “Pure” evil became their new nature after the fall. who tempted the Buddha while on his way toward nirvana. but without the chance to return to the spring of real existence and communion with God. The doctrine of hell. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5. evil entered our world as a result of Satan’s fall. angels and mankind would only have been a lifeless world of robots. Although in Hinduism exist devilish beings called asuras.8). The same is the case with the “devil” Mara. they are considered to be immature souls caught temporarily in the abyss of deception. Their eternity is that of spiritual death. Although such facts constitute reasons for atheism. However. This is hell. As mentioned before. war. Without free will. knowing that humans are created to succeed where they (the fallen angels) failed. etc. they represent the cost of preserving our (misused) free will. According to Christianity. the place where Satan and demons are granted the liberty to eternally renew their wish to exist “by themselves” and express their hate toward God. a loss of what really constitutes the support of existence. a diminishing of existence.44).1-11. the devil. but rather a necessity imposed by the cyclic manifestations of Ultimate Reality. They do evolve and are not permanently in this state. in our world. Likewise. This is why God allows to exist starvation. which means a greater good not otherwise attainable. Jesus Christ spoke directly with Satan at the moment of His temptation (Matthew 4. because this was the only way possible for Him to have free communion with His creatures. etc. According to God’s justice (and not weakness). nothing from the good categories with which they were created. not holding to the truth. because communion is a good thing that cannot exist there. he speaks his native language. He cast out demons (Mark 1. for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8.Was the creation of beings endowed with free will a mistake of God (as it could be used against its very purpose)? No. which can cause problems in people’s lives. etc. so they were not addressing illusions. of irrevocable departure and closing toward the Source in which they should have found their fulfillment.
But God used both for our sake.11). As man does not resist evil. can be reversed to produce good: “Satan is evil. ch. man became the perpetuator of evil in our world through sin.12). because all sinned” (Romans 5. our free will can resist him. If man can misuse God’s good creation. as the doer. Satan is not the only one guilty for the evil in our world and we are not just victims lacking any responsibility.13). evil is neither created nor a natural or necessary element. But since evil exists. This would cancel any possibility for them to repent and be reconciled with God. and also the physical world in which we live. compromised our relation with other people. we need laws and police. Therefore we have real freedom in refusing evil. God has put a limit to Satan’s power against us humans. Both tried to destroy us. and death through sin. God has limited Satan’s power and He permits evil to manifest itself only for the benefit of fallen man. Despite the fact that the devil is doing his best to delude man. No matter how bad Satan can be. Out of the selfish relations he develops in this state. since evil is expanding in our world primarily through people. so his instrument. It is not enough to try to limit the effects of sin. Which one of us would pass the test of God’s holiness after all. but rather wants “that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33. The Apostle Paul writes: “Sin entered the world through one man. Although Satan is the initiator of evil. the basic problem of sin remains unsolved. it is man that bears the responsibility for spreading it into our world through sin. but God used their effort for our salvation. As He takes no pleasure “in the death of the wicked”. As a result of this situation. with the help of God. Judas is evil. It is the illness of beings that are no longer in communion with God.4). so that he can never overwhelm us (1 Corinthians 10. It is a parasite state that perpetuates itself by misusing God’s good resources and by following a wrong direction. if such extinction of all evil would be performed apart from His love?
. Sin affected thoroughly our nature. although it is undoubtedly an evil act. and in this way death came to all men. However. These passages and many more cannot be ignored in order to suggest an illusory status of evil. This is the way in which we try to limit the effects of sin in our society. why wouldn’t God be able to use for good those who perform evil? Augustine argued that the providence of God goes so far that even Judas' betrayal. in order to awaken him from the spiritual lethargy produced by sin. a sudden extinction of all evil would contradict His love for mankind. it has to submit to the order over which God is sovereign. he distances himself from God and also closes himself toward his neighbors. a major reason for not extinguishing all evil in the world in an instant is that such an act would necessarily involve the damnation of all those who perform it. evil expands in our world. no matter how much progress could be attained in perfecting the way democracy works.angel of light” in order to deceive humans (2 Corinthians 11. First. Two aspects should be added here in order to understand properly the relation between God and evil. it could resist him in Eden and it can resist him now.” (Sermon CCCI. man cannot be affected by him as long he persists in obedience to God.14). According to Christianity. but we should address the problem of sin itself. but also in order to defend ourselves from the consequences of other people's sin. By submitting himself to Satan’s temptation and misusing the freedom of choice granted by the Creator.
As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire. but this would annihilate the freedom of personal creatures. This can happen only as long as they can benefit from God’s grace. and the harvesters are angels. who consider themselves better and wiser than their neighbor. The owner's servants came to him and said. God tolerates “weeds” among “wheat”. The harvest is the end of the age.13:
.28). so it will be at the end of the age. In this context. then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn” (13. The servants asked him. and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. should rather induce repentance and humble thankfulness for the prolonged chance granted in order to escape the final extinction of all evil at God’s final judgment. Second. is the following: The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. and the enemy who sows them is the devil. you may root up the wheat with them. The weeds are the sons of the evil one. Let both grow together until the harvest. the people who may be called “weeds” still have the chance of converting and becoming “wheat”.24-30). that is during their earthly lifetime. according to Jesus. often used by the opponents of Christianity to reject God’s grace.” he answered. The problem of evil and suffering. his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. as the same author mentions in 1 Corinthians 10. God never permits that evil manifests itself overwhelmingly in our lives. repent and return to a personal relationship with Him. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads. He who has ears.” he replied. suffering is a good tool for destroying the self-sufficient illusion of those who think they don’t need God and His forgiveness. then the weeds also appeared. The Son of Man will send out his angels. The world in which God constantly intervened to stop any manifestation of evil would become a world of robots. didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?” “An enemy did this. God could stop any particular manifestation of evil.24-43): The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. Keeping evil under control and using it for our sake serves two purposes: it helps fulfill His plan with mankind (its return to communion with the Creator) and also maintains the creature’s freedom. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned. and went away. in the hope that they may still have the chance to meet Him. It is God’s grace that allows evildoers to live. But while everyone was sleeping. until a certain moment. The Apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Rome: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8. not his lack of justice or power. As the parable refers to humans. let him hear (37-43). The field is the world. “Do you want us to go and pull them up?” “No. They will throw them into the fiery furnace. “Sir. “because while you are pulling the weeds. and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. At the same time. The explanation to this parable. His purpose in doing so is that “weeds” could be properly differentiated from “wheat” and pulled up at the right moment.God’s attitude in tolerating evil in our world was perfectly expressed by Jesus in the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13.
it is only an illusion that has to be scattered away through the right (pantheist) understanding of reality.12-19). through the most supreme expression of suffering that could ever be conceived.1-2.20-21.No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. especially against our sinful nature. Considering evil from a transcendental point of view. God can stop it. But when you are tempted. nor of rebellion against God.24). but one of a conscious and responsible participation in the world. which (at the immanent level of reality) launches karma into action. He said: I have told you these things. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16. Although we are not spared from troubles and many times we do not understand their meaning. this does not mean that man can be saved through the endurance of sufferings only. so that in me you may have peace. There is no contradiction in God's character. which perpetuates both our suffering as well as that of our neighbor. According to the pantheistic religions. and He will stop it one day forever (Revelation 20. And God is faithful. 4. Returning to the questions raised at the beginning of this article.6-9. which was at the same time its everlasting solution: the vicarious death of Jesus Christ on the cross (see 1 Peter 2. One of the fundamental aspects of suffering in Christian theology is its use as a tool for our salvation. it is only sin that prevents us from understanding what evil really is and from stopping to spread it around us. Salvation is granted only by God. As a result. evil is coeternal with
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Conclusion Outside the Christian solution to the problem of evil there are possible only pantheistic or dualistic solutions. man’s attitude toward evil should be neither one of resignation.33). the origin of evil has its root in the manifestation of the impersonal Ultimate Reality. As the God of Christianity does not stand impassively toward the fallen man. as in the Eastern religions (in order to stop the accumulation of karma). He urges action in imitating His compassion in daily living. Evil has an end.14. in order to preserve our freedom of will and to use it as an instrument in our salvation. but meets his needs and has already descended into his problems and misery. he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.10). acquired through meditation. there is no doubt that God is omnipotent and all-good. But until then He allows evil to exist in our world for our benefit. 3. Evil is not everlasting. He did not create evil in the world. Evil is the result of misusing free will by his creatures. However. What is requested from us while waiting for it is to fight against evil and suffering. he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. we should always remember that Jesus promised His help and power in order to conquer them. in order to awake those who are departed from God. 4. and also for the sanctification of those who have already restored their relation with God (see for this 1 Peter 1. In the dualistic religions. as well as human suffering.
From a Christian point of view. The gods are mere products of its manifestation.
God is triune and personal (the Holy Trinity). This is the case with Gnosticism. no Ultimate Reality is stated. Ultimate Reality
In most cases impersonal.
In the Eastern religions
1. but not triune. evil cannot be understood and defeated. Without these.)
. The absolute good cannot be an all-good and omnipotent person. Theistic Hinduism accepts personal gods as Ultimate Reality. In the Yoga-darshana of Patanjali. Theravada Buddhism is agnostic about it. Ishvara is an impersonal macro-purusha. Shiva and Shakti are the two aspects (static and dynamic) corresponding to Brahman. In Tantrism and Hatha Yoga. the doctrine of the fall. Manicheism and the polytheistic religions (see also the Hindu mythology). both solutions are not satisfactory in explaining evil. Mahayana Buddhism states the impersonal void (shunya) as Ultimate Reality. God is also personal. Please do not jump in here without first reading the previous articles. because they lack as fundamental elements the creation ex nihilo. and redemption through God's grace. but karma and the periodical dissolution of the universe limit them.
SUMMARY Are all religions heading toward the same goal?
The following table summarizes a comparison of the major topics analyzed in the previous files on world religions. distinct from His creation. Hindu pantheism proclaims the impersonal Brahman as the source of any existence.good. because there cannot be two Absolutes. with a symbolic role in the system. Otherwise this short abstract may be confusing. (In Judaism and Islam.
(In Gnosticism and other dualistic philosophies matter is the creation of an evil god.) Fallen into a state of alienation from God. Mahayana Buddhism. Man Manifestation of the Ultimate Reality. 2. Taoism). Ignorance and karma are closely linked and force man into the reincarnation cycle. Personhood is always illusory and a hindrance in attaining liberation. However. In Theravada Buddhism. The physical world Manifestation of the impersonal Ultimate Reality (in Hindu pantheism. detachment from the illusion of personal existence and merging of the divine self with the impersonal Ultimate Reality. Creation of God with a personal status. God’s creation out of nothing (ex nihilo).
. According to the pantheistic religions. Man’s present condition 5. called sin. The meaning of salvation Ignorance in getting to know his true divine nature. and generator of illusion from which man has to detach himself.) 3. Personhood has nothing bad or illusory in itself. according to the pantheistic schools. annihilation of any existence. (In Gnosticism salvation means souls' return to the original angelic state. according to Theravada Buddhism. Manifestation of the primordial substance (prakriti) in the dualistic Samkhya-Yoga. Matter is not illusory and is not bad in itself. Product of the five aggregates. which has in itself a divine essence (atman. which will endure forever. In the Samkhya-Yoga darshanas purusha remains forever isolated from prakriti. Return to a personal relation with God.In Taoism there is the Tao as impersonal principle that rules the universe.) 4. man does not have the divine nature of God. Transformation of a primordial substance by the gods of Hindu theism. (In Gnosticism man is a spiritual being imprisoned in a material body. purusha) of an impersonal nature. which generate the illusion of personal existence.
. God took the initiative and gave the only solution for man’s salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. the gods (or bodhisattvas) can help man only if he deserves it. The moment of attaining salvation 8. Grace plays a minor role.
9.6. The present life is shaped entirely according to the dictates of one’s karma.) This is our only life (Hebrews 9:27) and is enough in order to accept God’s grace. so man has to accept his preordained destiny.
10. saint. He is a perfect example of what any of us can become. The identity of Jesus Christ
Guru. Man didn’t live previous lives and is free to choose his eternal destiny. There cannot be real freedom in this condition. etc.) The only solution for our salvation. Man can escape from his karma and find liberation only by his own efforts. He can choose the way of devotion (bhakti marga). (In Islam just a prophet. except in a few particular cases (prapatti in Hinduism and Pure Land Buddhism). sufficient for all mankind (John 14. the way of selfless living (karma marga). The meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross
Irrelevant. one of the hypostases of The Holy Trinity. God the Son incarnated. avatar. in Judaism a blasphemer against God. Most people need many lives to live out the consequences of karma and overcome illusion and ignorance.6). (In Islam and Judaism man is not saved by grace. enlightened master. The meaning of man’s freedom
Only spiritually evolved masters can attain liberation during one life. but by the good deeds he has to perform. Although man inherits a fallen nature.
Man cannot attain salvation by his own efforts. Man has to accept this grace. In
7. (In Islam it is not accepted as true. The way of attaining salvation
Man has all resources in himself for attaining liberation. In most cases of theistic Hinduism and devotional Buddhism.in Buddhism) by meditation and asceticism (jnana marga). as a result of his own efforts. or the way of knowing his divine nature (or the illusion of any permanent existence . he can always accept God’s grace. (According to Gnosticism it was either an illusion or a historical hoax.
God’s solution for the problem of evil
Evil (as illusion) is generated by the manifestation of the impersonal Ultimate Reality. Its origin is a being.) Evil is real. withdrawal from its reality. The view on Jesus’ physical resurrection Absurd. as all existence is a manifestation of the Ultimate Reality. Satan. God solved the problem of evil through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. as evil is illusory. (In Islam and Judaism not accepted as true.39). Man has to oppose suffering. Any opposition would only worsen his future condition. Man’s attitude toward suffering
.) The proof of His divinity and efficient atonement for our salvation. Man has to work out his own karma and do his best to escape suffering by transcending personhood. The Hindu avatars are just reminders of the right spiritual path. Buddhist bodhisattvas help people to attain a spiritual realm where they can hear the proper doctrine and attain liberation easier. Man’s sin is perpetuating evil and suffering in our world. The nature of evil
15. (According to Gnosticism a ghostly appearance. Without its manifestation there would be no subject to experience evil. although not of the same ontological nature as that of God.Judaism it is the right punishment Jesus got for blasphemy. The relation between the Ultimate Reality and evil 14. Spiritual progress cannot mean a return to the physical body. Suffering is a result of karma and man’s ignorance of his true nature. but will be isolated forever in hell at the judgment day. Ignoring the problem.
None. At the end of history He will judge and punish all evildoers. acts against Him. who once rebelled against God and now acts against Him and man.
12. He can only accept the misfortunes of his life and that of others as dictates of karma. Satan is opposed to God. according to the principle of loving your neighbor (Matthew 22.
34). a mere inferior way (a bhakti type) of attaining liberation. Man’s social involvement
Absurd. Christianity is. The role of compassion and charity
Mere instruments for one’s cleansing oneself of egoistic attachments. Only detached social involvement is possible. There are positive and negative moral values. They do not seek the welfare of the one that is suffering. it would be an obstacle in attaining liberation because of the attachments it produces. Human history has a beginning and an end. but are only means for escaping the world of illusion by the one who performs them. The way the two perspectives consider each other
Cyclical. especially in the case of Eastern religions towards Christianity.
The obvious conclusion is that the meanings of the major topics in world religions are fundamentally opposed.
18. devoid of any personal motivation (as the Bhagavad Gita requires). It is a mere instrument for defeating egoism and advance toward liberation.16.6). and Jesus said He is the only way to God (John 14. The meaning of moral values
19. between which one has to exercise discernment (Galatians 5.
The Christian has to be an example of social involvement in the society (Matthew 5. As man cannot attain salvation by himself. at best. other religions cannot play the same role. as it may produce false attachments. following His example. The view of history 20.16). Out of this result two important implications:
. Linear. for the benefit of others (John 13. Morality has no value in itself.17-23). Periodical dissolution of the universe determines an endless repetition of world’s history. but also views them as ultimately illusory and their true nature is voidness.
Means of expressing one's new identity in Christ. Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes the role of compassion for all beings.
All occult traditions are accepted under its umbrella as various perspectives on the same ultimate truth: The divine nature of man has to be discovered inside oneself. but the all-pervading oneness. The fact that these movements are closer to Eastern spirituality than to Christianity is obvious when examining their main tenets: Ultimate Reality is not a personal God. the Knight Templars. etc. and later Anthroposophy by Rudolf Steiner. so that it is necessary to accept also the teachings of Eastern spirituality in order to get a comprehensive picture of the meaning of life. the world is a manifestation of the impersonal Ultimate Reality. but rather to adopt Christianity in the big family of pantheist ideologies. They are all heading toward the same impersonal Ultimate Reality. At the beginning of the 2nd century AD Gnosticism appeared and then Neoplatonism (3rd century AD) as the first syncretistic products of pantheism and Christianity. God’s grace through Jesus Christ. As a result. etc. by any means. the chakras have to be activated by spiritual exercises. The "unpopular" demands of Christianity. we can figure out that his readers were struggling
Despite these implications. Bogomilism. we can see many worldwide cults promoting Eastern teachings in a most attractive way for their adherents. man has a divine inner nature which is the higher self. But does Christianity really need such “completion” or “crutches”? Does it have gaps that can be filled only by the help of Eastern spirituality? The Apostle Paul’s answer is negative. or else it would be totally compromised. In fact. Christianity definitely rejects this view and therefore cannot be included in it. there are many Eastern masters today who travel all over the world in order to present their teachings in a “suitable” manner to the Western world. The apogee of this trend began last century. However. Albigensianism. Hermeticism. such as accepting we are all sinners and need repentance. One of the major claims of the New Age syncretism is that Christianity cannot give all the answers to our spiritual quest. and replace it with an optimistic view of eternal progression of the self towards superior levels of existence. The ultimate product of adapting pantheist teachings in the Western culture is called New Age spirituality. Apart from Theosophy and Anthroposophy. karma and samsara are fully accepted.The teaching of the Hindu tale of the blind men (who tried to describe the elephant) is valid only for the multitude of pantheistic religions. Catharism. The element that makes it so attractive is the virtuosity it proves in combining the essence of Eastern pantheism with the occult traditions and the individualistic mentality of the West. when Theosophy was grounded by Helena Blavatsky. these movements are not attempts to find a middle way between Christianity and Eastern religions. It tries to get rid of Eastern pessimism. one’s true spiritual nature is to be found by engaging in the three steps of Vedanta meditation. there are a lot of attempts to “reconcile” Christianity with “the big family” of world religions. Reading his Epistle to the Colossians. etc. are all rejected. of its understanding of life as suffering. in 1875. according to the demands of today’s world syncretism. • Christianity cannot be used as an ingredient in order to produce a “homogenous mixture” with other religions. During the Middle Ages. using similar means. Gnosticism flourished and generated several subsequent movements such as Manicheism.
These things are happening today and we should stay alert in order to avoid deception. who “masquerade as servants of righteousness” (11. of which the Lord had said. he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. Therefore. “I am the Christ”. Present day syncretism cannot bring spiritual progress and peace. He took the carved image he had made and put it in God's temple. "My Name will remain in Jerusalem forever. I will put my Name forever. I will not again make the feet of the Israelites leave the land I assigned to your forefathers. and by the demons. He writes about the option of Christians’ finding spiritual help in the Hellenistic philosophy of that time: See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy. He built altars in the temple of the Lord.4-5). If we can have “fullness in Christ”. The Apostle Paul states that this deception is organized by Satan.14). following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. it is absurd to combine Christianity with the “highlights” of Eastern spirituality. "In this temple and in Jerusalem. divination and witchcraft. but only confusion and spiritual delusion. when God stated through the prophet Jeremiah: “I will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh son of Hezekiah king of Judah did in Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 15. who “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. religious syncretism." But Manasseh led Judah and the
. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord. He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom. can only alter its message. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. as is claimed by the New Age Movement. For many will come in my name. as the very first command of the Mosaic Law requires no compromise in this area (Exodus 20. who is the head over every power and authority (Colossians 2. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished.4). of which God had said to David and to his son Solomon. The climax of this situation was reached during the reign of king Manasseh. The people of Israel met disaster precisely because they didn’t obey it and worshipped the gods of other nations. provoking him to anger.3-5). The God of the Bible is totally opposed to spiritual syncretism. What Manasseh did was the following: Manasseh did evil in the eyes of the Lord. Any Eastern contribution that should “help” us better understand the Bible. which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel. what other completion can the Eastern religions bring us? Any element added to this “fullness” would only compromise its essence and efficiency. if only they will be careful to do everything I commanded them concerning all the laws. practiced sorcery. which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. claiming. and will deceive many (Matthew 24." In both courts of the temple of the Lord. decrees and ordinances given through Moses. he built altars to all the starry hosts.15). and consulted mediums and spiritists. In fact.8-10). and you have been given fullness in Christ. Jesus Christ warned us against such attempts: Watch out that no one deceives you.with the same issue.
if the religions of all nations had been valid ways to God? Why would so many Christian martyrs die in order to proclaim one of the many alternative ways to God? It seems obvious that Christianity does not accept religious syncretism. but they paid no attention (2 Chronicles 33. The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people. They reached a point where repentance was impossible and spiritual confusion became so great that God had to punish them according to the Mosaic covenant (see Leviticus 18. or maybe even a middle way through religious syncretism. There is an increasing interest in this topic today. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14.2-10). If all religions would have been valid alternatives to God.24-30). to the very end of the age (Matthew 28. sustained
.19-20). and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. which perverted the only possibility for reconciling the nation with God. The same situation is presented in the New Testament. but the only one: I am the way and the truth and the life. World religions cannot be all equally true. Jesus himself dismissed this hypothesis by commanding his disciples: Go and make disciples of all nations. The choice for one or another belongs to you. religious syncretism entered people’s hearts.6). but one of either-or. was to bring the idols inside the temple. REINCARNATION Its meaning and consequences The concept of reincarnation seems to offer one of the most attractive explanations of man’s origin and destiny. generating a double worship system in God’s temple. Jesus Christ did not claim to be one of the many ways to God.people of Jerusalem astray. Why would Jesus have commanded this. if each of us could reach God by diligently following the already existent religious traditions at hand? Although it is sometimes claimed that this solution for salvation was valid only for the Israelites of his time. that no other king did before him. Even if his deeds might have been politically justified (in order to have peace and be accepted by the other nations). so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites. So there is no sign of encouraging spiritual syncretism in the Old Testament. And surely I am with you always. It should be very embarrassing for those who try to find alternative ways to God. we can state that spiritual truth is not a matter of both-and (both Christianity and other religions are true). spiritually it was against the clear command of God. This statement doesn’t need too many comments. baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The worst thing Manasseh could do. Although Manasseh later repented. what use would Jesus' dramatic death on the cross have had? Why such an extreme solution for our sins. As the conclusion of our quest.
especially for those who seek liberation on the exclusive basis of their inner resources. D) Reincarnation and Christianity. Therefore reincarnation seems to be a perfect way of punishing or rewarding one’s deeds.especially by books and magazines. The classic form of the reincarnation doctrine was formulated in India. Reincarnation is a hot topic also on the Internet. good or bad. reincarnation is a way of rejecting the Christian teaching of the soul’s final judgment by a holy God. despite their religious dedication.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------A) Reincarnation in Eastern religions The reincarnation of an entity defined as the core of human existence (atman or purusha) following a cycle that implies many lives and bodies. others at the brink of starvation. is not such an old concept as it is pretended today. which bear their fruits into the present one through the action of karma. without the need of accepting a personal God as Ultimate Reality. Buddhism and Jainism. Due to the spreading of Buddhism. Another major reason for accepting reincarnation by so many people today is the fact that it allegedly explains the differences that exist between people. Some have success without being religious. It is neither a common element for most of the oldest known religions. let us analyze the following major topics: A) Reincarnation in world religions. Eastern religions explain these differences as a result of previous lives. but certainly not earlier than the 9th century BC. reincarnation was later adapted in Chinese Taoism. movies and conferences. when the Brahmana writings were composed. Most of them are related to the world of esoterical wisdom and occult phenomena. but also many who don’t share such esoteric interests and convictions. Not only adherents of Eastern religions or New Age spirituality accept it currently. On the other hand. with the possible result of being eternally condemned to suffer in hell. Some are healthy. nor does its origin belong to an immemorial past. TV broadcasts. C) Reincarnation and cosmic justice. Some are rich. Given the overwhelming impact this ideology can have in the life and beliefs of any person. B) Past-life recall as proof for reincarnation. This is a source of great comfort. others are tormented their whole life by physical handicaps. but not earlier than the 3rd century BC. as you may have already noticed. others are constant losers. it was adopted by the other important Eastern religions which originated in India. Reincarnation seems to give hope for continuing one’s existence in further lives and thus having a better chance to attain liberation.
. After the Upanishads (7th to 5th century BC) clearly defined the concept.
More than that. This rather suggests their belief in resurrection than in reincarnation. was far away. The first important Greek philosophical system that adopted a similar view on reincarnation to Hinduism was NeoPlatonism. beginning with the Vedas and the Brahmanas. Immortality in the Vedic hymns and the Brahmanas At the time the Vedic hymns were written. as in all other polytheistic religions of the world. The concept of an impersonal fusion with the source of all existence. Similar to the tradition of ancient Chinese religion. the deceased was buried with food and clothing necessary in the afterlife. In some parts of India this ritual was performed until the British colonization. the departed relatives constituted a holy hierarchy. the most ancient writings of Hinduism. 2. It cannot have appeared earlier than the 9th century BC because the Vedic hymns. the ancient Egyptians embalmed the dead in order that the body might be preserved and accompany the soul into that world.The ancient religions of the Mediterranean world developed quite different kinds of reincarnationist beliefs. do not mention it. This has no connection with the classic idea of transmigration from one physical body to another. born in the 3rd century AD. the soul needs to be purified through reincarnation. Between man and gods was stated an absolute distinction. Let us therefore analyze the development of the concept of immortality in the major Hindu writings. Reincarnation in Hinduism The origin of samsara has to be searched for in Hinduism and its classic writings. Here are some arguments for this thesis that result from the exegesis of the funeral ritual: 1. For instance. In the case of ancient Egypt. As it is well known. In stating these beliefs Plato was strongly influenced by the earlier philosophical schools of Orphism and Pythagoreanism. Likewise. as later stated in the Upanishads. in many cases of ancient tribal religions that are credited today with holding to reincarnation. The Egyptian Book of the Dead describes the travel of the soul into a next world without coming back to earth. under certain Eastern influences. the belief of ancient Aryans in the preservation of personal identity after death led them to incinerate the dead husband together with his (living) wife and bow so that they could accompany him in the afterlife. the belief was that man continues to exist after death as a whole person. Greek Platonism stated the pre-existence of the soul in a celestial world and its fall into a human body due to sin. In order to be liberated from its bondage and return to a state of pure being. The last one deceased was commemorated individually for a year after his departure and then included in the mortuary offerings of the monthly shraddha ritual (Rig
. it is rather a belief in the pre-existence of the soul before birth or its independent survival after death that is taught. according to the demands of an impersonal law such as karma. proving that reincarnation wasn’t stated yet at the time of their recording (13th to 10th century BC). As was the case in other ancient religions (for instance those of Egypt and Mesopotamia).
5): "According as one acts. The doer of evil becomes evil. The premise for reaping the reward of one’s life in a new earthly existence (instead of the heavenly afterlife) appeared in the Brahmana writings (9th century BC). Abandoning the desire to have communion with the gods
. Its first clear formulation can be found in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4. treading their own" (Rig Veda 10. touch. sight and passions and by the abundance of food and drink there are birth and development of the (embodied) self.6).4. the law of cause and effect in Eastern spirituality.24). Ashu represents the vital principle (different from personal attributes). the god of death (mentioned in old Buddhist and Taoist scriptures too) was sovereign over the souls of the dead and also the one who received the offerings of the family for the benefit of the departed. depending on the deeds and the quality of the sacrifices performed during life. and manas the sum of psycho-mental faculties (mind.14. attainable only during one’s earthly existence. One becomes virtuous by virtuous action. They stated a limited heavenly immortality. In the Rig Veda it is said about him: "Yama was the first to find us our abode.Veda 10. all who are born go there by that path. man has to face a second death in the heavenly realm (punarmrityu) and therefore return to an earthly existence. Yama. ashu and manas. The belief in the preservation of the three components after death is proved by the fact that the family addressed the departed relative in the burial ritual as a unitary person: "May nothing of your manas. the self is forced to enter a new material existence until all karmic debt is paid: "By means of thought. feeling and will). nothing of your vital fluid. so does he become. Soma and Indra.15. according as one behaves. Divine justice was provided by the gods Yama.2). where our ancient Fathers have departed.3-17).15.The doer of good becomes good. 3. the components of human nature are the physical body. Ignorance of one’s true self (atman or purusha) launches karma into action. Reincarnation in the Upanishads The Upanishads were the first writings to move the place of one’s "second death" from the heavenly realm to this earthly world." Reincarnation (samsara) is the practical way in which one reaps the fruits of his deeds.11).1-11). There can be observed a fundamental mutation in the meaning of afterlife in comparison with the Vedic perspective. bad by bad action. After reaping the reward for them. This ritual was necessary because the dead could influence negatively or positively the life of the living (Rig Veda 10. The proper antidote against this situation came to be considered esoteric knowledge. nothing of the ashu. According to Vedic anthropology. a place that can never be taken away. nothing of the limbs. considering its proper solution the knowledge of the atman-Brahman identity. the embodied self assumes successively various forms in various conditions" (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 5. not by an impersonal law such as karma. Therefore. One of their attributes was to cast the wicked into an eternal dark prison out of which they can never escape (Rig Veda 7.2.104. nothing of your body here by any means be lost" (Atharva Veda 18. According to his deeds.
At this level. so it advances to another body after death. The eater of flesh becomes very red. because it cannot record any data produced in the illusory domain of psycho-mental existence. reincarnation is clearly stated as a natural process of life that has to be followed by any mortal. all that pertains to the world of illusions. a muskrat. attained exclusively by esoteric knowledge. Krishna says: Just as the self advances through childhood. a vulture..). Just as the body casts off worn out clothes and puts on new ones. The spiritual progress one accumulates toward realizing the atman-Brahman identity is recorded by karma.all three born as outcastes. Thus the makers of bad karma. atman cannot be the carrier of one’s "spiritual progress". reason for which the use of the reflexive pronoun "self" is not quite right. Similar specific punishments are figured by The Laws of Manu (12. and salt. who is passionate becomes a lustful horse. diseaseskinned.
. who steals grain becomes a locust. or rather by a minimal quantity of karmic debt. The wise person is not confused by this change called death (2. which is a part of the Mahabharata. youth and old age in its physical body. who goes with his teacher’s wife. perfumes. 54-69). According to one’s karma. having experienced the tortures of hell. Although it constitutes the existential substrata of man’s existence. are reborn with the residues of their sins. the newly shaped person experiences the fruits of "his" actions from previous lives and has to do his best to stop the vicious cycle avidya-karma-samsara. Who steals food becomes a rat.. In the Puranas the speculation on this subject is more substantial and therefore specific destinies are figured for each kind of "sin" one performs: The murderer of a brahmin becomes consumptive. so the infinite. flesh. immortal self casts off worn out bodies and enters into new ones (2. at (re)birth the whole physical and mental complex man consists of is reconstructed.... These and other signs and births are seen to be the karma of the embodied. Who or what reincarnates in Hinduism? According to the Upanishads and Vedanta philosophy. karma and reincarnation are key elements that will mark from now on all particular developments in Hinduism. In this new context.. who consorts with a Sudra woman becomes a bull.. made by themselves in this world.. attained as a result of bringing good sacrifices. an ant..13). Atman lacks any personal element. The slayer of a woman and the destroyer of embryos becomes a savage full of diseases. the killer of a cow becomes humpbacked and imbecile. Reincarnation in the Epics and Puranas In the Bhagavad Gita..22). Indra. the Upanishads came to consider man’s final destiny to be the impersonal fusion atman-Brahman.(Agni. a gadfly. Atman can be defined only through negating any personal attributes. the entity that reincarnates is the impersonal self (atman). etc. the murderer of a virgin becomes leprous .. honey. in these stated forms (Garuda Purana 5). Who commits unnatural vice becomes a village pig. one with discolored teeth. a eunuch. the drinker of intoxicants. who commits illicit intercourse.
in the Yoga Sutra (2. However.that consists of material form and senses. But being itself in a constant process of becoming and change. the entity that reincarnates is purusha.the taste of any experience. Beyond the five aggregates nothing else can be found in the human nature. following the dictates of karma. the Buddha taught:
. consciousness cannot be identified with a self that is supposed to be permanent. which suffer from constant becoming and have a functional causeeffect relation: 1) the body (rupa) .12) is defined a similar mechanism of transmitting the effects of karma from one life to another. In no way can it be a kind of conscious memory. wealth. a sum of information that the person could consciously use or a nucleus of personhood. In the Samkhya and Yoga darshanas. 2) feeling (vedana) . etc. because karmashaya has nothing in common with psycho-mental abilities. There is no possible form of transmitting conscious memory from one life to another. Man usually thinks that he has a self because of consciousness. The five elements. this "subtle body" cannot be a form of preserving one’s personal attributes. All this kind of data is erased. illnesses. 4) mental constructions (sankhara) . as was the case in Vedanta. The reservoir of karmas is called karmashaya. Given the absolute duality stated between purusha and prakriti (substance). as the whole assembly they construct. without giving him any hint for understanding his actual condition. are impermanent (anitya). When asked about the differences between people in the matters of life span. However. as it does not offer any actual data belonging to previous lives to the present conscious psycho-mental life.
Reincarnation in Buddhism Buddhism denies the reality of a permanent self. nothing that belongs to the psycho-mental life can pass from one life to the other because it belongs to prakriti. an equivalent of atman.. which has a mere illusory relation with purusha. together with all things pertaining to the phenomenal world. Vedanta adopted the concept of a subtle body (sukshma-sharira). something has to reincarnate.As a necessary aid in explaining the reincarnation mechanism. It accompanies purusha from one life to another. The appearance of human existence is generated by a mere heap of five aggregates (skandha). It dictates in an impersonal and mechanical manner the new birth (jati). representing the sum of impressions (samskara) that could not manifest themselves during the limits of a certain life. and 5) consciousness (vijnana) . However. This deposit of karma merely serves as a mechanism for adjusting the effects of karma in one’s life. They will materialize unconsciously in the life of the individual.the states which initiate action. which actually records the karmic debts and transmits them from one life to another. because its domain belongs to the world of illusions and dissolves at death. undergo constant transformation and have no abiding principle or self. attached to atman as long as its bondage lasts. 3) cognition (sanna) .the process of classifying and labeling experiences. so that the facts recorded by the subtle body are a sum of hidden tendencies or impressions (samskara) imprinted by karma.the awareness of a sensory or mental object. the length of life (ayu) and the experiences that must accompany it (bhoga).
And suppose a blind sea-turtle were there. The Buddha taught in the Chiggala Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya 35. In the same manner there is rebirth without the transfer of a self from one body to another. A wind from the north would push it south. a wind from the south would push it north. Now what do you think: would that blind sea-turtle. so there can be no psycho-mental element transmitted from one life to another. The only link from one life to the next is of a causal nature. a wind from the west would push it east. worthy and rightly self-awakened. It is deeds that classify men into high or low status (Majjhima Nikaya 3. Voidness cannot injure voidness! (Tibetan Book of the Dead. that the blind sea-turtle.Men have. using the illustration of the light of a candle. deeds are their kith and kin. it cannot die! Since in fact you are a natural form of voidness. there is mentioned a mental body that cannot be injured by the visions experienced by the deceased: When it happens that such a vision arises. coming to the surface once every one hundred years. stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole? It would be a sheer coincidence. suppose that this great earth were totally covered with water. A wind from the east would push it west. suggesting that the deceased keeps some personal attributes. It would come to the surface once every one hundred years. Although it is not clear what actually survives after death in this case.202). any hypothetical personal nucleus vanishes right before birth. coming to the surface once every one hundred years. Yet the doer has no existence: This is the Buddha’s teaching. The Tibetan Book of the Dead describes in detail the alleged experiences one has in the intermediary state between two incarnations.63): Monks. would stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole. lord. arises in the world. The newborn person doesn’t remember anything from previous lives or trips into the realm of intermediary state (bardo). It's likewise a sheer coincidence that a Tathagata. who inherits the deeds and reincarnates? Buddha answered that only karma is passing from one life to another. If there is no real self. anger at being injured is unnecessary! The Yama Lords of Death are but arisen from the natural energy of your own awareness and really lack all substantiality. which is derived from other candle without having a substance of its own. 12) Whatever the condition of the deceased after death might be. do not be afraid! Do not feel terror! You have a mental body made of instincts.
. It's likewise a sheer coincidence that one obtains the human state. deeds are their matrix. and deeds are their support. they are inheritors of deeds. In the Garland Sutra (10) we read: According to what deeds are done Do their resulting consequences come to be. and a man were to toss a yoke with a single hole there. even if it is killed or dismembered. O young man. Another important element in the Buddhist theory of reincarnation is the extreme rarity of being reincarnated as a human person. deeds as their very own.
During the Middle Ages it was a doctrine reserved for the initiates of some occult traditions (Hermetism. However. which rejects it as totally perverted. by the efforts of Theosophy. Influenced by the Christian cultural context but totally opposing Eastern classic ideology. Catharism. While analyzing them.If one would try to calculate the probability of obtaining the human state according to this text. many consider today that the entity that reincarnates is our soul. which are so popular today. there is continuity without a starting point. so Westerners needed a milder version of this doctrine. Although it is not specified what reincarnates. Although this tendency proves the soul’s yearning for a personal destiny. so that this concept became one of the most fascinating doctrines in explaining the origin and meaning of life. New Age thinking considers reincarnation as an eternal progression of the soul toward higher levels of spiritual existence.
Reincarnation in Taoism Reincarnation is a teaching hard to find in the aphorisms of the Tao-te Ching (6th century BC). there is issuing forth. which preserves the attributes of personhood from one life to another. Reincarnation in modern thinking Once the Eastern concept of reincarnation arrived in Europe. There is existence without limitation. the Chuang Tzu (4th century BC). death is not an end. combined with that of many Eastern gurus. its meaning changed. This compromise obviously emerged from the desire to adopt the reincarnation doctrine to Western thought. the odds would be one chance in a time span in years of 5 followed by 16 zeros. etc. and consider the surface of "this great earth" as being just the surface of India. An important scripture of Taoism. it doesn’t bear too much resemblance to classical Eastern spirituality. The above information about the meaning of reincarnation in the Eastern religions and the nature of the entity which is reincarnating will be helpful in examining the modern proofs for it.). who have taken it over from Neo-Platonism. A larger acceptance of reincarnation was promoted in the Western world only beginning with the last century. so it must have appeared later in Taoism. that is the Portal of God (Chuang Tzu 23). something has to pass from one life to another. and later Anthroposophy. determined a wide acceptance of reincarnation in our society today. The concept of an impersonal atman reincarnating was too abstract to be easily accepted. Their intense ministry. Continuity without a starting point is time. there is entering in. Existence without limitation is space. there is death. its modern version is substantially different from what Eastern religions stated. There is birth. states: Birth is not a beginning. we need to remember that
. That through which one passes in and out without seeing its form. and especially the efforts of the New Age movement. This is 5 million times the age of the universe. Far from being a torment out of which man has to escape by any price through abolishing personhood.
There are two categories of this phenomenon. By simply being asked to go back in time beyond the date of their birth and describe their impressions. the method was used by a growing number of hypnotists in order to get information about alleged previous lives of their patients. as there are other possibilities to explain how the "novelties" are produced. Her brief descriptions seemed to describe properly the Irish society of the late 19th century. Recently the method has gained a scientific aura. Could these experiences really be proofs for reincarnation?
Hypnotic regression as proof for reincarnation Hypnosis can be defined as a method of inducing an altered state of consciousness. USA. Suddenly she started to talk using a specific Irish accent. behavior and facial expression. being used as therapy for releasing current fears and explaining certain personality tendencies as results of past lives experiences. In deep states of hypnosis. this conclusion raises some difficulties. As a result. which represent the ability of certain persons to recall facts of alleged previous lives.according to the Eastern concept of reincarnation there cannot be any personal element that could wander from one life to the next. with a changed voice. Although there are some encouraging results in using it as a psychiatric healing therapy. The other is produced by some children who spontaneously remember a previous life identity. They usually adopt a totally different personality. amazing their neighbors with specific details that match with the life of a deceased person. They usually ground their belief on so-called past life recall experiences. One is observed under hypnosis. However. was regressed "back in time" beyond the date of her birth. Others have had a mystical experience of oneness with the universe. As long as the information they produce couldn’t have been normally learned during their life span. when Ruth Simmons from Colorado. B) Past-life recall as modern proof for reincarnation Many people who accept reincarnation in the West today claim that it can be scientifically proven. All the information they produce is the result of a dialog between the hypnotist and his patient. claiming that her name was Bridey Murphy and she lived in Ireland in the year 1890. it is supposed that they really recall past lives. it is a fact that hypnosis can mix fantasy with real memories or even create entirely fictitious episodes. The method has been used in psychoanalysis for treating psychic diseases by evoking the painful events which caused them in the past (especially during childhood) and then transmitting suggestions meant to heal these wounds which still affect one’s present. Hypnotic regression started to be used as a "past lives recall" method in 1952. some patients tell impressive stories in which some characteristics match with past and distant cultures of human history. some subjects have had out-of-body experiences and claimed to have traveled in mysterious spiritual realms. in which the questions have to be easy and clear in order to get a proper answer. while regressing certain persons beyond the date of birth. without accepting the past-life recall hypothesis.
. which causes a person to become very receptive to the hypnotist’s suggestions. It was therefore believed that a scientific proof for reincarnation had been found.
given by the Greeks much later. which was introduced by the Romans a thousand years later. he used the name Thebes. An intriguing aspect of the testimonies recorded under hypnosis is the fact that they heavily depend on the already existing data in current historic knowledge. some predating it with hundreds or thousands of years? How could people who lived four thousand years ago use the BC (before Christ) year numeration system? How can it be that some hypnotists can even "recall" future lives of their patients (which are obviously influenced by current science fiction literature)? These facts indicate that the alleged previous lives are culturally and religiously conditioned. Ian Wilson. and a little later they began asking her about sources of information. facts that are not available anymore in the conscious memory. and it turned out that her aunt had a copy of the book. Another fault was mentioning the use of the sestertius coin. but which are often contradicted by later discoveries. How could it be possible that the present personality could influence the knowledge of its "previous lives". She gave a lot of detail about the people concerned. According to the description. another important researcher of this phenomenon. Another case reported Vikings making a landfall in North America during the 11th century. mentions a confirming case: There is another English case going back to the turn of the century that was studied by a Cambridge don. as Vikings wore in fact conic. or seen in movies. in the same way can it be used for evoking information heard from other people. She didn't remember reading it. which cannot be historically true.One possible explanation. In recent years scholars have proved that this idea is false. in which the subject of hypnosis is involving himself as participant. including proper names and the sort of life she lived. published in the latter part of the nineteenth century. further archaeological discoveries contradict them. The subject had modified it a little bit. close-fitting caps. describes several such cases in his book Reincarnation (p. casting serious doubts on
. As hypnosis can be used in refreshing forgotten memories of one’s past. in which a young woman seemed to be describing the life of one Blanche Poynings. Instead of indicating the name No for the capital city. The investigators kept on probing. a classic Victorian novel all about a countess at the court of Richard II. as the numbering of pharaohs was adopted by Victorian Egyptologists during the 19th century. but she remembered turning the pages (Omni Magazine 10(4):76 (1988)). In many cases. On the other hand. valid in a few cases. casting serious doubts on the veracity of "past lives". In her trancelike state the girl herself came out with a reference to a book. although the information corresponds to generally acknowledged historical data. read in books. a person around the court of Richard II in the fourteenth century. Horned helmets were worn only in religious ceremonies by individuals of high rank. a true ancient Egyptian could not have known the pharaoh’s name by a number. His subconscious memory has kept this information stored and hypnosis determines its use in a completely fictitious scenario. One of them refers to a "person" who lived during the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses III. one of the important researchers of this phenomenon. This and other cases prove that the "past life recall" experiences depend heavily on the historical knowledge mankind had at the time when the hypnotic regression was performed. Countess Maud. but basically it was all in the novel. is cryptoamnesia. 88-90). they were wearing helmets with horns. Ian Stevenson.
their veracity. Multiple personality is known to it as dissociative personality disorder. More than that. It is no secret that we are all highly suggestible under hypnosis. or at least expects it subconsciously. As in most cases the hypnotist expects a confirmation of the reincarnation theory. The risk of inventing completely fictitious scenarios through hypnosis cannot be ignored. having his reality shaped according to what the hypnotist dictates. The other necessary factor is the receptivity of the patient to the hypnotist’s suggestions. and over the course of therapy discovered incidents of sexual abuse by parents during childhood. and in other cases the previous personality evoked has refused to go away for a long time (Omni Magazine 10(4):76 (1988)). as if playing successive
. He is informed about its purpose. Another compromising factor in getting true "past life stories" is the preparation the patient undergoes before hypnosis. together with the verbal suggestions concerning relaxation and different phases of regression. It actually has happened many times. his understanding of life as eternal return into a different body. Courts of law know these dangers and most do not accept testimonies produced under hypnosis or from witnesses that have been previously hypnotized. Another possible explanation that could overrule the veracity of past life recall is the influence of the hypnotist. which proved to be false. This is why the writers who are favorable to rebirth stories usually avoid mentioning specific data which might challenge their beliefs. which induces in him a high expectancy state. Even Freud abandoned hypnosis as a treatment method when he discovered so many cases of fake memories. It causes somebody to exchange in a short period of time up to 20 distinct personalities. Remember the many cases of women who came for hypnotic treatment for their common problems. Ian Stevenson states: In my experience. the suggestion ability of the hypnotist becomes an important hindrance in obtaining true information. nearly all so-called previous personalities evoked through hypnotism are entirely imaginary and a result of the patient's eagerness to obey the hypnotist's suggestion. The same way as alleged sexual abuses in childhood discovered through hypnosis have been proved to be false. This kind of investigation can actually be dangerous. he can transmit his own convictions concerning past lives and custom scenarios of this kind. In many cases it is easy to discern the religious convictions of the hypnotist in the stories told by his patients. Although the two conditions determine the efficiency of hypnosis when used as psychiatric treatment. The conscious desire to know "his previous lives" undoubtedly influences his response under hypnosis. whose suggestion ability is a sine qua non condition for the efficiency of hypnosis. This is called false memory syndrome. because it can contaminate the patient’s story. Under hypnosis. it was observed that the memories "discovered" under hypnosis can replace the true memories after the hypnotic session is over and distort completely one’s personal life. when expecting to get information from alleged past lives. the subject is ready to accept all kinds of distortions. past lives can be also fake scenarios (as well as the "extraterrestrial abduction" stories). A third possibility to explain testimonies from alleged previous lives belongs to psychiatry. Some people have been terribly frightened by their supposed memories.
In parapsychology it is called channeling. behaviors. where consciousness is divided into separate entities. one of them taking the role of the director. the only criteria in establishing the veracity of "past life recall" is our trust in the hypnotist and his "past life recall" interpretation. In conclusion. The only reason for rejecting this hypothesis is the presumption that the entity which is communicating through the medium has no reason to lie when it claims to be a reincarnated personality and not an external spirit. but cannot see the puppet master. under hypnosis. continuing to receive data from the real surrounding area. Why should it fool the people around about past lives? Thus we come to another possible explanation of past life recall. So there really is possible to create new personalities or "past life recalls" through hypnosis. These contradicting personalities have different mentalities. There is no other way of relating the scenario of an alleged past life to one’s actual person. They first appeared during hypnotic treatment. Ian Wilson writes in his book: "Somewhere. representing the phenomena of transmitting information generated by spiritual entities which are external to our world. past lives testimonies may be the result of inducing the dissociative personality disorder through hypnosis. we will analyze in a later section their possible identity from a Christian point of view. The unsolved problem with this explanation is the motivation of such an entity (remained conscious in the person’s mind) to act like that. The annihilation of normal consciousness through hypnosis creates optimal conditions for contacting such external teachers. In channeling there are always external personal beings (spirits) involved in providing information through mediums. From a psychiatrist's point of view. most cases of hypnosis have produced new personalities that didn't manifest previously in one's normal state. This is why we will now examine the other "strong evidence" for reincarnation through past life recall. voices and even sexes than the real person. or who decides which one will be next in the show? It cannot be a random process. and then remained active after the session was over. and is even able to speak in the name of all. It is like watching a puppet show. we can see the puppets. see some of the strings by which they are made to work. Although there have been many cases when such entities were caught lying. This has actually happened in several cases of schizophrenia. a certain part of the mind stays conscious. and also their motivation for doing so. The data supporting it is that sometimes.roles." Who could be this hidden director of the multiple personality show? The naturalistic explanation says that it must be in the person’s mind. somehow. They act through certain persons called mediums while being in altered states of consciousness.
Spontaneous past life recall by children as proof for reincarnation
. Used to uncover covert personalities and reintegrate them with the main personality. Usually it happens that one of them knows and observes the acts and thoughts of the others. who can present themselves as personalities of one’s past lives. the show must have a ‘director’. there still remains an enigma to which the above naturalist-scientific interpretation doesn’t have a satisfactory answer: How are the "past live" personalities distributed in their roles. However.
when their spiritual discernment is almost nonexistent.Another category of experiences credited as proofs for reincarnation are the cases when certain people. especially concerning spirits. causing himself and her real distress” (Omni Magazine 10(4):76 (1988)). especially because the children do not seem to be skilled in communicating with spirits. insisting to be someone else who lived in the past. At the ages of 3 (Swarnlata) and 4 (Shanti Devi) they both started to claim that they had lived a previous life as wives and mothers of two children. prove to be true when investigations are performed in the indicated area. almost all children under the age of 10. A confirmation of the possession hypothesis is the cases when the possessing spirit enters the child’s body a long time after he was born. Ian Stevenson and his books on this topic are well known. In this case the medium would be the child. One Indian boy was passionately attached to the woman he said had been his former mistress and was trying to get her back. through channeling. The most astounding element is that they mentioned specific facts about their alleged previous lives that have been verified by investigators. Stevenson comments: “These children become embroiled in divided loyalties. This phenomenon is related to channeling. but this time the human person is forced to transmit the messages of a spirit without having any conscious contribution to the whole process. In many cases children have rejected their parents. The extensive research of Dr. Emotional disturbances often develop in such cases. Although the cases of spontaneous past life recall by children are much fewer than testimonies produced under hypnosis. There are enough such cases
. wives. in a distant village. or children. the entities lose their power of influence upon him. The cases of the Indian girls Swarnlata and Shanti Devi are two of the most famous. one argument against this explanation is the presupposition that such external spirits have no reason to lie about their true identity. The details they mention concerning places. Again. there are other possibilities to interpret them. In other words. this explanation is not too convincing. However. they insist on being reunited with their former husbands. overruling the reincarnation explanation. Another argument is the fact that the child does not manifest the classic symptoms of violent possession. In other cases. acting as if a past life personality would be manifesting itself. possession implies that the invading spirit enters the body and takes over entirely the control of human consciousness. persons and happenings of the past. which could explain why the past life memories are lost after the age of 10. However. saying they are not their real parents and have often started down the road toward their socalled real homes. A better explanation would be the possession of these children by external spiritual entities. However. spontaneously recall events of alleged past lives. This explanation is more likely to be valid for the following reason: Almost all cases of spontaneous past life recall experiences are produced by children who manifest them between the age of two and five. This situation makes them easier to be manipulated by external spirits. about which they could not normally know anything. and then produces the past life recall experience interfering with the actual personality of the child. Imagine how surprised the sons of the deceased mother were when visited by a 4-year-old girl that claimed to be their mother (or other relatives in similar cases). As the child grows up. without necessarily being conscious of it. One alternative explanation is the possibility of these children's contacting external spirits. they seem to be more convincing. acting violent is not the only possible form of manifesting spiritual possession.
While speaking through Jasbir. He revived a few hours later. but it could “suggest” a special origin to those who are born naturally with birthmarks and birth defects. the Druze in Lebanon. This situation lasted several months. claiming to be a Brahmin named Sobha Ram. Most can be discarded as having no scientific proof (a precise medical report on the wounds of the deceased) or as being induced by the adults. but rather a possession of Jasbir’s body by the so-called spirit of Mr. 381). For the previous 3. Third. excluding any possibility for reincarnation. Ram" said that he was advised by a saint to take cover in Jasbir’s body. The overlapping of personalities and messages displayed during that period are strong indications of possession. An important factor that could confirm spirit possession is cases of reincarnation prediction by people who strongly believe in it. there is the case of Lurancy Vennum. there is the case of a Buddhist monk. Not many cases need such an elaborate explanation as spirit possession. the "reincarnated Mr. who was very ill and lapsed into a coma which his family temporarily mistook for death. Here is a brief description of two mentioned by Ian Stevenson. Spirit possession could also explain another “proof” for reincarnation that is becoming increasingly popular: the correspondence between wounds that caused a person to die and birthmarks on children that claim to be the rebirth of that particular person. Not that a spirit influence could induce such physical abnormalities. Ian Stevenson admits in his book that "other cases of the present group of 20 cases may be instances of similar ‘possessing influences’ in which the previous personality just happened to die well before the birth of the present personality’ body" (p. who was born a day before the death of Nai Leng. Here is a case discovered by Stevenson among the Tlingit tribe in Alaska:
. a famous researcher of this phenomenon. More than that. a one-year-old girl who began to display the personality of Mary Roff when she (Mary Roff) died. Chaokhun Rajsuthajarn. the personality he claimed to have been in his previous life. This suggests that it cannot be a case of reincarnation here. As Sobha Ram died when Jasbir was already three and a half years old. in his book Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation: First. while Mary Roff claimed to have occupied the vacated body of the little girl.5 years both persons lived physically in nearby villages. After this period Mary Roff departed and Lurancy Vennum resumed control. according to the timing of his accident and the illness of Jasbir. who taught the children to have had a previous life as a certain family member.described in literature. Second. So at a certain moment there were present two personalities in Jasbir’s body: the one of the child and the one of Mr. who died in an accident while he (Jasbir) was sick. Stevenson commented in an interview: “I studied this case with much care but couldn't find an explanation for the discrepancy” (Omni Magazine 10(4):76 (1988)). and after several weeks displayed a completely transformed behavior. it is likely that the "reincarnation" of Ram’s soul took place even before he had physically died. especially in cultures where most physical and behavioural peculiarities are attributed to happenings in past lives (Southern Asia. aged three and a half. or Indians in North America). his "past life recall" obviously cannot be a proof of reincarnation. there is the case of an Indian boy named Jasbir. Ram. Ram.
they cannot represent a third ontological nature (different to both the self and the psycho-mental realm). One was on his nose. It acts only inside the limits of a physical life and vanishes at death. there still would be another major argument against their veracity: According to the classic doctrine of reincarnation. Even taken together. where reincarnation is fully accepted. Any psycho-mental element that defines personhood does not belong to the self or to the subtle body. As karma represents
. This boy was about 8 or 10 years old when I first saw him. A further indication for understanding spontaneous past life recall experiences by children is the fact that they are culturally dependent. and therefore ceases to exist at physical death. they do not offer anything like proof” (Omni Magazine 10(4):76 (1988)). Western children who have such experiences give only poor details that could permit verification. If this is the case. which is absurd. When checking some verifiable details is possible. The birthmark on the back was especially clearly seen. He had had an operation at the corner of his eye (right) at the upper part of his nose. Stevenson admitted: “All the cases I've investigated so far have shortcomings." So he died and about 18 months later his niece had a baby boy who was born with birthmarks precisely at these places. Memory is such an element. Karmashaya and sukshma sharira are a mere expression of the way karma records the debts of the past. I don't know what that was from. Although some say that these two elements act as a kind of unconscious memory of previous lives. they could be also suggestive of spirit possession. was forced to admit in his book Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation that the cases he studied. 1995). because memory belongs to the psycho-mental realm of personhood. Most cases are reported in India and other South Asian countries. The Asian cases are always richer in details than the Western ones. they usually turn out to be past experiences of other members of the family. If things were different. if memory could pass to further lives through reincarnation. the entity which reincarnates is the impersonal self (atman or purusha). I remember seeing and photographing these birthmarks. It had small round marks at the sides that looked exactly like the stitch marks of a surgical operation (Venture Inward Magazine. are only suggesting reincarnation and cannot be considered proofs for it. which could play the role of a transmissible personal memory from one life to another. it would have the same ontological nature as the self. Cultural conditioning certainly plays an important role in these phenomena.I recall one in which a man had predicted to his niece that he would come to her and he pointed out to her two marks on his body. and another on his back. For this reason Ian Stevenson. he said to his niece: "You will be able to recognize me because I will have these scars reproduced on my body as marks. September/October.
Metaphysical reasons for rejecting past life recall experiences as proofs for reincarnation Even if hypnotic regression and spontaneous recall of past life by children were free of any contradiction. They were scars of operations. Anyway. Usually it is said that the vehicle that carries the psychic impressions from one life to another is the subtle body (sukshma sharira in Vedanta) or the karmic deposit (karmashaya in Samkhya-Yoga). the well known researcher of this phenomena. as the very title of his book indicates. accompanied by karmic debt.
with mathematical exactitude. the "recalled" scenarios do not indicate which facts of the previous life produced the present incarnation. that reincarnation is true and has to be accepted in our belief. but only figure out cases when he was a victim or a simple observer of life around him. followed by paying the consequences in further lives.an impersonal and mechanical law which functions with mathematical precision. karma itself cannot justify one’s state at a certain moment. by rewarding all one’s deeds and thoughts in further lives. they are available only for the advanced Yogi. which could render some limited information about past lives (for instance Yoga-Sutra 3. probably as a result of misunderstanding the original doctrine of reincarnation and also because of their pseudo-scientific outlook. but only that past lives are real. At the time Stevenson was carrying out his studies among Indian children that remembered previous lives. Karma is simply pushing the self into a foreordained scenario. comfort those who cannot understand their present bad situation and also give hope for a further better life. (Click here for more information. most Eastern gurus do not consider experiences of past life recall as valid proofs for reincarnation. He commented on these cases: “Yes it is true [meaning reincarnation]. because we in India have all believed in reincarnation and have accepted it as a fact. C) Reincarnation and cosmic justice The most important argument for reincarnation is of a moral nature. but only try to prove that we lived previous lives. This would explain all inequalities we see among people. 1995). These kinds of experiences do not attempt to prove the justice of karma. For instance. without communicating which debts are to be paid from previous lives. but it does not make any difference. Because of the metaphysical considerations mentioned above. In other words. this is due to some wrong act that he may have committed in his previous birth. He will have his compensation in his next birth.) One’s karmic debts could at best be imagined intuitively. Not even the past life recall experiences give any information about the "sins" one did in his previous life. These stories are appreciated mostly by Westerners. The main argument for reincarnation in the East has another nature and will be analyzed next. and yet it has made no difference.18 mentions the possibility to know the previous birth through practicing samyama). September/October. We have as many rogues and villains in India as you have in the West" (Venture Inward Magazine. Swami Shivananda states: If the virtuous man who has not done any evil act in this birth suffers. it is supposed that a man who was murdered took his just reward for a murder he did himself in a previous life. They will manifest as good or bad happenings and circumstances. but only accumulation of karmic debt. so that everything one does will be justly punished or rewarded. According to karma. he met an Indian swami of the Ramakrishna order. Even though some special meditative techniques are mentioned. the veracity of the information gotten in altered states of consciousness is doubtful. It says that karma and reincarnation provide the perfect way to realize justice in our world. there is no forgiveness for the "sins" of the past. man cannot communicate with his karma. at both a quantitative and a qualitative level. If the wicked man who daily does many evil actions apparently enjoys in
. In other words. Even so.
and this represents liberation. in order to attain liberation. man has to work out his salvation alone. For this reason. or rather to bear alone the dictates of karma. In pantheism. the self is forced to enter a new illusory association with personhood until all fruits of past lives are consumed. Divine Life Society. In Buddhism. who receive and retain this discourse. and man ceases to exist as person at physical death. since no personal characteristics can be preserved from one incarnation of the impersonal self to the next. there are two main objections which contradict it: 1) As long as suffering (or the reward for good deeds) can be experienced only at a personal level (physical and psychical). If. this is due to some good Karma he must have done in his previous birth. where a personal god as Ultimate Reality is absent.) According to the reincarnation mechanism one person sows and another one reaps. The law of compensation is inexorable and relentless. but there it has a different meaning. contradicts the basic role of karma and would render useless its action. This mechanism. p. (Swami Shivananda. 1985. See for instance the following text: If it be that good men and good women. By virtue of their present misfortunes the reacting effects of their past will
. the saying "a man reaps what he sows" cannot be used as a way of expressing one’s reincarnationist ideas. granted by a god or a guru. In order to realize this. generated in another physical body. of one person accumulating karma and another bearing the consequences. Therefore. If not. Although it may seem that the mechanism of karma and reincarnation is the proper way to realize social justice. a new person is born each time the self enters a new human body. man is alone in his struggle with his past.this birth. a single life is not enough to consume it. as karma and God’s grace cannot be properly reconciled without totally compromising one of them. there is no more karmic debt left. Through asceticism and meditation. are downtrodden. the separation of the self from the illusory involvement with the physical and psychomental world is permanent. He will suffer in the next birth. will actually bear the consequences dictated by the karma of the deceased person. (Actually this saying is taken from the New Testament. at the moment of death. many lives become a necessity. The new person will bear the karma produced by the previous persons inhabited by the same self. their evil destiny is the inevitable retributive result of sins committed in their past mortal lives. fundamentally contradicting the idea of realizing perfect justice. where the very idea of a self who transmigrates is rejected. Even the theistic branches of Eastern religions are incapable of solving man’s loneliness in this struggle. The impersonal self (atman or purusha) which reincarnates has nothing to do with suffering. the idea of sowing and reaping is even more absurd. is rather unfair. 102) As the karmic debt man recorded in his past is considerably large. Practice of Karma Yoga. This is why natural disasters. it implies that another person. As a result.7. Grace. the claims of some gurus to be able to erase the karma of their disciples are absurd. it is a simple observer of the ongoing psycho-mental life. Galatians 6. he will have compensation in his next birth. plagues and accidents that affect innocent people cannot be explained away as being generated by karma.
As a result.6) This should be the logical solution for anyone trying to escape his karma.. (Acaranga Sutra 1. knowing all truth and not being known. Even thus he will in due time put an end to existence. Let’s take an example and see how the two objections actually work in the case of a real person. This happens with most people of our planet. (For a detailed study of this case and other important aspects of reincarnation see Mark Albrecht’s book
. From one generation to the next. man almost always reacts with indignation. the sum of karmic debt is always growing and this situation can never be solved. This has been adopted by many who were free from delusion. the results are astounding..be thereby worked out. "I am sick and not able. probably the best solution to attain liberation from reincarnation would be the Jain fasting to death. as it is said that most of us live in ignorance (avidya). and so accumulates a constantly growing karmic debt. Instead of adopting a passive attitude concerning the hardships that have to be endured. Common human experience proves that evil almost always generates evil and therefore a balance between good and evil cannot be reached. a vicious cycle is generated in which karmic debt is constantly growing.7. wholesome. to regularly mortify the flesh. proper. What kind of a justice is that which starts more problems than it solves? If it is most likely that one will always accumulate new karma instead of getting rid of it. crossing the samsara. Normally it is supposed that the person who is living out the consequences of his karma should do it in a spirit of resignation and submission. this radical solution is far from being accepted by most adherents of reincarnation. being immovable like a beam. it is good. Thus I say. But this ideal is far from reality. But even if they would literally fast to death.. However. This is the truth: speaking truth. leaving this frail body. at this time. it still could not guarantee the decrease of mankind’s karmic debt. as stated by Mahavira: If this thought occurs to a monk. as one accumulates more karma till the moment he adopts this kind of "holy" mortification than he could annihilate by using it. and they will be in a position to attain the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment (Diamond Sutra 16). he should take proper care of his body. abating irresoluteness. meritorious. beatifying. Who will actually work out the effects of his past? A new distribution of the five aggregates? Or who will actually attain enlightenment? A certain configuration of those impersonal five aggregates? How could this process render perfect justice? Perfect justice for whom? For an illusory personhood that disappears at physical death? 2) A second objection concerns the actual possibility of attaining liberation from karma and reincarnation. he accomplishes this fearful religious death. free from passion." that monk should regularly reduce his food. If we take the case of Adolf Hitler. regularly reducing his food and diminishing his sins. exerting himself he dissolves his body. Overcoming all sorts of pains and troubles through trust in this.
Any attempt to imagine what happens at a larger human scale would reveal a catastrophe impossible to ever be solved. right before any human person or circumstance of life could truly punish him. Second. Hitler died in 1945 and had to reincarnate as a child in order to bear the harsh consequences of his monstrous deeds. was dissolved at his physical death. while other persons. If reincarnation were true. Reincarnation cannot solve the problem of evil but only amplify it. The same happened in the case of Hitler himself. the only one who should have endured at physical and psychical level the results of his foolish deeds. there is a moral issue involved. there is no continuity between the person of Hitler and that of the individual who has to endure the hardships imposed by Hitler’s karma. First. a possible way of reacting consistently with the law of karma might lead to a total lack of compassion toward people who suffer.) There is no doubt that all adherents of reincarnation agree that many lives are needed for consuming his karmic debt. The most disgusting fact is that the person of Hitler. instead of solving the puzzle of global justice. it is almost certain that they will react with indignation instead of resignation to their situation. leaving the original evil unpunished. Then the next
. After the cruel life and death of this person. initiating a new chain of individuals who have to pay the consequences. he made his karma a lot worse during the years of The Third Reich. we reach a huge number of persons who pay his karma and accumulate a new one. This is just one case of human history. the problem worsened. karma and reincarnation cannot provide any kind of justice. Only the impersonal self will reincarnate. have to work out his bad karma. and anyone who dares to help him interferes with the unrolling of his karma and consequently is gathering bad karma for himself. As a result. 1982. the man who is the instrument of karma’s punishment records bad karma for himself and therefore will have to be punished at his turn. accompanied by its karmic deposit.InterVarsity Press. Starting with a single individual such as Hitler. 2) As a result of the hardships that have to be endured by the new incarnations of Hitler. The newborn person doesn’t know that he has to work out Hitler’s karma. and thus will accumulate a growing karmic debt. in a next life. The two objections can be stated as following: 1) The person of Hitler ceased to exist at the moment of his physical death. Whoever he was in a previous life. This results from analyzing the links that exist between people and their karma from a global perspective. One might think that the person who suffers deserves to be equitably punished.Reincarnation . other millions of reincarnations will succeed with the same tragic destiny. As suffering is the result of one’s bad deeds performed in previous lives. Each new reincarnation of Hitler becomes a source of newly acquired karma. There are two points to be made here. Therefore. at least its conservation should be admitted in human history. totally unaware of this situation and innocent. Even if disagreement persists in accepting the growth of evil as an effect of karma and reincarnation. Hitler will never be punished for his deeds because he ceased to exist. However.
The butcher was at the same time the instrument of working out one’s karmic debt and the generator of a new one for himself.e. it would seem absurd to have any feeling of compassion towards them. and thus has no significance on the larger scale of human society.) For instance. if reincarnation were a logical concept. Therefore the infringement of the non-violence principle becomes a necessity in order to fulfill karmic justice. The desire to kill has to be rewarded as well. Let’s examine these two points in the case of the millions of Jews who were killed in gas chambers by the Nazis during World War II. In a strange and contradictory way. The same reasoning could be used also back in time. but only a kind of eternal circus. According to this principle we should not participate in the killing of any living being. etc. An objection to this could be that killers may be punished (killed) in turn by other means. However. However. In this case it is considered that he doesn’t acquire new karma. A further analysis of karmic justice proves that the basic principle of Hindu morality.). which would require finding in each generation those millions of people executed and their executioners. Therefore. because they deserved to be killed like that. with implications difficult to grasp. the pig dying of a disease) because the butcher’s desire to kill the animal (for food or to earn his salary) also generates karma. This cannot be a solution for justice. not only the killing. not necessarily by involving other new acquirers of karma. the Nazis did the right thing against the Jews. But this implies that the executioners of the reincarnated Nazis will be killed in their turn.person who acts as the instrument of karma will have to be punished in his turn. The cycle would never end. after all. etc.47. One could conclude that. This opens a horrifying perspective on the past and future of mankind. to the few "detached" people that actually follow this rule. at best. that of non-killing (ahimsa). but also by the desires that lead to the actions. Neither in this case can the vicious cycle be stopped by natural means (i. A possible solution to this endless cycle would be that the one who acts as the instrument of karma in another one’s life should do it in a completely detached manner. otherwise we will reincarnate in order to pay the consequences. without bothering about moral values. as a result of crimes done by them in previous lives.
. The pig had to be slaughtered. Most people are far from considering themselves as detached executioners of karma in their neighbor’s life. in a similar way. such a solution would be limited. this option doesn’t work because karma is generated not only by the actions themselves. In other words. who had to be punished that way. without any interest in the results. the very principle of reincarnation contradicts the meaning of ahimsa and proves it to be futile. according to the demand of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (2. the butcher who slaughters a pig will have to reincarnate as a pig in order to be slaughtered in his turn. the fulfilling of karmic debt requires the punishment of its executioners. according to the dictates of karma. karma paradoxically acts through condemning the executioners of its "justice". Second. the killing of millions of Jews requires that their executioners should be killed in their turn. (This is the basis of eastern religious vegetarianism. First.19.. it would imply that it has neither a beginning nor an end. is absurd. in further lives. Natural calamities such as earthquakes could be the instrument of karma. However. Using this reasoning any conceivable crime of the past or present could be justified. because he probably was the reincarnation of another butcher. 3. etc. etc.
I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. belief in reincarnation cannot bring any beneficial result. Looking beyond the apparent comfort it provides to this life by promising further lives in which perfection may be attained. but have done to him everything they wished. Why then accept it as a major spiritual belief? D) Reincarnation and Christianity Today’s religious syncretism not only accepts reincarnation as one of its basic doctrines but also tries to prove that it can be found in the Bible and in the history of the Church. he (John the Baptist) is the Elijah who was to come." Right before this prophecy was fulfilled." (Matthew 17. 4) James 3.5-6): "See.” 1. see also Mark 9. and then find a proper explanation for the past life recall experiences mentioned earlier. Jesus told them: "But I tell you. 7) Revelation 13. through the birth of John the Baptist. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------Reincarnation and the Bible Biblical texts that seem to imply reincarnation The most "convincing" texts of this kind are the following: 1) Matthew 11. The prophecy of the return of Elijah was stated in the last verses of the Old Testament.2. ”all who draw the sword will die by the sword”. in the spirit and power of Elijah. with the sword he will be killed. morality and even common sense. examine the position of some important Church fathers who were suspected of having accepted it. 3) John 3.7.12-13) At first sight. Elijah has already come. "A man reaps what he sows".3.10. emphasize the basic antagonism of this doctrine with Christian teaching. to
. concerning the identity of John the Baptist.52. supposed to be the reincarnation of the prophet Elijah.14 Jesus says: "And if you are willing to accept it. that he was born blind?". If anyone is to be killed with the sword. "Who sinned. in the book of the prophet Malachi (3. while answering the apostles about the coming of Elijah. it may seem that these verses imply the reincarnation of the prophet Elijah as John the Baptist.14 and 17.12-13.In conclusion. social justice. an angel announced to his father Zechariah: "And he will go on before the Lord. the concept of reincarnation stands in contradiction with logic. 2) John 9. an explanation that should be compatible with Christian thought. In Matthew 11.12-13. "the wheel of nature".1. 5) Galatians 6. We will therefore analyze the basic texts in the Bible which are claimed to imply reincarnation.6." In the same Gospel. but only resignation and despair in facing fate." The commentary adds: "Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands. into captivity he will go. ”If anyone is to go into captivity. The first text concerns the identity of John the Baptist. and they did not recognize him. 4. 6) Matthew 26. "No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again". this man or his parents.
surely He would have used this opportunity . but this happened so that the
. What could be the meaning of the words "in the spirit and power of Elijah"? According to other Biblical passages that refer to Elijah and John the Baptist. that he was born blind?". 2. with the mission of bringing the people back to the right worship of God. It rather confirms that some religious factions believed that the fetus can sin in his mother womb. If Jesus had considered reincarnation to be true. the experience of the three apostles at the Mount of Transfiguration has to be remembered (Matthew 17. Jesus said: "Neither this man nor his parents sinned." His negation suggests another meaning to the words quoted from Matthew 11. but not the same soul or self.12-13. but as a necessary repetition of a well-known episode in the history of Israel.14 and 17. by the answer Jesus gave to them. the apostles' question about the possibility of having sinned before birth should not necessarily be judged as indicating an existing belief in reincarnation at that time in Israel.21) In such circumstances a true "guru" wouldn’t have hesitated to state his position in the succession of spiritual masters (the guru parampara) of the tradition he is representing.2-8. Luke 9.17). However. In the case of Elijah this didn’t happen. Considering the apostles' question: "Rabbi. For this reason the expression "in the spirit and power of Elijah" should not be interpreted as reincarnation of a person. Mark 9. a prophet who had to repeat the mission of Elijah in a similar context. They asked: "Are you Elijah?" (John 1. a person has to die physically first in order that his self may be reincarnated in another body. and reincarnation would have been a crucial doctrine for them to understand.to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1.as was His custom . who sinned. they do not teach reincarnation. He rejected both options suggested by the apostles. and to the rule of reincarnation. So it must be considered an exception to both the natural process of death.turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous-. The same as Elijah did. he might have been a cruel dictator who got the just reward for his bad deeds.28-36). it is obvious that the first option (the man was born blind because of his sin) implies that he could sin only in a previous life. Elijah didn’t die in the proper sense of the word.11). this man or his parents. According to the classic theory of reincarnation. However. John the Baptist answered simply: "I am not. the priests in Jerusalem asked him about his identity. Finally. The next disputed text is the introduction to the healing of the man born blind in John 9. Both the idea of sinning before birth and the punishment for the parents' sins were wrong. Jesus never missed such occasions to instruct his disciples on spiritual matters. John the Baptist was rather a kind of Elijah. Nevertheless. but "went up to heaven in a whirlwind" (2 Kings 2. as an immediate application to that man’s situation.1-8. John the Baptist had to suffer persecution from the royal house of Israel and acted in the context of the spiritual degeneration of the Jewish nation.2. John the Baptist had the same spiritual mission as the prophet Elijah. when Elijah was identified by the apostles without being confused with John the Baptist.to explain to them the law of karma and reincarnation. At the time when John the Baptist began his public preaching. According to the classic theory of reincarnation. Another Biblical text that contradicts the reincarnation theory in this case is the story of Elijah’s departure from this world.
That episode occurred while the Israelites were travelling in the wilderness toward the Promised Land under the command of Moses (see Numbers 21. God’s solution was that Moses had to make a bronze copy of such a snake and put it up on a pole. and not classic reincarnation: "How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" (v. this verse seems to suggest that reincarnation is the only possibility for attaining spiritual perfection and admission into the "kingdom of God"." The tongue out of control is compared with a fire that affects all aspects of existence. Those who had been bitten by a snake had to look at this bronze snake. the only antidote to the deadly bite of sin. his generation and the entire world to believe that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the perfect solution provided by God for the sins of the world. Jesus further explained the meaning of His words by referring to a well-known episode in Israel’s history: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert. and is itself set on fire by hell. This means that sinful speech is at the origin of many other sins. They spoke against God and against Moses. In the Gospel According to John Jesus said to Nicodemus: "I tell you the truth. believing that this symbol represented their salvation. The NIV translation is clearer at this point: "The tongue also is a fire.work of God might be displayed in his life" (John 9."
. in order to be admitted into God’s kingdom in the afterlife. and then God punished them by sending poisonous snakes against them.14). in the same way was He to be lifted up on the cross. as Moses lifted up the bronze snake 1400 years earlier. in order to be the only solution. during this life. Grasping the gravity of the situation. so the Son of Man must be lifted up" (John 3. which defileth the whole body. Jesus rejected the idea of physical rebirth and explained man’s need for spiritual rebirth.4-9). when Jesus healed the blind man as a proof of His divinity (v.3).14-15).3). and is set on fire by hell. they recognized their sin and asked for a saving solution. Nicodemus’ following question indicates that he understood by these words a kind of physical rebirth in this life. Therefore the kind of rebirth Jesus was teaching (as well as Paul – see Titus 3. in a vicious cycle. in this context the reference is made to the control of speech in order not to sin. so the Son of Man must be lifted up. 39). and setteth on fire the wheel of nature. "The work of God" is described in the next verses. 4). which are consequently generated. It corrupts the whole person. and were healed. that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3. 3. In other words. He said: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert.6. 4. thought and deed. As the Jews had to believe that the bronze snake was their salvation from death. a world of evil among the parts of the body. Coming back to the link Jesus made between that episode and His teaching. where some translations (such as the American Standard Version) mention "the wheel of nature" which seems to resemble the cycle of endless reincarnation stated by the Eastern religions. However. A fourth text interpreted as indicative for reincarnation is found in the Epistle of James 3. Out of its context. no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (John 3. the same way had Nicodemus.5) is not the Eastern concept of reincarnation but a spiritual rebirth that any human can experience in this life. sets the whole course of his life on fire. The ASV translation states: "And the tongue is a fire: the world of iniquity among our members is the tongue. and conduct man to hell.
19-20. from that nature will reap destruction. This verse belongs to a prophecy that speaks about the end times. throughout the Old Testament this law was referring solely to one’s present physical life. by no means to future lives. with the sword he will be killed" (Revelation 13. He chooses how to punish those who have rejected Him. However. those for starvation. "If anyone is to go into captivity. while "eternal life" represents eternal communion with God in heaven. see also Exodus 21. It is not the impersonal law of karma here but the will of the personal creator God. the one who sows to please the Spirit. Although heroic. In their given context. when Satan and his subjects will have temporary power on earth. these verses cannot suggest the reincarnation of the soul after death.8. "Reaping destruction" means eternal separation from God in hell. the very next verse here indicates that the point here is judging the effects of our deeds from the perspective of eternal life. from the Spirit will reap eternal life" (6.10). see also the entire chapter). However. Deuteronomy 19. the supreme judge of our deeds is God. (See also Jeremiah 43. as stated in the Bible.) The
.5.Genesis 9. those for captivity. it went against God’s plan ("How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" – verse 54). Otherwise Jesus’ words would lead to an absurd implication. Jesus rebuked him by saying: "All who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Matthew 26. according to the well-known Old Testament law of sin retribution. A man reaps what he sows" (Galatians 6.6. If anyone is to be killed with the sword.2). into captivity he will go. Could this be the justice of karma in action? All four gospels give account of Jesus’ rebuke to Peter’s initiative. which uses the same words for announcing the punishment of Egypt for its sins.7). 7. According to Christianity. 'Where shall we go?' tell them. to captivity'" (Jeremiah 15.23-25. to the sword.11. for in the image of God has God made man" .52). A classic example of suggesting karma and samsara in the Bible is often claimed to be represented by the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians: "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. 6. the sinner must be punished consistently ("Whoever sheds the blood of man. Adherents of reincarnation must be aware that it is a quotation from the Old Testament: "And if they ask you. and not impersonal karma. then His crucifixion (which followed soon after) must have been a punishment for His sins done in previous lives and not a solution for other people’s sins as He claimed. This sentence was written by Jeremiah just before the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile (586 BC) and expresses God’s punishment of the sinful Jewish nation at that time. Leviticus 24. which had rejected Him. without a further earthly existence being involved: "The one who sows to please his sinful nature. to death. 'This is what the LORD says: "'Those destined for death.21). by man shall his blood be shed. Peter was in this case sinning and. After Peter had cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant in his attempt to prevent Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane. those for the sword. This "sowing and reaping" process would allegedly represent someone’s acts and their consequences as dictated by karma in further lives. If He meant that killing someone in this life with a sword will require that the doer will be killed at his turn with a sword in a future life. to starvation.
so that the passages teaching reincarnation were removed? Some people hold that the Bible contained many passages teaching reincarnation in an alleged initial form. Matthew 25. do not show differences from the text we use today. by Prof. 2 Corinthians 5. the unique historical act of Jesus’ crucifixion and the fact that we live only once are equally true and cannot be
. T. in all situations where "Biblical proofs" for reincarnation are mentioned. the existence of Christ prior to His human birth (John 8. Therefore they should act in "patient endurance and faithfulness" as Revelation 13. but they were erased and forbidden by the clergy at the fifth ecumenical council. explicitly or implicitly.28-29. the continuity of the souls' existence after death (John 5.14. decided to erase from the Bible the "compromising" passages about reincarnation. Psalm 78. who could not grasp the doctrine at that time. and he will appear a second time. Revelation 20. held in Constantinople in the year 533 AD.) Here is one verse in the New Testament which contradicts reincarnation as clearly as possible: Just as man is destined to die once.1.1). The Christian teaching that we live only once is a fact beyond doubt. or the desire of the clergy to manipulate the masses.22-23. (See for instance 2 Samuel 12. Luke 16. However.5. or the spiritual rebirth of believers in their present life (Titus 3. without giving any plausible indication for reincarnation. France At the same time. There are enough reasons to accept that the New Testament was not written later than the first century AD. The existing manuscripts.31-46.39-43. as alleged. there is no proof that such "purification" of the Biblical text has ever occurred. In order to get more information on the accuracy of the present text of the Bible use the following sites: Dating the Oldest New Testament Manuscripts.23.23). as He did in the ancient times.1115.8.10 adds.58). by Peter van Minnen Textual Criticism and Manuscript Interpretation The Gospels As Historical Sources For Jesus. R. it is obvious that there are many texts in the Bible that clearly contradict the idea of reincarnation. if the clergy had.27-28). The reason for this would have been the spiritual immaturity of the Christians. etc.9-10. * As it can be observed.)? On the other hand. so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people. in fact. and after that to face judgment.39. Acts 17. many of them older than AD 533. but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Hebrews 9. 2 Corinthians 5. 14. Luke 23. Other passages used as indications of reincarnation mean. why did they keep the ones mentioned above (concerning the identity of John the Baptist.author of Revelation used this quotation for assuring those involved in the events to come that God will do justice again. In other words.4. the context is always ignored. not to bear sin. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------Did the clergy rewrite the Bible. being as true as the fact that Jesus had to die only once for our sins. The Founder Of Christianity.31. 1 Peter 1. Job 7.
and the soul which has seen most of truth shall come to the birth as a philosopher. or an eternal separation from Him in hell. but that of the personal almighty God. The souls that fail to aspire to perfection and live in ignorance are judged after their earthly life and then punished in "the houses of correction. Reincarnation according to Platonism The dominant form of reincarnation known by ancient Greek philosophy during the first three Christian centuries belongs to Platonism. Many important figures of the early church had this spiritual background when they were converted. which are under the earth". and fails to behold the truth. not into any other animal. Plato taught that human souls existed since eternity in a perfect celestial world as intelligent and personal beings. they fell in physical bodies to this earthly. Plato states that "ten thousand years must elapse before the soul of each one can return to the place from whence she came". after which man either enters an eternal personal relation with Him in heaven. When addressing their world with the Christian message. as a result. This text cannot possibly be interpreted otherwise. Plato writes in Phaedrus about this: But when she <the celestial soul is unable to follow. They were not manifested out of a primordial impersonal essence (such as Brahman) or created by a personal god. or artist. they had to do it without any syncretistic compromise to Greek philosophy. In the same work. It does not represent a voyage of an impersonal essence (as atman) toward an impersonal merging with the Absolute (Brahman). imperfect world. The judgment that follows death is obviously not the judgment of the impersonal karma. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------Did the early Church fathers believe in reincarnation? Early Christianity spread in a world dominated by Greek philosophy. then the law ordains that this soul shall at her first birth pass. or some musical and loving nature. For this reason "the soul of a man may pass into the life of a beast. somehow the divine love grew cold in them and. or from the beast return again into the man". and through some ill-hap sinks beneath the double load of forgetfulness and vice. Although the souls lived there in a pure state. This is the Platonist idea of reincarnation. Between Platonism and Eastern religions there is a big difference concerning man’s identity
. One lifetime is not enough to return to the original celestial state of purity.separated. Unlike the Eastern spiritual masters. but only into man. but only a temporary punishment on the way back towards a purified personal existence (the state of pure being). we first have to understand what was actually taught about reincarnation at that time. and her wings fall from her and she drops to the ground. To what extent could they have been influenced by the doctrine of reincarnation? In order to answer this. Only the soul of the philosopher or of the lover can get back to its original state in less time (three thousand years).
In fact. Although it is a fact that Origen was strongly influenced by Platonism prior to his conversion to Christianity. He refutes the speculation of considering John the Baptist the reincarnation of Elijah (Matthew 11. Origenism has incorporated these Platonistic ideas and they were condemned at the council of Constantinople. and have been called men. For instance. The condemned ideas are very close related to what Plato has stated in Phaedrus. in mansions fairer far than these. 533 AD).12-13). The 15 Anathemas Against Origen.14. This article will give you a sound perspective on what he actually taught and what was later condemned as Origenism. Many adherents of reincarnation mention him today as a classic example proving the alleged early Christian belief in reincarnation. which is supposed to have been condemned and forbidden by the fifth ecumenical council (Constantinople. besides universalism and a wrong form of Christology. and dwell in the purer earth. and go to their pure home which is above. writings and teachings. Then see the act of refuting Origenism by the fifth ecumenical council. written in the last years of his life. and those who have duly purified themselves with philosophy live henceforth altogether without the body. which may not be described. 17. Origen and Origenism The most controversial early church father concerning his alleged beliefs on reincarnation is undoubtedly Origen (185-254). there is no clear concept of reincarnation mentioned at this council of the early church. and of which the time would fail me to tell. but only the Platonist ideas concerning the pre-existence of souls. the claim that he believed in reincarnation is absurd.1). Plato’s meaning of salvation is definitely personal. while those who have attained the lowest degree of wickedness have shared cold and obscure bodies and are become and called demons and evil spirits: let him be anathema. As it can easily be observed. Before using any quotes from his writings. How did these ideas affect the beliefs of the early church fathers? We will now proceed to examine the most important cases of early church fathers accused of holding reincarnationist convictions. certainly not some classic form of reincarnation. as is claimed today. Origen rejected plainly this doctrine in his Commentary on Matthew (Book XIII. a text we mentioned earlier. Origen writes:
. Therefore it cannot be stated that Origenism taught a classic form of reincarnation. we strongly advise you to read the file Origen and Origenism in order to get a brief description of Origen’s life. the fourth anathema states: If anyone shall say that the reasonable creatures in whom the divine love had grown cold have been hidden in gross bodies such as ours. as main heresies to be rejected. as can be understand from Phaedo: Those also who are remarkable for having led holy lives are released from this earthly prison.in general and reincarnation in particular.
Justin Martyr (100-165) His opinion on reincarnation is plainly stated in the following fragment of his Dialogue with Trypho 1." and that "this age shall have a consummation. Irenaeus (130-200)
. and they would be afraid to commit even the most trivial sin afterwards. I would say that they are not punished unless they are conscious of the punishment.4 (155 AD)." and also to the fulfillment of the saying. that it is for this reason they are in such forms. "Heaven and earth shall pass away. The old man: "And what do those suffer who are judged to be unworthy of this spectacle?" said he." said he. In the same commentary.’" Origen’s whole commentary on this text is a refutation of the reincarnation theory. which prove that it cannot have been one of their beliefs. then. Origen adds: "For. as it seems: moreover. But that they can perceive that God exists." Justin: "No indeed. nor anywhere set forth in the Scriptures." and what follows. Use the links in order to get a larger picture on their writings." The old man: "Do they know. and this is their punishment. Other early church fathers vs. Reincarnation Here are some quotations from other early church fathers concerning their opinion on reincarnation. and that righteousness and piety are honourable. Therefore it is obvious that he cannot be considered at all an "early Christian adherent of reincarnation". for they would know that so they are punished. for it is also in opposition to the saying that "things seen are temporal. I also quite agree with you. and that they have committed some sin?" Justin: "I do not think so. part one. observe. Justin: "[According to Plato] They are imprisoned in the bodies of certain wild beasts. in which case the doctrine of transmigration might have some ground. unless he remember this fact. Justin: "You are right. and not handed down by the Apostles. which is foreign to the church of God. where he discusses Platonism with Trypho the Jew: The old man: "What. but ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah." I answered. he did not say in the ‘soul’ of Elijah." and "the heavens shall perish." The old man: "Then these reap no advantage from their punishment. that he has seen?" Justin: "I cannot tell.In this place it does not appear to me that by Elijah the soul is spoken of. under the title "The spirit and power of Elijah" ." and "the fashion of this world passeth away. lest I should fall into the dogma of transmigration.not the soul were in the Baptist. is the advantage to those who have seen [God]? Or what has he who has seen more than he who has not seen." I replied. chapter 4. then." The old man: "Therefore souls neither see God nor transmigrate into other bodies.
They tell us that one of their sages said that he. He writes: If. without intermission. which was not only shameful. 28-33).In his well-known treatise Against Heresies (Book II). Tertullian traces the origin of reincarnationist ideas down to Pythagoras. AD 533). Tertullian (145-220) In his Treatise on the Soul (see ch. round the same pursuits. go far from the truth: for such doctrines as this of saying that one soul passed through so many changes are really fitting for the chatter of frogs or jackdaws. His conclusion is that "we must likewise contend against that monstrous presumption. and obtained the life of an aquatic creature. that they might fill up those in which they were still deficient. however excellent in other respects. so far as I can judge. then no doubt did the famous Pythagoras. and flew about with the birds. was born a man. This well-researched article refutes the notion that the early church believed in reincarnation. . or the insensibility of trees. but also hazardous. so it cannot be true that the doctrine of reincarnation was condemned and
. The whole chapter criticizes this doctrine. indeed. and afterwards assumed the form of a woman. and human beings from beasts". and also the concept of reincarnation in the 28th chapter of his treatise On the Making of Man: Those who assert that the state of souls is prior to their life in the flesh. emphasizing the futility of an alleged reincarnation devoid of any memory of past lives: They (the souls) must of necessity retain a remembrance of those things which have been previously accomplished. Gregory of Nyssa (335-395) Finally. he will find that their doctrine is of necessity brought down to this. the sophist of Samos is Plato's authority for the eternally revolving migration of souls out of a constant alternation of the dead and the living states. and grew as a bush. using many references to support its argument. being one and the same person. the master theologian of that time rejected in his turn any idea of predestination (as an impersonal law like karma might impose) in his writing Against Fate. spend their labour wretchedly in vain. and not by always hovering. Irenaeus entitled the 33rd chapter "Absurdity of the Doctrine of the Transmigration of Souls". that in the course of the transmigration beasts pass from human beings. do not seem to me to be clear from the fabulous doctrines of the heathen which they hold on the subject of successive incorporation: for if one should search carefully.A Catholic Viewpoint. See also: Reincarnation . for the purpose of fabricating such an opinion as this. What did early Christians believe about reincarnation) All these early church fathers lived before the fifth ecumenical council (Constantinople. or the stupidity of fishes. rely on a falsehood.and he who said these things of himself did not.
being always rejected as heresy by the early church fathers.forbidden only as a result of that council. it renders futile God’s sovereignty over creation. The amorality proposed by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. and the multiple personality phenomenon. originated in their previous lives. Therefore it is hard to believe that accepting reincarnation would transform us into better people. the sacrifice of Christ becomes useless and absurd. As was previously mentioned. by the use of hypnosis. An extreme application of reincarnationist convictions could lead to adopting a detached stand to crime.10-15). It wouldn’t be the only way back to God. is the highest moral status that can be reached as the result of accepting karma and reincarnation.
. it has nothing in common with the teachings of the early church. transforming Him into a helpless spectator of the human tragedy. reincarnation represents a threat to the very essence of Christianity: the need for Christ’s redemptive sacrifice for our sins. Following this reasoning. As a result. pursuing moral values with more conviction. how can the experiences of past life recall be explained? An answer compatible with Christian theology can be found following the attempts of psychiatry to find an equivalence between evoking "personalities from past lives". In this case Christianity would be a mere form of Hindu BhaktiYoga. First. believing in reincarnation may affect one’s understanding of morality and motivation for moral living. They could be considered nothing else but normal debts to be paid by their victims. lying and other such social plagues. Although reincarnation was taught by some non-Christian movements of that time. as a brutal act of manipulating Christianity by the clergy. There is no need for impersonal karma and reincarnation to play this role. they are all doomed to remain pure speculations. social injustice should not be punished at all in order to not complicate even more someone’s karmic debt. Revelation 20. Third. but only a stupid accident of history.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Why cannot Christianity accept reincarnation? The idea of reincarnation was never accepted by Christianity because it undermines its basic tenets. such as the Gnostics and the Neo-Platonists. as reincarnationists usually claim. If we are to pay for the consequences of our sins ourselves in further lives and attain salvation through our own efforts. the demand to act totally detached from what results. no matter how many attempts are made today to find texts in the Bible or in the history of the Church that would allegedly teach reincarnation. theft.31-46. Because He is sovereign and omnipotent over creation. Second.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------If reincarnation isn’t true. God can punish evil and will do it perfectly well at the end of history (see Matthew 25.
it appears obvious that such "external personal entities" exist. The only reason for rejecting the hypothesis that past life recall stories are pure fiction invented by these entities is the sheer belief in their honesty. Parapsychologists tend to attribute the "director’s" role to some personal external entities.14-15). or who decides which one is to act next in the show? It cannot be a random process. a concept that blatantly contradicts the essence of Christianity but at the same time fits well with their purpose? If the best conditions are created to express themselves through the person undergoing hypnosis (when self-consciousness is abolished). This picture is obviously very close to what is happening during hypnotic regression. Hypnosis generates perfect conditions for contacting these entities as a result of abolishing normal consciousness. Until now enough cases of external spirit interference in producing reincarnation stories have been discovered. Using the words of Ian Wilson. Those who are aware of them accept them as precious aids in the recollection process. then. for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. If we accept Biblical revelation. Most people are not aware of these undesirable parasitic attachments while recollecting alleged past lives stories. The Apostle Paul states: And no wonder. mental functioning and emotions of the person involved. if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. This phenomenon is known to most religions. and have sufficient reason to lie us about spiritual reality. Their end will be what their actions deserve (2 Corinthians 11. how much more are they available for demons? If humans are capable of creating historical scenarios using the facts they know. "the show must have a ‘director’".there remains an unexplained element in the attempt to understand both phenomena on a purely naturalistic basis: How are the personalities distributed in their roles. which act through the process of channeling. At the age when they recall the alleged past lives (generally between two and five years of
. It is not surprising. admitting that demons exist and do their best to fool us about spiritual reality. Instead of presenting their true identity. being capable of producing sensations and symptoms in the physical body. if humans know them. why not accept their possible involvement in producing reincarnation proofs. The parasite spirit exerts control over the behavior. they could introduce themselves as personalities evoked from previous lives. why should they not act? Why should they not respond to the invitation to fulfill their purpose in such a fascinating way for a credulous and ignorant public? The experience of spirit possession represents full or partial takeover of a human by an external spiritual entity (a demon). They are called demons and have developed most ingenious techniques to fool mankind about spiritual reality. the mechanism could be similar. Why then reject its explanation as spirit possession and believe in past life recall? As to the information they produce from alleged previous lives in the form of historical accounts that correspond to some extent with reality (but always are most suited to win people’s trust). Now if we pass from the realm of parapsychology to Christian teaching. how much more could demons prove equally creative? In the case of "spontaneous past life recall" by children.
we have to evaluate it critically. concluded in his book Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation that they are only "suggesting" reincarnation and not "proving" it. before accepting a certain religion as our own spiritual path toward Ultimate Reality. 3) viability. but without being true spiritual paths. but cannot establish by itself what must be the truth. we should have a similar attitude when dealing with our quest for Ultimate Reality. As Ian Stevenson. in general) does not work here because logic has to be transcended in order to grasp higher realities. our capacity to know and discern between truth and falsehood would be dramatically affected by incoherence. even if a certain religious system seems to lack any obvious inconsistencies. a well-known researcher of past life recall experiences. However. not just one. Four criteria to evaluate any religious perspective
All religions try to formulate a unitary and comprehensive perspective on Ultimate Reality and how man should relate to it. Finding relevant criteria to test a spiritual path is not an easy task. For this we need the next criteria. In a previous section on this phenomenon we have seen that there are cases when the alleged soul’s reincarnation overlaps with the personality of the child. it does not necessarily mean that it should be accepted on this single basis. From a Christian perspective however. If it states that the law of non-contradiction (and logic.age) their spiritual discernment is not formed yet. presenting typical symptoms of demonic possession. 4) contradiction with other religious perspectives. Hypothetically. many coherent systems could exist. especially considering the fact that they should cover all domains of human experience.
. there is no possible way to reconcile Christianity and reincarnation. This criterion proves what is false. drink or any other elementary need. We suggest the use of the following four: 1) internal consistency. 2) harmony between empirical knowledge and absolute (religious or mystical) knowledge. using criteria with enough relevance to anyone. In conclusion. As we do not accept almost anything without first examining it critically. they rather suggest demon possession and therefore should not be used as a method of getting information on spiritual reality. Let us explain what they mean: 1) Internal consistency requires that no obvious internal contradiction should exist in the religious or philosophical system we study. whether it is food. However. which makes them vulnerable to demon manipulation.
Starting from here. Anything else should be abandoned. obtained through man’s normal knowing abilities (sensory and mental). and no liar would ever benefit from his lies. man’s condition. harmony and complementarity. that a certain religion should state a harmonious relation between empirical knowledge. as its name suggests. a specific understanding of some related issues such as freedom. may be valid only for the hermit. we cannot ignore the need for pragmatic principles of conduct.
4) If all religions address the same issues and there are basic contradictions between them. for instance) and undermines its own use. and whither do we go?" or in other words. But when all have the right to lie. giving no pattern to integrate all the members of society in a viable system.
. especially when compared to Christianity. The religions we analyze admit both an empirical and an absolute way of knowledge. so that this criterion requires a right balance between them. From this requirement it does not follow that Ultimate Reality should be known exclusively using our empirical abilities of knowledge. “What is the meaning of our existence?” In answering these questions. neither would this criterion be enough in determining its truthfulness. As we have seen in the previous files on how the world religions define Ultimate Reality. In this case we would belong to an atheist system of thought.
3) The criterion of viability (or pragmatism) requires that a certain religion should work in personal and social life. a religion should have relevant answers to the fundamental questions of human existence. a religion should not demand that one ignore social life. In our situation as socially interdependent beings.2) The criterion of harmony between empirical and absolute knowledge requires. However. Man is by his very essence a social being and needs right patterns in order to live in harmony with his neighbors. such as those posed by the author of the Shvetashvatara Upanishad (1. nobody will be trusted anymore. In other words.1): “Whence are we born? Whereby do we live. if we were to accept lying as a valid principle of social conduct. and what is called direct knowledge of the Ultimate Reality. This point should already be clear. In other words. and compassion will necessarily develop. we should accept all lies as being valid. as if they were mutually exclusive. we should accept as principles only those we would like to be followed by all members of society. As a result of the given possibility to know what Ultimate Reality is. the principle of external contradiction suggests that they cannot all be equally true. The religion that fails to regulate social life. there are major disagreements between them. a religion should not state an insurmountable barrier between empirical and absolute knowledge. So the principle of admitting lies turns against its very purpose (making one’s life easier. salvation and the nature of evil. For instance. morality. so there is no need to re-emphasize it over and over in the following analysis of different religious perspectives. if a certain religion lacked viability.
Far from being purely rationalistic. The Mandukya Upanishad (12). Zaehner. nor of both together: it is not a mass of wisdom. Critical considerations regarding pantheist religions and philosophies
We will now proceed to evaluate how the first three criteria mentioned in the previous file are fulfilled by a pantheistic view of life.M. It is unseen.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------1) Internal consistency of Hindu pantheism As mentioned in a previous file on the Vedantic view on liberation. such an approach should not be refused by stating that religion is the domain of pure mysticism. there can be no commerce with it. it cannot be designated. 5). he it is who should be known. it is claimed that the unity atman-Brahman is perfectly attained during the last level of meditation. (Translated by R. “that which is accepted or believed in without sufficient inquiry is not only bad philosophy. Although all religions’ aim is to formulate a right relation between man and Ultimate Reality and not only to give a theoretical understanding of it. Quoting Shankara. it is impalpable. ends with the following verse: The fourth state has cognizance of neither what is inside nor what is outside. which is beyond our natural abilities of investigation.C. has no characteristics. p. it is tranquil and mild. Its essence is its firm conviction of the oneness of itself. it causes the phenomenal world to cease. unthinkable. p. we still need to emphasize the importance of the second criterion mentioned above. Invitation to Indian Philosophy. all religious perspectives necessarily include a supernatural dimension. in Mysticism . called turiya. Such do they consider this fourth to be. 154)
. but also prevents one from reaching the goal of perfection and results in evil” (from T. However. it is not wise nor yet unwise. He is the Self. the well known Hindu philosopher. Far from trying to reduce Ultimate Reality to what our limited mind could comprehend (which would be an atheistic approach to religion). devoid of duality. an intelligent approach to religion should still be possible.P.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------The four above-mentioned criteria rest only on our natural abilities of testing the truthfulness of a certain religion. Mahadevan. The classic example of pantheist philosophy was stated by the Upanishads (7th to 5th century BC) and then developed by the Hindu philosopher Shankara to become the well-known Advaita Vedanta philosophy.Sacred and Profane. considered by Shankara to express the quintessence of Vedanta philosophy.
through certain meditation techniques. Terms such as “direct knowledge of truth” represent the actual experiences one has in meditation. this has no logical basis. But who actually has this experience? Who can confirm that liberation is the highest point of one’s existence. In conclusion. If the cognitive experience belongs not to man but to Brahman. II. 640). S. p. Man cannot know something with which he has to impersonally merge. because atman and Brahman are one. which makes differences and operates with them. but only Brahman. Therefore. On the other hand. because the elementary duality between knower (subject) and known (object) is obliterated. Meditation is a way of transcending duality through entering altered states of consciousness. The point here is that Ultimate Reality cannot be known in a pantheist religion. or. As a result. we get rid of it by true knowledge. Duality is essential for any type of epistemological process.
. in this given context. 622).” (Ibid.. In order to find out more about the veracity of these experiences. click here. because Brahman can only know himself. when there are no real distinctions between atman and Brahman. there is nothing left to describe the liberation experience. a better term that replaces the concept of knowing.) S. It doesn’t represent an actual process of knowing. is that of experiencing unity with Ultimate Reality. the pantheistic premise of oneness generates internal inconsistencies in the system (or at least an incoherent epistemology). Radhakrishnan states: “As the distinction between the highest self and the individual is one of false knowledge. not even one’s own experience (called “true knowledge”) can really be a valid way of knowing Brahman. it is not the individual knower who has the cognitive experience. p. (The laws of logic are the result of our dual thinking. and considering real only that which is one with Brahman. When transcending any duality. there is a logical contradiction between these two elements. in other words. nothing can be known anymore. no normal knowledge can be involved. so logic itself does not work in a system where any duality is excluded. that is beyond any duality? If any personal attribute is lost. a way of deliberately perverting one’s natural cognitive faculties (senses and mind).This passage emphasizes the necessity for transcending any duality in order to know Brahman (the Self). Radhakrishnan defines liberation as “the highest experience where all intellectual activity is transcended and even self-consciousness is obliterated” (Indian Philosophy. if personhood ceases to exist? An impersonal atman. vol. However. Although the Hindu Vedanta claims that Brahman is known at the moment of liberation. When the subject is atman and the object Brahman. but rather a way of imposing a non-dual reality to one’s consciousness. This “true knowledge” corresponds to experiencing a pantheistic perspective on reality. We reached this strange conclusion as a result of both denying the importance of man’s personal status distinct from Ultimate Reality. the "knowledge of atman-Brahman identity" cannot be considered a real epistemological process.
it is impossible to state a logical balance between absolute reality and worldly illusion. the senses. are considered to provide illusory and confusing information when trying to grasp spiritual reality. which is Brahman.2) The requirement for harmony between empirical and absolute knowledge in Hindu pantheism Not only knowing Ultimate Reality is impossible in a pantheist system. which operates with this data. bound to its illusion. Therefore. such as experience (the effect of living out “reality” in one’s personal life. we arrive at what is called revelation in a theistic system.) Because of the impossibility of harmonizing absolute and empirical knowledge. The problem with this way of interpreting empirical knowledge is that we can consider it illusory only by using an objective standard as reference. If the required standard were an internal one. but this obviously cannot be the case. What could be the standard for establishing the illusory value of empirical knowledge? If it is a god. which represents a totally different religious perspective. we arrive at another contradiction of an epistemological nature: If we knew from experience that phenomenological knowledge is false. From an ontological point of view. according to which the phenomenal world is ultimately illusory. In this situation. a supplementary difficulty arises in discerning between what is real and what is not. or experiencing life as suffering). as long as all information we get about spiritual reality is mediated by our senses (sight and hearing) and mind. a being external to our system and able to communicate with humans. we should accept duality and intelligible communication inside a dualistic system. In Advaita Vedanta the option was to consider the world either an illusion (maya). he cannot know what is wrong with his empirical way of knowing. as well as mind. They perpetuate man’s ignorance (avidya) of the true reality. in a closed system where illusion works as a rule. But as illusion and ignorance belong themselves to the phenomenal reality. and say “I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly. In other words. and therefore feed karma. or first hand. there are enough people practicing Eastern meditation who have real problems in discerning between what belongs to real life and what (really) is illusion. and these have ultimately illusory value. experience. so it should be rejected. As long as the knower is inside the system.
. This consequent difficulty results from the doctrine of world-illusion (maya). or whether I am now a butterfly. or a result of ignorance (avidya). we can prove that empirical knowledge is true or false only by comparing it to an absolute standard. Without this epistemological basis we cannot make objective judgments on reality. Although this may seem to be too speculative. one cannot explain its existence in regard to absolute truth. A pantheist can reach the same existential doubt as Chuang Tzu. but also balancing empirical and absolute knowledge. through which we interact with the phenomenal world. which must not belong to the same system. how can we know that the pantheist perspective itself is not a deceptive illusion? (We learn about it primarily by using the same empirical knowledge. then no room would be left for reaching “absolute knowledge” because it is always introduced and mediated by empirical. In other words. which is false. dreaming I am a man”.
consciousness. which does not correspond to our personal status. the core entity that defines human existence. But this means liberation out of personhood.3) The viability of Hindu pantheism Let us now examine the meaning of human life in a pantheist view of reality. the only freedom left is that of avoiding being trapped in new attachments (by the use of his free will) and submitting to fate. trying to understand their actual meaning in pantheism. Such a frightening end should raise serious doubts to those who become adherents of pantheist religions. from personal existence. such as egoism. We will briefly examine some aspects concerning freedom. has to be abolished. morality. real freedom is experienced only at liberation. social involvement and compassion. as a result. is discredited by the doctrine of karma. As personal beings. it is hard to accept that liberation from personhood and merging with an impersonal Absolute (according to the model of the raindrop that falls into the ocean and becomes one with it) could represent any form of spiritual fulfillment or progression. has an impersonal nature. not becoming a free person. As the self is forced to enter a new material existence until all karmic debt is paid. personhood is a hindrance to attaining liberation and. we tend to attain personal fulfillment in the afterlife. man’s present life is shaped according to the dictates of karma. Therefore. Whatever man chooses to do. The first of them. According to the pantheist view. However. But no matter how convincing such experiences could be. Therefore. The result of rejecting personhood is that some important human values are thoroughly affected. but to the very existence of the psycho-mental faculties which define it intellect. freedom. for the one searching for liberation. will. Therefore it is not surprising that discussing the meaning and consequences of liberation is constantly avoided by turning the adherents’ attention to the practice of meditation and the experiences which accompany it. However. the kind of freedom one experiences at the moment of liberation cannot be called real freedom. because when the self gets merged with Brahman. there is no conscious agent left to experience it. it is only personhood that makes us distinct humans and confers personal identity. and understand to what extent it can work at personal and social level. consequently. All these are said to belong to the inferior ego. they end in a tragic kind of liberation. etc. and. Pantheism does not view freedom as being free to make your own choices but as liberation from karma. communion. The extinction of self-consciousness and entering a state of “absolute silence” is rather a terrible perspective on human destiny. As long as atman. The oblivion of personhood does not refer only to some of its products. Between them no possible relation can exist. This is a logical necessity given by the fact that all forms of Brahman’s manifestation (including man) have to return to the primordial state of non-manifestation at the end of each cosmic cycle. finally he has to return to the impersonal origin of all existence. emotions.
. not the impersonal atman devoid of any attributes. totally distinct from the self (atman).
one should abandon social life because its basis is the illusory world of duality. which assumes the isolation and independence of its members.Second. which represents indifference to well-established moral values. How could one pursue a moral conduct if convinced that all good or bad things ultimately belong to the world of illusion? Third. <. However.. (Which guru asks his disciples to first establish a family. but amorality. it is that old-fashioned “individualistic moralism” that holds our society in balance. knowing that all attachments are illusory and produce bad karma. But this is nothing but another inconsistency of pantheism. but as an efficient instrument for liberating one’s own mind of the erroneous idea of individual personality. good and evil are relative and therefore a real distinction between them cannot be stated. But who could live consistently with the conviction that moral values are ultimately illusory? In fact. social involvement of the individual person is not encouraged by a pantheist view of life. Man cannot be helped as an individual. but consider it important only for the inferior stages of one’s quest toward liberation.) S. Compassion is therapeutically good for the one who performs it. and will be discussed in another file. In other words. Radhakrishnan states: The moral world. compassion (as well as
.> The end of morality is to lift oneself up above one’s individuality and become one with the impersonal spirit of the universe (Indian Philosophy. In order to attain liberation. A third possible solution for social involvement is proposed by the Upanishadic tradition of the four ashramas. there is a strange way of understanding compassion in pantheism. From an ontological point of view. <. because it is individuality (non-integration into oneness) which is the source of his problems. 625-26). As emphasized in a previous file reincarnation is not a good stimulant for moral living. consequent pantheist teaching does not offer a solid ground for morality. According to it. which produces attachments. A second possible solution is suggested in the Bhagavad Gita (selfless action as karma yoga). Actually. as they have gone beyond dualism and therefore cannot accumulate karma anymore. (It would be useful here to review our file on The nature of evil in Eastern religions. However. it is doubtful that one could truly get himself involved in family affairs. One possible solution would be that only those who have already attained liberation (jivan mukta) can participate in social life. p. Compassion is not recommended as being intrinsically good for the sake of the other persons in need. in everyday life the adherents of pantheism do not reject morality.. but then becomes a hindrance in attaining liberation by the attachments it produces. we are in the world of samsara. as in theistic religions. and only when his children are big enough to support themselves is he allowed to leave them and society. morality is necessary at first. if all things are manifestations of the same unique essence. raise their children until they become independent. which holds that withdrawing from social life should occur only at a certain age. II. nor a sound motivation for ethical action. this solution is not followed today. and does not primarily aim to improve the condition of the person in need. a man should first be a young disciple. then have a family.. and only then dedicate their life to the quest for liberation?) Even if it were followed. Fourth. with its hazards and hardships. This is a hindrance toward realizing the truth of non-duality and should be avoided. belongs to the world of appearances.> So long as we occupy the standpoint of individualistic moralism. pantheism does not demand immorality. vol.. In other words.
by consuming fish. Hatha Yoga and Tibetan Buddhism. In other words. In Tantrism and Hatha Yoga. E=mc2. instead of the Brahmanatman impersonal fusion. where liberation is experienced through sexual union.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Scientific pantheism Attempts are made today to ground a so-called scientific pantheist view of life. Although all elements need to be interpreted at a purely spiritual level. we have that of Shiva-Shakti (Shakti being represented in man as the kundalini spiritual energy). The viability of these schools face similar problems. “scientific pantheism” replaces Brahman with energy. Therefore it can be considered that any aspect of our material universe is a manifestation of energy. meat and wine. Difficulties concerning morality arise especially in Tantrism of the left-hand school. This new "religion" claims to reconcile traditional religion and science. It is stated that “it requires no faith other than common sense. In order to symbolize and overcome the duality Shiva-Shakti. In Tibetan Buddhism it is consciousness that merges with the impersonal essence of the world (shunya). there are many cases (especially in the West) in which so-called Tantric procedures become pretexts for abandoning oneself to lustful instincts and embracing the less spiritual path of today’s “total sexual freedom”. the impersonal Ultimate Reality of Hindu Vedanta.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Similar criticism is valid for other pantheist religious schools The same comments can be addressed to other pantheist religious schools such as Tantrism. especially in the field of quantum physics. in a similar way the so-called scientific pantheism states that energy is the source of any given aspect of the universe. man assumes the role of Shiva and the woman that of Shakti. which should get rid of all the embarrassing religious stuff and be accepted by the scientific community. Research on elementary particles revealed that an equivalence between matter and energy can be stated. no guru other than yourself” and also that it accepts “all evidence that is either a matter of common experience. which would be bad for him and bad for the “compassionate” helper. The epistemological inconsistencies (see the first two criteria) are the same as in Vedanta. This was believed to confirm the fact that there is a unique reality at the basis of our universe corresponding to Brahman. as religious pantheism holds that our world is a manifestation of Brahman.morality) may be considered useful only as an aid for oneself’s journey towards knowledge and union with the impersonal Absolute. The preliminary ritual requirements break many traditional taboos. or that is scientifically
. Consequently. Developments toward this new ideology were encouraged by the latest discoveries in science. Otherwise it may conflict with the manifestation of karma in the life of the one who is suffering (and needs compassionate help). according to Einstein’s principle.
1) The internal consistency of the Samkhya-Yoga metaphysics is affected by the way it states the plurality of souls (purushas). (Remember that it is the specific Yoga darshana of Patanjali endorsed here. According to the new way of understanding afterlife. Abandoning these values would not lead us to a direct experience of Ultimate Reality. but rather toward spiritual schizophrenia. “Scientific pantheism” and scientific atheism are synonyms. It is contrary to reason. what will be mentioned here is valid for both schools. Because of its “scientific” orientation. and not other of the many modern Yoga schools that exist today. Anything we do in this world is based on the premise that distinctions are real. which is not at all considered to be illusory. As purusha is devoid of any attributes that could individualize it (which was also the case with atman). the problem with “scientific pantheism” is that being so “scientifically” oriented. S.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Conclusion Pantheism states that Ultimate Reality has an impersonal nature. but only a new form of atheism. However. as long as we cannot live amorally and reject social involvement. It is a new form of rejecting anything that passes human understanding. as well as social involvement. moral values are necessary. Instead of worshipping any god. as long as we cannot live consistently with rejecting the reality of the phenomenal world and aiming toward the annihilation of personhood. a trend that isn’t new at all in mankind’s history.validated”. pantheism cannot provide a viable way of living. Radhakrishnan makes the following comment from a Vedantic point of view:
. It can be known only by merging with it and thus by abolishing personhood. harmony between empirical and absolute knowledge. scientific pantheism worships nature. we will use the same criteria of internal consistency. However. this can have no cognitive meaning. and at death dissolves with the body to merge into the elements from which it was formed”. “mind is an aspect of the body. it isn’t at all a religion. in the absence of any supplementary explanation. it rejects even the basic tenets of traditional pantheism. and therefore have nothing to do with the goal of this site. and viability. From a pragmatic point of view. common sense and society. personhood. there no difference can be made between one purusha and another. and therefore knowledge is possible. It is also impossible to state a logical balance between absolute reality and empirical experience.) As their metaphysical basis is mostly common. nothing but forms of rejecting traditional religions. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------Critical considerations regarding the dualistic Samkhya-Yoga metaphysics In order to emphasize some basic difficulties of the dualistic Samkhya and Yoga darshanas. such as reincarnation and any form of afterlife. and therefore we cannot admit their plurality.
The Samkhya darshana rejects the existence of a creator god. Multiplicity without distinction is impossible (Indian Philosophy. However. 303-4).. vol. no possible relationship can exist.. The Samkhya cannot get across the ditch which it has dug between the subject and the object. 2) As a result of the way it states the relation existing between purusha and prakriti (nature). therefore. p. it cannot account for the fact of experience. p. 322). There does not seem to be any basis for the attribution of distinctness to purushas. being totally detached from matter (prakriti). then there is nothing to lead us to assume a plurality of purushas. All change. The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali (2. Radhakrishnan appreciates the contradictory relation between the two elements: When the Samkhya breaks up the concrete unity of experience into the two elements of subject and object and makes them fictitiously absolute. In other words. or a self bound to karma (Samkhya-Sutra 1. Between the domain of empirical knowledge produced by prakriti and the absolute knowledge of purusha. all-pervadingness. prakriti and all its forms of manifestation cannot do anything to help liberation. the Samkhya and Yoga darshanas dissociate knowledge into two distinct realms (absolute and empirical) between which stands an insurmountable gap. nor a free purusha. but rather a macro-purusha that was never involved with the psycho-mental activity and the law of karma (Yoga-Sutra 1. To this second category belongs Ishvara of the Yoga darshana.24).] Unless the subject and object are akin to each other. Because they belong to different worlds. all character belong to prakriti. and prakriti as something opposed to consciousness and utterly foreign to it. because. such a postulate is absurd. without parts. [. since he could be conceived only as a liberated self. if there is not the slightest difference between one purusha and another. how can the one reflect the other? How can buddhi. be absolutely opposed in nature (Indian Philosophy.
. Here is how S. neither a self enslaved by karma can be the creator. But in the absence of a personal creator god who could “inspire” a teleological instinct to prakriti. imperishable. The Samkhya-Sutra (3. When purusha is viewed as pure consciousness. the latter can never become the object of the former. reflect purusha? How can the formless purusha which is the constant seer be reflected in buddhi which is changing? The two cannot. desire for action or any means to influence matter. absolutely inactive and impassive.93). it could not have perception. and on the other hand.21) also mentions that prakriti exists only for the sake of serving purusha's liberation. purusha cannot know prakriti. II. which is non-intelligent. An attempt to solve this epistemological difficulty was done by postulating the fact that prakriti operates instinctively for purusha’s liberation. since they are free from all variety. II.The self is without attributes or qualities. motionless. the permanent light which illuminates all objects of knowledge. so that it may attain supreme knowledge”. vol. unaffected by pleasure or pain or any other emotion. If each purusha has the same features of consciousness. He is not a personal god. the Samkhya-Yoga metaphysics also lacks harmony between empirical and absolute knowledge.47) states that “creation (prakriti) works for the sake of purusha. being devoid of any creative abilities.
purusha’s liberation. however. 2) If such purity of intellect could be attained only at the moment of liberation. the intellect can become as pure as purusha. because it would institute a new category. which belong to prakriti). through purusha’s reflection in the intellect. that the horse was first trained by the driver before he knew the way home. Therefore. prakriti would conduct purusha toward liberation without any external directive. The gap that exists between empirical knowledge (psycho-mental data) and absolute knowledge (purusha’s self-knowledge) is impossible to cross. consequently. different from purusha’s immutability. It is omitted. which is absurd.
. Therefore. empirical knowledge is of no use in attaining liberation. a category of prakriti. Samkhya metaphysics does not allow such an external “coach” for prakriti to learn how to liberate purusha. and therefore can cooperate in realizing a common purpose. a requirement which is impossible to fulfill according to the Samkhya and Yoga. It also cannot belong to purusha (as its product or attribute). However. In order that communication might be possible between two totally different entities (one being purusha and the other one the psycho-mental abilities. can be a solution. it brings nothing new in solving the dilemma. In the same way. how can intellect. in this example. because they have nothing in common. intellect is a category of prakriti. if intellect itself is a category of prakriti? Another solution suggested to explain the purusha-prakriti relation was that a certain similarity could exist between buddhi (pure intellect) and purusha. intermediary and different to both purusha and prakriti. Such cooperation between purusha and prakriti cannot exist. According to this opinion. when the guna sattva is dominating one’s psychomental life. and therefore capable of perfectly reflecting it. there are two major problems arising from such a hypothesis: 1) How could the intellect possibly attain the purity of purusha? By its very essence. Although this translator (or mediator) role was attributed to purusha’s reflection in the intellect. because both the blind man and the lame man possess intelligence and language. one's data have to be “translated” to the other one. How could intellect help to distance purusha from prakriti. If it belongs to prakriti. how can buddhi and purusha cooperate all the way prior to reaching this stage? In other words. be purified in order to reflect purusha while it is still dominated by the gunas rajas and tamas? Not even “knowing the knowledge” of buddhi by purusha. Neither can this be a valid illustration to symbolize the teleological instinct of prakriti. Another poor illustration used by the Samkhya followers is that of a blind man and a lame man helping each other on their journey. The epistemological dilemma we face here is similar to that encountered in pantheism. it was not stated to which category this reflection belongs. The same illusory status of empirical knowledge makes communication impossible between the self and the world. a moment which precedes their separation and. the epistemological problem generated by the impossible communication between purusha and man’s psycho-mental abilities cannot be properly solved. an act to which the wagon driver is a simple spectator.The teleological instinct of prakriti was explained the Samkhya and Yoga darshanas by using the image of a horse that pulls a wagon out of his instinct. a similarity given by the guna sattva.
3) As a result of the illusory status granted to personhood, the Samkhya and Yoga darshanas face similar problems to those of pantheism concerning their viability. Personhood is considered to be a product of prakriti’s manifestation, a sum of psychomental experiences that cease to exist at the moment of liberation. Instead of the pantheist view of liberation, consisting of an impersonal merging of the self with the Absolute, the Samkhya and Yoga darshanas state that the liberated self (purusha) remains eternally isolated, devoid of any relation with other purushas (or Ishvara, in Yoga) and having as the only possibility that of knowing itself. But given the fact that purusha is devoid of any attributes, it is hard to grasp what could that self-contemplation possibly consist of. Due to the same attitude toward personhood, the problems faced in defining freedom, morality, compassion and social involvement are similar to those mentioned in analyzing pantheism, and therefore will not be repeated. The solution for passing over all the abovementioned inconsistencies is considered to be practice, or, in other words, having a direct experience of Ultimate Reality. This is why we dedicate the next file to examining the Yoga practice and appreciating to what extent it could provide the answer for man’s spiritual quest for transcendence.
Critical considerations regarding Yoga as spiritual path towards transcendence
In the previous files we dealt with the metaphysical basis of some important Eastern religions, the way they define Ultimate Reality, man’s conditions and the meaning of liberation. As it is usually taught that one cannot grasp the meaning of these important issues without getting involved in practicing the actual path toward liberation, we will now analyze the famous discipline of Yoga and understand to what extent it could be the answer to one's quest toward transcendence. The origin of Yoga as ascetic discipline is probably found in the ascetic practices of a religious group called the Vratyas in the Atharva Veda (XV). They are the first mentioned to practice the control of breathing and some sexual rituals, with the goal of attaining ecstatic trance states. The term “yoga” has its root in the Sanskrit word yuj, which means “to yoke”. In its present meaning, this term was first used in the Taittirya and Katha Upanishads (around the 5th century B.C). In the second, the god of death (Yama) explains to a young disciple how to attain the perfect knowledge of Brahman and thus merge with it, through restraining the senses and concentration. The parable of the chariot states: Know the self (atman) as the lord of the chariot and the body as, verily, the chariot, know the intellect as the charioteer and the mind as, verily, the reins. The senses are the horses; the objects of sense the paths; the self associated with the body, the senses and the mind - wise men declare - is the enjoyer. He who has no understanding, whose mind is always unrestrained, his senses are out of control, as
wicked horses are for a charioteer. He, however, who has understanding, whose mind is always restrained, his senses are under control, as good horses are for a charioteer (Katha Up. 1,3,3-6). The lord of the chariot (the self) is silently enduring the foolishness of the charioteer (the mind) and the madness of the horses (the senses). Yoga is here defined as the method through which the mind (the charioteer) can bridle the wicked senses, in order that the self may get off the body and be united with Brahman: “This, they consider to be Yoga, the steady control of the senses” (Katha Up. 2,3,11). There are two major meanings for Yoga in Hindu spirituality. The first designates the specific darshana organized by Patanjali, while the second has a broader sense, implying any effort undertaken in order to attain liberation, independent of its meaning. Therefore, any spiritual discipline aimed at liberating the self can be called Yoga. As a result, the term is used with various meanings, having more or less in common with the Yoga darshana of Patanjali. For instance, Mantra Yoga is the method that consists of using mantras in order to attain liberation (as in Transcendental Meditation). Kundalini Yoga follows a Tantric view, stressing the awakening of kundalini and its final reunion with Shiva. The same goal is to be pursued in Hatha Yoga, but following a strict physical discipline. Jnana Yoga follows a Vedantic ideology, aiming to find liberation mostly by one's effort to achieve a monistic view of reality, laying less emphasis on physical effort. Karma Yoga refers to a specific mindset that has to be followed in social life, i.e. the demand to act completely detached from personal interests and desires, which may complicate one’s karma. This trend was best stated in the Bhagavad Gita and will be analyzed in another file. Bhakti Yoga is the name given to the large variety of devotional practices of Hindu theism, aimed at pleasing a god and earning eternal abode in his realm. In this file we will refer to the Yoga technique as organized by Patanjali, usually called Raja Yoga (“the royal Yoga”), and also to the Hatha Yoga school. Few elements will be mentioned about the metaphysical differences between them, as this topic was already discussed in previous files.
Brief description of the Raja Yoga path toward liberation
In the period of the late Upanishads (Yogatattva, Dhyanabindu, Nadabindu and some other 15 composed after the 5th century BC), the tendency appeared to consider that spiritual liberation cannot be attained exclusively by the means of contemplation but has to be accomplished experimentally, by following a certain ascetic technique. The Shvetashvatara Up. (2,8-15) had already described some instructions for body postures, breathing control and focusing the mind exercises for being able to perceive Brahman. In grounding the new Yoga darshana, Patanjali used the technical elements brought by these Upanishads and used them as a tool for achieving the goal of the Samkhya metaphysics, the liberation of purusha from the bondage of prakriti. The Raja Yoga of Patanjali is properly described in his treatise called Yoga Sutra. The purpose of Yoga is clearly stated from its very beginning (1,2): “the inhibition of the
modifications of the mind” (citta vritti nirodhah). The normal states of consciousness are the product of ignorance (avidya), which generates the sense duality and separatedness from others (asmita) and the will to live (abhinivesha). The continuous flux of thoughts and mental representations induced by such a mindset is called a sum of "modifications of the mind”. They perpetuate ignorance and the captivity of purusha in the world of prakriti’s manifestations. In order that liberation may be attained it is necessary that empirical consciousness be extinguished and replaced by a different state of consciousness, in which the experience gained through senses and mind (produced by prakriti) is replaced by extrasensory and extra-rational experience. The above mentioned “modifications of the mind” are produced not only through interacting with the phenomenal world, but also by a category of latent tendencies present in our subconscious mind called vasanas. They are considered to be conglomerate results of subconscious impressions (samskaras) created in previous lives through ignorant experience. During the present life they tend to manifest in the mental realm, being a further obstacle in attaining liberation. Therefore, the control of the mental states as required in Yoga has a double focus: Both the external illusion (the false identification of purusha with the psycho-mental fluctuations) and the internal source of illusion produced by the vasanas have to be conquered and burned. The Yoga technique shows the practical way in which the entire human potential, both physical and psycho-mental, is brought under control (“yoked”) in order to attain the liberation of purusha. According to Patanjali (Y.S. 2,29), there are eight steps to be followed, a reason for which the method is also called Ashtanga Yoga (the Yoga of the eight limbs): 1. Restraints (yama); 2. Observances (niyama); 3. Postures (asanas); 4. Breath control (pranayama); 5. Withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara); 6. Concentration (dharana); 7. Contemplation (dhyana); 8. Enstasis (samadhi). Here is a brief description of what each of them involves: 1) The restraints (Y.S. 2,30) are five important moral rules that the Yogi has to observe: a) non-violence (ahimsa) - abstinence from harming any living creature; b) truthfulness (satya) - concordance between speech, deeds and thoughts; c) honesty (asteya) - nonstealing; d) continence (brahmacarya) - controlling lustful desires; e) non-acceptance of gifts (aparigraha) - refusing attachments to any material goods; 2) The observances (Y.S. 2,32) are also five physical and psychical disciplines:
it is the Prana that is manifesting as gravitation. bring it under control and refuse movement. pranayama is an important instrument in attaining a perfect state of concentration. Therefore the battle for stilling the mind is easier to win. 1931. However. as the nerve currents. Theos Bernard. It rather represents the control of prana flow through the human body. d) scriptural study (svadhyaya). provide relaxation. 2. One begins with an inhalation/exhalation ratio of 1/2.S. As psycho-mental activity is itself generated by prana. e) concentration on Ishvara (Ishvara-pranidhana) . which is the energy that controls any possible process or movement.54-55) is the result one achieves through the previous stages of physical asceticism. the author of a famous book on Hatha Yoga (Hatha Yoga. The total amount of time for a breathing cycle can therefore attain several minutes. 5) The withdrawal of the senses (Y. 148).. independent of life’s sorrows. the purpose of performing asanas is not (as often believed in the West) to confer harmony and health to the body. Vivekananda defined it as following: It is the Prana that is manifesting as motion. with the only goal of helping concentration. Therefore. 3) Practicing the postures (Y.S. From thought down to the lowest force. 2. The Complete Works.imitating Ishvara's way of being. 89). which in the advanced practitioners becomes 1/4/2. 49-51) means the refusal of breath.seeking joy and serenity. mental or physical. Therefore.a) purity (shaucha) . everything is but the manifestation of Prana. c) austerity (tapas) . and there cannot exist any personal relation between him and man. which has strict observances for controlling breath. then a retention of the inhaled air is introduced in between. It is believed that just as psycho-mental tension affects the rhythm of breath.
. Rider & Co.S. Its aim is to immobilize the body. it has to be strictly controlled in order to attain control over the mind.avoiding impurity in body and mind. when resolved back to their original state. because he is nothing more than an impersonal macropurusha (Y. following the refusal of movement by performing the asanas. etc. London. and breathing is the main channel for prana’s influx into the body. 1. The sum total of all forces in the universe. as thought force. 1982). the reducing of prana influx is realized by progressively retarding the rhythm of breathing.accepting any extreme condition in life.46) is the first stage of physical asceticism. so it becomes shut down against all impressions from outside.24). In the Hatha Yoga practice. At this stage the senses do not disturb the mind anymore. mentions that “until the breath suspension (kumbhaka) had been developed to at least three minutes nothing of any significance could be done” (p. It is the Prana that is manifesting as the actions of the body. 4) Breath control (Y. This is not devotion toward Ishvara. but to be a physical support for concentration. attaining a ratio inhalation/retention/exhalation (puraka/kumbhaka/rechaka) of 1/2/2. as magnetism. 2. b) contentment (samtosha) . is called Prana (Vivekananda. likewise the action of stilling the breath can contribute to stilling the “modification of the mind”. pranayama has a deeper meaning than just controlling breath. p.S.
Once he attains this spiritual level.S. Purusha is liberated from involvement with prakriti and remains eternally isolated. 3.52).
. finally. 3. purusha becomes free of karma and independent. Shakti.6) Concentration is defined by Patanjali as “confining the mind within a limited mental area” (Y. knowledge of the solar system (27). knowledge of the arrangement of stars and their movements (28-29).e.S. It is not a simple exercise of attention control. i. such temptations have to be rejected. the self. but a way of slowing down mental activity by focusing it on a particular spot.3) is attained when the sense of self-identity is lost. or to participate in their divine condition (Y. which corresponds physically to the spine. the emphasis will be laid here on the actual way it prescribes in order to attain the final reunion of Shakti with Shiva. it travels through a spiritual channel (sushumna) of the subtle body. comprehension of the meaning of sounds uttered by any living being (17). This is a supplementary reason for acknowledging the religious character of the Hatha Yoga practice. When. knowledge of the mind of others (19). strength of an elephant (25). levitation (40). liberation is attained. In this stage meditation is undisturbed and the object of meditation assimilated and penetrated to its utmost level.S. Through the continuous practice of concentration. knowledge of the time of death (23). knowledge of the previous birth (18). invisibility of the body (20).2). 3. However. is located at the base of the spine as the dormant spiritual energy called kundalini. The ascetic practice demanded for awakening kundalini consists in certain physical exercises joined with respiratory techniques. crossing seven important points called chakras. In the 3rd chapter of the Yoga Sutra the following such phenomena are mentioned: knowledge of the past and future (16). Its state is called one of total isolation (kaivalya). 8) Enstasis (Y. Although he could reach the spiritual level of becoming a god. After kundalini awakens.1). following such temptations would lead the Yogi to interrupt his spiritual journey toward final liberation.
Liberation techniques in Hatha Yoga
As the pantheistic metaphysics of the Hatha Yoga school was analyzed in previous files. on a particular object of meditation. Therefore. superphysical hearing (42) and passage through space (43). cessation of hunger and thirst (31). Each chakra corresponds to a Hindu guardian deity and is associated with its mantra and governing cosmogonical element.S. entering another’s body (39). 3. 7) Contemplation is an “uninterrupted flow of the mind towards the object of meditation” (Y. this would be a spiritual failure. knowledge of the organization of the body (30). contemplation and enstasis (together called samyama) some practical results for the Yogi are said to appear. the so-called psychic powers (siddhi). and all products of prakriti’s manifestation fade away. the Yogi is tempted by gods and other spiritual beings to use his powers for selfish desires.
2). Hatha Yoga must not be understood as a mere harmless physical training. muladhar a 2. Given its religious background. it returns to its primordial union with the impersonal Ultimate Reality. the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. ajna 7. the attention granted to the body has a single purpose: to make it fit for getting control over the mind and thus liberating the self.77). vishuddha 6. svadhishta na 3. only for merging the self with the impersonal Ultimate Reality. manipura 4. The awakening and rise of kundalini through the sushumna channel is achieved by following a precise ascetic technique in which the body plays an important role. as it is sometimes claimed. Therefore. or in other words. sahasrara
Maharu dra Ishvara Sadashi va Shiva
Once kundalini reaches the last chakra.Chakra
Guardia n deity Brahma
Mant ra lam
Cosmogon ic element Earth
1. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes them as following:
. anahata 5. The most important writing of this school. The steps to be followed in order to attain liberation are similar to the Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali. represented by Shiva. clearly states that Hatha Yoga has to be taught only in order to reach the Raja Yoga level (1. which means “the integration of mind in a state where the subject-object duality does not exist” (4.
As the term "stationary objects" (sthanum) is mostly translated as "plants" (see. Kathopanishad.6). as the awakening and rising of kundalini is full of potential dangers for the Yogi. 4. which regulate the flow of prana (H. in the larger context of the Yoga metaphysics they demonstrate some inherent contradictions. One is regarding the very precept of noninjury (ahimsa). Some "modern" interpretations suggest it should be viewed as mere "not engaging in activities which go against the current of nature" or "activities that will lead to the overall imbalance of our world".2. 5.Y. which explains the mechanism of the self returning to the physical world in the reincarnation cycle: After having become mist they become cloud.
Critical evaluation of the Yoga practice
The moral demands
Although the moral demands Yama and Niyama (also called "The 10 Commandments of the Yogi") have nothing intrinsically bad. paragraph that questions vegetarianism is the following in the Chandogya Upanishad. Mylapore. The help of a teacher (guru) in assisting the practitioner is absolutely necessary.87-97). 2). For instance.17). while explaining reincarnation.10. They are born here as rice and barley.P. Another. 2.P. in its original setting.P. locks (bandha. contemplation (dhyana) and enstasis (samadhi) of the Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali (H. the Katha Upanishad (2. herbs and trees. From thence the release becomes extremely difficult for whoever eats the food and sows the seed he becomes like unto him (Chandogya Up. The demand for a strict vegetarian diet has its root in the religious precept that meat and other animal food are related to the slaying of animals. it plainly means "non-killing". This and other aspects of the Yoga practice will be analyzed in the following section. 1968). as sesamum plants and beans.1.P. 4). which is very clear. breath control and concentration. which combines the withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara). after having become cloud they rain down. 3). needed for both physical and mental health. body postures (asana) (H. breath control (pranayama) (H. 3. for instance. as well as us humans. cleansing practices (dhauti). 4. However. which temporarily restrict local flows of prana) and hand gestures (mudra).7) states: "Some souls enter into a womb for embodiment. Swami Sharvananda. even more convincing. the ahimsa principle should apply to them as well. But why should this principle be limited only to the animal kingdom? Plants are considered living beings too.Y. which are living beings endowed with spiritual essence (atman).Y. 1.P. They combine body postures.Y. samadhi (H.Y. with reference to any living being.6). concentration (dharana).
. others enter stationary objects according to their deeds and according to their thoughts" (see also The Laws of Manu 12. 5.
the result a Yogi often reaches is weakening or even breaking his relations with "ignorant people" (usually the family) and establishing an idolatrous relation toward the guru. Although they claim that the ego has to disappear. while the strongest personal relation (attachment) becomes that with the guru.2). as it is a primitive character feature. Instead of being humble and pure (shaucha). The scriptures seem to encourage this attitude: When the sleeping kundalini awakens by favor of a guru. Far from detaching from any egoistic attachments. Although such requirements are practically absurd. However. and Yoga demands detaching oneself from the illusory status of such involvement. words and deeds. physical vigor and mental health.
It is usually taught today that Yoga is nothing more than a method of maintaining body fitness. One should not have in mind what is good for his neighbor. but only his personal quest toward liberation. attain a state of total detachment toward them. bacteria should also be spared by not boiling water when preparing food. the guru has to be served day and night. they often behave like they feel pity for the inferior fellow-humans.Y.. while advancing in practice. following positive demands in order to seek what is good for our neighbor. their pride and contempt grows. the requirement of abandoning personal attachments seems to be valid only toward the profane world. The relation with the guru usually becomes very subservient.P. bring it under control and refuse movement. acquiring a feeling of superiority toward the profane world. He has to be served with all thoughts. then all the chakras are pierced through (H. one has to surpass moral values. A second aspect concerns the fact that the moral demands in Yoga do not have the purpose of achieving social harmony. in order to help concentration. self-control and purity (shaucha) of mind. 3. but only to feed the Yogi's own spiritual progress. Considering the meaning of liberation (detaching purusha from its psychomental attachments). else nothing of great value can be attained (Shiva Samhita 3. By the favor of the guru. i. If the asanas are performed without following the 10 moral precepts
. Another paradoxical aspect is that. everything that is bound to the self can be attained. Only in this way can one act without accumulating new karmic debt. mother. many Yogis (especially in the West) forget the basic moral requirements and become arrogant. Therefore. the one in charge of interpreting his experiences and keep him moving along the right path. having nothing in common with religion. as mentioned above. This way of defining Yoga regards primarily the practice of asanas.So why are plants “killed” for preparing food? Even more. with the disciples surrendering their entire life to him and even worshiping him as a god. etc. and even god. There is no doubt that the Guru is father. well known today as an effective way for inducing relaxation. the Yama and Niyama morality is different from what we commonly understand by morality.13-14). the purpose of the asanas is to immobilize the body. Therefore. they should be respected in order to be consistent with the ahimsa principle. As long as morality makes sense only in communion with other people.e. and not become attached to them. This reveals a lack of truthfulness (satya).
etc.] In the
. Theos Bernard. Even the sacred texts acknowledge them: In the beginning there is perspiration. Therefore. that form of subtle energy in which any form of physical and mental activity originates.64-65). mentions that “until the breath suspension (kumbhaka) had been developed to at least three minutes nothing of any significance could be done” (p. they have nothing in common with true Yoga. It has always been considered a path toward transcendence. and perspiration. 180 minutes in order to attain the withdrawal of senses (pratyahara) (3.57) and 150 minutes for each chakra in order that dharanamay be attained (3.). the candle..
Just as the asanas are not aimed at enhancing physical fitness. This aspect has never been doubted in the East. muscles contracting unexpectedly. and in the last or the third stage one obtains steadiness. [. the author of a famous book on Hatha Yoga (Hatha Yoga.2). It still aims to annihilate man's psycho-mental life and anything that can define personhood. and these modifications are sustained by the prana flow through the organism. but the immobilization of the body. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika treatise (2.and not as a step on one's spiritual path toward liberation. the terms in which it was described were changed. However. 89). 1982). The reason is the "metabolism" of prana. In the Shiva Samhita treatise it is mentioned that one has to reach 90 minutes in the retention of the inhaled air (kumbhaka) in order to attain the psychic powers (3. its goal has not changed.11) recommends the practice of 320 breathing suspensions (kumbhaka) daily.) One possible effect of dramatically reducing the rhythm of respiration is hypoxia (the decrease of the oxygen concentration in blood below a certain limit of safety for one's health). Rider & Co. so that he may easier surpass his ignorant condition. a way of surpassing the world of illusion and reaching the Ultimate Reality. It was and will always be religious. and then the breath should be made steady or motionless (Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2. Curiously. London. headaches. The pathologic manifestations of hypoxia mentioned in medical literature are convulsions. (For instance the khecari mudra requests a progressive sectioning of the tongue fraenum. it is believed that psycho-mental activity can be slowed down and even stopped by reducing the respiratory inflow of prana. but rather its refusal in order to attain a perfect state of concentration. neither is the purpose of breath control (pranayama) to enhance the respiratory flow. .53). such manifestations appear during the practice of pranayama. Yoga cannot be reduced to a mere form of psychophysical therapy. . Only after it was brought in the Western world. In the first stage of Pranayama the body of the Yogi begins to perspire. Through the symbol each posture represents (the locust. the fish. it involves a change of personality and is prescribed by the guru according to the spiritual needs of his disciple.12). until the tongue is fit to get down the throat and lock breathing. The mudras are important aids in attaining such performances. body shaking beyond control. itching sensations. As Yoga practice aims at “inhibiting the modifications of the mind” (Yoga Sutra 1. in the middle stage there is quivering.
all the knowledge we have in this area was produced by classic scientific research. aim at attaining the perfect control of the mind. it seems that they are nothing more than illusions induced by the practice of meditation. But if such knowledge is truly available through the practice of samyama. Consequently. so that hypoxia could not be involved?
Stilling the mind through meditation and mystical experiences that accompany it
Meditation and its experiences are considered key elements in any Eastern path toward liberation. The most intriguing aspect of these "psychic powers" is the fact that they can be attained by using other means as well. 1995. Similar ecstatic potions were used in other ancient religions (for instance in
. 94).30). the adept walks in the air. p. the experience of having such powers must be subjective. The Yoga Sutra (4. which results in annihilating any influence generated by prakriti. although the Yoga Sutra mentions the attainment of powers such as the profound knowledge of the solar system (3. and as the demands for such knowledge are not egoistic at all. called together samyama. The Hindu tradition knows the use of hallucinogenic drugs from ancient times. Far from being considered dangerous. What could be the connection between them? Let us first analyze what meditation could have in common with the use of drugs. the jumping about like a frog. The oldest reference is to the use of the soma drink by the Vedic priest during the sacrificial ceremony (Rig Veda 9). and never as a result of meditation insights. the final liberation of purusha must follow. The last three of the eight steps prescribed by Patanjali.second stage there takes place the trembling of the body. there is no other way to prove that the so-called psychic abilities are real. (Shiva Samhita 3. and when practice becomes greater. A paradoxical aspect to be mentioned here is the appearance of the psychic powers (the siddhis) through the practice of samyama. Could it be a simple coincidence between the appearance of such manifestations and the practice of pranayama. Hillstrom. From a naturalistic viewpoint. useful only for the spiritual advance of the Yogi but with no relation to the external world of empirical experience. For instance. a sense of communicating telepathically with a religious or spiritual presence.1) mentions "drugs (aushadi). IVP. Testing the Spirits. but it is only a by-product on the way toward liberating the impersonal self from reincarnation. a sense of bodily detachment. they are considered normal and transient. the revival of past memories. Therefore. It is therefore wrong to consider the practice of samyama as mere "relaxing techniques" for eradicating one's daily stress. Relaxation may be a result of meditation exercises. and feelings of great spiritual ecstasy and significance" (E. in the third.27) and that of the organization of the body (3.40-41). mantras and severe austerities (tapas)". why has nothing been revealed until now? Although the purpose of Yoga is not to provide such information. Interesting to mention are also the known mental experiences provoked by the increase of carbon dioxide concentration in blood as a result of hypoxia: "sensations of light and brightness.
However. 1995): In addition to the enhancement of boundaries in our visual systems. by performing concentration on a single point (an exercise called ekagrata). mescaline. the meditation experiences are amazingly close to those obtained by the use of hallucinogenic drugs. we have a built-in. On the way toward attaining such a state. in other words. As a result. LSD. ignorance (avidya) cannot manifest itself apart from mindful experience and therefore can be annihilated by stopping the natural way of the mind's functioning. DeGracia. as Elizabeth Hillstrom points out in her book Testing the Spirits (IVP. but precisely and completely what those prodigious syllables referred to (The Doors of Perception. This means that the normal state of consciousness has to be abolished and replaced with a new one. we must analyze deeper the meaning and goal of meditation exercises. it will naturally get distorted perceptions of reality. the actual experiences are similar. (Also. the sensorial input of the senses has to be shut down (pratyahara) and the mind forced to ignore any normal psycho-mental experience. This sense is apparently maintained by the continual flow of sensory information from
.shamanism. the senses come to a point where they do not process a continuous flux of information from the outer world that varies much from one moment to the next. highly developed tactile sense of the boundaries of our own body. The practice of samyama breaks the normal sensorial input from its normal functioning in serving consciousness. As a result.g. it is a known fact that Aldous Huxley experienced mystical states induced by the use of mescaline and concluded this must be a valid path toward experiencing unity with Brahman: The beatific vision. Although the use of drugs in the practice of Yoga is forbidden. Although the way of attaining mystical experience through Yoga and drugs is different.) In order to understand their effect on consciousness. etc. For instance. one gets a totally distorted view of surrounding reality and one's own body. It tests the hypothesis that the effects of psychedelic drugs (e.) are similar to the effects of the awakening of kundalini. Sat Chit Ananda. As empirical experience (that produces false attachments) is mediated by the mind. 1963. Instead they stay immobilized on the same stimulus. or. not by inchoate hints or at a distance. For more information on this topic. etc. by Donald J. Being-Awareness-Bliss. spiritual dangers associated with the Kundalini awakening from an author that has intimate and personal knowledge of it. in its worldwide forms of manifestation). This data suggests that the awakening of kundalini and the "psychic powers" which accompany it have a physiological basis. 18). peyote. the phenomenology of both states overlaps to a considerable degree. a sense of fulfillment and finding a deeper meaning of existence. They play a major role in detaching oneself from the world of illusion. The psychedelic drug users also claim to attain a superrational. by forcing the mind to work in totally opposed conditions to what is natural. for the first time I understood. psychological. not on the verbal level. which does not perpetuate illusion. superconscious level of liberation from profane existence. you can get firsthand information on the many physical. p. see the article: Do Psychedelic Drugs Mimic Awakened Kundalini? Hallucinogen Survey Results. The very sensation of unity with the outer world can be a result of distorting the sense of perception.
Similar distortions of perception can be the result of other extreme austerities (mentioned in the Yoga Sutra 4. 126). Many reports indicate that as sensory deprivation deepens. the use of psychedelic drugs is the annihilation of critical thought and normal state of consciousness. and also because of his expectations (usually induced by the guru). This is considered of primary importance for entering the appropriate state of consciousness for liberating the self. Scientists have been studying the psycho-physiological results of sensory deprivation for many years. 128). The common element in meditation. and unusual pain unrelated to illness and injury (p. Hillstrom points out: Unusual effects. to some extent. If the siddhis are attained as a result of invoking a god. i. including deranged thinking. This leads us to consider another way of producing the psychic powers mentioned in the Yoga Sutra (4. even with God or the entire universe.the surface of our skin (feelings of touch. If experiencers' awareness of the flow is significantly reduced. Other features of the unity experience may be due to the fact that experiencers are in an altered state and realize that they have just reached a highly prized and hard-won goal. bliss and ecstatic sensations throughout the body (p. the inability to control or stop the kundalini process. and not out of developing one's own inner potential.1 as tapas). the repeating of mantras and. p. As during meditation such openness toward external spirit guides exists. they could easily conclude that their body boundaries were suddenly dissolving or that they were expanding or merging with other objects. ecstasy). speaking in unlearned languages. these factors could produce profound feelings of reality. pressure. Acting together. 60-63). There are parallels between kundalini symptoms and symptoms that are currently associated with demonized states. out-of-body experiences. auditory. tactile hallucinations. the mantra is a name of a Hindu god and a tool for invoking him and his powers. However. sacredness. temporary manifestations of clairvoyant abilities and the like. As E. the taking of control of one's life by an external personal being. the
.1). shutting down the mind in order to grasp irrational higher realities and giving up critical discernment opens the way for the phenomenon of spiritual possession. despite the fact that much of what one is experiencing in the Yoga practice can be explained on a physiological basis. and even encounters with spirits (Hillstrom. the hallucinations experienced by the subjects of such induced experiments become more significant. These experiences seem to the one involved as very real because of the psycho-physiological conditions in which they appear. emotional extremes (deep melancholy. namely the repeating of mantras. a mere naturalistic theory isn't adequate to cover all its aspects. trancelike states or periods of unconsciousness. known long before Patanjali. certainly suggest that something supernatural is afoot. like automatically assuming difficult yoga postures. apparent seizure activity. consisting in visual. visions of other worlds. ultimate meaning. However. stretching of skin and muscles. they are likely to originate in him. This leads us to search for explanations for the psychic powers in a realm that does not belong to physical existence. More than a simple formula used as a tool for concentrating the mind. and the like).e. as it is during sensory deprivation and other altered states.
Taking a Christian standpoint. dematerialization. in Tantrism are prescribed specific rituals in order to omologate the deities with different parts of the body. For instance. instead of a god being the one who awakens dormant energies inside us. acquiring supernatural physical powers. why should they not use the proper mindset offered by a Yogi while practicing meditation? Despite the fact that the mantra is associated with a Hindu protector god. clairvoyance. etc. necessary for one's spiritual growth. The knowledge of the past and future. Knowing the fact that demons use any given opportunity to take over one's body and use it as an instrument. Far from being considered dangerous. Critical considerations regarding the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita The Bhagavad Gita (henceforth referred to as the Gita) was probably composed sometime between the 7th and the 6th centuries BC and later incorporated into the great Hindu epic Mahabharata. Could they be harmless. why should we reject the possibility that by calling his name. telekinesis.14). sometimes perceived as the entering of the guru into the disciple's body (Shakti-diksha). we can look at most forms of Eastern initiation.experience of meeting certain spiritual beings occurs pretty often. but acknowledging the fact that their source is the world of demons. a new kind of asceticism at hand for any human. It stated a new path towards liberation. Could this be a simple coincidence? The Apostle Peter warns: Be self-controlled and alert.. are abilities that such people also claim. such experiences are considered useful. reading one's thoughts. or the uniting of the disciple's being with that of the guru (Anavi-yaugi-diksha). treacherous beings that present themselves as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11. take over consciousness and then manifest psychic powers which actually belong to him? Could the intensity of the experience be a sufficient reason to be assured that there is no evil entity involved in producing it? Why should we reject the possibility that a demon is wise enough to avoid violent manifestations (which normally describe demonic possession) in order to delude us? As examples of how so-called deities are invited to enter one's body. entering another person's body. or even trustable? The answer depends on the authority we use in order to judge them. It requires neither withdrawal from social life as
. with the climax being the descent of the god essence into him and fusion with his consciousness. A weird fact is that the same psychic powers attained by the Yogis while practicing samyama are available to some people involved in black magic. While performing the mandala ritual the disciple has to locate the gods in his heart. levitation. a demon may come instead. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5. independent of social status.8). Possession-like states are reported very often during the initiation ritual. such external spirits may be demons. The maithuna ritual even represents a sexual union with a woman in which Hindu spirits are residing.
A major battle is about to begin in which Arjuna sees himself playing a contradictory role. Bhakti Yoga is one's effort to bring all actions as sacrifices to Krishna (14.1-2). but by giving a new meaning to action . This probably explains its great success both in the East and the West. Krishna's command to Arjuna is: "Always act with detachment to the fruits of actions. Krishna formulates the famous principle: Be focused on action and not on the fruits of action. and could be defined as a combination of Karma. He performs a spiritual exegesis of Arjuna's situation.10. of the mind and senses . On this basis the Gita founds a new element in Hindu philosophy: Spiritual perfection is not attained by asceticism or abandoning action.57). nor performing severe austerities as the Hatha and Raja Yoga. the Gita states a hierarchy in the value of different kinds of sacrifice. The one who is acting without attachment attains God" (3. and the Hindu god Krishna. Arjuna has to fight no matter who is going to die on the battlefield. one of the five sons of the Pandava family. Let us analyze the way this new kind of Yoga works. as "everyone is forced to act according to the tendencies (gunas) he has acquired from the modes of material nature (prakriti)" (3.33) and
. 10.29.5).the Upanishads do. the Kaurava family. between his social duty and the threat of karma.4.that of detachment from its fruits.4).47). Do not become confused in attachment to the fruit of your actions and do not become confused in the desire for inaction (2.26). as "action is better than inaction" and "renunciation of all action is impossible" (3. nor by renunciation alone can one attain perfection" (3. Bhakti and Buddhi Yoga.4. in other words.27. while Buddhi Yoga is a particular kind of wisdom one has to develop in understanding life (2. with the lowest being the Vedic sacrifice. the path of attaining liberation through accomplishing one's normal duties with a totally detached attitude toward personal benefit. brought to a god in order to get personal favors. This is Karma Yoga.49. Therefore one should not withdraw from the world of social involvement but live in it detached from the fruits of actions. that of fighting against his relatives. In his given context. which narrates the dialogue of Arjuna. As a warrior. Yoga according to the Gita The Gita is an episode of the great epic Mahabharata (6. "Abstaining from work" is practically impossible according to Krishna. an attitude that does not feed karma and reincarnation. The new Yoga presented in the Gita is mostly concerned with one's attitude of mind when performing normal social duties. as well as its natural implications. At this moment Krishna reveals himself to the distressed warrior and helps him understand the situation from a transcendental point of view. of not being bound to its fruits (5. he chooses to not fight and be killed rather than have his conscience loaded with the killing of his relatives. Arjuna must always follow his caste duties. the next being the inner sacrifice of Raja Yoga (that of breathing .19). There is also a new meaning for sacrifice and Bhakti Yoga. an avatar of Vishnu.25-42). his dharma. and that of empirical knowledge 4. Karma Yoga in the Gita means the performance of one's duties in a spirit of renunciation. stating: "Not by abstaining from work can one achieve freedom from karma. As a result. Written at the time when the authority of the Vedas has heavily decreased.8). Caught between his warrior duty and the ethical meaning of fighting against his cousins. 18.
6-7). In order to attain liberation. he achieves liberation after many.19). into various demoniac species of life" (16. Acting like this. The first see Krishna as a super-personal god using karma as an instrument for awakening humans from ignorance. being washed of all karma. we have theistic and pantheistic interpretations (and even translations) of the Gita. whether eating. offering. I deliver them quickly from the ocean of birth and death" (12. being devoted to me without hesitation.27). one should attain liberation. Consequently. On the one hand it seems that Krishna is sovereign over the law of karma. Krishna holds a detached position toward all humans: "I see all creatures equally disposed and I am not partial to anyone" (9. with no real power in controlling karma. as if all acts are dedicated to him. One has to struggle alone against its drive and attain better incarnations from one existence to the next: "When the Yogi engages himself in making further progress. He says: "Those who are envious and mischievous. I perpetually cast into transmigration.45). many births" (6. As the two positions contradict each other and the Gita leaves enough room for both. I give them the Buddhi Yoga by which they can come to me.
. Following it.10-11). indebted to one or the other alternative. In this way you will be free from karma.29). In the meanwhile. called Buddhi Yoga (2.the best being that of detached action. but only to act in a worshipping attitude toward Krishna. using it as an instrument for punishment or reward. giving away. we wonder which could actually be the relation between karma and grace. Perform them as an offering to me. karma seems to be a self-functioning rule that produces effects by its own power. the Hindu analysts of the Gita had to choose between holding to the supremacy of Krishna and the ultimate power of karma in ruling the world.49): To those who are constantly devoted to serve me. you will be liberated and you will come to me (9. one brings his actions as sacrifices to Krishna and therefore they do not generate karmic seeds anymore: Consider all your acts as acts of devotion to me. karma and grace A first inconsistency of the Gita concerns the relation between the law of karma and the grace granted by Krishna in helping his followers attain liberation. In trying to explain the relation between karma and the grace of Krishna. Krishna. who are the lowest among men. This particular mindset in judging particular situations in life is called Buddhi Yoga. engaged in devotional service and meditating unto me. rituals or other kind of performances. there is no need for any kind of material sacrifices. I show my mercy to them by destroying their ignorance with the lamp of knowledge (10. Arjuna is advised to strive hard to realize a detached attitude of mind. According to this new understanding of Bhakti Yoga. These two positions can hardly be reconciled. And also: "Those who worship me and surrender all their activities unto me. On the other hand. performing austerities. and the second see him as a mere form of Brahman's manifestation.
33) is his dharma. one has to concentrate on Krishna and imitate his way of being in order to advance toward liberation). The action that "is better than inaction" (3. Therefore. but is compelled by his karma to act according to it.27). Krishna as avatar and the periodical creation of the world Another inconsistency of the Gita is regarding the character of Krishna. Krishna must be understood rather as a kind of meditation object than a personal god who gets himself involved in one's reincarnation journey. you will be liberated and you will come to me" (9. 'I will not fight' you are misled. dualistic and pantheistic kinds of Ultimate Reality. Krishna is only an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu (which according to Vedanta is only a form of Brahman's manifestation). Arjuna is not free to fulfill his dharma. the way the three gunas influence one's mind under the influence of past karma.4. In the Gita Krishna becomes the Supreme Lord of the Universe (5.e. The only freedom left to Arjuna is to give a certain meaning to his predetermined actions. as it was with Brahman:
. but is the way of accepting a pre-ordained scenario. Therefore. Dharma and karma In anyone's life the conditioning couple of dharma and karma is at work. that of sacrifices to Krishna: "Consider all your acts as acts of devotion to me. In turn. eternal (4. more specifically. he is rather a heterogeneous mixture of theistic. being a mere resignation to fate. Krishna states: "When you become confused in your false ego you say to yourself. Perform them as an offering to me.e.8). Everything emanates from me" (10. his caste-duty as warrior.29). Although the intention of the Gita is to present Krishna as super-personal. The "duty" that forces Arjuna to fight (2. The only grace one benefits from Hrishna is receiving his advice. i. Contrary to Vedanta. By your nature you must fight" (18. 8. giving away. In this way you will be free from karma. which pushes him into action independently of his present intentions.59). Therefore the major role in salvation belongs to the individual who performs Buddhi Yoga. He is not only the creator but also the substance of the universe (9.27) and contrary to Vaishnavism he is the instrument of attaining fusion with Brahman (14. offering. performing austerities. whether eating. 10.6) and the source of all existence: "I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Therefore the real impetus of Arjuna's actions is his karma. Such an action is devoid of any sense of freedom. Arjuna's dharma is generated by his karma.8) is not a free decision of man. According to classic Vaishnavism.20-42). The grace granted by Krishna is far away from the meaning it got later in the prapatti devotional trend.16-19. Krishna becomes the source of Brahman (14. it does not follow the understanding of one's social duty. The rest depends on the disciple.26). He resembles Ishvara of the Yoga darshana of Patanjali from this point of view (i. The cycle of permanent transformation between the manifested state and the unmanifested one is characteristic for Krishna too. This "nature" is prakriti or.Here it looks like Krishna burns karma by his grace only if one strives hard to deserve it.
which implies that the process is a necessity that surpasses him as personal god.
. when there is a disturbance of the Vedic dharma. devoid of any personal input to his acts? The philosophy of the Gita itself aims at fulfilling a very personal fruit . Therefore it is hard to accept his dominion over creation along with the periodic manifestation of nature (prakriti).2. under the cover of religiosity. especially in a Western society. and if there be ultimately no moral responsibility. we should conclude that the creation of the world is not an option for him. and if He is absolutely unperturbed. overrule the world-order of events and in his favour suspend the law of karma? (S. as was the case with the manifestations of Brahman. 1991. "automatically. It does not seem to be aware of the philosophical difficulty of combining the concept of God as unmanifested. Dasgupta comments on the contradictory personal character of Krishna: The Gita combines together different conceptions of God without feeling the necessity of reconciling the oppositions or contradictions involved in them. lit. but a periodic duty at the end of each cosmic cycle. vol. and if everything in the world should have the same place in God. Indian Philosophy. for his sake. pretending he follows his dharma. where the caste system doesn't exist? At what extent can one be sure he is fulfilling his dharma and not a personal attachment to a certain egoistic motivation? Where is the limit between my dharma and my neighbor's? Therefore. Motilal Banarsidass. Such it is my nature (prakriti) to follow again and again the pattern of the Infinite manifestations and disintegrations (9. Could it actually be possible to act like this? How could one really perform his social duties without being attached to them? Otherwise what motivation remains for acting in the world? That of a robot. p.7-8). It is not aware of the difficulty that. Rather. how can we know it works in other respects? On the other hand. if all good and evil should have emanated from God. If God is impartial to all. Dasgupta. there is no reason why God should trouble to incarnate Himself as man. how much could one know about his dharma. S. but having no altruistic motivations at all in what he does. which is useful for nobody else than oneself. why should He favour the man who clings to Him.liberation from reincarnation. 533).At the end of an era (kalpa) all creatures disintegrate into my nature and at the beginning of another era I manifest them again. under the obligation of prakriti"). and why. Should this fruit be treated with detachment too? Could one act detached regarding his eternal destiny? If the philosophy of detached acting cannot be valid for the major aspect of existence.
Acting without attachment to the fruit of actions The very demand to act in the world without attachment to the fruits of action seems itself contradictory. anyone can masquerade. differenceless entity with the notion of Him as the super-person Who incarnates Himself on earth in the human form and behaves in the human manner. Krishna has to "follow the pattern of the Infinite manifestations and disintegrations" (avasham prakriteh vashat. He is just a detached (but also helpless) spectator to it.
then their defects cannot touch the performer. S. Krishna argues that it is actually impossible to kill anyone: "Those who think that they can kill or those that think they can be killed are confused in the manifestations of ignorance. for it is only the bond of desires and self-love that really makes an action one's own and makes one reap its good or bad fruits. p. it is hard to accept that such an approach could represent a true basis for morality.18). but upon the inner motive of action. an elephant.4.6-7) and kill the demon. distinctly implies that the goodness or badness of an action does not depend upon external effects of the action. The contrast with traditional morality is obvious. considering them only temporary abiding forms for the eternal self. a dog and a dog-eater" (5. gifts. asceticism and pilgrimages (Mahabharata 12. immortal soul can neither kill or be killed" (2. The infinite. and consequently he suffers the reactions of happiness and distress. Its representative is another important character in the battle of Kurukshetra. Therefore Arjuna is free to kill his relatives.The Gita and morality When Arjuna found himself in the process of choosing between his duty as warrior and the killing of his relatives (a severe violation of Vedic morality). He argued: "The wise men who reached true knowledge see with as equally a brahman (priest).22) in order to comfort Krishna's parents and justify the killing of their other sons by him: In the bodily conception of life one remains in darkness without self-realization. who caused the corruption of the dharma. Yudishthira. mere mortal frames. As only the soul (atman) is immortal. but by compensatory acts. and by Krishna as the divine avatar who came to save it (Gita 4. For him a bad conscience could not be cleansed by a right attitude of mind. understanding that "it is truly God who is the controller of all" and (on this basis)
. thinking "I am being killed" or "I have killed my enemies". the same mindset that Arjuna should have had in securing a clear conscience (Gita 2. he continues to be responsible for material obligations. then the action performed cannot bind the performer.7). If the same "detached" perspective on moral values can be used both by the demon Kamsa. if actions are performed with an unattached mind. If there is no motive of pleasure or self-gain.19). A morality that acts on the sole premise that any act is good as long as it is dedicated to God. a cow.19) was used by the demon Kamsa in the Bhagavata Purana (10. 507). As long as a foolish person thus considers the self to be the killer or the killed. Traditional ethical values should not be a hindrance to acting detached to the fruits of action. He tried to expiate his sin of killing his relatives in battle through repentance. Arjuna's brother. Dasgupta states in his commentary: The theory of the Gita that. Krishna explained to him that he must give another meaning to traditional morality. Morality from this point of view becomes wholly subjective. and the special feature of the Gita is that it tends to make all actions non-moral by cutting away the bonds that connect an action with its performer (Ibid. On the other hand.
S. And a morality that considers people temporary frames of the eternal self cannot grant social harmony. Therefore. had not come into fashion.rejecting a well-established set of moral commands. Theravada Buddhism could not escape some basic inconsistencies. which are in a cause-effect relationship and suffer from constant becoming (Digha Nikaya 15. Acting without attachment to its results cannot be a valid solution for fulfilling one's social duty. The rejection of a self. scholarly disputations. The Gita. A god that rules the world by the "help" of karma cannot be the super-personal embodiment of perfection. Conclusion Rather than a consistent philosophy. Samyutta Nikaya 22. is not to be looked upon as a properly schemed system of philosophy. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------Critical considerations regarding Buddhism (This article has only the purpose to bring further clarifications to the points made in the comparative religion articles on this site that have brought you here.534) The Gita falls short of coherence and viability. cannot have a good outcome in any religion. therefore. Therefore it should not be taken as a self-standing article criticising Buddhism. it as hard to accept the message of the Gita as a proper teaching of conduct. Therefore. In fact. those involved in the September 11 attacks had such an attitude. One's (mostly unknown) dharma fed by past lives' deeds cannot provide any real meaning for freedom. friendship and humility. or rather the Buddha’s refusal to give any conclusive response regarding its nature. The illusion of personal existence (puggala) is considered to be the product of five aggregates (skandha). One should not engage in philosophical debates concerning the existence of a self (as well as the
. thinking that a person who truly thinks of God won't commit evil deeds.) Although it was meant to bring a whole new perspective on what Hinduism had to say on Ultimate Reality. especially in the Western world. Dasgupta considers the Gita only a manual of conduct: The Gita was probably written at a time when philosophical views had not definitely crystallized into hard-and-fast systems of thought. but a s a manual of right conduct and right perspective of things in the light of a mystical approach to God in self-resignation. Let us summarize the most debated: Reincarnation without a self One of the key elements in Theravada Buddhism is the denial of a self (atman). although this has no connection at all to Hinduism.59). (p. human existence is characterized by impermanence (anitya). the dictates of argument. Therefore it's always dangerous to "transcend" moral values. and when the distinguishing philosophical niceties. man and liberation. devotion. is considered important mostly for practical reasons. a constant process of transformation devoid of any abiding principle.
determining a new configuration of the five aggregates in the next existence. (Dhammapada 9.306-311. fifty. or at least of an impersonal self along the reincarnation process.e. I will have no further existence" (Majjhima-nikaya 3)? Whose last birth is it. and afterwards sent into hell and tormented for their sins (Khuddaka-nikaya 10. although the five aggregates are supposed to break apart after death and personhood is supposed to vanish. many aeons of cosmic expansion. two births. three births. The text in the Digha Nikaya says: He recollects his manifold past lives. had such an appearance. forty. There are also many verses in the Dhammapada that suggest personal post-mortem existence: Some people are born again. such my experience of pleasure & pain. 'There I had such a name. righteous people go to heaven. what is their actual meaning and role in the Buddha's teaching? There is no doubt that this Vedic reminiscence is totally inconsistent with the Buddhist doctrine of no-self. ten. "This is my last birth. For instance.) If speaking of someone going to hell or heaven does not mean an identical being. many aeons of cosmic contraction. it is stated that the dead will be judged by Yama. because it will only generate suffering and lead one astray from seeking liberation (Majjhima-nikaya 1. four. one hundred.character of the universe and the nature of Ultimate Reality). On the other hand. Passing away from that state. one birth. such my experience of pleasure & pain. i. The liberation of no self
. such the end of my life. in which each one's identity is always known. See also 10. Such a strange definition of reincarnation has naturally raised strong objections from the opponents of Buddhism. many aeons of cosmic contraction and expansion. Passing away from that state. one thousand. belonged to such a clan. one hundred thousand. Therefore samsara works without the need of a self. such the end of my life. I re-arose there. what reincarnates from one existence to another? Buddha stated that only karma passes from one life to the next. as it is sometimes suggested. Not only do they contradict it. referring to the previous lives of Buddha and his friends. the god of death. belonged to such a clan. and self are mere conventions of speech. Such was my food. but the Buddhist scriptures themselves contain passages that are inconsistent with the lack of a self. There too I had such a name. twenty. I re-arose here. evil-doers go to hell. on what basis could the Buddha have said. 22. thirty. those who are free from all worldly desires attain Nirvana. Such was my food.' Thus he recollects his manifold past lives in their modes and details. had such an appearance.59). who is actually punished there and for what? Also. the very existence of the supranatural power of recollecting past lives attained in concentration (Digha Nikaya 12) suggests that a certain core of personal identity must exist and be reincarnated from one life to the next. But if there is no self. relying only on a causal chain of determination.1. if terms such as hell..140.426). Also. gods. if there is no self to be reborn? There are also the texts in Khuddaka-nikaya 10 and the Jataka tales. [recollecting]. Some of them seem to confirm the continuity of personal existence. if there is no self. five. what role does this teaching play in Buddhism? If it is not an identical being going to hell.126.
(Sutta Nipata 1072-76) Here is how the Buddha illustrated the destiny of the liberated being to the wanderer Vacchagotta. how would you reply? That doesn't apply. nor the annihilation of a self. Once man attains nirvana. misery. It is rather an annihilation of the illusion of an existing self.. as modern Buddhist writers suggest. in which direction from here has it gone? East? West? North? Or south?' Thus asked. the ultimate peace one experiences when all conflicts are gone. birth. Vaccha. being unnourished -. Master Gotama. etc. lamentation. That by which he can be talked about is no longer there for him. This corresponds to a total extinction of any ontological element that could define human existence. he becomes an arahat (“living enlightened one”). In a flash it has gone out and nothing more can be known about it. death. despair. When human existence is blown out. Nirvana is neither a reabsorption in an eternal Ultimate Reality. It is not just the cooling off and extinguishing of these things. It is like a flame struck by a sudden gust of wind. "to blow") and the negation nir. nirvana is not just the cessation of hatred. etc. but rather the extinction of any element that could define human existence. because such a thing isn't stated in the Scriptures. from a Buddhist point of view. Even so. like an uprooted palm tree. When a person has gone out. sorrow. despair. then all ways of description have also been removed. grief. sorrow. old age. Any fire burning dependent on a sustenance of grass and timber.The Buddhist term for liberation (nirvana) derives from the verbal root va (lit. It is the same with a wise man freed from mental existence: in a flash he has gone out and nothing more can be known about him. nothing real disappears because life itself is an illusion. He will stay there and not return again. birth. and as a result. all phenomena are removed. its root destroyed." Once the adherent of Theravada Buddhism has attained nirvana. any physical form by which one describing the Tathagata would describe him: That the Tathagata has abandoned. His karma is considered extinct and at the time of his death he will cease to exist. deprived of the conditions of existence. infatuation. Unfortunately. misery. old age. using the famous illustration of the extinguished fire: And suppose someone were to ask you. The scriptures state: When a man is free from all sense pleasures and depends on nothingness he is free in the supreme freedom from perception.is classified simply as 'out' (unbound). 'This fire that has gone out in front of you. death. the five aggregates are scattered forever at death without entering a new combination again. because there is no self to annihilate. Majjhima Nikaya 72) Therefore. hence its significance corresponds to the blowing out of a candle.
. infatuation.from having consumed that sustenance and not being offered any other -. However. not destined for future arising. then there is nothing by which you can measure him. (Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta. nirvana also implies the extinction of the agent who experiences "hatred. lamentation. you cannot say that he does not exist. this perspective isn't horrifying at all. When all ways of being. because it represents the cessation of an illusion. grief.
True knowledge. It is a state beyond any description. mental constructions and consciousness) are governed by impermanence and therefore cannot lead to ultimate truth. However. The Buddha didn't need any god or outer revelation to find the truth. it cannot provide helpful information for transcending the realm of ever-changing phenomena. All our primary knowledge. Neither did he accept a self involved in attaining true knowledge. which is seen as the major hindrance in attaining liberation. Neither can our reasoning. i. feeling. Moral perfection (sila). it must have another source. anger. He didn't need a self for explaining the human condition. including reading or hearing the true doctrine. If there is nothing in our nature that can escape impermanence. unreliable senses and mind?
The meaning of morality Following other Eastern religions. The problem arising here is the possibility of attaining true knowledge when rejecting a self involved in this process. Therefore.Unlike in Hindu pantheism. the fifth aggregate. all of them (the body. This means that nirvana is a state of supreme bliss and freedom without any subject left to experience it. Consciousness. knowledge and experience. Vedanta gives the role of inner guide to atman and Samkhya to purusha.e. However. or inside our nature. but the Buddha had rejected both these traditions. Then how was the Buddha able to attain and express the four noble truths? How was he able to transcend impermanence by using impermanent tools? If truth cannot be found by the aggregates. as provided by a higher being. with nobody and nothing left to reach it. It has no ultimate importance but is only an instrument used for developing a detached status toward personal attachments and interests in life. also falls into this category of unreliable sources for finding ultimate truth. the aggregates were sufficient. is mediated by our senses. and as a result even the most elaborate doctrine will suffer from it. impermanence and no self The doctrine of no self (anatta) poses supplementary difficulties when it is correlated with epistemology. The Buddha's very quest for truth started with the observation that truth must be higher than physical reality and the current speculation of that time. which defines liberation as the fusion of atman with Brahman. As sensory information is subjected to impermanence and interdependence. gossip and pride
. So where and how did he find it? Or how can any of his followers find (permanent) truth if humans are just momentary heaps of aggregates and come to know his teaching by their impermanent. bad habits such as envy. action and livelihood. Buddhism values morality as an instrument for transcending personal existence. Buddhism rejects both possibilities. cognition. in fact. neither will the words and notions we use do so. aims at annihilating one's false attachments to the world of illusion. located either outside the human person. right speech. no one and nothing is attaining liberation. it is said that the gods were those learning from him. No matter how much life experience one can have (including the one Buddha had gathered in his six years of spiritual quest) it will never be possible to go beyond impermanence by using it. as it is fueled by sensory information.
rather than to alleviate the neighbour’s personal. specific and down-toearth suffering. but because they feed one's false ego and the thirst (trishna) for experiencing personal existence. Rather than compassion. the bodhisattvas are mediators between man and Ultimate Reality. Putting oneself in the place of another. Therefore karuna is a compassion without relationship.must be abandoned. it would better be called equanimity. but attachment to these precepts. one should not kill nor cause another to kill. a major hindrance in Buddhist practice. a being that postpones his own entrance into parinirvana (final extinction) in order to help other humans also attain it. such as the following in the Dhammapada. Morality by itself cannot root out greed. the disciple of Mahayana Buddhism aims to become a bodhisattva. like all attachments. a kind of serene attitude of goodwill that remains undefiled by the neighbour’s misery and needs because one never really descends to them. or of "clinging to precepts and views". This new development has been interpreted as a penetration of the Hindu bhakti tradition into Buddhism. compassion can hardly be focused on specific individual humans and their specific human problems. Putting oneself in the place of another. compassion has a different meaning than that commonly accepted by the Western theistic-shaped mind. The boddhisattvas and grace Instead of seeking nirvana just for himself and becoming an arahat. as Theravada Buddhism demands. making it fit for the practice of meditation. It only has the purpose of stilling and calming the mind. In order not to become ensnared in your neighbour’s lower views and desires and therefore get caught in attachment (klesha). all fear death. must be given up. (Dhammapada 129-130) "putting oneself in the place of another" cannot represent a real interest in one's neighbor welfare.
. All tremble at violence. Although there are some texts that may suggest the contrary. one should not kill nor cause another to kill. The same can be said about expressing compassion (karuna). aversion and ignorance. as all have the same nature and are seeking liberation. Through devotion and proper moral conduct humans receive their grace and attain liberation. but not primarily because other people may be hurt by them. as a Buddhist you must avoid any serious personal commitment to fellow humans. Although it plays a key role in the teachings and conduct of Buddhists. As there are no real subjects that can share love and compassion with one another. Adherence to moral principles for their own sake may be an expression of rigid views. As was the case with the Hindu avatars of Vishnu. Buddhist compassion extends to all living beings. Its purpose is to lead to fruitful mental states in the one who lives compassionately. the moral demands serve only as an instrument for attaining liberation by the one who "puts himself in the place of another". Ethical precepts are a necessary part of the training. Being so broadly defined and given the Buddhist way of defining human nature. as it cannot be consistent with the urge for obliterating personal existence. life is dear to all. All tremble at violence.
no salvation. The two elements are hard to reconcile. or the grace of the bodhisattvas. and the saint knows it but too well. vol. Could they be equivalent? In other words. there are no beings. 127). how the problem arose that he came for. In reality. The following analysis will investigate why the incarnation of God was necessary. what the form of the divine embodiment is and how it actually solves the problem. Who is suffering and who needs the boddhisattvas' grace in order to be liberated. p. yet he is not afraid of this high truth. but proceeds on his career of attaining for all illusory beings illusory emancipation from illusory bondage. The saint is actuated with that feeling and proceeds in his work on the strength of his paramitas.
The divine incarnation in Hinduism and Christianity
The only religions that admit a true incarnation of Ultimate Reality in human form and consider it very important in their theology are Vaishnava Hinduism and Christianity. he is unable to accept it because of the projection of his bad karma and the attraction of “samsaric impurities”. For this reason it is wrong to pretend that the bodhisattvas save the dead through their grace. though in reality there is no one who is to attain salvation in reality and no one who is to help him attain it (S. a proper investigation is necessary for unveiling the mystery that surrounds this topic. could the avatars of Vishnu have fulfilled the same goal as Jesus? Or are there irreconcilable differences between them? As we witness today many claims that they express a similar theology. On the other hand. it is either karma that rules one's existence and journey toward liberation. Therefore. Vaishnava Hinduism ascribes ten incarnations (avatars) to the god Vishnu. according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. if personal existence is nothing but illusion? S. due to the rejection of any abiding principle that could define human existence. Dasgupta comments on this absurd situation: The saint (bodhisattva) is firmly determined that he will help an infinite number of souls to attain nirvana. They both assume that God descended into the world and dwelt among humans in order to save them. For instance. could Jesus Christ be considered a mere Western avatar. we meet here the same contradiction between karma and grace as in theistic Hinduism. come into our world according to the Hindu pattern? On the other hand. although the bodhisattvas offer their help to the dead person in order that he may attain a better new birth or even final liberation. there is no bondage.However. while Christianity proclaims the sole incarnation of God the Son in Jesus Christ. Indian Philosophy. as only the merits one has accumulated during lifetime make him able to accept the “rays of grace”.
. which make him fall deeper and deeper into the intermediary state (bardo). the idea of grace becomes absurd. Dasgupta. 1. however.
Treta Yuga . (9) Krishna. The "new heaven and new earth" presented at the end of the Revelation account (21. the world was created only once.728. The Bible doesn't confirm such a mechanism.864.000 years) followed by the dissolution (pralaya) of the physical world. Therefore we will use the following list in the present analysis: (1) fish.1) is not a new creation similar to the one presented in Genesis.000 years. (2) tortoise. and finally there is a list of ten. this situation doesn't belong to a normally repeated scenario (as in Hinduism) but is the result of a wrong human response to God's love. time and space return into Brahman. Although the world became corrupted by sin. The Mahabharata gives three lists of Vishnu's avatars: First there are mentioned four. (6) dwarf.
. It will belong to those who accepted His grace through Jesus Christ (21. The Garuda Purana lists 19 avatars of Vishnu. subtle and causal world.27) and will never have a pralaya to end it. and not as a necessity (as the cyclic manifestation of Vishnu implies) but out of God's superabundant love. and (10) Kalki. which is a period called kalpa. and then a dissolution (pralaya) of both the physical and subtle world follows.The periodical manifestation and dissolution of the world
Vaishnava Hinduism states in its major writings. (4) boar. Dvapara Yuga . (3) boar.432. that the god Vishnu causes a cyclic manifestation and dissolution of the world.1.000 years. Since the time of the Bhagavata Purana the number of avatars has been uniformly recognized as ten. The whole cycle is repeated 994 times. (8) Krishna. Then all worlds. (5) man-lion. which is followed by a total dissolution (mahapralaya) of the physical. on the other hand. (5) dwarf. In Christianity. Otherwise it would indeed confirm a cyclic manifestation of the world according to the Hindu pattern.
The ten avatars of Vishnu
The god Vishnu is said to descend ten times into our world during each cosmic cycle (mahayuga) in order to restore the balance between good and evil.1. 36. (2) tortoise. in the form of: (1) swan. (4) man-lion. then six.4). (7) Bhargava Rama. (9) Buddha and (10) Kalki. The first nine have occurred already and the last one is still to come. His incarnations (avatars) vary depending on the Hindu writing that describes them.000 kalpas and pralayas make the lifespan of Brahma. the creator god.296.000 years and Kali Yuga . (7) Rama. (8) Dasaratha Rama. Each cosmic cycle (mahayuga) has four ages (Krita Yuga . Let us give a brief description of each avatar and see what its goal was and the method used for fulfilling it. while the Bhagavata Purana lists 22 in one place and 23 in another. it will not follow a repeated cycle of manifestation and dissolution. and the whole cycle starts again in an endless process of manifestation and dissolution. the Puranas. Despite the fact that our world is different from what God has originally intended. The "new heaven and new earth" is rather an everlasting world where sin is eradicated and there will be "no more death or mourning or crying or pain" (Revelation 21. (6) Parasurama. (3) fish.
(2) The tortoise (Kurma). Under the cover of this boon. using a mountain as churning stick and the incarnation of Vishnu as a pivot on which to rest it. the demon persecuted both men and gods and even stole the Vedas from Brahma and dragged the earth under the ocean. However. recovered the Vedas and released the earth. During the deluge that destroyed the world the cream of the milk ocean (amrita). predicted the coming deluge to the saint Manu and saved him together with his family by leading his ship to safety. was lost. men and animals from which to be immune.(1) The fish (Matsya). so the gods sent a flood on the earth to drown him and thus recover the holy scriptures. Brahma had been forced to grant the boon of immortality to a demon that had performed austerities.
. descended into the ocean. killed the demon with his tusks. The Vedas were stolen from Brahma by a demon. by which the gods renewed their youthfulness and avoided death. (3) The boar (Varaha). he forgot to mention the boar when reciting the name of gods. down to his dark abode. Both gods and demons together set about producing amrita by churning the ocean of milk. so Vishnu took the form of a huge boar. Their action was successful and the amrita recovered. Vishnu took the form of a fish.
(5) The dwarf (Vamana). the next avatar (Ramachandra) came and the two had to struggle. Krishna retreated into the forest in meditation. He had the assurance from Brahma that he could not be killed either day or night. In the Mahabharata Parasurama is knocked senseless by Ramachandra. A hunter mistook his foot for a deer and shot it. inside or outside his house. Buddha preached
. The king Bali had gained too much power by his sacrifices. he killed Kamsa and took part in the Bharata war (with the most famous episode being the one recollected in the Bhagavad Gita). A demon had obtained the boon of immunity through asceticism from the attacks of men. killed Ravana and rescued his wife. During childhood he performed many feats of strength.) (7) Ramachandra (Rama). (6) Parasurama (Rama with the ax). Vishnu took the human form of prince Rama. the dwarf suddenly grew to an enormous size and covered all the earth and the heavens by his paces and Bali was left with only the nether regions. thus piercing Krishna's one vulnerable spot and mortally wounding him. (8) Krishna. especially over the Brahmins. Vishnu took the form of half-man. In his youth. gandharvas and demons. who was kidnapped by the demon and taken to the Lanka Island. killing all demons sent against him by Kamsa. Krishna's mission had three phases: childhood. The demons had stolen the sacrificial potions of the gods and performed asceticism. so the gods were endangered of losing their heavenly position to him. The objective of Vishnu's incarnation as Krishna was to kill the demon Kamsa. Vishnu came to earth as Parasurama and exterminated the whole kshatriya caste with his ax. Rama used a magic weapon infused by the power of many gods. in his middle-age. Under this cover. At last. (9) Buddha. Ravana persecuted gods and men. the hero of the Ramayana epic. for Ravana was too proud to ask immunity from men. half-lion (neither man nor beast) and tore the demon into pieces in the evening (neither in the day nor in the night) in the doorway of his palace (neither inside nor outside it). who had granted him immunity from being killed by gods. Once accepted. so the priestly caste was endangered. who had become a tyrannical king. so the gods could not conquer them. This demon grew very powerful and forbade the worship of all gods and substituted it with worship for himself. Therefore Vishnu was incarnated as a dwarf and asked the king the gift of three paces of land. Rama raised an army of monkeys and bears led by the monkey-god Hanuman and a great battle was fought in front of the gates of the city. (Both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata recollect this episode. beasts and gods. His mission accomplished. Vishnu incarnated as a man of delusion in order to propagate false ideas and lead them astray from their old faith. killing children and banning the worship of Vishnu. youth and middle age. The warrior caste (kshatriya) was exercising tyranny over all men. While he was still on earth. Ramachandra defeated him in a trial of strength and broke his bow. The demon Ravana had practiced austerities in order to propitiate Brahma.(4) The man-lion (Narasinha). Krishna had many amorous adventures with married cowgirls. Many adventures followed in his trip to save his wife Sita.
. 6. 2. He was a kind of devil's advocate who managed to weaken the opponents of the gods. half-beast. The demons became Buddhists. 8 3. did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. 3. 7. that there is no dharma. 9) according to how the demon had to be d
Now let us turn to the nature of the divine incarnation in Christianity by presenting an excerpt from a previous file on the nature of salvation in Christianity.6-7). (10) Kalki. accomplishing the final destruction of the wicked and preparing the way for the renewal of creation and the resurgence of virtue in the next mahayuga. taking a human body and descending into our world through the virgin birth. The following table summarizes the meaning of Vishnu's past 9 avatars:
Topic A demon performed austerities and gained too much power over the gods The avatar came to save the gods The avatar came to save humans The avatar kills a demon The avatar's form of embodiment
Which avatar's case fits into this scenario 3. 4. 8. 2. 5. 5. The Apostle Paul states: Christ Jesus. 4. Vishnu and Shiva) were just ordinary mortals.
God the Son incarnated as Jesus Christ
The Christian account of divine incarnation presents God the Son willingly leaving His divine glory. 3). 4. Buddha as avatar of Vishnu has no historical background. This story was first presented in the Vishnu Purana (5th century AD) and is obviously an attempt to subordinate Buddhism to Hinduism. half-human (4). that the three major gods (Brahma. 7. being in very nature God. 8
Animal (1. hum 7. taking the very nature of a servant. 7. 7. The last avatar. 9 1. Obviously. 3. who is still to come. that death is total annihilation.that there is no creator. but made himself nothing. puts an end to the degenerated earth. abandoned the Vedas and consequently were killed by the gods. 4. that there is no heaven and hell and that the sacrifices are of no value. 8. 9
1. being made in human likeness (Philippians 2. 8.
Jesus Christ is the only incarnation of God. with no intrinsic value to it). This double nature of Jesus Christ is the key for understanding His mission of reconciling man with God. there cannot be any real association of god with a physical body.22). For the same reason there is so much accent laid on His physical resurrection. which is considered a classic heresy in Christianity. it did not involve the giving up of any divine attributes. The doctrine of the kenosis involves the veiling of His preincarnate glory (John 17. As they have no historical basis.5).3) and the temporary nonuse of divine attributes during His earthly ministry. This was the crux of His incarnation: He had to die on the cross for our redemption from sin and reconciliation with God. The kenosis of Christ was His free will initiative and not a necessity imposed by His nature. The Apostle Peter states in his epistle:
. The most striking difference from Hindu avatars regards Christ's death. descended into our world with a unique and non-repeatable mission in history. which for a Hindu avatar would be completely absurd. become God the Man. therefore His association with it was real. = “emptying”). as is the case with the periodical incarnations of Vishnu. In Vaishnava Hinduism none of the avatars has a perfect union of the two natures. but the unique incarnation of God the Son. According to Christianity. He is not a mere avatar. Due to considering the physical body a mere garment that is put on and off (according to Bhagavad Gita 2. taking on Himself the likeness of human sinful flesh (Romans 8. Christ came to redeem the physical body as well. a periodical incarnation of a Hindu god.This “making Himself nothing” performed by God the Son is called in theology “the kenosis of Christ” (lit. Therefore the avatar fits best in the Docetic understanding of Christ (the appearance of a physical body. it is very difficult to speculate on how their divine nature combined with the physical one (animal or human). but the addition of humanity with its consequent limitations. Although taking a human nature was a real humbling for God the Son. It does not mean a subtraction of deity. perfect in both His divine and human nature.
from a global point of view the demons' bad deeds must be seen as necessary in balancing karma.19). “It is finished” (John 19.
Parallels between the Hindu avatars and Jesus Christ
What are demons?
According to Hinduism. it becomes absurd that Vishnu has to intervene in the world by descending as an avatar to save it. as the Docetist heresy suggests. However.24. demons are either beings that appeared through the primordial act of manifestation.18). the killing of a demon has a very limited effect. the evil they do is not arbitrary. but as a poor miserable man. so there are necessary periodical incarnations of the divine. While dying on the cross.30). experiencing suffering in its fullest sense. only one's physical frame can be "killed" (see Bhagavad Gita 2. which means. by his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2. the expression used was Tetelestai. demons never stop creating problems. Jesus Christ as “the Lamb of God. through eternal torment. and eventually there is reincarnation back into human form and henceforth a new chance given to attain liberation. “the debt was paid in full”. On the other hand. Was the suffering of Christ on the cross a mere illusion. As the periodical manifestation of
.He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree. Save it from what? From the consequences of karma. immortal soul". Consequently they reincarnate as evil beings which cause much suffering in the world. He did not die only in physical appearance. see also 1. or humans that didn't follow their duty (dharma) or performed bad deeds during their lifetime. so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness. 3. as Jesus once proclaimed: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Therefore. What was meant here is the debt that man deserved to pay for his sins in hell. It doesn't guarantee that the demon will not create problems in his next existence. who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1. By His death. For this reason. as some esoteric interpretations suggest? Obviously not! His torment and death were so real that none of those who saw it could expect a future victory over death.18-21. In Greek. that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3. This proves the full incarnation of God the Son. as the law of karma makes sure that the humans afflicted by demons are justly punished for their own bad deeds performed in previous lives.16). the demon stage of existence is limited. not the "infinite. Keeping this in mind. Jesus Christ took our place in punishment. a spiritual law that can never be abolished? As long as karma operates in the world. Mocked and spit upon by the human race. His death proves both the seriousness of our sin and the unfathomable love of God. According to the reincarnation doctrine. nailed on a cross and forsaken by the Father. Jesus paid in full the price required for the salvation of mankind from sin.29) is the cornerstone of Christianity and its non-paralleled element. at least 10 in each mahayuga. Jesus shouted.
In Christianity the idea of God becoming incarnate to save Himself is absurd. On the other hand.the world created by Vishnu never ends. God is not affected at all by anything demons could do. 4. 6. 3. 4. From this point of view. gods or humans?
In Hinduism not only can demons force the gods to admit their merits. the demons will be eternally separated from the Kingdom of God at the judgment day. 7 and 8) are concerned with saving humans. so does the affliction of it by the demons. in a limited measure. demons have a different nature and destiny. As the present world has a limited time span and there is no re-manifestation of it. the coming of Christ could never have occurred as necessary. On the other hand.)
How did the demons attain power over the gods?
A very interesting fact in Hinduism is that anyone . The problem in Christianity is not that demons are a threat to God. by any possible way of asceticism. As a result. The only purpose of God's incarnation in Jesus Christ is the salvation of humans from the effect of sin. Power can only be given by God. (For more information on the nature of demons in Christianity click here. while only 6 (no. 7. nobody can break it. human or demon . 2. According to Christianity. This proves that the gods have a very fragile position and are more concerned about themselves than the problems of humankind. The mechanism of attaining such power is beyond the control of the gods. the avatar has to find a way of killing the demon without breaking the promises made to him by Brahma. They are fallen angels who will never reincarnate. 4th. there are 8 avatars (no. For instance. such a power as that attained by the Hindu demons cannot be attained by any creature in our world. Neither angels nor demons could ever represent a threat for God. 8th and 9th avatars of Vishnu all came because a demon performed so many austerities that the god Brahma was forced to grant him the boon of immortality as a reward.god. in Christianity. Once this power is attained. and only in order to recognize the true source of power. 8 and 9) involved in saving the world of gods from the power attained by demons. In fact. Therefore. 3. return to their initial status or attain salvation. in Christianity demons have no possible way of blackmailing God. 5. the solution of killing the demons by the avatars is only a short-term solution to the problem of evil in the world.
Who did the divine incarnation came to save. which proves their weakness in ruling the world. They cannot attain more power than they were left with at the fall. The solutions are sometimes very funny (see for instance the 3rd and the 4th avatar). 1.can attain the same magical power through performing austerities (tapas). 1. Through the act of the divine incarnation man can gain a chance to return to personal communion with his
. 7th. but the descent of the divine into human form is more concerned with saving the world of the gods than that of humans. who is God himself. the 3rd. but that man has chosen to disobey God.
how could the gods cooperate with demons at the time of the second avatar's (Kurma) coming? How is it possible to become allies and to be both threatened by the absence of amrita? This leads us to believe that both gods and demons are of the same nature and use the same source of power. How can this be? How could two incarnations of the same god wrestle with one another? Isn't each avatar under divine control? Why didn't the first Rama leave in time? Or why couldn't he solve the problem for which the next avatar came. the one who rejected the basic tenets of Hinduism. if taken out of history.10). if he was present anyway in the world? On the other hand.000 years ago.
How does the divine incarnation save?
Usually the Hindu avatar kills the demon (no. This was the "gift of God" (Romans 6. However. passion and resurrection. According to the Bible. lived and died nearly 2. On the one hand.
Contradictory aspects of the Hindu avatars
A weird fact to mention here is the conflicts between two contemporary avatars of the Treta Yuga (Parasurama and Ramachandra).Creator. If his life were not a unique historical event. only the demon-king Bali is spared and sent to hell by no. so it can accept any tales of the repeated divine incarnation. Hindus accept Jesus Christ as an avatar (of the Western world) with a powerful message. leave nothing to Christianity. but being nothing more than any other avatar. due to reincarnation this "killing" is not of much effect. 7. presenting Jesus Christ as a historical God-man who was born. being only a limited solution to the problem of evil. miracles. The spiritual message of the avatars is the only element that matters. a chance offered to us to be set free from the power of Satan and sin. Jesus let Himself be crucified for our sake. On the other hand. Hinduism is very syncretistic. in Christianity. Christianity is very exclusivistic when it comes to characterizing the descent of the divine into human form. the final destruction of demons' power will only occur at the judgment day (Revelation 20.
Could Jesus Christ be assimilated with a Hindu avatar?
Christianity is a religion that breaks into history. The killing is performed with much caution. including even Buddha among the avatars. His claims. On the other hand.23) as ransom for our sins. Hinduism is not concerned with historicism. His whole teaching would be absurd. not their historical presence. 3. On the other hand. In accordance with the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. 5). 8.
. Having this mindset. Jesus Christ didn't literally kill Satan. 4. so that the promises made by the god Brahma should not be broken.
death on the cross and resurrection give Him a totally different portrait than the Hindu avatars. No part of this work will be used or reproduced by any means without prior permission from the author. “All who draw the sword will die by the sword”
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Jesus' sayings that allegedly imply that humans have a hidden divine nature that has to be discovered through introspective meditation: 1) John 10:30.52. not a way. this man or his parents. concerning the identity of John the Baptist as Elijah reincarnated 2) John 9:2. 148)
Copyright 1999. (R. "I and the Father are one". Rabindranath Maharaj summarized it in his book Death of a Guru in the following words: Jesus said he is the way. and he came to this earth as a man.but to save them.like Krishna said of himself . so that eliminates Krishna and everyone else.Jesus Christ cannot be just another avatar. His passion.. they never existed. 2) Luke 17:21. He is the only true God. Krishna never did that. This would deprive Him of His true identity. And no one else could. Maharaj Death of a Guru. Jesus is not just one of many gods. And Jesus was resurrected. He did not come to destroy sinners . regarding the unity with Ultimate Reality that any human could eventually attain. p.in fact. which never happened to Krishna or Rama or Shiva . “Who sinned. "the kingdom of God is within you".J. Ernest Valea. that he was born blind?” 3) John 3:3. a mere variant of an eternal myth. Alleged Eastern equivalent sayings of Jesus Christ Most of the examples of such sayings are analyzed in previous files. not just to show us how to live but to die for our sins. so please take a look at the following links: Jesus' sayings that allegedly suggest reincarnation: 1) Matthew 11:14 and 17:12-13. “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" 4) Matthew 26. 1977. Holman Co. A. This statement is sometimes interpreted as confirming the Eastern concept of an inner divine self (atman) that has to be
by no means an inner spiritual nature they would allegedly possess. "among you" or "within your reach". that refers to the time when God will assert His universal rule. nor will people say. despite all the antagonism between them. Let us quote both parables and then analyze them. This truth is what they had to acknowledge. a brief commentary may be useful here. He constantly rebuked them for their hypocrisy (in Luke.discovered in order to find liberation. Their expectations from the Messiah were totally different from what Jesus had to offer. knowing that His relation with them was always very tense? On the one hand.
. entos hymon) must have another meaning than an acknowledgment of a divine human nature. Therefore. There is also a further aspect of it. while the Pharisees were? If so.' because the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20-21). 'Here it is. that the Kingdom was already present in their midst in the person of its king. "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son in Christianity and Buddhism
Most of you know the Parable of the Prodigal Son as it appears in Luke's gospel. 18:10-14). He should have chosen his disciples out of the Pharisees. having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come. Jesus had acknowledged the inherent divine nature of the Pharisees as a kind of hidden treasure to be discovered by any human. the one who was standing in the midst of the Pharisees. which is again absurd. Therefore it is absurd to believe that. 16:14-15. as an inner transformation in the heart of the individual believer under the power and grace of Christ. a closer look will reveal fundamental differences in their teaching and consequently between Christianity and Buddhism. As mentioned in a previous file. and the Kingdom will be manifest to all (Matthew 25:3134). The context of this saying is the following: Once. Although both parables seem to convey a similar message regarding God's compassion for humans. The phrase "within you" (gr. It first comes without being in the range of the natural power of observation (as Jesus states in this text). Otherwise why didn't He teach it to his devoted disciples? Were they not fit to accept it. It is better translated as "in your midst". see 11:39-43. Jesus. but probably few are aware that it has a Buddhist parallel in one of the major writings of Mahayana Buddhism. so they couldn't belong to the Kingdom Jesus was announcing. Why had Jesus addressed these words to the Pharisees. was the divine representative of the Kingdom to come. Jesus replied. the only “true inner nature” of man is sin. the Pharisees had constantly rejected Jesus as the Messiah and considered Him a blasphemer. The Kingdom of God can be defined as the sphere in which His rule is fully acknowledged. 12:1.' or 'There it is. On the other hand.
or twenty. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. "Father. the poor son. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. at last reached the city where his father had settled. who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. he was lost and is found. "How many of my father's hired men have food to spare. "you are always with me. the younger son got together all he had." So he divided his property between them. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again." (Luke 15:11-32)
The Buddhist parable is longer: A young man left his father and ran away. At this time. After he had spent everything. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country.First. I have sinned against heaven and against you. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home." The older brother became angry and refused to go in. and everything I have is yours. he ran to his son. "Your brother has come. the more needy he became." he replied." So they began to celebrate. "Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him." So he got up and went to his father. The older he grew. The father had
. but no one gave him anything. The son said to him. Not long after that. "Father. For long he dwelt in other countries. The younger one said to his father. for ten. The father had searched for his son all those years in vain and meanwhile had settled in a certain city. When he came to his senses. "and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound." the father said. he heard music and dancing. threw his arms around him and kissed him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. you kill the fattened calf for him!" "My son. But we had to celebrate and be glad. here is the text in the Gospel According to Luke: There was a man who had two sons. make me like one of your hired men. or fifty years. he unexpectedly approached his native country. there was a severe famine in that whole country. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating. the older son was in the field. his goods and treasures were fabulous. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But he answered his father. and he began to be in need. Let's have a feast and celebrate. and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father. Wandering in all directions to seek clothing and food. So his father went out and pleaded with him. set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. he was lost and is found. His home became very rich. because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again. he said." But the father said to his servants. give me my share of the estate. "Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. I have sinned against heaven and against you. But while he was still a long way off. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. When he came near the house. wandering through village after village and passing through countries and cities. his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him. Meanwhile.
yet. "This must be a king. knowing that his own lordly position had caused distress to his son. he rushed away. and that now he would surely die. was struck with compassion for him. I yearn for him. for I have no heir. fainted away and fell on the ground. seeing his father having such great power. I may suffer oppression. If I could only get back my son and commit my wealth to him." Instantly he sent off his attendants to pursue the son quickly and fetch him back. His father." Reflecting thus. "I have no need for this man. sent word to the messengers. although he had been parted from him over fifty years.I have no son.
. desiring to attract his son. The poor son. having found him. The poor son. saying. sorrowful and poor in appearance." A messenger said to the son." The poor son was delighted. or someone of royal rank." By such means he got near to his son. surprised and scared. and with great joy in his heart reflected. torn and dirty garment. thought that although he was innocent he would be imprisoned. with no means of seeing him. Sprinkle cold water on his face to restore him to consciousness and do not speak to him any further. "Go and visit that place and gently say to the poor man. smeared his body with dust. Immediately the messengers hasten forth to seize him. He arose from the ground and went to a poor village in search of food and clothing. He became all the more terrified. The poor son. I had better go to some poor village in search of a job. "I set you free. warriors. he saw from a distance his father seated on a lioncouch. don't be lazy. it is impossible for me to be hired here. regretting that he had come to this place. 'There is a place for you to work here. Do not bring him by force. I have always been thinking of my son. Following that. and put on a coarse. We will hire you for scavenging. his feet on a jeweled footstool. the poor son. but suddenly he himself has come and my longing is satisfied. Standing by the gate. took a basket in his right hand. saying. and citizens. where food and clothing are easier to get. Although I own much wealth . and with an appearance fear-inspiring said to the laborers. granaries and treasuries overflowing . he had never spoken of the matter to anyone. to whom he afterwards said. "I have committed no offense against you. Some day my end will come and my wealth will be scattered and lost.always been thinking of his son. tactfully did not say to others. knowing that his son's disposition was inferior. joined them in removing a refuse heap. and we both also will work along with you. "This is my son. and jewels. having received his wages in advance. his soft attire. how contented and happy would I be. Secretly he sent two men. Meanwhile the rich elder on his lion-seat had recognized his son at first glance. unexpectedly arrived at his father's house. revered and surrounded by priests. haggard and drawn. He reflected. seeing this from a distance. go wherever you will. presented him the above proposal. silver. and with expensive strings of pearls adorning his body. If I stay here long. was seized with fear.'" Then the two messengers went in search of the poor son and. yet convinced that he was his son. with no further anxiety!" Meanwhile the poor son. thus obtaining the unexpected release. One day he saw at a distance." Why? The father. Then the elder. "Old and worn out I am. my man. hired for wages here and there. "Now I have someone to whom I may pass on my wealth. set up a device.gold. "Ay. "Get on with your work. why should I be arrested?" The messengers all the more hastened to lay hold of him and brought him back. loudly cried his complaint. lean and sorrowful. He took off his strings of jewels. The father. attendants and young slaves waiting upon him right and left. beholding the son. Though worn with years. He only pondered over it within himself and cherished regret in his heart. filthy with dirt and dust. through the window. his son's figure.
do not be worried again. lazy. and my granaries and treasuries are full to overflowing. said to the poor son. do not leave again. these treasures now come to me. However. or effort on my part. and such things that Buddha-sons should obtain. "Now. your father. salt. and precious things. "Now I possess an abundance of gold. knowing that our minds delighted in inferior things. but still we did not perceive that we are really Buddha's sons. Then the father became ill and. But because of the three sufferings. angry or grumbling. still thought of himself as a humble hireling. But the poor son. he still had no idea of expecting to inherit anything. rice. Have no hesitation. by his tactfulness taught according to our capacity. with such vices as these. the kings. I have never seen you. wheat-flour. He went in and out and at his ease. he left me and ran away to endure loneliness and misery. we have all obtained. "Without any mind for. vinegar. When they were all assembled. begotten by me. In these we have hitherto been diligent to make progress and have got. his abode was still the original place and he was still unable to abandon his sense of inferiority. all the time you have been working. knowing that he would die soon. Today the Worldhonored One has caused us to ponder over and remove the dirt of all diverting discussions of inferior things. and so on. His former name was so-and-so and my name was so-and-so. although he rejoiced at this happening. I am. and thus he thought. you have never been deceitful. For this reason." The poor son accepted his instruction and commands. we greatly rejoiced and were contented. a day's pay for our effort to reach nirvana. gentlemen. I want you to understand in detail the quantities of these things. for twenty years he continued to be employed in scavenging. his aspirations developed." World-honored One! The very rich elder is the Tathagata. Be increasingly careful so that there be no waste. and we are all as the Buddha's sons.you stay and work here. At that time in that city I sought him sorrowfully. "For our diligence and progress in the Buddha-law what we have received is ample". Suddenly I met him in this place and regained him. besides there is an old servant whom you can get if you need him. though his abode was still in a small hut. as it were. great was his joy at such unexpected news." The elder gave him a new name and called him a son. It is over fifty years since. in the midst of births-and-deaths we have borne all kinds of torments. like the other laborers. This is my wish. This is really my son and I am really his father. and became acquainted with all the goods. and you must agree to it. The Buddha.
. and citizens. as it were. being deluded and ignorant and enjoying our attachment to things of no value. there grew mutual confidence between the father and the son. and that he despised his previous state of mind. Why? I am old and advanced in years. but you are young and vigorous. and gathered all his relatives. priests. I will increase your wages. The Buddha has always declared that we are his sons. and the amounts that should be received and given. After this period. from a certain city. this is my son. Seeing that his own end was approaching. yet now the Great Treasure of the King of the Law has of itself come to us. he addressed them saying. saying to ourselves. he commanded his son to come. Why? Because now we are of the same mind." When the poor son heard these words of his father. From this time forth you will be as my own begotten son. bowls. and all my previous disbursements and receipts are known by this son. Obtaining this. Therefore we say that though we had no mind to hope or expect it. the father noticed that his son's ideas had gradually been enlarged. Be at ease in your mind. warriors. Now all the wealth which I possess belongs entirely to my son. silver. After a short time had again passed. give whatever you need.
that of becoming a bodhisattva. as the Buddhist parable speaks only of a prodigal son.Luke 18:9-14). which revealed the new teaching of Mahayana Buddhism regarding the bodhisattva beings. the Pharisees. prostitutes and other outcasts (Luke 15. the Buddha nature Dharmakaya). Although the contrast between the two sons is an important point in the parable. the teaching about the older son in Luke will be ignored in this comparison. bodhisattvas. The discourse of the Buddha is said to have taken place in front of a very large public. in order to emphasize His initiative in seeking and saving such sinners. His expectation that all sinners may return to a father-son relationship with Him.1-2). gods and other beings.(Saddharmapundarika Sutra 4)
The parable in its context
In Luke. It will eventually be attained step by step after a long instructing and testing process. consisting of arhats. His teaching was addressed to those who have reached the arhat stage of becoming and are supposed to advance further by becoming a bodhisattva. while the prodigal son is the one living in sin who finally repents and returns to a fellowship relation with God. the tax collectors. In the Sutra the father is Buddha (or more specifically. they acknowledged their sinful life and came to Jesus for healing and forgiveness. while the son is the one struggling to become an enlightened bodhisattva being. As the son in the parable shouldn't be satisfied by his lower status. the Ultimate Reality in Christianity. Jesus told this parable to a large public consisting of both "religious experts" of the day.
The son's departure and miserable condition
. * The Buddhist parable is part of the famous Saddharmapundarika Sutra (also called the Lotus Sutra. The Pharisees considered these "sinners" to be outside the acceptable boundary of God's kingdom and accused Jesus for enjoying their company. nuns. the Buddhist disciples should also aspire to a higher position. In contrast to their attitude. Thus the Parable of the Prodigal Son reveals both God's love for those who were ready to accept it (the prodigal son who returns to his father).
In the gospel the father represents God. while the Pharisees considered themselves good enough according to God's standards (see the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector . In response. and His rejection of the Pharisees' hypocrisy and selfcentered righteousness (the older son in the parable). and the people most despised by them. composed at the end of the second century AD). the parable reveals the nature of God in Christianity. He told the previous two parables in the same chapter (The Lost Sheep and The Lost Coin).
The only spiritual fulfillment is a permanent growth toward an impersonal liberation. therefore being hired to feed them and even being hungry enough to long for their food illustrates the worst possible situation one can reach. and the best offer he had was to feed someone's pigs. * The prodigal son of the Buddhist Sutra leaves home without any fortune from his father.
. the pigs are considered unclean animals. the father's only concern proved to be his son's personal safety and return to the family. which leads to an endless wandering in the world. However. in the end it leads to destruction. The father doesn't seem to have been rich at the moment of his son's departure. However. humans have no other inheritance than karma. both from an existential and a spiritual point of view. The only one who is losing everything is man. In a Jewish context. time and relationships) not for serving Him in obedience. His wealth plays no role for him. instead of rebuking or even denouncing his son. the son left for a distant country and there he squandered his entire fortune in wild living. His departure looks more like running away in secrecy. so there was no place for him to return. As the son leaves his home poor and remains poor. the father grants his request. Soon after this. He also becomes more and more needy but is still able to make a living. which makes them wander from one bad incarnation to another. The only truth that governs human existence is suffering and karma. He rather became rich after this episode. This attitude is called sin. health. he was still rich after the son's departure. Another important observation here is that although the father in the parable gave a large fortune to his son. God does not oppose one's freedom of will in choosing how to live. Regarding the father's concern in this story. This is the Buddhist treasure to be discovered by any cost. God does not lose anything by our decision to live in rebellion to Him. Although living in sin is first very attractive and pleasant. but he even dares to claim his inheritance. the fortune he is supposed to get at his father's death. As the son in the parable claimed his inheritance and then squandered it. the father had left it. The spiritual meaning of the prodigal son's leaving his home is assimilated in Christianity with man's rebellion against God. in another city than the one in which he previously lived with his son. humans use all that God has granted them (wealth. but against His will. Even if he would have. Not only does he want to leave home. but it brought him to bankruptcy. his heavenly father. Such a demand is extremely outrageous. he seems more worried about having an heir than about making his son happy again. Now he had to find a job to make a living in that country. and brings humans to the lowest possible stage of decadence. especially in the Middle Eastern context.The prodigal son in Luke declares he has had enough of staying home in obedience to his father and wants to be on his own. Therefore the son had no wealthy position to remember from home and to eventually return to. As the rich man in the parable didn't become poor by his son's departure. This probably was a quite new and interesting experience for him. with no original position to return to. The meaning of the son's wandering in the Buddhist tale is that there is no initial position to lose in one's spiritual becoming.
What happens back home?
According to Luke's parable. was a much better choice than staying with the pigs. However long the process of being reincarnated in different bodies may be. the father's wealth inspired fear in the son and made him try to run away again in order to not enter into more trouble. They constantly push man on the one-way of becoming. "while he was still a long way off. the father was waiting for his prodigal son. The fattened calf was slaughtered and a feast ordered to celebrate his return. Eventually. confess his sin and ask to be hired as a servant. The son didn't even recognize his father. The process of one's "coming to his senses" is called repentance in Christian theology.The way back home
The prodigal son of the gospel finally "came to his senses" and acknowledged his dramatic condition. his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him. the ring the sign of authority. the father humiliates himself by running to meet him. at the father's command. whose situation had changed a lot since his departure. the void. More than this. * The Sutra presents in a whole different way the prodigal son's return home. he ran to his son. * The Buddhist prodigal son made no decision to return to his father. acknowledging he was wrong. put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. the sandals a luxury (only slaves were bare-footed) and the slaughter of the fattened calf the sign of a very important celebration in the family. Instead of becoming a hired servant as he hoped. All these symbols prove a 100% forgiveness and rehabilitation of the son to his prior status. It involves acknowledging the bad condition of living in sin and making the decision to leave it. The son's wandering in the world can be interpreted as the effect of karma and reincarnation in one's life. After the son recited half of his prepared speech. one has to finally reach liberation (that's why the attendants seize the son against his will). where nothing personal can remain. One constantly experiences suffering until he has to accept that the best solution for his life is nirvana. the ultimate stage of becoming is shunya. he planned to return to his father. Instead of humiliating the son as a repayment for the shame he cast on his father at departure. 20). the son was fully restored to the position he had abandoned long before. Such a behavior was totally indignified according to Jewish standards of the time. the father interrupted him and commanded the servants to bring him the best robe. no matter how humiliating it could be in front of his brother and the other servants. Although reaching the status of a bodhisattva (a being that helps other humans attain liberation) seems to confer a personal afterlife destiny. The robe was a sign of great distinction. This position. threw his arms around him and kissed him" (v. He probably knew that the son couldn't find true satisfaction in what the world had to offer him. Ashamed. Instead of punishing him for his foolish behavior. He continuously wandered from town to town until he unexpectedly arrived at his father's palace. The father unexpectedly recognized him standing at his gate and sent his attendants to seize him and
. the attendants seized him and brought him to the palace against his will.
compel him to come to the palace. The son didn't understand the situation and became terrified. The father initially treated him like a stranger because of his "inferior disposition". A sudden restoration was out of the question. Understanding his son's mindset, the father set him free and managed that he be hired as a scavenger. Although filled with compassion, the father could not reveal his identity until the son deserved his proper place in the family. He met his son in disguise and encouraged him to be honest in his work in order to be promoted. He promised to increase his salary and provide for his basic needs. The son had first to prove high qualities before being accepted back into the family. So he lived for 20 years in a small hut while still being employed in scavenging. The testing process would have probably continued if the father hadn't become ill, feeling his death to be imminent. Even at this time the son was not fully accepted into the family but only promoted to a higher position, that of accountant over all his father's riches. Without abandoning his sense of inferiority, the son became acquainted with all the goods. Noticing that his son's ideas had gradually changed for the good and that he despised his former status, only then did the father gather all his relatives and friends and declare the former servant to be his son and heir.
The teaching of the parable in Christianity and Buddhism
The Christian meaning of the parable is clear. All humans need to return to God in repentance and faith. He does not compel humans to do it, so it must be a personal decision. God's forgiveness is not conditioned by attaining high spiritual performances but only by repentance. The price for our reconciliation with God was paid by Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross and His resurrection. There is nothing more to add and one life is enough to accept it. The parable depicts the amazing availability of God to forgive and restore us, His unlimited grace to bestow upon us, His great love to accept us independently of our status and past. This should give us courage to come to Him in repentance and faith, without fear, and inherit His Kingdom, where personal communion with Him will be everlasting. * The Buddhist parable has a different message. Both the process of being liberated (acknowledged as son) and the meaning of liberation (inheriting the father's estate) have a different meaning. One cannot simply attain liberation at once. The process is very long and demands a progressive accumulation of wisdom until one deserves his place in the hierarchy. Escaping from ignorance and suffering, attaining nirvana and the becoming of a bodhisattva is a hard-to-win prize that has to be attained gradually by a day-by-day effort in training the mind and overcoming karma. Grace, in Buddhism, cannot be shown directly, but only as the disciple deserves it, which in fact is no grace at all. There is also a major difference from Christianity in defining the status of the liberated person. Personhood has no room in the system. Although the bodhisattva is a personal
being, he acts as a temporary catalyst for the sake of other humans that they may also find nirvana. The true ultimate stage of spiritual progress is shunya, the void, where no personal communion can ever exist. It is the final blowing out of the candle. This means that an eternal communion with a Father in His Kingdom makes no sense in traditional Buddhism. Ultimately, there is no Father to have communion with.
The following table summarizes the teaching of the two parables and also reveals some basic contradictions between the two religions:
Topic in the parable The context
Meaning in Christianity Jesus is teaching sinners, emphasizing their need and opportunity to be reconciled with God.
Meaning in Buddhism Buddha is teaching spiritually advanced disciples (arhats) the need for attaining a higher position, that of a bodhisattva. Buddha (the ultimate impersonal Buddha nature) and the ones struggling to attain it Ignorance starts the wheel of karma.
God and the sinners
The meaning of the son's departure from home
The human attitude of rebellion against God, called sin The human condition under the power of sin, away from personal communion with God A personal decision to leave sin, called repentance
The son's miserable condition
Karma and reincarnation force one to wander from one physical existence to the next Karma and reincarnation lead one to the proper level where wisdom and spiritual progress can be attained. Buddha's "grace" makes one
The decision to return home
The father's attitude at the
Complete forgiveness of sin
and restoration to personal fellowship with God
progress little by little toward liberation. One has to deserve his position by a process of spiritual development. The disciple has to "pay himself" the price for erasing his ignorance, by constantly accumulating wisdom. Attaining an impersonal Ultimate Reality (shunya), where there is no room for personal communion
Who pays the damage for the lost fortune
God the Son incarnated as Jesus Christ paid the price for our forgiveness through His death and resurrection.
The son's inheritance
Eternal communion with God in His kingdom
Revelation and knowledge in Christianity
A previous file mentioned the necessity of critically evaluating a certain religious path before accepting it as a spiritual path toward Ultimate Reality. Four criteria were proposed: 1) internal consistency, 2) harmony between empirical knowledge and absolute (religious or mystical) knowledge, 3) viability and 4) contradiction with other religious perspectives. The moment has come to see how Christianity fulfills the first three criteria. As to the fourth, the files on the nature of Ultimate Reality, human nature, salvation and the nature of evil have already exposed the fact that world religions are irreconcilable on these topics, so they cannot be all equally true. This point should already be clear, so there is no need to reemphasize it. Before going on with our topic, an important clarification is needed: This file does not add anything to the many theological debates on the nature of revelation and knowledge in Christianity. There is a huge amount of literature available on this topic. (Have a look at the Christian links suggested in our special file.) The goal pursued here is only to provide a necessary answer to objections raised in previous files against Eastern pantheism, dualism and Buddhism regarding their basic inconsistencies. This is a limited objective and therefore the reader should not expect an exhaustive theological debate here.
Revelation as the only way of knowing God
rebuking. the atheist ideologies that swept through history have led only to the destruction of human dignity. it can never offer a satisfying answer to the meaning of life. There is no need for entering altered states of consciousness in order to get a glimpse of Ultimate Reality. On the other hand. Even if atheist naturalism may be satisfactory for some in explaining the way our physical world functions. Therefore it is important to evaluate the meaning and importance of Christian mystical experiences. and
. The best example for this is Yoga practice. For more information on this topic see our file on salvation in Christianity. As a result.
Mystical experiences in Christianity God's revelation in the Scripture is enough for man to be saved. sensorial and mental activity. However. mortal man? To what extent can we trust our empirical abilities of knowledge (our senses and mind) in order to get the right picture about ultimate truth? The Eastern religions state that Ultimate Reality has an impersonal nature and cannot be grasped by empirical means. as mentioned in a previous file. it is doubtful that ultimate truth can be grasped by such doubtful methods. The Apostle Paul wrote about the object of God's revelation in the Bible: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching. so that "mystical" experiences can be nothing more than hallucinations or distorted perceptions of reality. It does not diminish man's empirical abilities of knowledge. which demands the abolition of body movement. when the sense of unity with Ultimate Reality can be experienced.How do we know what Ultimate Reality is? What is the adequate way of communication between God and limited. using the sense of logic and requiring a personal response to it. The only way of getting a glimpse of it is shutting down normal perception and entering alterate states of consciousness. If the physical world is all there is. life would have no ultimate meaning at all. the accompanying experiences can be explained as a mere result of forcing our senses and mind to function in a totally inadequate way. The Christian answer in solving this dilemma is given by God's initiative to make Himself known to man. so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). or to receive direct instructions from Him. there are many cases mentioned in the Bible and others recollected by the Church. This process is called in theology revelation. in which God allowed some people to have "a closer look" at things that are beyond our world. if normal human capacity of perception alone were sufficient for grasping what Ultimate Reality is. correcting and training in righteousness. As long as such experiences can be obtained (to some extent) by the use of drugs or hypnosis. Its ultimate purpose is to redeem man from his fallen condition and help him experience salvation. breath. Revelation is informative and personal. However. but unveils facts that are beyond these abilities. as such experiences may be deceptive. we would fall into the trap of atheist naturalism and consider that the physical universe is all that there is and that science is the best tool to research it.
which is another indication of a wrong direction (1 John 4.10-19). Instead of attaining a special communion relation with God. The First Epistle of John in the New Testament is a wonderful instrument for evaluating it. not a mere "neti. heretical mystics feel they become "one with the essence of God". which comes from the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3. 4) Mystical experiences in the Bible and in Church tradition always confirm previous revelation in the Scripture. This is what is meant by being "transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory. 5) Mystical experiences never give the feeling of atman-Brahman oneness.7) and John had to transmit his message to seven earthly churches that were confronted with earthly problems (Revelation 2-3). in most cases Israel's apostasy. the message they got was meant to correct an earthly situation. and never induced by believers using special meditative techniques or asceticism. This will necessarily develop into isolation from other "profane" people. Ezekiel. they have to obey some basic requirements to be guarded against falling into heresy. On the other hand.21-22).18). 3) Special revelations are associated with external confirmations of their truth. 2) Those who were granted such special revelations had to remember a coherent spiritual message in the normal state of consciousness and transmit it to their fellow believers. as Eastern religions do. For instance. Experience is not the primary instrument of knowing God. Daniel. but only with His will in a higher communion relation. the best proof that the Christian mystic has gotten lost in pantheism is the abandoning of fundamental concepts such as sin. Although many of them had visions of other-world realities (Isaiah. The Christian mystic never unites with the being of God. Paul (2 Corinthians 12. than that of "absorption" or "merging" with the essence of Ultimate Reality. Christianity does not proclaim mystical experience as the only way of knowing ultimate truth.8). in His grace. As examples see the special revelations granted to the apostles Peter (Acts 10. The most important concern is abiding in Christian doctrine and morals. reverence toward God. There are five points here that emphasize the main differences: 1) Mystical experiences in Christianity are always initiated by God. They never contradict it or make Christian doctrine depend on them. Zechariah).9-16). but of confirming the revelation already received from Him in the Scripture and accepted by faith.7-21). The content was mostly informative and specific.see to what extent they are compatible with those of other religions.
. Consequently. the Apostle Peter was met by the men sent by Cornelius (Acts 10. In order to avoid deception by meeting a foreign spiritual world (1 Peter 5. Paul was forced not to boast by "a thorn in his flesh" (2 Corinthians 12. evil. neti" type of Hindu glimpse of the impersonal Brahman that cannot be communicated. Experience always has to be subject to revelation and faith because those experiences that contradict revelation may be of demonic origin. The same is the case with the Old Testament prophets. the Christian mystics use rather the term of the soul's "marriage" with God. and considering himself to have attained a realm beyond good and evil.2-4) and John (Revelation 1.
the second criterion a spiritual path should meet. logic has its origin in God. Even if our senses deceive us sometimes (as they make us believe the sun rotates around the earth). Empirical and absolute knowledge in Christianity By the fact that the same God created both our empirical abilities of knowledge (senses and mind) and the physical world to be known. Let us briefly analyze these claims.
Revelation and the three testing criteria In the context given by God's revelation to man. as it is part of a previous file. According to the Bible. creation is intelligible for the humans He created into His image and likeness. who was incarnated as Jesus Christ (John 1. it is required that logic should be transcended by the use of meditation techniques in order to attain oneness with the impersonal Ultimate Reality.) Neither personhood nor the physical world have anything intrinsically bad (Genesis 1. man was created by a personal God in His image and likeness (Genesis 1. there is correspondence between them. Because the Logos (God the Son) is rational. He chose to use it to designate God the Son. and 2) both man and the physical world were created by the same God. There is no meeting point between them. This generates some internal inconsistencies in Eastern religions (especially in the pantheist religions.) Christianity holds a different approach to logic. As a result. but is personified as God Himself. the order in the universe is not a product of the manifestation of an impersonal being (as Brahman). we can reach the right perspective not by rejecting sense
. Ancient Greek philosophy considered the Logos to be a rational element in nature that generates and controls its order. who laid it at the ground of His creation.Therefore Eastern mysticism and Christianity hold irreconcilable positions concerning the meaning and importance of mystical experiences. The senses give us true information about a true physical world around us. can state a right balance between empirical and absolute knowledge and is also pragmatic. not even on this ground. but the product of God's eternal and perfect mind. and the mind is able to make true judgments. This is of fundamental importance in balancing empirical and absolute knowledge. In other words. The word "logic" has its etymological root in the Greek "logos".
The use of logic in Christianity Eastern religions state that there is only one reality pervading all aspects of existence and therefore the sense of duality is ultimately illusory. The apostle John gave another meaning to this term in his gospel. (There is no need to explain again the meaning of man's creation in God's image and likeness. the Christian Logos is not a mere manifestation of an impersonal Ultimate Reality.31). As duality is the basis on which logic operates. For this reason Christianity has internal consistency.1-14). Christianity does not encounter the basic inconsistencies of Eastern religions in fulfilling the three above mentioned criteria because of two basic elements: 1) both God and man are personal beings.27-28) and lives in the midst of His physical creation. Therefore. the creator of all.
according to the mandate entrusted by God in Genesis 1.28). revelation would be impossible. the historical incarnation of God. or matter being illusory or evil. If there were an irreconcilable barrier between empirical and absolute knowledge (as Eastern religions state). but by being more careful in observations and their logical inferences (as Galileo Galilei did. as a personal being. This context makes science possible as a way of understanding God's creation in order to govern it properly. The Eastern concepts of researcher and researched being ultimately one. Not only was man created in God's image. Is Christianity viable? Christianity offers the right pattern for living in our physical universe and in harmony with our neighbors. As a result. inspired the Bible. Although science has eventually developed during the last century in the East as well. God could not give us unreliable rational powers and senses while making us think they are reliable. On the basis of his given abilities. the only solution is to withdraw from it. This results from two basic commands in the Bible:
. What better way of bridging the gap between empirical and absolute knowledge could we ask than the descending of Ultimate Reality to us in human form? This element unparalleled by other religions. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground (Genesis 1.28: Be fruitful and increase in number. was also in personal form. being a Christian). Jesus Christ was a historical person who lived on this earth in a physical body. In other words. For this reason.observation. it is obviously grounded on a Western pattern. science has developed in Western culture. and not in the East. but the fullest revelation of God to man. could not have given a proper context for science. in a Christian background. the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. As a Person of the Holy Trinity. Rationality in nature and rationality in man are therefore correlated. is the key element for both defining our true nature and finding our way back to God. but that science can only grow where the physical world is objective. so that personhood has nothing intrinsically bad. a personal relationship with God is not against the mind but beyond it. fill the earth and subdue it. This doesn't mean that the East doesn't acknowledge nowadays the importance of science. If the physical world is defined as a source of suffering. man can know and understand God's creation and "subdue" it. and descended in the world in order to save it from its fallen state. cut away any sensation and intellectual thought deriving from it. He could not be capable of such a deception. He is the same God that created man and the physical world. i.e. and faith works beyond what our mind can grasp but without destroying it. Empirical knowledge and the possibility for science to exist Our minds are capable of understanding the world we live in because we are created by a rational God. absolute knowledge (knowing God) does not contradict empirical knowledge but completes it.
inventing scripts. the dignity of labor. These are all practical deeds in the spirit of love for one's neighbor with which Christ has filled His followers.117). but with the people who disobey it. Although both taught compassion. The worldwide efforts in grounding orphanages. The british did as good a job as anyone in Africa. our whole educational system has its roots in Christianity. A Concise History of the Christian World Mission.000 schools in British Africa were government schools. 68% of all the school children in Africa were still in mission schools (p. 141). holy wars.all the work of missionaries (J. 2) "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22. not for what its so-called adherents do contrary to its teachings. 169). p. 1978. As late as 1961. The best moral rule for harmonious social living is the 10 commandments (Exodus 20.). Mother Teresa was an internationally known example of living out this spirit of Christianity. The missionaries had to start from scratch .27). Since then 500 have been reduced to writing . Even if Christian history has recorded a lot of falling short from practicing its moral rule (the often mentioned abuses of the Inquisition. to the fulfillment of real needs in one’s neighbor’s life. p. In fact.39. it is interesting to observe the difference between their lifestyles. Mark 12. but in 1923 only 100 of the 6. the fault is not with the religion. on the other hand. Luke 10. leads to action. In the Middle Ages schools and universities were first grounded around churches. The Eastern meaning of compassion (karuna) is an impersonal mindset rather than a factual commitment to one’s neighbor. social justice. fill the earth and subdue it. Herbert Kane.the sanctity of life. they had a different understanding of it. Baker Book House. and opening schools. hospitals. Christian compassion (agape). 166). freedom of thought and speech . As the same prize was awarded to the Dalai Lama in 1989. crusades. personal integrity. homes for the aged. Although very old.31. For many decades they were the sole purveyors of education. It had the same impact on human rights: By precept and example they [the missionaries] inculcated the ideas and ideals of Christianity .28). J. A hundred years ago fewer than 20 had a written form. Christian missions brought literacy to many parts of the world.which have since been incorporated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights drawn up by the United Nations" (Kane. Christianity is only responsible for what it teaches. they still cannot be replaced by a better moral rule. but also practiced it and was eventually rewarded with the Nobel Prize for peace in 1979. writing textbooks. She didn’t only teach compassion. That is why Mother Teresa got the prize for her work with the poorest
. The reformers emphasized the need for education so that the believer could read his Bible. etc. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground" (Genesis 1.1) "Be fruitful and increase in number. all kinds of care and charity institutions are also known. the worth of the individual. Herbert Kane writes in his book: There are 860 known languages and dialects in Africa.
sad and disappointed with his life. in a very good mood. Although the play took only a few minutes. 100). the writer of this web site?" This was the subject of an e-mail received by me. opens a drawer and takes out an object that he puts on his face. Following the Eastern tradition of answering tough questions by parables.
. they throw out the baby with the bathwater. and untouchability in India. ignoring the difference between genuine followers of Christ and counterfeits. He opens the door and the two have a nice party together. some time ago. This difference speaks for itself. and the destruction of twins in Africa. He seems to be too tired to go on looking for answers to life's questions in a hostile world like ours. I will use the story of a pantomime play I saw years ago on a student campus. John approaches the door and looks through the peephole to see who is there. child marriage. and the abandoning of babies in China. so Christianity has no real competitor in changing our world for the good. Suddenly his mood changes and he becomes as cheerful as his visitor is. footbinding. John goes to the wardrobe. They were the first to rescue unwanted babies. He approaches the wardrobe. clinics. "the writer of this web site". opium addiction. Then John sees his dear old pal off and closes the door. Roused from his lethargy. It is a mask. pestilences. critics today are used to seeing and commenting only the bad side of human history and blame Christianity for it. This dramatic atmosphere is emphasized by the melancholic music that is accompanying the play. jokes and fun. Before opening. Suddenly there is a knock at the door. takes off his mask and puts it away. Kane concludes in his book: By all odds the missionaries of the nineteenth century were a special breed of men and women. orphanages. medical colleges. and leprosaria. Single-handedly and with great courage they attacked the social evils of their time. while the Dalai Lama got it for his political stand for Tibet. In all parts of the world they opened schools. educate girls. At great risk to themselves and their families they fought famines. Imagine the main character in the pantomime standing alone in his room. and liberate women" (p. Let's call him John. and plagues.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Appendix "Who are you. the slave trade. the immolation of widows.in India (that no Hindu or Buddhist cared for). In other words. its message is so dense that it describes my whole life. coming to have another drink together. No other religion has produced at least a small part of such an impact on human civilization. his drinking companion. I use it here as a title for a short confession concerning my findings on the spiritual path toward God. It is a friend. They gave succor and sustenance to the dregs of society cast off by their own communities. floods. looking at nothing. temple prostitution. with a lot of drinks. hospitals. Instantly he returns to his initial icy state. Unfortunately. polygamy.
in his normal "state of consciousness". After a moment of uncertainty. he gives some money and gently directs him to other neighbors. Our man falls in his knees before Him and is transfigured. His face becomes shiny. John goes to see who is next to bother him. in the wardrobe. the stranger snatches John's mask and breaks it. with earphones on and her body moving to the rhythm of the music. But this episode also has to end and the mask is put back where it belongs. "the writer of this web site". a better illustration would have been that this visitor be a Yogi. pointing his hands toward John in a demanding attitude. as if nothing had happened.) Before opening. Paradoxically.Another knock at the door follows. Getting even more confused. I too am indebted to Christ for bringing me to light from behind the masks and giving me a new life. The next knock at the door is from a humped beggar. all dressed in white. miming the Crucifixion. but there is none left. all despair is gone and replaced by real joy. beginning to understand who He really is. The third and the fourth masks are also tried on but with the same result. as if offering his heart to him. Dreadfully scared. Through the peephole he sees an unknown fellow. with all masks carefully stored in the wardrobe. holding his hands together as if he were praying. the price He paid for renewing John's heart. Instead of accepting the invitation to have a drink together. Unexpectedly. John puts his hands on his chest and then stretches them toward Christ. spends some time miming the same "godliness".) At last John is again alone. John repeats this sign as if testing that he truly has understood Christ's demand. the embodiment of false godliness. although the music is the same in the play. our man doesn't know which mask to choose and takes the first one. It is Christ. which makes her even more ridiculous. and then gave me true freedom:
. Our man takes a similar mask. He liberated me from the yoke of being a stranger to myself. (In the context of this web page inquiry. which is beyond all masks. Failure. But the stranger snatches this mask as well and breaks it. Again there is loneliness and iciness. he feels a gentle touch on his shoulder and reluctantly turns his face to the stranger. They dance and have a good time together. pushing him toward the door with his prayer postured hands. His transformation into her likeness occurs immediately. Christ accepts it and then stretches his hands horizontally. Exhausted. Again John looks through the peephole and sees his girl friend. gratitude and hope. John searches for another mask in the wardrobe. it seems to produce a different feeling. something similar has happened with me. and the two performing some body postures (asanas) together. but gently invites "the holy man" to go. In his despair. Christ makes a sign of rejection toward the broken masks lying on the ground and draws the sign of the heart on his chest. (However. He answers affirmatively and keeps waiting with his hands outstretched. Very confused. as if it is accompanying the new life that has begun. from the illusion I was administrating to myself. Very compassionate and merciful. Christ is asking for his heart. a new knock at the door is heard. Finally here comes a wandering ascetic to visit him. Although my masks were slightly different. The mask of pity is put on and John opens the door. the only musical background in the play is the same sad and monotonous music. John takes the next mask and puts it on. Yes. the core of his true identity. he takes another mask and puts it on.
all-knowing and all-powerful. Consequently. which is more than anyone could expect from religion. as the healed man said once. It is obvious that none of the readers of this site belongs to the category of those who never heard about Christ. However. not in one created by someone's imagination and "wisdom". freedom from the power of sin. although it may have been quite a spectacle. as the musical background in the play. There are probably many of you that look condescendingly on this confession. The condition is to put your faith in the true Christ. "One thing I do know. if humans could be saved only by hearing about Him. Two extremes should be avoided when addressing the salvation of those who have never heard about Christ. It is a life full of hope. I was blind but now I see!" (John 9. they use it as an excuse for ignoring their responsibility toward Christ and for adhering either to atheism or to other religions. as the entire Western history and culture has a Christian background. we have to emphasize an important aspect when dealing with this issue: Such a question can be raised only by those who have heard about Jesus Christ. Remember how people laughed at him while he sought to reach the Pool of Siloam with his eyes covered with mud. However. It is obvious that this cruel kind of God cannot be the God who died for them on the cross as absolute proof of His love. or after this event. First. If He is all-loving. so precious that I cannot stop being thankful to Him. joy and fulfillment. He must have a solution for those who have never heard about His final revelation in Jesus Christ. including those who lived prior to his incarnation. In the midst of a world that seeks to fulfill only its own interest at all costs. Many may be skeptical and many may be smiling tolerantly. the eyes of the blind opened. I would only ask them to remember the healing of the man born blind by Jesus (John 9). He promises eternal life in His heavenly kingdom.25). More than a transformed life. full of meaning and certitude. the historical Christ that was incarnated and crucified for our sins. It is possible that I too may be ridiculed for what I have written here. finding a proper answer to this question is important for many people today. From the very beginning.
. This is Christ's gift for me. Christ can give true peace. life with Christ is totally different. as there are many such New Age productions today. How can those who never heard about Christ be saved? This question is a natural result when Christians state that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the only possibility for man’s salvation. regardless of the means. the multitudes which never had this chance during their lifetime would necessarily be damned to eternal suffering in hell. It may help them understand better the fact that Christ’s sacrifice is indeed the solution for any human in this world. in geographical areas not reached by Christian missionaries. but in most cases do not accept Him as Savior. so wonderfully pictured by Franco Zeffirelli's internationally known film Jesus of Nazareth. from the fear of not being accepted by worldly standards .freedom from the uncertainties of life. from pride and competition for prestige. Although the world I live in is the same. due to our postmodern mindset but.in other words. and the laughter froze.
Jesus Himself claimed to be the only possibility for any human’s salvation and reconciliation with God. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14. as his native religion requires. The Bible states that God is holy and will judge humans with justice (Acts 17.9). In the Western world. resurrection and ascension. etc. expressed through their deeds (Romans 2.31). As a result of the above considerations. If other religions were as good as Christianity in attaining salvation.12).6). However. The rise of Christianity as a new world religion would have been useless. and Jesus only one savior among many. salvation is provided only as a result of the specific historical acts performed by Jesus Christ in His life. if all other religions were valid ways to God.47-48). What He did is absolutely essential for the salvation of any human being who has ever lived. God shouldn’t have adopted such a dramatic and absurd solution for our sins as the crucifixion. but it cannot be possible that only those who have heard about Him can be saved. the effort of Christian missionaries would be absurd. rituals.18-20.12). If any human could have worked out his salvation by performing righteous deeds. anyone has elementary knowledge about Christianity. whether thousands of years BC or nowadays.Second. and therefore the terms of one's salvation are clear. it is obvious that their judgment will require other criteria than responding to the historical Jesus Christ. Salvation must be available also for those who haven't heard about Christ. The amount of revelation one has determines a consequent measure of responsibility on his part (Luke 12. Without Christ. no human could ever share eternal life with God. As to those who never had the chance to hear the Christian message. According to Christianity. meditations. is how does God show His grace to those who die without ever having heard about Jesus Christ?
. The same is stated by the Apostle Peter (2 Peter 3.36-37) and thoughts (Hebrews 4. The element which solves this dilemma is the criteria according to which God will judge those who never heard about Christ and grant them salvation. according to the available measure of revelation they had and their response to it. words (Matthew 12. the Christian claim of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross being the only possibility for man’s salvation should be rejected. The important thing to clarify. The Apostle Paul states: “God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2. Why would so many have sacrificed their lives.4). He said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. He commanded his disciples to go and proclaim this truth in the entire world (Matthew 28..15-16) and they did it (Acts 4. death on the cross.6). Mark 16. only to proclaim one of the many alternatives man has to reach God? Therefore we cannot sacrifice the importance of Jesus’ atonement on the altar of modern syncretism. then. God’s desire for all humans to be saved cannot be questioned. we have to face a dilemma: Jesus Christ is the only way to God.
but only God. then the internal one. Man was created in God's image and likeness. Anyone who performs evil is consciously acting contrary to the demands of his conscience. as we respond in faith to His revelation.have been clearly seen. even though they do not have the law.) The true problem of man is not the lack of revelation.There is no doubt that any human has been presented God’s general revelation. that of conscience. no matter how limited it might be. as a personal agent that is now in search of meaning and fulfillment. the Apostle Paul proves (in the first three chapters of his Epistle to the Romans) that all humans are sinful and deserve condemnation. Due to the fact that He could condemn them on the basis of their response to general revelation. but only after a process of constantly rejecting its natural right demands. being understood from what has been made. it should be emphasized that if salvation depended exclusively on how much information one had about Christ.14-15). do by nature things required by the law. since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts.8-9). when Gentiles. that of conscience. man is the highest of all. If the external revelation of nature is not enough. that of creation. God does not limit His grace to those who have enough information of Him. we would fall into the trap of Gnosticism (salvation through attaining right knowledge). But the Bible states clearly that nobody can earn his salvation through morality or good deeds (Ephesians 2.
Grace attributed retroactively If those who never heard about Christ could be saved only as a result of their response to general revelation. as a kind of symbolic preaching that anyone can understand: For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities . and the internal one. Before analyzing these cases. the Bible also speaks about people who never heard about Christ but still are saved (Hebrews 11). Creation is by itself a testimony about the Creator available to any human. both the external one. so that men are without excuse (Romans 1. conscience and culture.his eternal power and divine nature . According to how they respond to it. (However. even in the absence of any coherent Christian message. As the examples mentioned in The Letter to the Hebrews (chapter 11) prove. However. Out of all things that have been made by Him. conscience can become perverted itself. Knowledge doesn't save us. but a wrong way of responding to it (Romans 1. who do not have the law. the salvation of those who never heard about Christ depends on two basic requirements: 1) their response to the amount of revelation
. God could find enough reasons to judge and condemn those who never heard about Christ. which is through nature. Man’s conscience knows intuitively God’s moral standards and warns when they are trespassed: Indeed. their consciences also bearing witness. is even more significant. the next point is to see how they could still be saved.21-23). and their thoughts now accusing. we should also accept that salvation can be attained as a reward for one’s good deeds.20). Therefore. This is the result of consciously rejecting general revelation. now even defending them (Romans 2. they are a law for themselves.
27) banished his pride when he understood who the true God is.1-21. Not only people belonging to the chosen people of Israel were saved in the Old Testament time. the same instrument He uses today for all people who accept the sacrifice of Christ as the atoning solution for their sins (Hebrews 11. Abraham.1-21. They accepted the small amount of revelation they got. 7. Moses trusted that God would free the Jewish nation from Egyptian bondage and lead them into the Promised Land (Hebrews 11. the father-in-law of Moses. on the basis of the faith they manifested through properly responding to general revelation. Luke 4. responded in faith and as a result God conferred on them the atoning sacrifice of Christ.God. which is God’s responsibility. hearing about the approaching of Israel. David and others. despite the fact that none of them heard about Christ.20-22).31). the prostitute (!). Faith is the key element here. showing his faith by his decision to abandon idolatry. Jacob. Moses. we can observe the various kinds of revelation they had from God: Noah was warned about the imminent coming of the flood. Others like Rahab (Joshua 2. This was the effective way she expressed her faith in the true God and therefore was counted among the heroes of faith. Melchizedek was called “priest of the God Most High” (Genesis 14.8-19). While analyzing these famous examples of the Old Testament.18) without having any blood relation to Abraham.they had. Jacob and Joseph. Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5. God proclaimed him righteous because of his faith: “Abram believed the Lord. through Christ).15-17) and Jethro. Hebrews 11. Jacob (Genesis 49.2. the object of faith remains the same .27). 2) the retroactive conferring of Christ’s sacrifice. Enoch.1-19. and Abraham even paid tithes to him. Noah.10). Isaac. but rather engaging in a trusting relationship with God. Although the type of revelation differs (today we have available the final revelation of God.1-19. his response proved his faith in God’s promise to save him together with his family (Genesis 6-9). trusted in God and were blessed. He worshipped the same God.17-20. the father-in-law of Moses (Exodus 18). Melchizedek (Genesis 14. were saved although they didn’t even belong to the people of Israel. Their faith was the instrument through which God granted them salvation. but didn’t understand too much about its soteriological value. Let us analyze how this works. risked her life in order to hide the Jewish scouts (Joshua 2. All these people of the Old Testament. Hebrews 11. but also Gentiles. but through the grace of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. retroactively attributed to them. have not been saved through their merits. Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5. the descendants of Abraham. are all considered heroes of faith. which is their responsibility. Abraham trusted God’s promise that he would be blessed with a son and become the ancestor of a big nation (Genesis 12-22. Hebrews 11. It means trusting in the promises of God and responding through effective action to His initiative (Hebrews 11. Isaac. and He credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15. heroes of faith.31). finding out what God has done through the Jewish nation. Abel. Jethro. Moses (Deuteronomy 18. and the basis of His forgiveness cannot be other than Christ’s sacrifice. The 11th chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews gives many examples of people who lived in the Old Testament time and were saved without hearing about Jesus Christ.1-3).15) and David (Psalm 22) prophesied about His coming. Joseph. Rahab. For
.39-40).6). accepted by faith that the God of Moses is the true god. Faith is not limited to understanding the doctrine of atonement. Rahab. Luke 4.
if man’s attitude is one of humility. and acceptance of grace. the whole merit for getting saved belongs to the god (in Hinduism) or bodhisattva (in Buddhism) they worship. Neither those who lived prior to the incarnation of Christ. but sent him to the Jordan River.
. I. recognizance of his own weakness. who had leprosy. as it is a product of pride. which demands giving up the control of one's personal life to the god Vishnu and leaving to him all responsibility for attaining salvation. A clear example is that of Naaman the Syrian. All efforts which point toward self-justification are of no value. the situation in completely different.both those who lived before and after Jesus’ crucifixion. However. There have been enough spiritual masters who recognized the necessity of grace and the impossibility of reaching salvation by one’s own efforts. The desire to earn salvation (in Naaman’s case through bathing in the holy Syrian rivers. claiming to be able to attain salvation (liberation) by their own efforts. submit to you the burden of saving my soul (Nyasadashaka 2). According to them. Naaman is a symbol of man’s opposition toward God’s special revelation. Very often the adherents of Eastern religions fit into this category. a 14th century follower of Ramanuja: Lord.) is a natural product of a false religion. focuses on grace as the only solution for attaining liberation. They refuse God’s grace. God cannot validate this effort. The God who reveals Himself in the Bible knows man’s inner attitude and his motivation for performing certain religious duties. written by Vedanta Deshika. cannot be a valid way to God.5). by using a great variety of teachings and techniques. Following the ancient promise “you will be like God” (Genesis 3. More than that. didn’t encourage him to be more honest and devoted to his native religion. and with faith and prayer. However. We have observed this attitude in the prapatti devotional trend of Hinduism. etc. The adherent of this trend has to acknowledge that he is not good enough to deserve liberation by performing rituals and moral obligations. while refusing grace. can be saved exclusively through their religion. the whole prapatti philosophy can be summarized in the following verse. of man’s attitude of independence toward God. The prophet Elisha didn’t suggest that he should bring more sacrifices to the Syrian god Rimmon. The sacrifice of Christ is the element that validates the faith of humans who lived both before and after His incarnation. the entire spiritual trend called prapatti in Hinduism. There are also many cases of tribal religions in which grace plays a key role in salvation. more or less sophisticated. and the proper way of accepting grace was and will always be faith. God’s forgiveness was always granted through grace and not by one’s own merits. which God offers unconditionally. making offerings. conform to your will and desist being contrary to it. who am nothing. or the Pure Land school of Buddhism. By his initial refusal. no matter how impressive they could be. nor those living after His death but without knowing anything about it. Ramanuja and Madhva are brilliant examples in the Hindu tradition. as is Shantideva in Mahayana Buddhism. As mentioned in a previous file.
Salvation for those who never heard about Christ but accept the importance of grace The above considerations do not imply that all those who don’t know anything else than their native religion are automatically condemned.
convincing people of their sin and turning their hearts toward God. They will be saved not through their native religion. it should be acknowledged that if the salvation of tribes living in remote areas depended entirely on missionaries’ preaching. despite all fulfilled prophecies. This episode was rather a surprise for all. If there are many or few people in this category we cannot know. Their coming to Judea was obviously not customary. The most important factor. Before mentioning them. This example shows that God can use unorthodox methods to reveal Himself to those who are completely foreign to His revelation in the Bible. which is contrary to biblical teaching. They worshipped Jesus as King of the Jews and brought Him gifts worthy of a king. as a reward for their humility and recognition of the need for grace. is human response to His revelation. and a serious reason for Herod to feel his throne threatened. He will save such people. but only pride and refusal to change his attitude towards grace. again. He has sufficient means to do it all over the earth. It was not a rule for the Magi to worship the kings there at their birth. which flourished in Japan. their journey proves their faith and brings them to worship the true God. but refuse to do it. Such spiritual trends in other religions prove that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world. but if they refuse the available revelation. the bodhisattva Amida (the Buddha of Infinite Light) is able to save even the most despised sinner by his grace (tariki).1-12. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ tells us that man lacks any chance to please God by his own efforts. People do not respond to the amount of revelation they already have. that God’s grace in Jesus was an absolute necessity and His love for us was big enough to save us from the spiritual disaster to which our illusory independence would have brought us. Despite the fact that they were astrologers and probably believed that human destiny is shaped by the stars. This can be attained only through Amida’s grace. they still were granted a special revelation from God regarding His major intervention on earth to save humankind from sin.19-31) is extremely relevant here. To reach his paradise by human efforts (performing meditation or good deeds) is impossible. The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16. Most of Jesus’ contemporaries rejected Him because they refused to believe. healings and even His resurrection. does it mean that Christian missions are futile? There are two important reasons to reject this hypothesis. but despite of it. Some theological speculations see the gifts as pointing to His divine nature (gold). Man’s problem has never been the lack of revelation. they know what to do. According to the character displayed by the God of Christianity. One more aspect should be addressed here: If people can be saved without ever hearing about Christ. However. miracles. A classic example of how people belonging to cultures completely foreign to the JudeoChristian world can still have a revelation of God and meet him is the Magi from the east mentioned in Matthew 2. People are given everything they need in order to be saved. by the grace available for all in Jesus Christ. According to its doctrine.The same is the case with the Pure Land School of Mahayana Buddhism.
. as the Magi could have ignored the Bethlehem star. His divine priesthood (incense) and sacrifice (myrrh was used for embalming). they are fully responsible for it and cannot be justified at God’s judgment.
a lot of people will suffer eternal damnation in hell only because Christian missionaries didn’t manage to reach their part of the world in time. Even worse would be the case of missionaries that have reached remote parts of the world but didn't preach the "right" Jesus.8). Therefore. Jesus himself commanded it (Matthew 28. but also during this present earthly life. The love of God in a personal relation with Him and also in the Christian community can be experienced starting from now. Second. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross is and remains the only ground for human salvation. which operates only until His message will reach all humans. remember that nobody’s salvation depends on how convincing such an answer could be. Remember the way most Spanish conquistadors have proclaimed Jesus to the people of (today's) Latin America.18-20). all people should share the fullness and blessings of the Christian life. They haven't preached the true image of Jesus Christ (a loving Jesus). In many cases the disobedience of Christians to go into remote parts of the world would be responsible for that. Although this article on the question “How can those who never heard about Christ be saved?" may not satisfy some of you. Rejecting it (by those who heard about Him) cannot be justified by the lack of intellectual satisfaction one gets from polemical debates foreign to our spiritual context. condemning people to hell because of the sin of some Christians isn’t at all consistent with God’s perfect justice and love for the lost. God didn’t leave the world without a proper testimony about Him (Acts 14. as Jesus came to redeem our earthly life as well. First. not only in eternity. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
. In conclusion.17) and doesn’t condemn anybody without first revealing His grace. He is the final revelation of God and His message of salvation has to be proclaimed “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1. There are two important reasons for Christian mission in the world. That people can be saved without hearing about Christ is only a temporary solution.