In the early centuries of Christianity those running the Church decided to remove certain esoteric ideas--prominent among them, reincarnation and karma--from the teachings exoterically presented to the many.
In the early centuries of Christianity those running the Church decided to remove certain esoteric ideas--prominent among them, reincarnation and karma--from the teachings exoterically presented to the many. This decision has persisted throughout many centuries and is unlikely to change in the forseeable future. Anyone who has conversed with any appreciable number of conservative--or, for that matter, liberal--protestants and Catholics about this subject has been very often frustrated by seemingly impassable barriers. Most Christians, even very spiritual ones, tend to be very resistant to these ideas, even when acceptance of these ideas would seem to shed valuable light on questions which cause them great anguish--the problem of evil, most notably, how so much human suffering can be reconciled with the existence of an all-powerful and all-good God. The Vatican, although open-minded and progressive on many other matters, has for centuries remained immovable on this one, despite extensive contact with cultures in which these beliefs are widely held and many borrowings from these cultures. These considerations lead one to suspect some esoteric reason(s) for such resistance.
Father Hugh Shearman, a deceased Northern Irish Liberal Catholic priest, has, I think, hit upon some part of the explanation as to why most souls on the Christian path are not to be given this knowledge until comparatively late on their spiritual pilgrimage. In Modern Theosophy, an out of print book, he writes, "In some respects,such doctrines are of only minor importance to the Christian, for they tend to be concerned with what is temporal rather to the exclusion of what is eternal or timeless. They do not seem really to solve the human problem but only to move it onto a wide stage.”
We cannot save our lives except by losing them, Our Lord says (Luke:9:24), and we cannot "lose" them if we act out of hope for reward in the form of good karmaphala which will come to us in the future. Such action, in contrast to karma yoga or selfless action, binds us in some way. Only disinterested, loving action is liberating. Swami Bhaskarananda says, "It is like a person who has deposited one milllion dollars in a bank with the instruction that the income from his investment must not be credited to his account; it should be given in charity to a church. In this case, the account holder is not expecting the fruits of his investment. The result of his investment--the interest income--will not come back to him. In the same manner, a person who works while disowning the fruits of his action will break a link in the chain of repeated births and deaths and will not be born again. In other words, he will attain liberation"(134). To act selflessly without thought for future results is to live wholly in the present.
We would do well also to recall the words of John the Baptist: "He must increase, but I must decrease"(John:3:30). The Eternal Christ who must increase in us is beyond time: "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last"(Revelation:22:13). As he increases in us, our consciousnesses ascend more and more to the Nirvanic and then to the Monadic levels where temporal sequence has no place: "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty"(Revelation:1:8). Our ascension to this level--or, rather, the ascension of the Godhead Within us--is the "increase" of which John the Baptist spoke. "He that cometh from above is above all," John the Baptist said. "He that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all"(John:3:31). Here we live not in the unreal "now" which is an instant between the past and the future--a mental fiction without reality because the "present moment" is always becoming the past and the "future" is always arriving and becoming the present (Heraclitus more than two millennia ago saw through the unreality of "time")--but rather in the Eternal Now of the Mind of God.
And this transformation comes instantaneously when it comes, even though a long process of development may have led up to it. Similarly, the self-sacrificial giving occurs spontaneously, with no thought of time--"take therefore no thought for the morrow"(Matthew:6:34). Salvation, because it occurs above the "earthly" realm of which John the Baptist spoke, is not temporal. "Behold, I come quickly," said the Cosmic Christ to John of Patmos (Revelation:22:7). "In a moment," St. Paul says, "in the twinkling of an eye"(1 Corinthians:15:52).
Perhaps those on the Christian path are called to make this timeless self-sacrificial surrender central; and perhaps, for them, this means it is to be primary in a temporal sense: they are to learn about it and consider it first, not as the end result of reflection on cosmic processes. Perhaps the knowledge that Hindus start with is to come to Christians after a lot of progress toward that which is of paramount importance:"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you"(Matthew:6:33).
The question sometimes arises as to whether Catholic clergy in Gnostic denominations should speak about reincarnation and karma from the pulpit. I think that they should because those attracted to our Church are ready for such knowledge, but only with due regard for the above considerations. Our karmically determined future cannot be our central concern, nor any curiosity about speculative matters: "I determined not to know anything...save Jesus Christ, and him crucified"(1 Corinthians:2:1).
We ought also to take seriously a warning fundamentalists often give: the idea of reincarnation ought not to be seen as an excuse for delay, for that attitude would greatly retard spiritual evolution. "Now it is high time to awake out of sleep....the night is far spent; the day is at hand"(Romans:13:1--12).
Nonetheless, for those who keep the above considerations in mind, such knowledge and reflections on it can be of immense value. We evolve over time toward readiness for the Omega transformation, and, as we evolve, such understanding can aid us in our step-by-step journey. Reincarnation, karma, and dharma are great truths, and it is truth which makes us free.
Bhaskarananda, Swami. The Essentials of Hinduism. Seattle: Viveka Press, 2002.