When I travelled to India back in 2011 to spend three weeks at a Hindu Ashram (temple) dedicated to Amma, a Hindu guru (spiritual teacher) dubbed “The Hugging Saint”, one of the main questions many Christians asked me was about what I had found in Hinduism that I didn’t find in Christianity. My answer was always that opening up to other religions, including Hinduism, helped me make more sense and gain a deeper understanding of each religion. Parables that didn’t make sense to me in Christianity, I understood through Hinduism and other religions, and vice versa.
I don’t see myself as a religious person, but more of a spiritual one. I believe that most religions have a piece of the greater truth, but you can only see the big picture once you learn them all by adopting them all yet belonging to none. With Easter coming up, a meme came up online that made me start thinking about how one person can sacrifice himself to atone for the sins of the world.
The answer lies in the principles of Karma in Hinduism. Many people have heard of it, yet very few understand what it entails. Some even falsely sum it up as “what goes around comes around.” Literally, the word Karma means “work”, and every person, animal, or even thing is born or created with Karma, which means that they have work to do: they have a purpose. We shouldn’t confuse having a purpose with lack of free-will; far from it, each person has the free will to decide whether to fulfil that purpose or not. We will not go into detail about how we can find our purpose, but the short version is that it lies in improving ourselves and those around us. By doing that, we fulfil our Karma, and the more Karma we finish, the better we feel about ourselves and the better our lives become.
But what happens when we choose to disregard Karma or work against it?
In Christian terms, this is what is known as “Sin”. If you think about it, by refusing to do what is right and by sacrificing our wellbeing and/or the wellbeing of others, we are automatically in the wrong. In more concrete terms, if we picture life as a GPS, each instruction given by the device is a choice: if we abide by it, we get closer to our destination, if we don’t, we may end up getting farther and farther away. In life, if we finish our Karma, we get closer to the state of bliss or perpetual happiness. Likewise, in Christianity, if we do good and avoid sin, we can get to heaven, which is a state of bliss as well.
So far so good. But can one person take another person’s Karma?
The short answer is yes, and it’s done almost every day. Even though this is not spoken of much in Christianity except in relation with Adam and Eve, sin is inheritable, and so is Karma. In the grand scheme of things, the sum total of all Karma – of the work of each and every person, animal, or thing – is to achieve happiness and the state of bliss for all: a world without sin, God’s kingdom. Therefore, if one of us refuses to fulfil his Karma, it does not disappear with that person; instead, it is passed along to others until it gets done. Imagine Karma as a ten-story building. Since it is Karma, it’s not built yet, but the plan is to have ten stories. If the person who is supposed to build the ten builds only five of them, then there are five stories that still need to be built. If that person dies before he finishes, then someone else, probably his children, will inherit that mission. On the other hand, if one of the children decides to demolish a couple of stories, then that increases the Karma because now we have seven stories to complete instead of five. It’s the same with Karma: sin performed by one person sets back everyone; likewise, karma finished by one person, benefits everyone.
And that’s how it all ties to the concept of Easter: one person consciously taking on everyone’s Karma in order to restore balance in the world and set the course straight anew. This is similar to a Hindu parable where one devotee to Lord Shiva (Hindu God of Wisdom and Destruction), meditates and does selfless service until the god appears to him and grants him a boon. He asks for a mantra (prayer) that would send him straight to bliss, so Shiva grants him his wish but tells him that this mantra would give bliss to anyone who repeats it; however, if the person receiving it shares it with anyone, he will never reach bliss. This person then goes to the village temple, rings the bell, and proceeds to tell the mantra to the whole village. Lord Shiva comes to him furious, so the man explains that by doing this, he has helped all these people reach bliss. He also told the god that if his bliss is the price to pay for that, he’d be happy to do it.
Human history is riddled with similar stories of people who sacrifice themselves to help their communities or the world at large. This is what Easter, and specifically Good Friday, is all about, and by understanding the spiritual mechanics of sacrifice in terms of Karma, we are in a better position of helping ourselves and those around us evolve spiritually and get closer and closer to bliss.