Free will, karma and reincarnation

It’s an often asked question: how much free will do we have, if karma rules our lives?

I usually answer: Karma rules our circumstances, our potential, our habits. Karma does not rule what we do with all that today. What we do today: thoughts, emotions, insights, words and deeds creates new karma.

Let’s back up a bit. I said ‘karma rules our circumstances, our potential, our habits‘.

Usually when people talk about karma, they talk about circumstance. It was my karma to be born poor (or rich). It was my karma to have freckles. It was his karma to be beaten as a child. etc.

What is less often focused on is talent and habits. These are called ‘skandhas’ in Buddhism – or at least some of the skandhas rule talent and habits. In other words: what we learned in past lives, what we focused on, what we dreamed of, what we trained at. All that affects what our talents and habits are in this life. Of course a major part of our habits now has to do with what we do in THIS life. Whether we practiced something for hours or gave up after 15 minutes, influences how well we know how to do something.

As I said: Karma does not rule what we do with all that today. What we do today: thoughts, emotions, insights, words and deeds creates new karma.

How we respond to our circumstances now, deal with our talents now, apply our gifts, share of ourselves – that is also karma. Whether we help that kid that gets beaten up by his dad. Whether we use our options to alleviate a bit of the sorrow in this world. That’s our freedom: how we respond to what life throws our way. And more actively: what atmosphere we help create in our day to day lives.

A version of this post appears in my book Essays on Karma.

8 thoughts on “Free will, karma and reincarnation”

  1. It’s good to hear that we are capable of creating new karma. I must be aware of this at every moment when I make decisions. 🙂

  2. I agree 100% here. I think Jesus’ parable of the talents is a good example. The “talents” (unit of money) in the parable are our karma, what we were given, born with. What we do with that is the story. I think Karma is very misunderstood in America. It is seen as a punishment, or a controlling force somehow. It is not. It is what we bring with us from past lives. Some of it is useful tools, some of it is just baggage.

  3. The concept of free will is best explained in sacred Bhagavad Gita of Hinduism! As per Bhagavad Gita human form is but a small sojourn in the entire lifespan of a soul atman… the spirit within! (Soul is termed atman in Hinduism). As laid down in scriptures our soul atman… the spirit within is absolute master and controller of body (including human beings) and not vice versa!

    It is not within the capability of a body… including human beings to manifest a soul atman! Every soul atman starts its cosmic journey to manifest karma… remove dross impurities within! The moment complete dross impurities within soul atman removed… human beings (the highest form of manifest life in cosmic system) reached stage of enlightenment (kaivalya jnana)!

    From the first manifestation to last… the 8.4 millionth manifestation when human beings gained enlightenment… goal of life for a soul atman remains liberation from cycle of birth and death at the earliest! Travel in human form is the most pleasant experience for a soul atman… it is only in human form a soul atman regained its lost original pure prime pristine primordial form.

    The concept of free will stems from the fact that we are a living consciousness… a spirit that has manifested human form to work out its karma! Every soul atman is always independent of other… no matter what! Human beings are invested with power of discrimination that makes us exercise free will… the dominant cosmic force that distinguishes us from animals!

  4. The soul atman is a beautiful encapsulation. Its anthropomorphic attributes are such a small or simple part of its complexity. Expressing life by acquiring experience which then expresses life.

  5. Very interesting blog. Are you aware of the teachings of Dr. and Master Zhi Gang Sha? He also talks about karma and it being the root cause of most of our health and life issues. Working at the soul level can really transform your life. Thanks.

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