A Christian once asked me this question when I was explaining him about karma and rebirth philosophy in Hinduism. I told him that if anything happens in anybody's life, it is the result of their karma in a previous birth. He then raised a question with the following example:
If a thief stealing from a house is due to the sin of the houseowner in a previous birth, when a judge gives punishment to the accused, ideally the accused should not be found guilty.
How can karma and rebirth theory be defended against this argument?
So, did the thief not commit a sin because the robbery was destined to happen due to the houseowner's karma? Please answer with an authentic source.
Before coming to the example, one needs to understand the two types of karma in play here - Prarabdha and Kriyamana. But I will also include Sanchita karma for good order sake.
It is all your accumulated karma of past lives.
It is that portion of Sanchita karma that will fructify in this life. One cannot escape it.
It is the karma that is being made for the future i.e. fruits of which we will experience in this lifetime or next lifetime. If next lifetime then it gets stored into Sanchita karma
In mathematical terms
SanchitaL = SanchitaL-1 — PrarabdhaL + KriyamanaL
SanchitaL and SanchitaL-1 are accumulated karma at the end of life L and L-1 respectively
PrarabdhaL is that portion of SanchitaL-1 experienced in life L
KriyamanaL are the net new actions in life L over which you have control
So coming to example , the house owner losing wealth is because of his Prarabdha karma. If the thief didn't steal it , he would have lost it via another theft , poor investment decision etc.
The thief committing the robbery has incurred bad Kriyamana karma. So if he didn't receive punishment in this life then he would get it in one of his future lives because the Kriyamana karma will get stored into Sanchita karma. In one of his next rebirths he would suffer losses accordingly.
The judge is carrying out his prescribed duty. If he didn't carry out his duty i. e. punish the robber , then he would incur bad Kriyamana karma .
The point that is being missed here is that the theory of karma is not based on pratyakSha pramANa (direct observation), but anumAna pramANa (inference).
Nobody has witnessed the previous life of the house-owner to certify that he committed some sin, because of which he is suffering this loss in his present life. It is only from inferring that because he suffered the loss, he must have done something to warrant it.
Whereas the crime of stealing is based on pratyakSha pramANa. Somebody saw the loss of property and witnessed the theft. So the thief is definitely guilty and must be punished.
This is because pratyakSha pramANa always has higher priority and credibility than anumAna pramANa.
[If a thief stealing from a house is due to the sin of the houseowner in a previous birth, when a judge gives punishment to the accused, ideally the accused should not be found guilty.]
It is true that in general such question about justice can not be definitively answered by any human. Why is it so? The reason is that it is Ishvara who gives the fruits of karma.
The fruit of action is from Him, this being the logical position.
Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Sri Sanakracharya III.ii.38
However, there are special cases where an answer can be given. This is one such case. The point here is that stealing is paapa (sin) and a person who steals will suffer the resulting karmic consequences. If someone eats a chilli then that person will suffer the discomfort of the heat generated by the chilli. There is no escaping it.
A good example is Adolf Hitler. AH's war bankrupted Britain which paved the way for the independence of India. Apparently AH did a good thing. Nevertheless AH's crimes against humanity will attract karmic consequences.
Adhikarana summary: Iswara the giver of the fruits of actions
Brahma-Sutra 3.2.38: Sanskrit text and English translation.
फलमतः, उपपत्तेः ॥ ३८ ॥
phalamataḥ, upapatteḥ || 38 ||
phalam—Fruits of actions; ataḥ—from Him; upapatteḥ—for that is reasonable.
38. From Him (the Lord) are the fruits of actions ; for that is reasonable.
Having described the nature of Brahman, the author proceeds now to discuss the view of the Mimamsakas, who say that Karma (work) and not Īswara gives the fruits of one’s actions. According to them(?) it is useless to set up an Iswara for this purpose, since Karma itself can give that result at a future time.
This Sutra refutes it and says that from Iswara alone come the fruits cf one’s work. Karma is insentient and short-lived, and cannot therefore be expected to bestow the fruits of actions at a future time according to one’s deserts. We do not see any insentient thing bestow fruits on those who worship it. Therefore it is only from the Lord, who is worshipped through actions, that their results proceed.
Brahma-Sutra 3.2.39: Sanskrit text and English translation.
श्रुतत्वाच्च ॥ ३९ ॥
śrutatvācca || 39 ||
śrutatvāt—Because the scripture so teaches; ca—and.
39. And because the scripture so teaches.
The scripture declares that the fruits of actions come from the Lord. “That great, birthless Self is the eater of food and the giver of wealth (the fruit of one’s work)” (Brih. 4. 4. 24).
Brahma-Sutra 3.2.40: Sanskrit text and English translation.
धर्मं जैमिनिः, अत एव ॥ ४० ॥
dharmaṃ jaiminiḥ, ata eva || 40 ||
dharmaṃ—Religious merits; jaiminiḥ—(sage) Jaimini; ata eva—for the same reasons.
40. Jaimini (thinks) for the same reasons (viz. scriptural authority and reasoning) that religious merit (is what brings about the fruits of actions).
The view of the previous Sutra is being criticized.
The scripture enjoins, “He who is desirous of the heavenly world is to sacrifice” (Tandya). Since every scriptural injunction has an object, it is reasonable to think that the sacrifice itself produces the fruit. But it may be objected that since the deed is destroyed, it cannot produce a result at a future time. This is met by the positing of an Apurva or extraordinary principle, which is produced by the Karma before it is destroyed, and through the intervention of which the result is produced in the distant future. Again, if the deed itself did not produce the result, it would be useless to perform it; and moreover it is not reasonable to imagine one cause (the Lord) for a great variety of effects.
Brahma-Sutra 3.2.41: Sanskrit text and English translation.
पूर्वं तु बादरायणः, हेतुव्यपदेशात् ॥ ४१ ॥
pūrvaṃ tu bādarāyaṇaḥ, hetuvyapadeśāt || 41 ||
pūrvam—The former (i.e. the Lord); tu—but; bādarāyaṇaḥ—Badarayana; hetu-vyapadeśāt—on account of His being declared to be the cause (of the actions even).
41. But Badarayana (thinks) the former (the Lord, as the bestower of the fruits of actions) on account of His being declared to be the cause (of the actions even).
‘But’ refutes the view of Sutra 40. Both Karma and Apurva are insentient, and as such incapable of producing results without the intervention of an intelligent principle. For such a phenomenon is not experienced in the world. No one gets anything by worshipping stocks and stones. So the fruits of actions come only from the Lord, and this is all the more established, as the Lord Himself causes people to act one way) or the other; and since the Jiva acts as directed by Him, He Himself is the bestower of the fruits of his actions according to his deserts. “He makes him whom He wishes to lead up from these worlds do a good deed” etc. (Kau. 3. 8); “Whichever divine form a devotee wishes to worship . . . and obtains from it the results he desires, as ordained by Me” (Gita 7. 21-22). Since the Lord has regard for the merit and demerit of the souls, the objection that a uniform cause is incapable of producing various effects does not stand.
In the last four topics the entity ‘That’ has been explained. Firstly, Brahman has been shown to be formless, self-effulgent, and without difference; secondly, by the denial of manifoldness in It it has been established that It is one without a second; and lastly, It has been proved to be the giver of the fruits of people’s actions in the relative world. Thus the two entities ‘thou’ and ‘That’ have been explained in these two sections.
Did Kumar deserve it?Yes. Why? Shastras tell us Law of Karma decides your birth & death. So Kumar deserved to die exactly at that time in that manner.
So, can we let Somu go free?No. Why not? Because Somu committed a crime.
How can it be a crime if Kumar deserved it? Because Shastras tell us that murder is a crime.
But if murder is a crime, how will Kumar get the death he deserves according to Karma? Shastras give the right of execution only to Raja (king/government/judge/police).
So if King executes Kumar, isn't it also murder?No. Why not? Because Shastras says that King must uphold justice by executing criminals. If Kumar committed a murder in this birth that the King knows about, then the King will execute him. But if he committed a murder in his previous birth, then the King cannot execute him because King cannot see into past lives. But Bhagavan can. So Bhagavan will ensure that Kumar gets the death he deserves. Whether it be through another criminal, or an accident, only Bhagavan will decide. Humans CANNOT decide.
Somu is just a means through which Kumar gets his deserved punishment. There is no contradiction.
Kumar killed Pappu. (Pappu's punishment is over, Kumar committed a crime)
Somu killed Kumar. (Kumar's punishment is over, Somu committed a crime)
Binny killed Somu. (Somu's punishment is over, Binny committed a crime)
King killed Binny. (Binny's punishment is over, King did not commit crime) -end of chain-
Suppose that Kumar hurts Pappu. What should Pappu feel ? What should Kumar feel ?
Pappu should not feel angry to get revenge. He should feel relieved that his own paap (sin) balance got reduced through the punishment, which just happened to come through Kumar.
Kumar should feel afraid and guilty because his paap (sin) balance just got increased because he did adharma.
If Pappu does not punish Kumar in revenge, who will punish him ? Bhagavan. How ? Maybe some other person, Somu will cut off Kumar's hand, maybe Kumar will lose his hand in an accident, or maybe he will just get a fracture, or maybe just a skin-rash. if he repents and does prayaschitta. We have no idea how or when Kumar will get what he deserved. All that is true is that he will. Just as Pappu got what he deserved.
So how will I know what I deserve and what I don't ?
Simple. Whatever happens to you, you deserved it.
If you don't want bad things to happen to you, follow dharma. If you want good things to happen to you, follow dharma. You have no say in who/how/when these consequences will happen, but they will, as long as Bhagavan is the enforcer.
Can this be used to justify crimes against Shudras and Dalits? They were born that way so they deserve to be oppressed.
Again, there are 2 parties involved - the oppressed and the oppressor. Again, lookup dharma. Does it say you are allowed to oppress ? If yes, then go ahead. If not, then don't.
What will happen if I still oppress against dharma?
Most likely, you will be born as Shudra/Dalit in next life, and that person will be born as born as brahmin, and he will oppress you. There is a precedent for this, from the word 'Mamsah'
So if someone is suffering from disease, or handicap, or injury, should I just let him suffer because he deserved it?
Once again, lookup dharma. Does dharma say you should ignore him ? No. It says you should help them, show mercy.
Otherwise, what will happen?
When you are suffering as a result of your karma, no one else will come to your aid.
Why can't Bhagavan show that mercy and not punish him in the first place?
No - mercy is reserved for the deserving. A criminal, as soon as he gets his punishment, becomes deserving of mercy - rehabilitation, preventing further crimes etc.
But what use is mercy AFTER punishment has been given out?
Mercy was shown even before punishment. Ever wondered by punishments are not immediate ? Deivam Nindru Kollum ? That period is chance/mercy given to repent and do prayaschitta. But the criminal did not. So he will be punished. As soon as he has undergone punishment, he is deserving of mercy like everyone else.
If Somu had used his buddhi/manas to control himself instead of killing Kumar, then Kumar will have time to repent, and if he doesn't, will eventually be punished by King.
If Binny had controlled himself, then Somu will have time to repent, and if he doesn't, will eventually be punished by King.
But neither did. They interfered and disobeyed shastras, so they will also be punished.
In other words, if you follow shastras, you will not be punished.
You do not have the right to commit a crime and then say the victim deserved it.
If you say so, then police will punish you and say you deserved it.
Like any library, Hinduism Stack Exchange shares great information, but does not offer personalized advice, and does not take the place of seeking such advice from any Acharya, Pundit, astrologer, Guru or other trustworthy Counselor.