Originating in the Indian subcontinent, dharmic religions represent the cultural concepts of Indo-Aryan settlers. Each religion has its own distinct views on the spiritual nature of the human soul and karmic processes. While Buddhism denies the existence of the permanent soul, Sikhism, Hinduism and Jainism believe in its reincarnation regulated by karma. Such philosophical deviations were caused by the separate development of religious groups in different regions.
According to karmic reincarnation in Hinduism, the fate of the Atman (soul) in each new life depends on its actions done during the previous incarnations. The law of karma states that no sin is left without a fair punishment, so if a person has not received the deserved punishment or rewards in this life, they will get it in the future.
The soul is conscious, unchanging and lives eternally. The final point of its relation with Supreme Self Brahman is when the soul becomes free from all the limiting adjuncts. Karmic factors are the basis of a strict caste system of society, which sorts people according to their actions in previous lives.
Jainism views on the soul (jiva) state that every living being has a specific state of the soul – liberated or non-liberated. Body is just a soul's temporary container, like a car for the driver. Every jiva is individual and independent, and it is reborn many times in different bodies until it finally reaches the liberation. “The primary means to attain freedom requires the active nonharming of living beings, which disperses the karmas that keep one bound.” (Chapple, 2002)
Buddhism is a unique tradition in the history of the human thought, and denying the existence of such things as the soul or the individual "I" means that there is no permanent state which exists by itself. However, Buddhism has never denied the existence of the individual consciousness, which contains the entire personal spiritual world. This consciousness is transformed through the process of personal rebirth and it can finally find the peace while reaching the state of Nirvana.
Sikh tradition is a response to Islamic teachings, incorporating ideas about the monotheism. Moreover, this religious thought has incorporated some elements of the prevalent Hinduism. Reincarnation occupies a very important place in Sikh philosophy. Human soul is a part of the eternal soul and remains separated until it's reabsorbed. In other words, the soul goes through different cycles and forms or life until, after purification by meditations, it eventually reunites with God.
Unlike other three religions, Hinduism has a special caste differentiation of society groups, which dictates people their occupations based on the birth and stimulated through the fear of political or religious authority. Casts are justified by the concept of karmic nature of things, justifying the fate by personal actions in previous life. The system includes four main classes, which never intermarry and cannot be changed during the lifetime. This rises a controversial problem – if a caste cannot be changed, the economic growth of its representatives is very limited.
As discussed earlier, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism have a similar Karmic interpretation of the life, mutual respect and non-violent actions. However, these religions have contrasting philosophical beliefs about the afterlife. Scholars usually rationalize the differentiation of theological views on the nature of soul by the unique development and cross-influence of other religious thoughts and historical events.
Chapple, C.K. (2002). Jainism and Ecology. Center for the Study of World Religions.
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