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.
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.”
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”
We, in this life, are thus paying for the wrongs we did in our previous lives. All suffering thus has its antecedent sin, somewhere. We may not understand it but all suffering is thus just. This is the doctrine of karma: people get what’s coming to them.
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.”
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. 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? 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.” 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.”
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).
 E. Stanley Jones, Christ and Human Suffering [New York: The Abingdon Press, 1937], 58.
 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.
 The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, The Art of Happiness, 200.
 Jones, Christ and Human Suffering, 51.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 The Bible says that it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgment (Heb. 9:27).
 Nicole Watt, “A Reiki Master’s Redemption,” 95 in Christianity Today.
 Watt, “A Reiki Master’s Redemption,” 95 in Christianity Today.
*Photo by Min An
Is the world enchanted? Or merely natural? Deterministic? Are we just chemical processes that have been wound up and will wind down? Or, is there a “ghost in the machine”?
Is there something before and beyond? Can everything be coolly explained or is there the Unexplainable? Could it be that fantasy and fiction are tapping into something true? Something fantastic and far beyond us?
Are there spells and spirits? Or are we mere decomposing skulls with sinews?
And the world we inhabit is it wondrous; consisting of beauty, mystery, as well as sad irony? Or is the world a mere and meaningless blip before the heat death of the universe?
Is “the cosmos,” as Carl Sagan has famously said, “all there ever was and all there ever will be”?
If so, what explains the wonder and wild nature of life? What explains the rhinoceros and the beauty and rapture of art? What explains those moments, those brief moments, with family or friends that feel so right?
I believe there are subtle hints all along the road of life that point us to something out of sight. Markings or tracings of something; distant echoes of a not distant presence; the quiet speech of the spirits.
Those moments of silence under the glow and vastness of the sky, the moon reflecting the glory and splendor of the sun, speak. These types of moments speak not to our heads but reverberate in our hearts. These moments awaken. They call us beyond. They say there is more.
So, we must ask, what if there is more? If so, what good, what beauty, and yet what hideous evil might there be? And, if there is more, if there is the equivalent of witchcraft and evil, what spells might be possible and cast?
Perhaps a sort of blindness? A dullness to what is real?
If there is more, and evil, beyond the great beyond, might there be a battle? A cosmic battle? A Saruman and Sauron? A Voldemort? A Frodo? An Aragorn?
Could our lives have cosmic significance?
Is the world enchanted?
There are many ways to answer this question. And we all answer it one way or another. We may just not truly ask it. That is, really think it through. I propose that’s not a good way to go forward. If the world is “enchanted” in some way it would be good to know. Perhaps very helpful to know. Because, to use The Lord of the Rings as an example, what if we are in the equivalent of hobbitian, but there is a hoard of raging orks on their way?
If the world is enchanted, it is more wondrous and wonderful than we could possibly know. But, it may also be more dangerous too.
That’s actually what the Bible teaches about the reality of the world we live in. It is, so to speak “enchanted.” It is “under a spell.” Similar to the witch in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia that made an enchantment over the whole country so that it was always winter and never Christmas.
What if there is a spiritual realm? What if there is more than the merely physical? Curiously, the Christian Bible talks about fiction made real. It talks about a hideous dragon set to destroy and deceive. It talks about an enemy that crouches low like a lion ready to pounce and attack. And it talks about a god of this world that is subtly influencing the world.
Evil is more multidimensional, nuanced, and complex than science alone can suggest… In addition to systemic injustices and personal ignorance and physiological imbalances, there really are forces of spiritual evil in the world—and behind them all there is a singular supernatural intelligence.[i]
The world, not just the hills, are alive with the sound of music. The universe roars with echoes of life. Sometimes we are just not quick to notice. Perhaps because we’ve become callous to the call of creation.[iv] G.K. Chesterton says, “Fairy tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.”[v]
A quick google will return wonder: Walakiri beach sunset, Halong Bay, Huangshan. Most images will do. Or, think of the amazing ability of a chameleon. What a world we inhabit. What a surprising and often beautiful world we live in. “Reality is very odd, and… the ultimate truth, whatever it may be, must have the characteristics of strangeness.”[vi]
Consider this, someone in a one-dimensional reality would have trouble conceiving of a two-dimensional reality, let alone what that reality would be like. Someone in the two-dimensional reality would have a greater likelihood of conceiving of and pondering a three-dimensional reality though because they already know that there are more than one-dimensional realities. They already know that things that would seem impossible to the one-dimension reality are very much possible.
We live in a reality that is sometimes so much not like reality, should we also not at least speculate that there may be a spiritual reality; something different than the dimension that we are currently in? And what if that reality is more real than our current reality, and what if that reality is actually more present than we can now conceive?
The Christian story—the true myth—is similar to so many amazing myths in literature. But with a big difference: The Christian story claims to be true. C.S. Lewis said, “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history.”[vii] Similarly, Nancy Pearcey says, “The great events of the New Testament have all the wonder and beauty of a myth. Yet they happen in a specific place, at a particular date, and have empirically verifiable historical consequences.”[viii]
And is it not clear, that in most myths the evil person/force of the story would be happy if people thought that evil did not really exist? It seems to me that would be a worthy goal of evil, to make people think evil and enchantment weren’t real. Imagine the spell one could wield on the world if the world couldn’t imagine that there was such a thing as spells?! As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
The world is enchanted. In the original use of the world enchanted. The world is “under a spell; bewitched.” The world is “utterly delighted, captivated, fascinated, and charmed” by someone or something. This someone is Satan and the spell is sin. The curse and fall of humanity have long since happened.[ix] The fall was not just the fall of humans but encompasses the fall of angels. We are in a cosmic story. The Christian Bible teaches us that the myths are not magical enough for the reality of the truth.
We may not wish for the world to be this way. But, that is not for us to decide. As Gandalf said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Of course, that’s not to say that all is bad. The story of the Bible is actually a wonderful, almost unbelievable story, that starts with a beautiful couple in a bountiful garden paradise and ends with a host of their decedents in an eternal paradise. The Bible is a comedy, not that it’s funny—though it has its funny parts—but because it has a U-shaped plot. That is, it starts out great but then a terrible seemingly insurmountable problem is introduced. But, thankfully doesn’t end in that sorry state.
As any good fantasy, there is a hero. And, as any good hero, He has many names: Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Son of God, Savior. Jesus is the true mythic hero. Jesus is Aragon and Frodo. He is Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Aslan, and Ransom. He is Iron Man, Black Panther, and Captain America. And He is Avatar Aang. The God/Man, the Hero, offers rescue to the whole world.
The Bible is a big amazing story. It rivals and even surpasses Marvel and the Lord of the Rings. It tells us about God making a world. The Bible even tells us about angels rebelling against God and starting a cosmic battle. And it tells us about deception and romance.
It tells us that God became man and that this GodMan—Jesus Christ—had superpowers. And He used His superpowers for good. And He fought the evil enemy. He defeated and cast out the great dragon’s evil hitch men.
It looked like the GodMan was going to win. He was going to defeat all the bad guys and even rule the world. He had a large loyal following.
But, something happened. The GodMan, the all-powerful One, died. He died. He that brought people back from the dead, died.
That, that was unexpected.
With the GodMan’s death, hope died.
The GodMan’s followers fled in fear. They didn’t know what had happened… And they hid in fear. They hid for three days.
But the GodMan returned. He defeated death. He rose from the dead.
The Bible claims and shows us that this all really happened. It’s not a “once upon a time” story. Although, for all those who trust Jesus as the Hero and Lord that He is, they will live “happily ever after.”
From Genesis, the very beginning of the Bible, until Revelation, at the end, we see one unified true cosmic story. We see God making a very good and beautiful world. But we see the serpent enter the scene and we see humans depart from God’s good plan and we see the devastation it brings. The world is torn in two. Relationships are ruined and rebellion spreads. The whole world whirls.
But, as God promised, He was not done. He loved the broken world and would be broken Himself to fix it.
So, the Bible tells the story of a terribly fierce dragon set to destroy the whole world. It’s really not so different from the Marvel myths in some ways. But, it claims to be true and it recounts the tales of one hero. A hero that loves the planet, the whole world, so much that He died for it. He, however, didn’t stay dead. He was so great and powerful that even death itself couldn’t defeat Him.
The story of Scripture is different from Marvel and other myths in various other ways too. For example, the Bible was written over the period of fifteen-hundred-years, by more than forty authors with varied backgrounds (e.g. king, herdsman, fisher, tax collector, physician) and literary styles (e.g. historical narrative, poetry, law, biography), on three different continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe), in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) and yet it tells one unified story.[x]
Yet, the overarching narrative continuously declares Messiah Jesus. The Bible’s unity among diversity is for me a profound witness to its glory and trustworthiness.[xi] I believe its significance can never be fully known and yet the storyline of Scripture can be beautifully and briefly portrayed such that even a child can understand its main points.
As you read, study, and contemplate Scripture you are struck not by the number of contradictions in the text but by the overwhelming unity of the story. The Bible, from beginning to end, explains the amazing work of the hero, Jesus the Messiah. It uncompromisingly explains reality, the way things are, should be, and will be, whether it tickles our ears or not. The Bible far from being fixed on shambles is fixed on an amazing interlocking bedrock of truth.
So, is the world enchanted? If you have suspicions that what you see in the physical world is not all there is, the Bible says that your suspicions are correct. The Bible says there is more. A lot more.
There are practical reasons for believing in enchantment. Because there are good reasons for believing in the existence of God. As the philosopher Alvin Plantinga has said, there are some very good arguments for believing in the existence of God, “arguments about as good as philosophical arguments get.”[xii] “If God is, what he is has far-reaching consequences for our lives—who we are, how we live, and what happens after death,”[xiii] and I would say, what’s possible.
Jesus’ resurrection tells us, proves to us, that the world is indeed enchanted. There is more to the world than we can see with our mere eyes.
In other words, if God exists then it seems clear that spirits and thus the spiritual realm exists. If this is true, as it seems to be, then there is a whole lot unseen and unknown that can act in and on the world, as we know it. This, at least in some ways, is a rather frightening reality.
Just as there was fear and trepidation by the first brave souls aboard a boat, there is a healthy type of fear that we should have. These are very uncharted seas.
Life is not something to take lightly. This world is enchanted. There are spirits, and angels, and fallen angels. A dragon set to defeat us all. We may see him breathe fire but what comes out of his mouth are deceptive lies.
The enchantment of this world is all the more dangerous because it’s allusive. We don’t see the spell. Many disbelieve. But, the reality is, there is more than meets the eye.
Christianity gives an answer for the strangeness that we sense in the world. Christianity gives a solid reason for believing in the spiritual realm and for us ourselves having a spirit.
Humans are not robots or automatons. At least that’s what the Bible says. Our actions matter. Our lives and our decisions matter, even eternally. They ripple through the corridors of time. There was and never will be a meaningless moment.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Friends, our lives matter, our actions matter, our voices matter. That, at least, is true from a Christian perspective. If, however, as Carl Sagan said, “the cosmos is all there ever was and all there ever will be” then this would is not enchanted and meaning is limited to what you make it.
I believe, however, if we knew a millionth of the magnitude of our lives we’d be moved to wonder and crippled by the significance of it all. Our lives and our every action have significance because this world and this life are not all there is. So, friends, let’s live fierce purposeful lives because we have purpose. Our lives matter more than we can know.
If there is more than the material, more than meets the eye, then what are we? What then are humans?
[i] Timothy Keller, The Great Enemy (Encounters with Jesus Series Book 6).
[ii] 2 Corinthians 4:4.
[iii] Ephesians 2:2.
[iv] Psalm 19.
[v] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy.
[vi] C.S. Lewis, “Christianity and Culture.”
[vii] C.S. Lewis, “Myth Became Fact” in God in the Dock.
[viii] Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo, 211.
[ix] Genesis 3.
[x] See .e.g. F. F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments: How We Got Our English Bible, 88.
[xi] “To have 27 pieces of [New Testament] literature written by eight or nine authors contemporary to the events, all of who were giving the same basic message—about Christ—is unprecedented. Nothing like it exists for any other book from antiquity” (The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible, 133). I like the way J.I. Packer says it:“To the man enlightened by the Spirit, Scripture is no longer a bewildering jumble of isolated items… Part chimes in with part, Scripture meshes with Scripture, and the unified bearing of the whole Bible becomes apparent. The accompanying experience of the ‘taste’, or ‘flavour’ of spiritual realities is immediate and ineffable” (J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 92
[xii] Alvin Plantinga, Knowledge and Christian Belief, x.
[xiii] Esther Meek, Longing to Know, 17.
*Photo by TOMOKO UJI