Karmic Ladder: Will Good Deeds Be Rewarded in My Next Life?

Titlepic: Karmic Ladder: Will Good Deeds Be Rewarded in My Next Life?

If my actions in this life are good and moral, will I then be reborn next time in better circumstances, as some Eastern schools of thought teach?

KEYWORDS: action, beliefs, emotions, feelings, karma, law of attraction, metempsychosis, past lives, philosophy of religion, psychology, reincarnation, thoughts.

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There are millions of people in this world who believe that reincarnation is real, and that there is some kind of reward or punishment in the next life, depending on whether one has performed good actions or bad actions.

So the idea is then that by doing good deeds one may be promoted to a better life next time, and climb the karmic ladder. Or one can go the other way by doing bad deeds, and be demoted to a “lower” level of life.

Therefore, the question for this article is this: Are such beliefs in harmony with the authorized teachings of the Law of Attraction? In other words, does mastering the Law of Attraction include the development of a belief in a karmic ladder?

PART 1: THE COSMIC AND KARMIC LADDERS

The discussion in Part 1 focuses on two ideas: a cosmic ladder and a karmic ladder.

The Idea of a Cosmic Ladder

The idea of a cosmic ladder is not new. There have been many versions of such a ladder, as Lawrence Sullivan points out (1986, p. 171a):

“Cultures in North America, Oceania, Africa, and ancient Egypt all possess myths concerning ascent to heaven along a cosmic ladder.”

So the idea is approximately that a human being may “go to heaven” by using such a ladder, literally or symbolically. If the ladder is symbolical, it may be accompanied by various procedures for “activating” it.

Although many people associate the word “ascension” with the story of Jesus, and understand it as “ascending while still being alive”, some authors think that such an ascension can also occur after death (Tommasi 2005, p. 518):

“. . . an ascent to heaven represents a journey into divine realms where the soul, living or dead, reaps many rewards.”

In any case, one example was described by the Platonic writer Celsus, who described a ladder with seven steps or “gates”, representing the planets, apparently used in connection with worship of the god Mithra. [note 1]

This type of ladder symbolized, according to Celsus (Tommasi 2005, p. 522):

“. . . the passage of the adept’s soul through the planetary spheres . . .”

My illustration of Celsus's cosmic ladder with the seven planets.
Figure 1. My attempt to illustrate what Celsus’s ladder with the seven planets might have looked like.

So in the image above I have tried to illustrate, by using the basic ideas of the geocentric Ptolemaic organization of the universe, how Celsus’s ladder (or staircase) could have looked like, with the celestial spheres of the seven planets, and a firmament on top where the stars were located.

This cosmic ladder then, presumably, represented the soul’s path to get to the highest realm. [note 2]

Samsara: Transmigration of Souls

Now in many of the cases involving a cosmic ladder, there is a divine destination involved. This is true also for many Eastern philosophies, which may offer “salvation” or “escape from rebirth” as the highest good.

But even though “salvation” or “liberation” (or moksha, or nirvana, or mukti, etc.) may be the end goal for many, it is also a fact that the idea of a transmigration of souls (samsara) is prevalent in Indian philosophy and religion. In fact, Ninian Smart calls the theme of rebirth or reincarnation “pervasive” (1992, p. 47).

So according to the general idea of samsara, the soul is wandering from physical body to physical body in the material realm, life after life. This is indicated, for example, in the Bhagavad-Gita, one of the most sacred texts of the Hindus, in verse 15.8 (Prabhupada 1983, p. 722):

“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas. Thus he takes one kind of body and again quits it to take another.”

So the question then is: How will my next birth be, if I don’t reach “liberation”?

The Karmic Ladder

To answer that question, various karmic recipes have been offered throughout the ages. In the earliest times (Vedic hymns and commentaries), the recipe was that one might get “good karma” mainly by sacrificial action, typically performed by a qualified priest making sacrifices on one’s behalf.

But as time went on, the concept of karma was broadened. So at the time of the emerging Buddhism and Jainism and onward, Hinduism started to accept the idea of “ethical” karma in everyday life, as a measurement of one’s worthiness for getting a better birth (or not).

Frank Reynolds sums it up like this (2001, p. 678):

“According to the post-Vedic Hindu view, persons who perform appropriate ritual and/or ethical actions produce for themselves good karmic results that lead to happier rebirths in happier worlds.”

And Reynolds continues:

“Those who perform evil actions produce for themselves bad karmic results that lead to unhappy rebirths in worlds filled with evil and suffering.”

So there is a belief in the idea that action (i.e., behavior) determines one’s next station. And this produces a type of “karmic ladder”, where we, by our actions, determine whether or not we go up on the ladder in our next life, or go down:

Diagram of the karmic ladder in Hinduism, from animal to demigod, with the four castes in between (shudra, vaishya, kshatriya, brahmin).
Figure 2. The karmic ladder in Hinduism, from animal to demigod, with man in between. A common conception of the “order” of the castes is this: shudra (worker), vaishya (businessman), kshatriya (warrior), brahmin (priest).

It is noteworthy that, in the standard version of samsara, there is no chance of progression within a particular life: so being born as a shudra, for example, one cannot change that status until next life. As Taber says (1989, p. 608): “There is no upward mobility within that lifetime.” [note 3]

Transmigration in Hinduism

A scriptural example of the idea that one’s deeds determine one’s destination in the next life is from Chandogya Upanishad 5.10.7, which states, first, the upward move (Hume 1962, p. 232):

“7. Accordingly, those who are of pleasant conduct here–the prospect is, indeed, that they will enter a pleasant womb, either the womb of a Brahman, or the womb of a Kshatriya, or the womb of a Vaishya.”

In the above quotation, we note especially that it is the “top” three social classes that are the potential destination: the womb of a brahmin (a priest), or of a kshatriya (a warrior), or of a vaishya (a business man).

And then, in that same text, the downward move is also described (Hume 1962, p. 232):

“But those who are stinking conduct here–the prospect is, indeed, that they will enter a stinking womb, either the womb of a dog, or the womb of a swine, or the womb of an outcast (candala).”

So one sees here that the person with bad conduct must count on being reincarnated as either a chandala (outcast, untouchable), or as a dog, or a swine.

And this tradition is seen also in modern times, in the commentaries of various gurus representing the Indian tradition. For example, Swami Prabhupada writes in his commentary on Bhagavad-gita 15.8 (see above) that (1983, p. 723): [note 4]

“At the time of death, the consciousness he has created will carry him on to the next type of body. If he has made his consciousness like that of a cat or dog, he is sure to change to a cat’s or dog’s body. And if he has fixed his consciousness on godly qualities, he will change into the form of a demigod.”

So his ideas are similar to those expressed in the Chandogya Upanishad: some bodies are (morally) more attractive to have, while other bodies are (morally) less attractive to have. A higher-caste body (of a brahmin, kshatriya, or vaishya) is typically seen as more attractive, or more “worthy”, than a lower-caste body (of a shudra, or chandala).

PART 2: THE KARMIC LADDER AND LAW OF ATTRACTION

The focus in Part 2 is on the question: Does the philosophy of the Law of Attraction consider the Karmic Ladder to be a correct concept? Or, if not a correct concept, is it perhaps a useful concept nevertheless?

Action Is Not a Causal Parameter

In Hinduism the idea of karma is a big deal. So the concept of karma (“action”) is central to the whole idea of transmigration and human life in Indian philosophy and religion.

But, as I have described in my article on Abraham-Hicks and Karma, Law of Attraction does not accept action (i.e., behavior) as a causal factor or parameter.

For if everything in this world was determined by action, then the same action would always produce the same result. But that is not what we see in the world. Many people struggle very hard, but not all succeed in getting their dream life, or even a paycheck. And others lead a very relaxed life, playing golf and having fun, with unimaginable resources at their disposal.

So if action is not a causal parameter in our current lifetime, why would it be so in between lifetimes? Why would we believe that we would get a “better” birth next life, just because we have done certain “good” things during our current lifetime?

In other words, it does not make sense, even philosophically, to believe in the idea of a “better” birth next time, since action does not seem to be the real causal factor. So the question then is: What is the causal factor?

Emotional Mood Is the Causal Factor

As Law of Attraction reveals, our “point of attraction” is the causal factor. It is our point of attraction that the Law of Attraction is operating on. Simplified: It is our current emotional mood, our vibration, that determines our success in this life, not our actions.

And while action sometimes may seem to be a causal factor and produce a desired outcome, it isn’t really so. It is just because the individuals who performed such action had a very similar emotional profile.

So in reality it was not the action that was the real cause of the effect. The real common causal factor was their emotional mood (point of attraction).

For the same action may be performed by several individuals with very different accompanying thoughts, beliefs, motivations, emotions, and mindsets. But their results are not always the same.

The Two Scenarios: Same or Different Moods

So let’s look at two scenarios: Scenario 1 and Scenario 2:

Scenario 1: Here we have two persons with a similar emotional mood, say, P1 (“weak positivity”). When they perform some action, we may predict that their respective results will be similar. Either both will succeed, or both will fail.

Scenario 2: Here we have two persons with different emotional moods, say, P2 (“medium positivity”) and N2 (“medium negativity”). When they perform some action, we may predict that their respective results will be different. Typically, the person in P2 will be successful, while the one in N2 will fail.

Diagram of two persons in a similar emotional mood, achieving similar results.
Figure 3. In Scenario 1 there are two persons with a similar emotional mood. Because of their similar feeling-place, their respective results will be similar.

If one contemplates Scenario 1 in isolation (above), it is understandable that some people may think that it is the action that is responsible for the result. After all, the two persons, both in P1, both perform the same action, and both get a similar result.

Diagram of two persons in different emotional moods, achieving different results.
Figure 4. In Scenario 2 there are two persons with different emotional moods. Because of their different feeling-place, their respective results will be different.

But if one also looks at Scenario 2 (above), one must adjust one’s theory, and reject action as a causal parameter. For in Scenario 2, their respective result is different. So it disqualifies action as a (necessary and sufficient) causal parameter not only in Scenario 2, but also in Scenario 1. And it indicates that the real factor of influence is the emotional mood of each of the two agents.

The Emotion Ladder

So in the philosophy of the Law of Attraction there is no karmic ladder to climb. But that doesn’t mean that the Law of Attraction doesn’t have its own type of ladder (or staircase).

For we can think of our emotions in a “progressive” way. Our goal, as students of the Law of Attraction, is to raise our vibration as much as possible, so that we will get more positive, more enthusiastic, and more thrilled about our life and our day.

Therefore, we may use our negativity-positivity spectrum (NP scale) as a type of ladder or staircase, by putting the NP spectrum on the y-axis instead of on the x-axis. So if we instead assign “time” to be the scale on the x-axis, we may have an emotion ladder like this:

Diagram showing an emotion ladder, where a person at N2 has the goal of improving his emotional status to P1.
Figure 5. The negativity-positivity spectrum viewed as a ladder. A person at N2 might have the goal of improving his emotional status to P1.

The idea here then is simple: we want to situate ourselves as high on this NP spectrum ladder as possible, for as long as possible. And if we temporarily may fall down a step or two, we just relax and pick ourselves up again, and return to our previous position.

Will Good Deeds Be Rewarded Later?

So let us return to the big question: Will good deeds be rewarded in our next life?

According to the philosophy of the Law of Attraction, we all return to Source (God-Force, non-physical) when our time here on Earth is over. And when we do, all our worries, problems, and other negative emotions are left behind in the dirty dust of Mother Earth.

So good deeds will not be rewarded in the next life in the sense of us getting a “better” birth, as the karmic ladder suggests. Why? Because action is not a causal principle. So there is no “past life” karma, or any automatic reckoning of “worthiness” in between lifetimes in preparation for one’s next birth.

This, however, does not mean that there is no reward waiting for us after a lifetime here on planet Earth. For there is an even better reward to come home to than what the karmic ladder offers.

For our reward, whether or not we take on a new lifetime on Earth after we come home, is our Vortex. All our desires and wishes and dreams have been meticulously stored in the Vortex. So when we return to Source after our death, we will clearly be able to see all of that.

And then, if we decide to return back to the Leading Edge here on Earth again, with our usual excitement and enthusiasm, we will then be able to manifest some of that, if we keep our thoughts and beliefs and emotions in the right place.

Start Feeling Better Now, Not Later

What is even more important, though, is that we don’t have to wait to be born again to feel better. We can start feeling better right here, right now.

For the most important manifestations are thoughts and emotions. And if we can just focus on thinking positive thoughts and emotions that really feel good, then we will be rewarded right away, by the grace of the Law of Attraction. Why take the trouble with so many actions, if it is our thoughts that are the real causal factor of our happiness?

The good thing about focusing on our thoughts instead of on our actions, is that it is payday within a minute or two. There is no need to wait for long-term results to show up, or to wait for the next reincarnation, in order to feel better. The Law of Attraction will immediately respond to our positive vibration, as soon as we start to generate good-feeling thoughts.

CONCLUSION

Millions of people believe in transmigration and the idea that there is a type of karmic ladder, where good deeds in this life will result in a “better” birth in the next life. But the authorized versions of the philosophy of Law of Attraction do not support such an idea.

At the time of death, we all go back to Source in the non-physical (spiritual) world, and we leave all our worries and troubles behind. When, or if, we enter this world again, we do not carry with us our old worries or troubles, or any old “bad karma”.

Taking birth is a decision that we ourselves make when we are in the non-physical realm. The exact setting of that birth is not something that is a result from some automatic “accumulated karma” reckoning (cf. Taber 1989, p. 609a), but is decided on the grounds of the soul’s desires when he is in the sphere of unobstructed consciousness in non-physical. At that time, and at that time only, does he decide what type of experiences he wants to explore by accepting another birth on Earth.

The karmic ladder is, according to the philosophy of Law of Attraction, a false concept. But the idea of reincarnation is correct. We are eternal souls. And we do reincarnate, life after life. But our reincarnations do not involve any karmic ladder.

So whatever our circumstances around our birth may look like when we are born, we can be sure that they previously have been accepted by ourselves as the best way to start our new life.

Our happiness and success is not determined by any karma from previous lifetimes. Instead it can be generated here and now by choosing better thoughts and beliefs. But to do that, one must learn, and practice, to carefully steer one’s thoughts, beliefs, and emotions into a better-feeling place. After that, the sky is the limit.

Chris Bocay

NOTES

  1. See also the article “Spiritual Ladders”, discussing the “Neoplatonic chain” and the ideas of a “Heavenly hierarchy” and an “Ecclesiastical hierarchy” (Lai 2001, p. 514b).
  2. For more details on the Hellenistic idea of the levels of ascension of the soul, see the section “Passage of the soul through the spheres” in Culianu 1986 (p. 438).
  3. So castes are a little like genes. You get what you are born with. But the analogy with genes is not perfect. For we also have epigenetics, in which we, by certain behavior (eating, exercising, etc.), can control the activation or deactivation of certain genetic properties. This type of behavior-controlled functionality is not possible in the standard version of samsara and the caste system: Once born as a shudra, always a shudra (in this particular lifetime).
  4. Note that Prabhupada also offers a third alternative, like many Indian saints and gurus do, namely the option of “release” from the karmic cycle: “And if he is in Krsna consciousness, he will be transferred to Krsnaloka in the spiritual world and will associate with Krsna.” (1983, p. 723).

REFERENCES

Photo collage of my personal copies of referenced works used for the article 'Karmic Ladder: Will Good Deeds Be Rewarded in My Next Life?'.

  • Culianu, Ioan Petru (1986), “Ascension” in Mircea Eliade, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion. 16 vols. Volume 1: Aaron – Australian Religions. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company; and London: Collier Macmillan Publishers. [Link to book]
  • Hume, Rober Ernest (1962), The Thirteen Principal Upanishads: Translated from the Sanskrit. With an Outline of the Philosophy of the Upanishads and an Annotated Bibliography. Second edition, revised. London: Oxford University Press. [Link to book (other ed.)]
  • Lai, Whalen (2001), “Spiritual Ladder” in Oliver Leaman, ed., Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy. London and New York: Routledge. [Link to book]
  • Prabhupada, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (1983), Bhagavad-Gita As It Is. Complete edition. Revised and enlarged. With the original Sanskrit text, Roman transliteration, English equivalents, translation and eleborate purports. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. [Link to book]
  • Reynolds, Frank E. (2001), “Hindu Ethics” in Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker, eds., Encyclopedia of Ethics. Second edition. Volume 2: H-O. New York and London: Routledge. [Link to book]
  • Smart, Ninian (1992), The World’s Religions: Old Traditions and Modern Transformations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Link to book]
  • Sullivan, Lawrence E. (1986), “Supreme Beings” in Mircea Eliade, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion. 16 vols. Volume 14: Spells – Towers. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company; and London: Collier Macmillan Publishers. [Link to book]
  • Taber, C. R. (1989), “Reincarnation” in Keith Crim, Roger A. Bullard, and Larry D. Shinn, eds., The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco. [Link to book]
  • Tommasi, Chiara Ombretta (2005), “Ascension” in Lindsay Jones, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion. Second edition. 15 vols. Volume 1: Aaron – Attention. Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA (Thomson Gale). [Link to book]

Copyright © 2023 by Chris Bocay. All rights reserved.

First published: Fri 10 Mar 2023
Last revised: Fri 8 Sep 2023

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