Karma, according eastern religion (particularly Hinduism and Buddhism) and contemporary New Age Spirituality, governs how each person will be rewarded or punished in their next life. However, a question arises when one accepts this as reality: “Just who or what actually governs karma?”
I ask this because eastern religion is about personal absorption. In other words, one’s purpose is to lose his complete personal identity and thus become one with an impersonal Ultimate Reality (Brahman). This is one’s goal because everything (God, man, the universe) is essentially one (known as monism), however, people have somehow forgotten this. Thus everything that is not one and divine is illusory and/or deceptive in nature.
But then considering this who or what governs our karma? It cannot be the Ultimate Reality since the easterner (by which I mean the Hindu and/or Buddhist) has defined it as impersonal (1). To be impersonal is to show no interest in an individual, people or their feelings. So, in essence this Ultimate Reality just exists and really couldn’t care. It would then follow that a non-caring reality wouldn’t be bothered to govern people over their good and bad deeds in order to determine how they are reincarnated in the next life.
However, let us consider an answer to this challenge. The Dada Bhagwan Foundation (an organization that focuses on self realization and eastern philosophy) explains that “The rules of karma are such that when you create karma, the result will come naturally and automatically” and that “The karma itself does this. It happens on its own.” A little later they explain that “When two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen come together, we automatically get water. That is the rule of karma” (2).
However, this hardly goes in the way of an answer. I suspect any inquirer will be disappointed by such an explanations. When they explain that “two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen come together, we automatically get water. That is the rule of karma” it comes across as a non-answer. How is a scientific description of how two atoms come together an explanation for an alleged philosophical truth? Instead, all these explanations seem to suggest the following: “Karma just is; it’s just a brute fact” – just as water is a brute fact of nature as a result of the coalescing of atoms. We will touch on this in a second.
However, they claim that nobody made this a rule: “Nobody makes the rules; otherwise there would be a creator. Nobody has to make the rules.”
So, in essence to escape a Creator (a creator who would ultimately govern karma and who would be separate from the universe) they simply claim karma to be a brute fact. However, to claim karma is a brute fact is begging the question. In other words, the easterner is simply claiming that karma is a brute fact by assuming that it is a brute fact. It would be analogous to me answering a questioner in the following manner:
Questioner: “How do you know that God really exists?”
Me: “Because God exists.”
Questioner: “What’s the evidence for God existing?”
Me: “He just exists because he exists.”
The questioner would certainly, and rightly, feel that I have not answered his question at all, or he would suppose that I have blind faith devoid of reason. This is what we have with karma since it is said to simply exist because it exists. That is not an answer for the seeker. It’s not an answer for anyone.
Yet, there is a further fallacy involved; namely special pleading. This is a fallacy when one applies standards, principles, rules, etc. to others while taking himself to be exempt, without providing adequate justification for the exemption.
This reminds of one debate I watched some years ago (Does Satan Exist?) between two Christians (one of them being the controversial pastor Mark Driscoll) and two others (one of them being the famous Eastern thinker Deepak Chopra) (3). Throughout the debate Chopra would question Driscoll on many Christian truth claims, for example, how do we know that God is a “he,” that Jesus was really this God, and so on. Yet, Chopra claims to know the truth to our existence (that man has forgotten his divine nature) and that karma plays an integral role here; namely that man, as a result, can become “prisoners” because of it (4). However, why does the easterner, as in the case of Chopra, believe that he is in the position to critique another’s beliefs when he simply accepts things on his as brute facts? Why does Chopra have a double standard at play here? In other words, the Christian theist must provide reasons as to why he believes what he does, yet Chopra exempts his own belief system from this.
So, I find that Eastern thinkers, as in Depaak Chopra being a good example, often have double standards when embracing their own worldview while critiquing those of others. I also find that the claim that karma “just exists” to be question begging – who governs it or why does it exist in the first place? These are good questions that it seems we have no answers to, unless one accepts that “it just exists” as an answer.
1. Puligandla, R. 1997. Fundamentals of Indian Philosophy. p. 222.
2. Dadabhagwan. Who Controls Karma? Available.
3. Does Satan Exist? Available.
4. Ask Deepak – What is Karma. 2012. Available.