In the negative sense, another being’s bad karma is like a hot potato, something to be avoided if possible. In the positive sense, purification and grace may occur as a kind of intercession (to borrow from Christian terminology) between one being and another, usually to help lessen the bonds of bad karma of one or both parties.
Karma, good and bad, is not only transferred among human beings. Karma is said to transfer among the gods themselves. Not unlike their Greek counterparts, the Hindu gods often behave in ways deemed unacceptable for human beings.
Moreover, karma can also be transferred between gods and human beings.¹
The transmission of karma among living beings is often complicated and best illustrated within the context of a mythological tale (e.g. Siva and the Pine Forest Sages, where Siva actually temps the sages’ wives to break the sages’ overpowering meditation, which was threatening the spiritual balance of the cosmos).
While some people see karma as a firm, unalterable law, this isn’t really correct. The effects of bad karma can be lessened through God’s grace and personal devotion. It’s also believed that yogis and saints take on a lion’s share of their disciples’ bad karma (again, through a kind of spiritual intercession), clearing a path toward salvation for those who otherwise would be ensnared in interrelated states of ignorance, delusion and evil.
Along these lines, the revered Hindu holy man, Sri Ramakrishna, apparently
had a vision of his subtle body…[with] a number of sores on the back. He was puzzled by the sight, but it was made clear…profane people had caused the sores on his body. They themselves had been purified, but they had left the suffering arising from their own sins with him.²
This alleged dynamic does not necessarily mean that the guru or saint is a perfected spiritual being, although some, indeed, claim to be.
Implicit to the idea of karma transfer is the belief that, at some stage, all seekers continue to make spiritual progress by suffering for others still in a state of ignorance or bondage. Through suffering the advanced soul is said to become increasingly purified, self aware and less bound by selfish desires.
While Christ and a few gurus claim to be ‘fully realized,’ ‘selfless’ or ‘perfect,’ most religious traditions say that the rest of us ordinary people gradually reach perfection through an interactive process taking place among imperfect human beings.
In general, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and some Christians believe that spiritual perfection or liberation may be achieved on Earth. Catholics, on the other hand, uphold the ideal of perfection but as a rule do not believe that perfection is fully attainable in this world.
As suggested above, a dynamic similar to karma transfer is found in Catholic mysticism, generally framed within the context of the saints, whose prayerful intercession and alleged ‘taking the sins’ of others helps God to redeem souls and thus prepare them for everlasting heaven.
² Swami Tejasananda, A Short Life of Sri Ramakrishna, Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama [Publication Department], 1990, p. 92.
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- Hinduism: History and Beliefs (brighthub.com)
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