World Scripture


In this section we treat the principle of cosmic justice and the law of cause and effect. The maxim that a person reaps what he has sown, the doctrine of karma, and belief in divine retribution are different expressions of a common principle that the world is governed by justice. This section does not distinguish the specific manner in which justice will be vindicated; e.g., through one's fate in this life, through reincarnation into a being of a different status, or through one's fate in the afterlife. For the latter, regarding beliefs about heaven and hell, see Chapter 6.

The principle of justice bears the same ambiguous relationship to Ultimate Reality as does divine Law generally. In Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, and African traditional religions it is God who executes judgment to maintain justice, while in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism the principle of justice is inherent in the fabric of the cosmos and is distinguished from and subordinate to the ultimate goal of Liberation. In Chinese religion there is both an impersonal Tao or Heaven which gives recompense according to principle and Taoist deities who execute judgment.

More will be said in later chapters about the doctrine of karma, particularly the accumulated Karma and Inherited Sin, pp. 694-702, as they impinge on the present. Karma may function to explain a person's life circumstances by attributing them to conditions created in past lives; in that sense the doctrine of karma functions analogously to the doctrine of predestination in theistic religions. Yet the Buddhist scriptures caution against interpreting karma as a deterministic principle, and Hindu texts recognize that it can be blotted out through grace.1 [1See p. 695].

This collection of texts begins with passages on the principle of cause and effect, on justice as inherent to the nature of life. The next group of passages deals with the problem of the frequent delay between actions and the ripening of their fruits. The scriptures affirm that regardless of the delay, recompense is inescapable, sometimes describing it through the metaphor of Heaven's net. One solution to this problem is that recompense occurs in another life; here we offer several fundamental texts on karma, the impersonal law by which the deserts of one's deeds are reaped in the next incarnation. The next group of passages gives another solution, which is to envision that sure recompense comes only at the Last Judgment. The final group of passages depicts God, or his angels, as personally deciding and enforcing the judgment for one's deeds.

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.

1. Christianity. Bible, Galatians 6.7

Suffering is the offspring of violence--realize this and be ever vigilant.

2. Jainism. Acarangasutra 3.13

Whatever affliction may visit you is for what your own hands have earned.

3. Islam. Qur'an 42.30

Our body in Kali Yuga is a field of action:
As a man sows, so is his reward.
Nothing by empty talk is determined:
Anyone swallowing poison must die.
Brother! behold the Creator's justice:
As are a man's actions, so is his recompense.

4. Sikhism. Adi Granth, Gauri Var, M.4, p. 308

Galatians 6.7: Cf. Ezekiel 18.1-30, pp. 681f. Qur'an 42.30: Cf. Qur'an 53.36-42, p. 681. Gauri Var, M.4: Cf. Maitri Upanishad 4.2, p. 696.

All who take the sword will perish by the sword.

5. Christianity. Bible, Matthew 26.52

Those who wrongfully kill men are only putting their weapons into the hands of others who will in turn kill them.

6. Taoism. Treatise on Response and Retribution 5

Ashes fly back in the face of him who throws them.

7. African Traditional Religions. Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria)

For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.

8. Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Hosea 8.7

An ignorant man committing evil deeds does not realize the consequences. The imprudent man is consumed by his own deeds, like one burnt by fire.

9. Buddhism. Dhammapada 136

Men who acquire wealth by evil deeds, by adhering to principles which are wrong, fall into the trap of their own passions and fettered with karma they sink further down.

10. Jainism. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 4.2

A man who has committed one of the deadly sins will never again, until his death, lose the thought of that action; he cannot get rid of it or remove it, but it follows after him until the time of his death.

11. Buddhism. Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines 17.3

I have acted, I have caused others to act, and I have approved of others' actions. One should first comprehend that all such actions taking place in the world are the cause of the influx of karma particles, and then should forswear them.

12. Jainism. Acarangasutra 1.6-7

Unrighteousness, practiced in this world, does not at once produce its fruit; but, like a cow, advancing slowly, it cuts off the roots of him who committed it.

13. Hinduism. Laws of Manu 4.172

Dhammapada 136: Cf. Dhammapada 131-132, p. 478. Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines 17.3: The 'deadly sins' in Buddhism are specifically: (1) to kill one's mother; (2) to kill one's father; (3) to kill an arhat; (4) to cause schism in the Order; and (5) to harm the body of a Buddha.

Even if they attain to sovereignty, the wicked, engaged in cruel deeds, condemned by all men, do not enjoy it long, but fall like trees whose roots have been severed. O dweller in darkness, as in its proper season the tree puts forth its flowers, so in the course of time evil actions produce bitter fruit.

14. Hinduism. Ramayana, Aranya Kanda 29

Good fortune and misfortune take effect through perseverance. The tao of heaven and earth becomes visible through perseverance. The tao of sun and moon becomes bright through perseverance. All movements under heaven become uniform through perseverance.

15. Confucianism. I Ching, Great Commentary 2.1.5

As sweet as honey is an evil deed, so thinks the fool so long as it ripens not; but when it ripens, then he comes to grief.

Verily, an evil deed committed does not immediately bear fruit, just as milk does not curdle at once; but like a smoldering fire covered with ashes, it remains with the fool until the moment it ignites and burns him.

16. Buddhism. Dhammapada 69, 71

Let not their conduct grieve you, who run easily to disbelief, for lo! they injure God not at all. It is God's will to assign them no portion in the hereafter, and theirs will be an awful doom....

And let not those who disbelieve imagine that the rein We give them bodes good for their souls. We only give them rein that they may grow in sinfulness. And theirs will be a shameful doom.

17. Islam. Qur'an 3.176, 178

Then I saw the wicked buried; they used to go in and out of the holy place, and were praised in the city where they had done such things. Because sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the sons of men is fully set to do evil. Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him.

18. Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Ecclesiastes 8.10-12

The net of Heaven is cast wide. Though the mesh is not fine, yet nothing ever slips through.

19. Taoism. Tao Te Ching 73

Qur'an 3.176, 178: Cf. Qur'an 4.92, p. 477 and 14.42-51, p. 1100; also 2 Peter 3.10, p. 1099, where the reason for God's slowness is divine forbearance that the wicked might have a chance to repent. Ecclesiastes 8.10-12: Cf. Yoruba Song, p. 111.

Further, as Heaven and Earth are the greatest of things, it is natural, from the point of view of universal principles, that they have spiritual power. Having spiritual power it is proper that they reward good and punish evil. Nevertheless their expanse is great and their net is wide-meshed. There is not necessarily an immediate response as soon as this net is set in operation.

20. Taoism. Pao-p'u Tzu

Everything is given on pledge, and a net is spread for all the living; the shop is open; and the dealer gives credit; and the ledger lies open; and the hand writes; and whosoever wishes to borrow may come and borrow; but the collectors regularly make their daily round, and exact payment from man whether he be content or not; and they have that whereon they can rely in their demand; and the judgment is a judgment of truth; and everything is prepared for the feast

21. Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 3.20

Not in the sky, nor in mid-ocean, nor in a mountain cave, is found that place on earth where abiding one may escape from the consequences of one's evil deed.

22. Buddhism. Dhammapada 127

Though they dig into Sheol,
from there shall my hand take them;
though they climb up to heaven,
from there I will bring them down.
Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel,
from there I will search out and take them;
and though they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea,
there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them.
And though they go into captivity before their enemies,
there I will command the sword, and it shall slay them;
and I will set my eyes upon them for evil and not for good.

23. Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Amos 9.2-4

According as one acts, according as one conducts himself, so does he become. The doer of good becomes good. The doer of evil becomes evil. One becomes virtuous by virtuous action, bad by bad action.

But people say, "A person is made [not of acts, but] of desires only." [I say,] as his desire, such is his resolve; as is his resolve, such the action he performs; what action he performs, that he procures for himself.

On this point there is this verse,

Where one's mind is attached--the inner self
Goes thereto with action, being attached to it alone.
Obtaining the end of his action,
Whatever he does in this world,
He comes again from that world
To this world of action.
So the mind who desires.

24. Hinduism. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.5-6

Pao-p'u Tzu: Written by Ko Hung (253-333), the Pao-p'u Tzu is among the most important classics of religious Taoism. It expounds belief in the Taoist Immortals, the doctrine of retribution, and the use of alchemical means to prolong life. Abot 3.20: The image of the ledger is a frequent one; cf. Abot 4.29, p. 346; Qur'an 17.13-14, 39.68-75, 50.17-19, pp. 345-48; 69.13-37, pp. 1098f.; Revelation 20.11-12, p. 346; Ramkali-ki-Var, M.1, p. 299. Amos 9.2-4: Cf. Qur'an 2.115, Atharva Veda 4.16, p. 111.

Action, which springs from the mind, from speech, and from the body, produces either good or evil results; by action are caused the conditions of men, the highest, the middling, and the lowest.

A man obtains the result of a good or evil mental act in his mind; that of a verbal act in his speech; that of a bodily act in his body.

In consequence of sinful acts committed with his body, a man becomes in the next birth an inanimate thing; in consequence of sins committed by speech, he becomes a bird or a beast; in consequence of mental sins he is reborn in a low caste.

25. Hinduism. Laws of Manu 12.3,8,9

According to what deeds are done
Do their resulting consequences come to be;
Yet the doer has no existence:
This is the Buddha's teaching.

Like a clear mirror,
According to what comes before it,
Reflecting forms, each different,
So is the nature of actions.

26. Buddhism. Garland Sutra 10

As you plan for somebody so God plans for you.

27. African Traditional Religions. Igbo Proverb (Nigeria)

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.5-6: This classic text describes the principle by which karma determines the site of reincarnation. Cf. Vedanta Sutra 1.2.1, p. 338; Svetasvatara Upanishad 5.11-12, p. 696. Laws of Manu 12.1-9: Cf. Vedanta Sutra 1.2.1, p. 338; Maitri Upanishad 4.2, p. 696. Garland Sutra 10: This passage reconciles karma and voidness. A person is subject to karma only as long as he dwells in the illusion that he exists as a self. Intrinsically empty of self, a person is like a clear mirror whose purity is not affected by the reflections that impinge upon it. Thus the person who courses in enlightenment will not accumulate new karma, though he may still have to work out the effects of past deeds. Cf. Majjhima Nikaya i.389-90, p. 345 and Anguttara Nikaya iii.33, p. 697.

All creatures on their actions are judged In God's court, just and true.

28. Sikhism. Adi Granth, Japuji 34, p. 7

God is not hornless;
He is horned:
He exacts punishment for every deed.

29. African Traditional Religions. Ovambo Proverb (Angola)

I the Lord search the mind
and try the heart,
to give to every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his doings.

30. Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Jeremiah 17.10

Whoever vows to tyrannize over the humble and the meek,
The Supreme Lord burns him in flames.
The Creator dispenses perfect justice
And preserves His devotee.

31. Sikhism. Adi Granth, Gauri, M.5, p. 199

To God belongs all that is in the heavens and on the earth; and whether you make known what is in your minds or hide it, God will bring you to account for it. He will forgive whom He will and He will punish whom He will. God is able to do all things.

32. Islam. Qur'an 2.284

Never mind if the people are not intimidated by your [correct] authority. A mightier Authority will deal with them in the end.

33. Taoism. Tao Te Ching 72

For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.

34. Christianity. Bible, Matthew 16.27

Ovambo Proverb: Cf. Yoruba Song, p. 701; Igbo Consecration, p. 769. Jeremiah 17.10: Cf. Hebrews 4.12-13, p. 110. Qur'an 2.284: Cf. Qur'an 14.38, p. 109. God's attributes of justice and mercy are often in seeming contradiction; see Abot 3.19, p. 687; Rig Veda 7.86.1-4, p. 904. Matthew 16.27: Cf. Matthew 25.31-46, p. 990; 13.47-50, p. 1097.

Holy, then, did I recognize Thee, O Wise Lord.
I perceived Thee foremost at the birth of life,
When Thou didst endow acts and words with retribution:
Bad unto bad, good blessing unto holy,
Through Thy wisdom, at the final goal of life!

35. Zoroastrianism. Avesta, Yasna 43.5

Even if the wrong-doers had all that there is on earth, and as much more, in vain would they offer it for ransom from the pain of the penalty on the Day of Judgment, but something will confront them from God which they could never have counted upon! For the evils of their deeds will confront them, and they will be encircled by that at which they used to mock!

36. Islam. Qur'an 39.47-48

Upon that Day men shall issue in scatterings to see their works, And whoso has done an atom's weight of good shall see it, And whoso has done an atom's weight of evil shall see it.

37. Islam. Qur'an 99.6-8

And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, in the last day, be restored unto that which is good.

And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame--mortality raised to immortality, corruption to incorruption--raised to endless happiness to inherit the kingdom of God, or to endless misery to inherit the kingdom of the devil, the one on one hand, the other on the other.

38. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Book of Mormon, Alma 41.3-4

Alike of you is he who conceals his speech, and he who proclaims it, he who hides himself in the night, and he who sallies forth by day; he has attendant angels, before him and behind him, watching over him by God's command.

39. Islam. Qur'an 13.10-11

Yasna 43.5: Cf. Yansa 48.4, p. 408. The 'final goal of life' will come at the Last Judgment--see Yasna 30.8-10, p. 1098. Qur'an 39.47-48: Cf. Qur'an 69.13-37, pp. 1098f. and similar passages on the last judgment. Qur'an 13.10-11: Cf. Qur'an 41.30-31, p. 368; 50.17-19, p. 347. Atharva Veda 4.16.4, p. 111, speaks of Varuna's 'envoys' who spy out the doings of men.

The Exalted One says, "There are no special doors for calamity and happiness [in men's lot]; they come as men themselves call them. Their recompenses follow good and evil as the shadow follows the substance." Accordingly, in heaven and earth there are spirits that take account of men's transgressions, and, according to the lightness or gravity of their offenses, take away from their term of life. When that term is curtailed, men become poor and reduced, and meet with many sorrows and afflictions. All people hate them; punishments and calamities attend them; good luck and occasions for felicitation shun them; evil stars send down misfortune on them. When their term of life is exhausted they die.

40. Taoism. Treatise on Response and Retribution 1-2

Treatise on Response and Retribution 1-2: In popular Chinese religion, the Spirit of the Hearth ascends to Heaven annually to report on the deeds which transpired in that family, at which time a determination is made on each individual's span of life; see Tract of the Quiet Way, p. 347. Compare Qur'an 39.42, p. 333; Igbo Consecration, p. 769.