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Reincarnation, Karma, Nirvana: Death and Man's Future Destiny

Reincarnation, karma, nirvana: life after deathEastern religions often teach beliefs such as reincarnation, karma, and liberation or nirvana. Forms of these views are advocated by Hinduism, Buddhism, and many in the New Age Movement. How do these concepts compare to the Bible teaching about death, resurrection, judgment, heaven, and hell? 

Should Christians believe and teach Oriental views of death and the future destiny of man? What does the gospel of Christ say?


A. The Teaching of Oriental Religions


Hindus, Buddhists, and many New Agers believe that, when a person dies, his spirit is given another earthly body: that of an animal, a person of another caste (social level), or a god, depending on how he lived. This cycle or death and rebirth continues on and on, again and again, until one is finally released.

This concept is widely believed in our society. People often speak of what they were or did "in another life."


This related doctrine teaches that ones circumstances in life are completely determined by his previous conduct, either in this life or in previous lives. This is called "karma" (action).

Everything good and everything bad that happens to us in this life comes as a payment for our own past conduct. Nothing is ever the fruit of what others did, but always the consequences of our own conduct.

This term also is becoming popular and is often seen or heard in the entertainment industry -- movies, music, television, etc.


The final goal is to escape or be released from the cycle of reincarnation. We seek to be set free from birth, death, rebirth, and to exist in a state of pure impersonal being without a physical body.

It is thought that we become so attached to physical existence that we lose sight of our real nature as Divine Beings. To be released we must somehow recognize ourselves for what we really are and act accordingly, thereby losing our attachment to our earthly existence.

The exact nature of this final state is not clearly defined. We are somehow absorbed into the eternal Being (Brahman). Some view it as a ceasing of consciousness, others as a sense of bliss (Nirvana).

To the Hindu and many New Agers, therefore, punishment consists of continuing to exist on earth. "Eternal life" consists of ceasing to exist in a bodily form. There is no concept of a bodily resurrection.

B. The Bible Concept of Man's Destiny


Man has only one earthly life and death.

Hebrews 9:27 -- It is appointed unto man once to die.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 -- At death, the body returns to dust and the spirit returns to God who gave it (not to another body).

Luke 16:26 -- When one has died, his destiny is fixed. He cannot pass from a destiny of suffering to one of bliss, nor vice-versa.

[Ecc. 9:5,6; 2 Cor. 5:10]


After Jesus had died, His spirit was later reunited with His body. Likewise after we die, our spirit will be reunited with our body when Jesus comes again. It will then be changed to a spirit body to receive an eternal reward.

John 5:28,29 -- All in the tombs will come forth to the resurrection of life or damnation.

1 Corinthians 15:22 -- As in Adam all die, so in Jesus shall all be made alive. The guarantee of this is the fact that Jesus Himself arose (v1-23).

We will come back as ourselves, not as an animal, a god, or some other person. We will be reunited with our own body, not that of someone else.

[Matt. 22:23-33; Acts 24:15; John 11:24; James 2:26]


In contradiction to the doctrine of karma, the Bible teaches that, on earth, men often do not receive just rewards for their lives. [Note Luke 16:19-25; Matt. 5:11,12; Rom. 8:17,18; I Pet. 4:12-16; I Thess. 3:2-4; Acts 14:22; Heb. 11:32-38; Job 1 & 2; 2 Tim. 3:12; John 15:20; I Pet. 2:19-23]

Instead, when Jesus returns, He will judge all men and declare our eternal rewards on the basis of our lives, good or bad.

Acts 17:30,31 -- Paul told the idol worshipers of Athens that they must repent because God has appointed a day in which He will judge all men. The proof of this is Jesus' resurrection.

2 Corinthians 5:10 -- At judgment, each one will receive a reward according to the life he lived in the body, good or bad. Note that this reward is for what he did in the body -- just one body, not many bodies.

[Luke 16:19-31; Rom. 2:1-16; 14:10-12; Ecc. 12:13,14; Matt. 25:31-46; Rev. 20:11-15; Heb. 9:27]

Final destinies

Matthew 25:46 -- After the judgment, men receive their eternal destinies. The righteous receive eternal life, a state of bliss, in the presence of God. The wicked receive eternal punishment, suffering and sorrow, separated from God.

Hence, both the rewards and the punishments taught in the Bible are to be received after we leave the earth, not while on the earth. And all of this is significantly different from Oriental concepts of reincarnation, karma, and liberation.

[Matt. 25:34,41; Tit. 3:7; Rom. 6:23; I Thess. 4:17; 5:9,10; Matt. 18:8,9; 5:10-12,22; 13:39-42; I Pet. 1:3,4; Rev. 20:10-15; 21:1-22:5; Phil. 3:20,21; 2 Thess. 1:5-9]

Note: If you would like to study further about related Bible topics, we have a number of other study materials on our web site that should interest you. Please see the links listed below.

(C) Copyright 2000, David E. Pratte;
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Topics for further Bible study

Hinduism vs. Christianity
Buddhism or Christianity?
What Claims Did Jesus Make?
Is There Life after Death?
Evidence for Jesus' Resurrection - Return to the Gospel Way home page.

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