Karma and Rebirth in Indic Religions

Gananath Obeyesekere

in Imagining Karma

Published by University of California Press

Published in print November 2002 | ISBN: 9780520232204
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520936300 | DOI:
Karma and Rebirth in Indic Religions

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This chapter investigates the manner in which the “rebirth eschatologies” of small-scale societies are transformed in two large-scale historical developments: in the “karmic eschatologies” that one associates today with religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism and in the Greek religious traditions that could be broadly defined as “Pythagorean.” The association between karma and rebirth is not at all clear in the earliest texts and discourses on Indic religions. According to Hinduism it is karma that fuels rebirth in hells, heavens, and the realms of animals and inferior spirits, returning the subject to earth for a good or bad human existence. Rebirth in these various spheres of existence is endless and is conceptualized as samsara. The aim of salvation is to achieve nirvana, which entails freedom from the rebirth cycle, stopping the flow of karma and ongoing existence. Indologists generally assume that it is only necessary to explain karma; rebirth is simply a by-product of the karma theory.

Keywords: karma; rebirth eschatologies; Indic religions; karmic eschatologies; Buddhism; Hinduism; Greek religious tradition; samsara

Chapter.  7931 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Buddhism

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