Chapter Four: Divine Justice
People's good deeds are used by the Eternal as seeds for planting trees in the Garden of Eden:
thus, each of us creates our own Paradise.
- Rabbi Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezeritz
Divine Justice is an essential concept found throughout the holy texts of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. There are four essential qualities of Divine Justice found in all major faiths. Firstly, Divine punishment is said to be perfect and exact - a sort of moral equivalent of the physical law "for each and every action there is an opposite and equal reaction." Secondly, Divine Justice is inevitable, with each individual’s everlasting soul bound to the consequences of morally correct or morally incorrect deeds. Third, the distribution of Divine Justice is inseparably tied to ultimate awareness. Finally, there is a common theme of grace. Benevolent actions coupled with sincere faith and effort can outweigh equivalent misdeeds. These shared aspects of Divine Justice comprise further proof of the essential harmony found throughout the six venerable religious scriptures compared in this book.
The law of Divine Justice is formulated in slightly different terms in each religion. In the Vedic traditions, it is believed that the actions, both good and bad, of an individual soul will follow a soul through countless reincarnations unless moksha (or Nirvana), the union with the Imperishable, is achieved. Abrahamic faiths hold a common belief in an afterlife, which consists of an everlasting heaven for the righteous, and an inescapable hell for the wicked. Although the Chinese religions do not spell out an explicit formula for the Divine reward and punishment of an individual, as the reader shall soon see, they do imply that such a system exists. These semantic and metaphysical differences in the methods employed by Divine Justice pale in comparison with the relevant similarities.
The realities of Divine Justice stem from the universally-taught aspects of the nature of the Divine, specifically omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. These characteristics of the Ultimate Divine relate to the transient material world and human beings through a system of cosmic reciprocity. The immutable law of Divine Justice will either reward an individual for harnessing his or her inward divinity through selfless action and meditative contemplation, or punish an individual who falls under the sway of material illusions and greed and acts with contempt towards fellow creatures.
Buddhist thought on Divine Justice contains the four elements found in all holy teachings. Verses eleven through thirteen from chapter nine of the Dhammapada read:
Some are born in the womb; the wicked are born in hell; the devout go to heaven; the stainless pass into Nirvana.
Neither in the sky nor in mid-ocean, nor by entering into mountain clefts, nowhere in the world is there a place where one may escape from the results of evil deeds.
Neither in the sky nor in mid-ocean, nor by entering into mountain clefts, nowhere in the world is there a place where one will not be overcome by death.
In these verses we see that there is something of a two-tiered system of Divine Justice in Buddhism. Beneficent actions and faith are rewarded by a (temporary) life in a heavenly realm. Once one's good karma has been spent in a blissful realm, the cycle of birth and death begins anew. Sufficiently bad actions are similarly punished with a lifetime spent in a torturous plane of existence. Nowhere in the material realm provides sanctuary against one’s previous misdeeds. Only the absolutely pure, the "stainless", pass into the ultimate refuge of Nirvana. Punishment for one's previous actions, and the endless cycle of death and rebirth, can only be escaped by giving up all desire, and entering into the eternal sanctuary of Nirvana. The law of Divine Justice is therefore exact and inescapable, except through an individual's achievement of the grace of Nirvana. No one can escape his or her negative karma except through attainment of the ultimate awareness and perfection.
The first ten verses from chapter nine of the Dhammapada further describe the relationship between earthly actions, Divine punishment and reward, and ultimate knowledge:
Hasten to do good and restrain your mind from evil. One who is slow in doing good, one's mind delights in evil.
Should a person commit evil, let one not do it again and again. Let one not find pleasure therein, for painful is the accumulation of evil.
Should a person do good, let one do it again and again. Let one find pleasure therein, for blissful is the accumulation of good.
It may be well with the evildoer as long as the evil ripens not, but when it does ripen, then the evil doer sees one's evil deeds.
It may be ill with the doer of good as long as the good ripens not, but when it does ripen then the doer of good sees one's good deeds.
Think not lightly of evil, saying, "It will not come to me." Drop by drop is the water pot filled; likewise, the fool, gathering it little by little, fills oneself with evil.
Think not lightly of good, saying, "It will not come to me." Drop by drop is the water pot filled; likewise, the wise person, gathering it little by little, fills oneself with good.
Just as a trader with a small escort and great wealth would avoid a perilous route, or just as one desiring to live avoids poison, even so should one shun evil. If on the one hand there is no wound, one may even carry poison in it. Poison does not affect one who is free from wounds, and for one who does no evil, there is no ill.
Like fine dust thrown against the wind, evil falls back upon that fool who offends an inoffensive, pure and guiltless person.
Divine Justice is equated with seeing one's deeds. In the light of Ultimate Truth, to fully perceive one's deeds and their effects on others is the fundamental form of punishment or reward. Absolute knowledge is said to be a feature of the Ultimate Divine in all the faiths of the world. Our (necessarily limited) awareness and knowledge are the vital components of the Divine within ourselves. When an individual loses contact with the material illusion through the death of one's physical form, then all of his or her actions can be seen in their true light. Note that good or bad karma builds up over time. Attitude is an essential ingredient in the right path. One should find pleasure in doing good deeds, not the fleeting satisfaction gained through feeding material lusts. This recurrent instruction ties in with the purpose of human life detailed in the previous chapter, and is found throughout the holy texts of humanity. Evil has no power over one who does not engage in sinful actions; the lustful illusions of the world can have no ill effect on one "free from wounds" of ignorance and greed. The last line of this passage eloquently summarizes the inexorable nature of Divine Justice. The "wind" of inescapable cosmic retribution will carry one's misdeeds back upon oneself. To exploit others for material gain will inevitably lead to an inescapable vengeance. The Buddha instructed his followers to act with the compassion that recognizes the eternal soul in all beings. This is the path to Divine rewards, and the road to Nirvana.
The Bhagavad Gita contains the common warning of Divine Justice, and the common promise of everlasting grace. Hinduism, like its fellow Vedic religion Buddhism, takes for granted the reality of the law of karma. All good or bad deeds are bound to follow a soul through multiple bodily incarnations. This law, mandated by the Supreme Personality of the Godhead Itself, is impartial. As chapter nine, verse twenty-nine says:
I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.
Brahman promises (and threatens) complete justice to all souls. Karma will naturally take effect because of Divinely-ordained universal laws. The only way to escape the realm of rebirth and illusion is through the self-mastery and knowledge, which leads to union with the Supersoul. Acting selfishly, with a disregard for the Eternal Spirit in oneself and in other creatures, causes confusion, punishment, and disunion from the Divine.
Chapter fourteen, verses eighteen through twenty of the Gita describe the laws of Divine Justice in a two-tiered system:
Those situated in the mode of goodness gradually go upward to the higher planets; those in the mode of passion live on the earthly planets; and those in the abominable mode of ignorance go down to the hellish worlds.
When one properly sees that in all activities no other performer is at work than these modes of nature and he knows the Supreme Lord, who is transcendental to all these modes, he attains My spiritual nature.
When the embodied being is able to transcend these three modes associated with the material body, he can become free from birth, death, old age and their distresses and can enjoy nectar even in this life.
Krishna teaches that beneficent actions are rewarded, evil actions are punished, and individuals whose deeds fall in-between these extremes are also dealt with justly. Acting in the “mode of goodness” - the force that cultivates knowledge, compassion, and charity - will lead to Divine rewards and higher planets. Those who perform actions based upon natural desire and “passion” remain fixed in the median sphere of earthly realms. Finally, those who are grossly selfish, destructive, and willfully ignorant are threatened with reincarnation in abominable states, which are unimaginably worse than the present human condition. However, it is possible to completely escape the cycle of birth and death and achieve absolute perfection.
Chapter eighteen, verses fifty four through fifty eight of the Gita outlines the method of "devotional service" which leads to the understanding necessary to achieve oneness with the Ultimate Divine:
One can understand Me as I am, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of Me by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.
Though engaged in all kinds of activities, My pure devotee, under My protection, reaches the eternal and imperishable abode by My grace.
In all activities just depend upon Me and work always under My protection. In such devotional service, be fully conscious of Me.
If you become conscious of Me, you will pass over all the obstacles of conditioned life by My grace. If, however, you do not work in such consciousness but act through false ego, not hearing Me, you will be lost.
Divine Justice is inseparably linked with true knowledge. Wise and compassionate actions cultivate a consciousness of the Divine within all creatures, and earn an incomparable reward. One should sacrifice all of his or her actions to the Supersoul, and constantly work in meditative consciousness of the Divine realities. With such knowledge and awareness, every single act becomes an act of worship. In the last verse of this passage, Krishna warns Arjuna of the suffering and bewilderment that will befall an individual soul who acts for the sake of satisfying sense desires. Karma is exact and inexorable. Nevertheless, the All-Powerful bestows grace upon those who act with true kindness and ultimate devotion. Through complete enlightenment and selfless deeds one can escape the world of suffering and achieve the Eternal Abode.
The Qur'anic account of Divine Justice is almost entirely congruent with the Vedic concept of karma. The only difference is that Muslims believe in two lives: the temporary existence in this world, and a permanent abode of reward or punishment in the next, rather than a constant cycle of death and reincarnation. On the Day of Judgment, one's kind and cruel deeds are recompensed in a most exact manner. Sura twenty one, verse forty seven gives a brief but sufficient description of the impartial and exact justice of The Giver of Life:
We shall set up scales of justice for the Day of Judgment, so that not a soul will be dealt with unjustly in the least, and if there be the weight of a mustard seed, We will bring it (to account): and enough are We to take account.
Divine retribution is perfectly just. The Undying is aware of all the actions of humanity through the Divine attributes of omniscience and omnipresence. The Last Day is when the power of Al-Jammi, The Gatherer, shall be fully manifest - when the great test and experiment of the material universe comes to an end. At this point, all souls shall be punished or rewarded according to their deeds.
As in the other faith traditions, Islam equates Divine Justice true awareness. Sura forty, verses sixteen and seventeen provide an account of the Last Day as being a day of true remembrance:
The Day whereon they will (all) come forth: not a single thing concerning them is hidden from Allah. Whose will be the dominion that Day?" That of Allah, the One the Irresistible!
That Day will every soul be requited for what it earned; no injustice will there be that Day, for Allah is Swift in taking account.
The Irresistible, omnipotent and omniscient One, with unlimited knowledge and power, will balance out the moral imperfections of this world. This is the formula for Divine Justice in all religions, whether it is said to take the form of karma and reincarnation or a day of final judgment. The performers of all good and evil deeds will meet their due.
Remember that a common teaching found throughout these religions is the concept of Divine Grace. Indeed, there is a perfect recompense for the doers of evil. One the other hand, for those who faithfully do good works, there is a reward beyond the beneficence they have shown to others. The Qur'an states (Sura six verse one hundred sixty):
He that doeth good shall have ten times as much to his credit: He that doeth evil shall only be recompensed according to his evil: no wrong shall be done unto them.
Divine Justice is always formulated as being merciful and gracious to the true believers who expend their earthly energies performing compassionate deeds. One could easily draw a link between the grace found in the Qur'anic formulation of Divine Justice and its karmic counterparts in the Dhammapada and the Gita. This Abrahamic theory of exact justice for the evil and overflowing abundance for the righteous is a mirror image of the concept of entering Brahman (or Nirvana) through faithful effort and true knowledge. All bad actions are exactly punished, but the true seekers of the benevolent path are generously rewarded.
As an additional confirmation the reality of the universal spiritual accord, the Qur'an explicitly extends its promise of a Divine reward to moral non-Muslims. Divine Justice is completely impartial, even with regard to an individual's specific religion. Sura two, verse sixty two states that:
Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
All who believe in the Ultimate Divine and Divine Justice, and who act in the morally-correct manner consistent with such belief, are promised an eternal Paradise. Professed faith alone is insufficient - one must "work righteousness". An individual’s religious tradition cannot merit an eternal reward under an impartial and completely just cosmic system. Rather, one must combine a reverence for the realities of the Ultimate Divine and Divine Justice (as taught by all religions) with the good deeds and selflessness that correspond with such belief. The concert of awareness and compassionate action, as taught by all spiritual sages, is the path to the eternal reward.
Jesus' accounts of Ultimate Justice are completely congruent with the descriptions found in the Vedic faiths and the Qur'an; the Gospels contain numerous descriptions of Divine Justice as being inevitable, tied to true knowledge, and merciful. Verses two through seven of Chapter Twelve of the Book of Luke provide a Christian formula for the spiritual common ground of divinely-dispensed infinite justice:
For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.
Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.
And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.
But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.
Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?
But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.
As with the other holy teachings, the Divine Justice taught by the Gospels is intertwined with supreme knowledge. All that is hidden will come to light. The omnipresent, omniscient Divine Consciousness is the arbiter of inescapable justice after the dissolution of this imperfect world. Jesus makes an important admonition to his followers not to fear any earthy power or authority. A trust in the inevitability of Divine Justice is the basis for this revolutionary ideal. The righteous shall inevitably be rewarded, and those who oppress the weak shall meet their du. Fear of God is meant to inspire compassion towards all people. The idea that humans are worth more than sparrows comes from our greater possession of the Divine Spark - the blessings and burdens that accompany self-awareness and our power over nature. God is intimately concerned with our actions and attitudes, and his just wraith or reward cannot be escaped.
A further explanation of the Last Day's Divine Justice is found in chapter twenty-five, verses thirty-two through forty-two of the Book of Matthew:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink.
This passage emphasizes the omnipresent nature of the Divine as it relates to Divine Justice. The holy Spark of awareness and morality is everywhere, including within every human being. This is why, as explained in the Gita, one should see the Divine potential in all people. Good deeds in service to others are really good deeds in service to God. This is especially true when dealing with the most vulnerable members of the human family. The materially unfortunate in our world offer us a choice to either enact higher ideals, or turn away to from compassion to selfishly peruse personal whims. Jesus promises that, on the Last Day, the altruistic shall be separated from the wicked. Those who have recognized the Divine in others through selfless deeds are themselves recognized and rewarded by the Ultimate Divine. Conversely, those who sought their own material satisfaction and disregarded the welfare of others shall be punished for their lack of compassion. The selfish and wicked of the earth are, in fact, neglecting their own well-being, given the perfectly just arrangement of the universe. Such fools embrace a transitory material illusion at the expense of their own higher nature.
The relation between Divine Justice and the omnipresent nature of God is further explained in the first five verses of chapter fifteen of the Gospel of John. Jesus explains:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
Humanity is invited to take refuge into our own innate holy potentials. Because of our self-awareness, we all have the capacity to "bear fruit" of Divinely-mandated self-control and good deeds. On the other hand, one who rejects morality and faith in a perfect, unseen order will be destroyed. This is true in a literal, physical sense - all of us will someday die. Only those who seek to cleanse their imperfections through knowledge, belief, and moral works can shed their limitations, embrace the everlasting Consciousness within themselves, and enter the abode of the Imperishable. The common teachings and warnings of all the holy prophets exist to encourage universal compassion, good deeds, and rejection of greed.
The Chinese religious traditions of Confucianism and Taoism do not focus on an explicit law of karma, or a heaven-and-hell system of reward and punishment. However, they do offer their own blueprint for the inescapable, impartial, and eternal nature of Divine Justice. As Confucius warned his followers in chapter twenty, verse three:
Without recognizing the ordinances of Heaven, it is impossible to be a superior man.
One must seek the will of the Divine in order to achieve moral perfection; by knowing and following the laws of the Eternal that one can achieve true moral excellence. Although Confucius did not often speak of “Heaven”, he nevertheless venerated this Ultimate Force as the source of morality. Heaven mandates compassion, and such compassion leads a beneficent reward from the laws of Cosmic Justice.
Confucius, like all the religious founders, spoke of the inescapability of the Divine Justice. Chapter three, verse thirteen of the Analects provides such an account:
Wang-sun Chiâ asked, saying, "What is the meaning of the saying, 'It is better to pay court to the furnace than to the southwest corner?'"
The Master said, "Not so. He who offends against Heaven has none to whom he can pray."
In this passage we see the Analects’ account of the inevitability of Divine Justice. Wang-sun Chiâ was subtly asking Confucius an inherently political question - whether to offer homage to master of a house (in the southwest corner) or to the servants (near the furnace). Confucius' answer relies on a faith in Divine Justice. Transitory humanity has no ultimate authority. Virtue always takes precedence over social gain or loss. Divine Justice is inexorable. Those who act cruelly cannot escape punishment, and to offend "Heaven" is to invite disaster.
The question arises - what exactly are the actions that “offend Heaven”, and conversely, what are the “ordinances of Heaven” that, if followed, allow one to be a moral human being? Just like the Buddha, the Prophet Muhammad, Krishna, Jesus, and Lao Tzu, Confucius taught a simple message of moral beneficence in order to follow Divine imperatives. Chapter fifteen, verse thirteen contains the following dialogue:
Tsze-kung asked, saying, 'Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life?' The Master said, 'Is not “reciprocity” such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.'
One is to conform his or her life to the Imperishable Way through acts of love and kindness based on the true sympathy, which comes from the awareness of the eternal Spark within all sentient beings. The Justice of Heaven, besides being impartial and inescapable, will be exact. We should always follow the Golden Rule. To act with compassion is to attune oneself to the Way of Heaven, and to harvest the rewards of the undying. Although Confucius did not focus his teaching on a cosmic system of Divine reward and punishment, he clearly believed in the existence of this inescapable reciprocity. His account of Divine Justice is perfectly congruent with the other holy traditions examined in this book.
Section seventy-nine of the Tao te Ching contains a passage that succinctly explains the Taoist account of Divine Justice, which reinforces the various scriptures quoted throughout this chapter:
It is the way of heaven to show no favoritism.
It is for ever on the side of the good man.
Lao Tzu taught that the system of Cosmic Justice is perfectly impartial, and completely unavoidable, just like his Abrahamic and Vedic counterparts. Justice and compassion are always necessary, for meanness and cruelty will be punished, and benevolence rewarded. The Ultimate Divine forever favors kindhearted human beings.
The promise of universal Divine Justice is further explained in section eighty one of the Tao Te Ching;
The sage does not hoard.
Having bestowed all he has on others, he has yet more;
Having given all he has to others, he is richer still.
The way of heaven benefits and does not harm;
The way of the sage is bountiful and does not contend.
Lao Tzu instructs the learned to reject base materialism. This admonition is based on the existence of the system of cosmic reciprocity. Divine grace is a universal religious teaching. The more one assists others, the more merit one earns. One must attempt to emulate the Divine through nonviolence, self-surrender and trust in the justice of the Divine order. Gross materialism is an abomination, because all physical objects are temporary, but the rewards for compassion are endless. We should see the sufferings and happiness of others are our own, for we all carry the Eternal Essence within ourselves.
Inevitability is another essential aspect of the perfect Divine Justice as spoken of by Lao Tzu. Section seventy-three of the Tao te Ching contains the following warning:
The meshes of the net of Heaven are large; far apart, but letting nothing escape.
All human beings will eventually meet with death, and then be held accountable before the Ultimate Source and End to meet the good or ill results of their actions on this earth. Although this process may be temporarily delayed, it is nevertheless inescapable. The parallels found in the Tao te Ching to the other teachings, be they Chinese, Vedic, or Abrahamic, are striking. The Way of Heaven is beneficent and impartial, and Its justice can not be avoided.
Throughout these six texts, there is a unity implicit amongst the concepts of true belief, right action, and Divine Reward. Indeed, if one truly believes in a system of Divine Justice, it would be foolhardy in the extreme to knowingly commit acts that are morally incorrect, because the bad results of such misdeeds will be inescapable. From a more positive viewpoint, one can see that a belief in Divine Justice will help to motivate morally correct action, and lead to a beneficent recompense. Thus to demonstrate full faith in a system of perfect, irresistible justice one must cease actions that harm others, and engage in the worship of the Divine through compassionate service to all life. The specific form that Divine Justice takes - be it a Final Day of Reckoning or a cycle of birth, death, and reincarnation, is irrelevant to these universal moral imperatives. Selflessness and compassion are always rewarded, while greed and exploitation are always punished. Universal acceptance of Divine Justice, taught by all faiths, should inspire morally correct action in all human beings. Remembering the essential truth of Divine Justice shall serve as a deterrent to the greed, violence, and exploitation which are plaguing humanity and threaten the viability of the natural world.