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The word karma has made it into the mainstream. Just look at bumper stickers like My karma ran over your dogma or It’s a thankless job, but I’ve got a lot of karma to burn off.

But not everyone understands what karma really means, why it matters and how to deal with it.

Think about the talents you were born with and the good things that have happened to you in life. Now think about the so-called limitations and challenges that have come your way. Both have to do with your karma.

Karma simply tells us that what happens to us in the present is the result of causes we ourselves have set in motion in the past—whether ten minutes ago or ten lifetimes ago. We’ve all grown up learning about karma.

We just didn’t call it that. Instead we heard: What goes around comes around. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.


In essence, karma tells us that whatever we do will come full circle to our doorstep—sometime, somewhere. Karma and reincarnation go hand in hand. While karma means accountability and payback, reincarnation is simply another word for opportunity.

Reincarnation gives us another chance to make good on the karmic debts we owe others and to reap the blessings we have sent forth. Karma and reincarnation also help us make sense out of the question marks in life.

Why me? Why not me? Why was my niece born with Down’s syndrome when her brothers and sisters are healthy and robust? Why do all my relationships become a tug of war—how come I can’t live with him and I can’t live without him? Why did I survive a car accident when all of my friends in the car were killed?

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Life is full of paradoxes and questions like these. Like a Zen koan, each paradox is designed to make us dig deeper, connect with our inner soul knowing and solve the karmic conundrum.

How could we learn all our spiritual lessons or share all our unique talents on the stage of life in only one lifetime?

Reincarnation: A Belief without Boundaries

The belief in karma and reincarnation crisscrosses time and space, finding a home in many cultures, both ancient and modern.

The most elaborately developed concepts of karma and reincarnation are found in the religious traditions of India, especially Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

These traditions explain that the soul reaps both the good and the bad that she has sown in previous lifetimes. “Just as a farmer plants a certain kind of seed and gets a certain crop, so it is with good and bad deeds,” explains the Mahabharata, the great Hindu epic.

The Dhammapada, a collection of sayings of the Buddha, tells us: “What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday….If a man speaks or acts with an impure mind, suffering follows him as the wheel of the cart follows the beast that draws the cart….If a man speaks or acts with a pure mind, joy follows him as his own shadow.”

Although this fact is unknown to many Westerners, before the advent of Christianity reincarnation was also a part of the spiritual beliefs of many of the peoples of Europe, including the early Teutonic tribes, the Finns, Icelanders, Lapps, Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, early Saxons and the Celts of Ireland, Scotland, England, Brittany, Gaul and Wales.

The Welsh have even claimed that it was the Celts who originally carried the belief in reincarnation to India.

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In ancient Greece, both Pythagoras and Plato believed in reincarnation. Pythagoras taught that the soul’s many incarnations were opportunities for her to purify and perfect herself.

Some Native Americans as well as many tribes in Central and South America have believed in reincarnation.

Today the belief also exists among over one hundred tribes in Africa as well as among the Eskimos and Central Australian tribes and many peoples of the Pacific, including theTahitians, Melanesians and Okinawans.

What about the Judeo-Christian tradition? The law of karma, as the law of cause and effect, is firmly rooted in that tradition.

According to some scholars, statements made by the first century Jewish historian Josephus may indicate that the Pharisees and the Essenes believed in reincarnation.

We know that Philo, the great Jewish philosopher and contemporary of Jesus, taught reincarnation.

The third-century Church Father Origen of Alexandria noted that reincarnation was part of the mystical teachings of the Jews.

In addition, reincarnation was and is taught by students of Kabbalah, a system of Jewish mysticism that flowered in the thirteenth century and is enjoying a resurgence today.

Reincarnation is also part of the religious beliefs of the Jewish Hasidic movement, founded in the eighteenth century.

Last but not least, history itself as well as ancient manuscripts unearthed in this century reveal that reincarnation was alive and well in early Christianity.

As we will show, even through the thirteenth century, certain groups of Christians openly espoused reincarnation alongside traditional Christian beliefs.

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