Question 2 Although Hinduism, Theravada Buddhism, and Mahayana Buddhism contain similar themes about the concept of afterlife and rebirth, they differ in aspects of methods of attaining an ideal afterlife and what that afterlife will be like. Reincarnation, or the cycle of death and rebirth is a concept present in all three of these religions. An individual is thought to experience many different lives and the circumstances of their next life are determined through the actions of their past or present lives. This consequential action is referred to as Karma, and produces future outcomes in one’s present life or next life. What actions are considered Karmic differs slightly in each religion, but it is an essential part of the cycle of rebirth. In this way, Karma acts as a system checks and balances, emphasizing the importance of the way in which one lives. In Hinduism, Karma is any action that produces a result in the future, including moral and ritual actions. There are many different ways to practice Hinduism and the way that one interacts with Karma can change accordingly. For example, if one follows the Bhakti Yoga, or the path of devotion, ritual actions are critical. Rituals such as sacrifice during Puja, as well as devotional art or poetry to a God or Goddess of their choice are important for gaining “good” Karma or potentially erasing “bad” Karma. A Hindu following the path of Jnana Yoga, or the way of knowledge, would likely focus their energy on study of texts or meditation as a way of transcending their accumulated Karma. Unsurprisingly, for a follower of Karma Yoga, one’s actions are paramount in keeping balance. This way of practice emphasizes acting out of compassion and what is right over the promise of reward or fear of punishment. There is also an emphasis on doing one’s duty, such as fulfilling the role of the caste one was born into.
In Buddhism, Karma is thought of similarly; as actions that have will have future consequences in this life and a key component in the cycle of death and rebirth. However, there is differentiation from Hinduism in what actions are considered Karmic. Typically only actions that have moral consequence are significant. In addition to this, the intent of one’s actions is considered. In this system, accidently killing an ant while walking would have less Karmic consequence than the killing of an ant for fun.
Karma comes into play in all three religions as a force of determining the circumstances of rebirth. Good Karma, however acquired, would facilitate being reborn into a life that is closer to achieving one’s spiritual goals. For many Hindus the cycle of reincarnation is seen as continual suffering so achieving moksha, or the release from the cycle of death and rebirth, is the ultimate goal. The meaning of moksha differs from person to person, with some Hindus believing in the divide between Brahman and Atman dissolving, while others envision moksha as being with the God or Goddess they are devoted to. Other Hindus may have a concept of realms similar to Heaven or Hell that one may go to as a reward or punishment for their deeds. However, these realms are still thought of as part of samsara, in that they are only a temporary stop for a soul before experiencing another rebirth.
Similarly, Theravada Buddhists strive to escape samsara. However, the ultimate goal is to achieve nirvana, which is the end of greed, ignorance, and desire, and in doing so stops the cycle of reincarnation. Theravada Buddhists believe this can be