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Concept of Karma in Sikhism


Mehtab Singh

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January 03, 2005 - 22:15

Concept of Karma in Sikhism

Mohinder Kaur

Theory of Karma: Actions of human beings are of paramount importance in determining their destiny. Therefore, deeds good or bad write the script of a person’s future. The effects of a person’s behaviour are operative not only in this life but in life after death also. He is slave to his past. Our present existence has resulted from what we did in our previous lives and what we do now, will regulate our next life. From doctrine of Karma originates the theory of rebirth of the soul. Karma of a person is based on the assumption of continuity of the soul after death. It is a continuous cycle of rebirth and death. The ephemerality of a single span of life is too inconsistent to give any person a chance to attain perfection and spiritual excellence. Closed road for the soul and limiting it to one life would mean religious ventures and endeavors of humanity are all meaningless and absurd. According to dictum, 'As you sow, so shall you reap,' Karma alone is ultimate and its retribution never fails. God cannot interfere in the working of its mechanism. Existence or non-existence of God has no significance.

This is associated with the atheistic school of thought. Such a belief reduces the functioning of an individual to a mere mechanical model. Human being with all the mental faculties cannot pull himself up by his own bootstraps and is not free to work towards salvation of his own soul. Wicked deeds of his previous life stand in the way of his freedom. This concept of retribution strikes a chord of dark pessimism in human heart because the soul finds no opportunity to get out of its present predicament.

Sikhism believes in the concept of continuity of the soul after death in different forms, human or animal. It accepts the theory of law of Karma along with the idea of retribution. But it is not taken to be absolute or inexorable. The rigidity of Karma is repulsive to Sikh thought as it does not recognize the merciful trait of Almighty God. He, being Absolute Arbiter may write off the effects of all malicious actions of a person thereby asserting His supremacy over everything. According to Sikh faith though Karma is potent force in life, its web is not so intricate as to exclude the possibility of redemption of human soul. To obtain celestial peace Sikhism demands strict observance of all its prescriptions. It offers happy immortality and life without despair and melancholy to its faithful. Singing the Glory of God erases the blot of thousands of evil deeds of the past and present life. Repeating God’s Name can redeem a repentant sinner. Bhagat Ravidas in one of his devotional hymns so eloquently expressed his thought which is registered in Guru Granth Sahib, 'Were we not sinners, how would Thou then be called redeemer of the fallen!' God’s Word is like a lamp which when lighted inside human heart, gives the light by consuming the oil of suffering. Such is the Splendor of God’s Grace and Compassion. Therefore, according to Sikh Scripture the law of Karma ceases to operate.

In Sikh monotheistic concept Absolute and Supreme power is held in highest reverence. Theory of Transmigration: It is the rebirth of human soul in descending order. Because of moral failings of an individual in previous life, the soul passes through various animal lives suffering untold miseries. It is a punishment and a curse for a person’s wicked deeds in previous human birth. In Sikh scripture these sinister actions are compared to chains around the neck, fetters on the legs and to hangman’s noose. The soul carries the load of its sins from one lower life to another and groans under its own burden. It is an intense agonizing ordeal. Sikh Religion refers to it as hell. No researcher, explorer nor any scientist with their accumulated knowledge can bring an emancipation of the soul from this continuous cycle of suffering. If the law of Karma was absolutely inexorable, human soul would have been eternally doomed and would have no chance of extricating itself out of the cycle of transmigration. Sikhism offers annulment from transmigration of the soul through repeating God’s Name in all awareness in this life and by leading a sublime and truthful life. Guru Nanak says, 'Truth is high but higher still is truthful living.' Practice of praising the Glory of the Lord is the highest of all practices and in return it purges out all sins of human beings.

Reincarnation: According to Sikh creed a soul before getting this human body has passed through several lives of lower species. Therefore, this life is precious and a gift of God. It means God out of compassion and mercy has given the soul one more chance to improve itself spiritually and terminate the bondage of transmigration. It is an opportunity to attain union with God which is the mission of Sikhism. If a soul fails to obtain liberation in this life then in accordance with its good deeds, it will be reborn in human form.

Reincarnation is rebirth of human soul in ascending order. It passes from one human life to another in its spiritual and moral progress. Soul is reborn for its further development. It goes on acquiring human births till it eliminates rebirth completely and attains eternal peace. To get incarnated is to lead this life without sin and with full devotion to God. The doctrine of incarnation is considered to be too individualistic because a person is determined on achieving emancipation of the soul no matter what happens to his family and community in the process. Individual works towards his own spiritual perfection only.

Sikh divine ordinance does not establish a person’s destiny but only lays down moral laws and human being’s actions are measured accordingly. Daily conduct and performances decide how a person stands in the ultimate count with the Creator. God is responsible for the existence of evil by the side of good. These are part of His Creation and are governed by the rules created by Him. But he is not responsible for moral anarchy in an individual’s life. Poverty of moral values leads to impurities in mental state resulting in spiritual degeneration. This will generate evil and moral crisis in an individual’s life. People suffer for their evil actions because evil is negation of God’s Will and are rewarded for their good behaviour in the court of His Kingdom. Human being is an epitome and crown of His inventions and is the only creature in this cosmic existence who is capable of conscience volition and can organize his daily activities to attain good over evil. Therefore, a person is accountable for any lapses from morality. Because of his mental capabilities he is considered to be the sovereign and sufficient in his powers and is expected to advance to the loftiest speaks of spiritual glory which is the goal established by Sikh divinity for its followers.

Sikhism aims at spiritual evolution.

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