Karma, like gravity, is a principle or law actively impacting you and me. Karma can mean many things. But the fundamental idea is that we have deeds, and the merit for virtuous deeds and the penalty for evil deeds take root in us. Unless our deeds are completely virtuous then we continue in the samsara cycle of death.
We instinctively feel this in some way. When we do things we know are wrong we feel guilt. So by our knowledge, wisdom and effort we develop many ways to deal with our accumulating karma. Some might live for a while as monks in rigorous asceticism, adopting all their vows. Some find that difficult and hope that following the Five Precepts to their best effort might be sufficient. Others appeal to Bodhisattvas for help. In addition, meditation disciplines, prayers to Buddha, veneration at temples and holy places, giving charity to monks, or to others, remain paths we take to earn good merit. This reduces the Karmaphala, the fruit or consequences, of our actions.
These ways are all difficult and we never have assurance that our efforts have been sufficient. Were the motives behind our actions good enough? Were a sufficient number of deeds good enough? So, like with gravity, we live in karma, unable to break free.
Because of this some just give up striving. They simply live for the pleasure of the moment, without regard to the karma accrued by their actions.
Karma Law expressed in the Bible
Jesus came to address these problems on our behalf. He came to help us find a way of escape from our kleshas. He undid the samsara cycle of death and impermanence that Buddha had such insight into.
The Bible declares the Law of Karma that affects us with these words:
For the wages of sin is death…Romans 6:23
The diagram illustrates this Karma law. Karma literally means ‘action’, or consequence. This is identical to the word ‘wages’ used here. In everyday life ‘wages’ are the financial actions or consequence from employment work. But spiritually, when we work for sin the actions or karma is death.
“Death” means separation. When our soul separates from our body we die physically. In a similar way we are separated, or dead, from God spiritually. This is true because God is Holy (sinless).
We can picture ourselves as separated from God by our sin. Sin gives rise to the kind of karma which leads to death. A Holy, sinless God will not tolerate sin, so we separate from Him. We die spiritually.
Our Merit is insufficient for our Karma
This separation causes guilt and fear. So what we try to do is build merit taking us from our side (of death) to God’s side. We illustrate this as a bridge partially spanning the gap. We offer sacrifices, perform ritual washings, practice asceticism, participate in festivals, go to temples, make many prayers and even try to reduce or stop our sins. This list of deeds to gain merit can be very long for some of us. The problem is that our efforts, merits, sacrifices and ascetic practices, though not bad, are insufficient. This is because the karma, or consequence (the ‘wages’) for our sin is ‘death’. Only death can pay for sin, not our good merit.
So, our efforts for merit are simply insufficient. It is like trying to heal cancer (which results in death) by eating only vegetarian food and taking vitamins. Taking vitamins and eating vegetarian is not bad – but it will not cure cancer. For that you need a totally different treatment.
This is the Bible’s Law of Karma and it is Bad News. We often do not even want to hear about it. So we often fill our lives with activities and things hoping this Law will go away. But, like gravity, this law continues to hold us.
Good News giving Vimutti
However, the Bible does not end with this Karmic Law.
For the wages of sin is death but …Romans 6:23
The small word ‘but’ shows that the direction of the Law is now about to go the other way, to Good News. Good News is the literal meaning of Gospel. The Law of Karma reverses to vimutti (freedom) and Enlightenment. So what is this Good News of vimutti?.
For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our LordRomans 6:23
The good news of the gospel is that the sacrifice of Jesus’ death is sufficient to break this cycle of sin and death. It bridges this separation between us and God. His sacrifice so to speak, dissolves our karma. We know this because three days after his death Jesus rose bodily, coming alive again in a physical resurrection. He conquered death. In a sense, he performed a cleansing, acceptable to God, by offering himself for cleansing of sin, on behalf of all people.
Since he was a man he is able to be a bridge that spans the chasm and touches the human side. Since he was sinless he also touches God’s side. He is a Bridge to Life as illustrated below.
Given as a Gift, not Earned as Merit
Notice how God gives this sacrifice of Jesus to us. God gives it as a … ‘gift’. Think about gifts. No matter what the gift is, if it is really a gift you do not work for it. You do not earn it by merit. If you earned it, the gift would no longer be a gift, but a wage! In the same way you cannot merit or earn the sacrifice of Jesus. God gives it to you as a gift.
And what is the gift? It is ‘eternal life’. This means that the sin which brought you karma, samsara and death is now cancelled. The sacrifice of Jesus is a bridge upon which you can cross to connect with God and receive life – that lasts forever.
The Gift Received
So how do we cross on this bridge of life that Jesus gives to us as a gift? Again, think of gifts. If someone gives you a gift it is something you do not work for. But to get any benefit from the gift you must ‘receive’ it. Every time a gift is offered to a recipient there are only two alternatives. Either recipient refuses the gift (“No thank you”) or receives it (“Thank you for your gift. I will take it”). Likewise, you must receive this gift that Jesus offers to benefit from it. You cannot simply believe, study, meditate upon it, or understood it. The next figure illustrates this as we ‘walk’ on the Bridge by turning to God and receiving His Gift offered to us.
So how do we receive this gift? The Bible says that
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be savedRomans 10:12
Receiving His Gift
Notice that this promise is for ‘everyone’. Since he rose from the dead Jesus is alive even now and he is ‘Lord’. So if you call on him he will hear and extend his gift of life to you. You need to call out to him and ask him – by having a conversation with him. Perhaps you have never done this. Here is a guide that can help you have this conversation and prayer with him. It is not a magic incantation. The specific words do not give power. It is the trust that we have in his ability and willingness to give us this gift. As we trust him he will hear us and respond.
So feel free to follow this guide as you either speak out loud or in your spirit to Jesus and receive his gift.
Dear Lord Jesus. I understand that with the sins in my life I am separated from God. Though I can try hard, no effort and sacrifice on my part will bridge this separation. But I understand that your death was a sacrifice to wash away all sins – even my sins. I believe that you rose from the dead after your sacrifice so I can know that your sacrifice was sufficient. I ask you to please cleanse me from my sins and bridge me to God so I can have eternal life. I do not want to live a life enslaved to sin so please free me from these sins that hold me in a grip of karma. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for doing all this for me and would you even now continue to guide me in my life so I can follow you as my Lord.