Reincarnation, Dharma and Karma as Sources for the Law of Attraction
The Vedic religions made provisions in their worship for Hymns of praise to the Gods and for personal requests – chiefly for manifesting the good things in life, like male children, health, a lucrative dowry, wealth or success in business. It is not too much of a stretch to see how the Law of Attraction is concerned with these same matters. While not asking for the Gods to bring forth one’s desires, the Law of Attraction stipulates that one’s own focused desire will bring forth the desired results.
Hinduism has brought the world many commonly known religious ideas; specifically, reincarnation and karma, which has given Western Spirituality many of its strongest aspects used within the Law of Attraction theory.
Varuna, one of the gods in the Rig Veda, was originally the sovereign lord of the universe and guardian of cosmic law. The priests asserted that if the people lived in harmony with Varuna, then there was an excellent chance that they could attain immortality and join their ancestors in Heaven. This religious construct could be the earliest notion of Dharma, the Hindu conception of Divine Law.
Like the Law of Attraction, Dharma relates to being in synch with the Divine Plan. Dharma is the Principle of Divine Order. One is supposed to live virtuously and exist in accordance with the divine harmonious law that is Dharma. According to the Hindu scriptures, only after one has successfully disciplined themselves under dharma within all things, can one hope to be liberated from the cycle of reincarnation.
The priests said that good conduct bred good results. Evil conducts produced evil. Every action will produce it’s future result; Heaven and Bliss for the do-gooder, and Hell and Damnation for the evil-doer. You could even come back as an animal, a plant, or a bit of gravel in your little sister’s shoe. So it was best if you were blameless in causing injury to any life form, lest you come back as what you have destroyed.
Thus, Karma implies cause and effect. What a man sows, so shall he reap. Whatever you send out in word or action will eventually return to you. Simply put, what you give, you shall receive. If you give hate, you will receive hate; if you give love, you will receive love. Obviously, this karmic equation forms the basic scheme of the Law Reciprocity and the Law of Attraction: like attracting like. Reincarnation and karma are bundled together as a set piece in the Hindu religion, explaining why good people suffered and why evil men prospered. These beliefs stimulated the impetus to escape the cycle of reincarnation, evolving one spiritually to higher planes of consciousness – even unto enlightenment, thus liberating the soul to be one with Brahman.
Over time the priests gathered the old Vedic gods and reduced them into a trinity – Brahman, Shiva and Vishnu. Vishnu was promoted to Head God status, because, according to the Brahmins, Vishnu understood the meaning of sacrifice. And the Brahmins knew all about sacrifice.
The Brahmin’s conversion of their ancient nature worship into a semi-monotheistic belief was now complete. Some of the ancient gods were retired or demonized, while the Brahmin priests claimed that the many gods that existed were only the faces of One God – Brahman; the singular eternal mind from which all existence emanates. The sacrifices and rituals of the Brahmins became more complex, elaborate, extravagant – and expensive, to the point of where some ceremonies took the length of a year to complete. Those who couldn’t afford to partake in the sacrifices were excluded and marginalized. These people began to wonder about the nature of reality on their own, and came to a different set of conclusions.
Protest Against the Priests
It was during the sixth century BCE when vast economic changes were taking place in India. Instead measuring a man’s wealth through ownership of cattle, money was introduced for the first time. Men now desired more power and wealth as money brought a new wave of affluence never before seen. The kings saw this and wanted more power and money for their own, while expanding their control over the people. Of course, this new affluence produced more poverty, and more people found themselves losing their freedoms and properties. There were constant wars between states engaged in power struggles. Once again, the people began to question the old beliefs.
Obviously, centuries of ritual sacrifice and bowing and scraping to the Brahmins became a bit tiresome for your friendly, neighborhood spiritual seeker. Opposition to Brahmin hegemony was taken up by wandering ascetics who came from the other varnas and non-Vedic tribes. Sometime around 800 BCE a growing revolt was seen against Brahmin domination which caused many to reject Brahmin teachings, ritual sacrifices and the hereditary affluence of the priests.
There was an economic pressure felt that was centered around the ongoing expense of sacrificing animals. There were questions about the morality and effectiveness of the rituals. While the Vedas were concerned with religious interaction with the gods through rituals and hymns, a counter-perspective of various schools emerged, one that may have existed as long as Brahminism itself, that shifted the philosophy towards renunciation of the world and self-realization. These monks of the alternative spirituality took to calling themselves, the Shramanas – meaning, “Wanderers,’ and renounced the authority of the older Vedas, the authority and validity of the sacrifices and the Brahmanic priesthood itself – and called for dismantling the varnas and establishing an open and equal society.
The Shramanas criticized everything, from the pursuit of wealth, property and desire, to the Brahmins, who were seen as autocratic, greedy, officious and corrupt. The Shramanas accepted reincarnation and that rebirth was undesirable, since life was full of suffering, but they denied that the world was created by an omnipotent God. They said it wasn’t one’s birth that determined one’s spiritual worth as the Brahmin claimed, but a person’s actions in their life, principally, through asceticism and renunciation. Their goal was liberation from rebirth.
There were certain atheist and materialist groups that appeared among the Shramanas as reactions to the Brahmins as well, like the Lokayata, who denied that metaphysical speculation had any useful purpose whatsoever, remarking that such vocations only served to give the priests a livelihood. They regarded sacrifice to be worthless, asking, if the slain beast of the sacrifice goes on to heaven, then “why does not the sacrificer also offer up his father?” To these materialists, only the physical reality had any validity. They renounced ambition and wealth as well, preferring to retreat into the forests in self-reflection and meditation.
The mystical Shramanas claimed that Priests no longer owned exclusive access to the Divine. Since Brahman was infused within all things, the soul – or atman – of the human being, was of the same nature as Brahman. Thus the goal wasn’t sacrificing horses, offerings, chanting magical incantations, or sucking up to the Priests, the goal was to realize the Brahman within self, thus liberating the Atman and return to Brahman. This was done through ascetic practices and the development of self-mastery, to gain cosmic consciousness and liberation from the cycle of rebirth, suffering and illusion.
Sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE, there appeared a Shramanic sage from the Ksatryia varna, rumored to have descended from a royal family, a young monk who renounced his wealth and station in life to commit himself to a life as a wandering ascetic – who went by the name of Siddhattha Gotama, later known as the “Buddha,” or ‘the Enlightened One.” The Buddhist religion that he founded initially made great headway against Brahmanism as a counterweight, and for 200 years, challenged for religious supremacy in India. The Brahmins eventually employed the, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” rule, and adjusted their practices to become more “Buddhist” – while using all the brutal repression they could muster. Over time, Buddhist monks were hunted down and destroyed, and Buddhism was finally driven out of India, thus the Buddhist religion would have to be content with moving on to other regions in Asia which would be more receptive to the Buddha’s message.
But in the Indian subcontinent, Brahmanism had triumphed and set about to incorporate popular Buddhist ideas, even transforming Buddha into an incarnation of Vishnu, before it ultimately began transitioning into Hinduism.
Caste is the Cruelest Exclusion, by Gail Omvedt, InfoChange News & Features, October 2008
Indian Buddhism by A. K. Warder, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 2000
Buddhism: The Illustrated Guide, by Kevin Trainor, Oxford University Press, 2004
The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism, by Bradley K. Hawkins, Nancy Lewis, 2003
Gods, Goddesses, and Mythology, Volume 6, by C. Scott Littleton, Marshall-Cavendish, 2005
Religion and Human Rights: Buddhism vs Brahminism, Nalin Swaris, 2001