Hinduism & New Age Spirituality on suffering

Hinduism & New Age Spirituality on Suffering

Hinduism & New Age Spirituality on Suffering

What does Hinduism say about suffering?

The most prominent of the six schools of Hindu philosophy is Vedanta Hinduism. It teaches that suffering comes from ignorance (maya). This view teaches that we can be freed from suffering when we recognize our oneness with the Divine. This form of Hinduism thus says since all is divine, there is truly no sin and no suffering. Salvation is thus through knowledge, the knowledge that one is actually God.[1]

It is important to realize that Hinduism “does not technically name one religion but is a broad term that includes the various religious beliefs and practices of India. Hinduism has no founder and no single authoritative text.” But, “all Hindus share some core beliefs, including the eternality of the cosmos, reincarnation, karma, the caste system, affirmation of Vedic scriptures, and liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth as the ultimate goal of life.”[2]

A second view of suffering from Hinduism is that our suffering comes from a previous life in which wrong was done. As the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler say in The Art of Happiness, “In the Buddhist and Hindu models… suffering is a result of our own negative past actions and is seen as a catalyst for seeking spiritual liberation”[3]

We, in this life, are thus paying for the wrongs we did in our previous lives. All suffering thus has its antecedent sin, somewhere.[4] We may not understand it but all suffering is thus just.[5] This is the doctrine of karma: people get what’s coming to them.[6]

A few questions come to mind. What acts of compassion to alleviate the suffering of others do you expect from Hinduism that does not believe in the reality of suffering? Also, as we have seen, Hinduism teaches Karma, people get the suffering that they deserve in this life. Does that lead to compassion for those who are suffering? Sadly, often it does not.

Think of the caste system. If someone was born into poverty that’s what they must deserve. If someone gets sick and dies that’s what they must deserve. Hinduism holds that humans “are directly responsible for the suffering (physical, mental, spiritual, existential, and so on) that they are experiencing.”[7]

That’s very briefly what Hinduism says about suffering.

The Bible as we will see teaches that we are not divine, we are not God; we are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Ignorance is a problem but it is not the problem.

The Bible teaches the decisiveness of this life, we had no other life in the past.[8] What we do matters more than we can know. It does not just affect the next life where we get a retry. It affects eternity. So, the way people live and how they treat people has a lot of significance.

Also, from a Christian perspective, there is judgment. People will get what they deserve, we can be assured of that, but it’s not through Karma. It’s through Jesus, the good and just Judge (Rev. 22:12).

Lastly, Christianity places huge importance on compassion (Col. 3:12-13). Jesus came and suffered for us to ultimately alleviate our suffering even when we didn’t deserve it. Therefore, Christians are to be compassionate and even sacrificial.

What does New Age Spirituality about suffering?

First, what is New Age Spirituality?[9] It is a mix of Buddhism and Hinduism and personal feelings. It is kind of the “mix n’ match” of religions.

It’s basically impossible to distill down what New Age Spirituality says about suffering because you’d probably get a different answer from each adherent to the many forms of New Age Spirituality. I hope here, however, to give a general perspective.

It seems suffering in this view is a result of not being awakened to our inner power. We need to relinquish negativity so that “the universe’s healing power might flow unimpeded.”[10] If someone is in your life that you’re having trouble with, then the solution is to cut them off. They are not helping your inner calm so they need to go. New Age Spirituality seems to teach that the solution to suffering is to focus on yourself.

New Age Spirituality seems very self and inward-focused. Of course, they say they are very inclusive and accepting of everyone. So, New Age Spirituality is also very pluralistic. ‘You have your truth and I have my truth. And that’s fine.” That’s what proponents of this view would likely say.

Primarily, though, suffering is something to be avoided. What is messy and unlikable is to be avoided. New Age Spirituality in that sense seems to be an escapist mentality. In contrast, “the Christian path of obedience, sacrifice, and suffering can seem foolish, even masochistic.”[11]

Suffering exists for various reasons, but Christianity teaches that it is primarily a result of sin. Sin is not really a category for the New Age Spiritualists. Christianity also differs in that it says suffering is not always to be avoided.

Jesus waded into our suffering to provide salvation. And Jesus very often calls us to also take up our crosses. And love people. Even when it is difficult. Even when it means sacrificial suffering. Christians believe that they cannot agree with everyone (for example, Jesus is the only way to God) but they are to love and sacrifice for anyone—even when they disagree with that person and caring for them requires sacrifice (think of the Good Samaritan).

Notes

[1] E. Stanley Jones, Christ and Human Suffering [New York: The Abingdon Press, 1937], 58.

[2] Tawa J. Anderson, W. Michael Clark, and David K. Naugle, An Introduction to Christian Worldview: Pursuing God’s Perspective in a Pluralistic World [Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017], 269.

[3] The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, The Art of Happiness, 200.

[4] Jones, Christ and Human Suffering, 51.

[5] Some would take this to mean that we should not relieve the sufferings of others because it really is not helping them. They are getting their just desserts for their wrongdoing. If we relieve them in one way they will just suffer in another.

[6] Jones says, “There is a deep and abiding truth in the law of Karma. We do reap what we sow” (Jones, Christ and Human Suffering 54). See Galatians 6:8. However, the doctrine of karma is wrong although God does justly mete out justice.

[7] Scott J Fitzpatrick, Ian H Kerridge, Christopher F C Jordens, Laurie Zoloth, Christopher Tollefsen, Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Michael P Jensen, Abdulaziz Sachedina, Deepak Sarma, “Religious perspectives on human suffering: Implications for medicine and bioethics” in Journal of Religion and Health 2016; 55:159–173.

[8] The Bible says that it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgment (Heb. 9:27).

[9] See also “Is the world enchanted?”

[10] Nicole Watt, “A Reiki Master’s Redemption,” 95 in Christianity Today.

[11] Watt, “A Reiki Master’s Redemption,” 95 in Christianity Today.

*Photo by Min An

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