I'm glad to see a topic about Hinduism, even though it hasn't really gone anywhere for now.
OP, you might like this : http://www.hinduism.co.za/heavenhell.htm
I've been researching Hinduism lately and this site has a lot of info. I certainly don't agree with all of it, but it's something.
I myself became interested in Hinduism after I convinced myself that either the individual and collective karma permeates everything or the world is somewhat imperfect. I prefer to believe that the world has no imperfections, so I accepted the doctrine of karma and after that I gradually began to understand a lot of Hindu and Buddhist ideas that I couldn't previously understand. I won't go into too much detail. (though I wouldn't mind dropping a few PMs if anyone is interested)
But here's one thing. I'm a Karma freak and here's what I think of Karma and why it's so important.
I see Karma mostly as the fundamental aspect of reality that ensures that every action or cause will always bring about its most appropriate result.
Passing from each moment into the next and having each cause have its appropriate effect is governed by the law and immanence of Karma. That's the most fundamental aspect as far as I can tell.
Now that I've established the basic idea of Karma, I can observe how popular and not-so-popular views of Karma fall into place.
One popular view of Karma is that one will always get what they deserve and if they try to somewhat cheat the system (which is the cleanest definition of sin I can come up with) they will reap a transient reward, but also suffer an inevitable punishment.
The not-so-popular view of this aspect of Karma is that Karma punishes not because of revenge and not even strictly to deliver justice (although I do find justice important). In fact, it doesn't really punish at all. Challenging Karma comes as a corrective that actually brings one closer to his highest goal - his highest and most perfect Self.
Now I'll go into the more refined Hindu and Buddhist ideas, which I only recently came to understand.
Here's a good video to watch on the topic.
Now. Karma is a good thing. I can easily defend the proposition that if Karma exists as I describe it, it really is a good thing.
It preserves us from one moment to the next and it brings out the most appropriate responses to everything that happens. It is more appropriate to receive the appropriate responses to our choices and actions than to receive something else. It is also most appropriate for the soul to find its highest calling and greatest good. It is plausible that negative Karmic consequences are a necessary Evil that serves an important corrective function on our way to perfection. Thus Karma serves as a beneficiary to the Soul.
However, as the video hints at - negative Karmic consequences come to bind us to a reality that is ultimately incompatible with our greatest good. Even if what Morpheus says were true - that everything begins with choice, it turns out that freedom is it's own worst enemy. Once a choice is made and the wheels of causality have started turning, one becomes subject to causality (which is just the most appropriate aspect of Karma). Karma can be seen as a chain that binds a soul until it has reaped the consequences of its actions/choices. This karmic reality is what Hindus and Buddhists call Samsara . Most average believers see it as something negative and undesirable. I see it as something that is temporarily required, but will be eventually transcended.
And here is the point that I'm trying to make.What Hindu and Buddhist thinkers have stated resonates true with me. Us doing time in this merciless Karmic world is not unjust, nor it is unfair or unkind. On the contrary - our most appropriate response to it should be one of gratitude. (though one should also be grateful to himself for it is his own efforts that mater)
But what Buddha and many before him saw is that ultimately we have to free ourselves from the chains of Karmic causality and corrective punishment. Being forever a slave to Karmic consequences is not compatible with the perfect destiny of the soul. Thus, the Buddhist and Hindu doctrine of directing one's efforts towards liberation.
Here comes and important distinction between types of individual Karma. I'll clarify that these are my views on the topic, but since there hardly exists an authority or consensus on the matter I find no problem with presenting my own.
The dark of it (too much Planescape : Torment) is this - some Karmic actions have generated and continue to generate more Karma that we have to work out and thus bind us in the chains of causality. Other Karmic actions generate no further Karma and serve to extinguish previous Karmic debts and to free us from the chains of causality.
Now the thing is that we have needed to be chained to causality and will need it up to a point. We will need it until we have generated enough liberating Karma to be free.
Here's what appears in the wiki article on Karma - Buddhism : " Most types of karmas, with good or bad results, will keep one within the wheel of samsāra, while others will liberate one to nirvāna."
Here is from "Karma in Buddhism".
"There is a further distinction between worldly, wholesome karma that leads to samsāric happiness (like birth in higher realms), and path-consciousness which leads to enlightenment and nirvana. Therefore, there is samsāric good karma, which leads to worldly happiness, and there is liberating karma—which is supremely good, as it ends suffering forever. Once one has attained liberation one does not generate any further karma, and the corresponding states of mind are called in Pali Kiriya. Nonetheless, the Buddha advocated the practice of wholesome actions: "Refrain from unwholesome actions/Perform only wholesome ones/Purify the mind/This is the teaching of the Enlightened Ones""
If one is interested - both the Buddhist and Hindu doctrines provide ample ideas about generating good Karma and attaining liberation. Hindu followers generally believe in God, while Buddhists don't. In Hinduism one is generally expected to realize that he is not separate from God and in some sense IS God. Buddhism differs here and I won't go into more detail in that regard.
My conjecture about Samsara is that Samsara is beneficial to us in that it prevents us from realizing our potential for terrible things. Karmic consequences come as correctives and those correctives present themselves as urgent problems that need to be solved. Those are generally questions pertaining to the development of our own Self. One very simple example of why this is good is this - if we had absolute freedom we could inflict unnecessary suffering to ourselves or others. Or we could become lost in exploring aspects of infinity that would be sub-optimal instead of striving for our greatest good. Or Karma thus should be seen as a welcome guide, instead of something negative.
Also, I believe that it is 100% guaranteed that each being will be delivered from Samsara. The very nature of it - it's pervasive suffering is actually the most appropriate (up to a point) mechanism by which our Karma makes us face our real problems and solve them.
I should add - while I do see liberation as a greater good on our path, I don't pretend to know what it would be like. To be free from the chains of causality or more likely - to transcend them is an experience that we have never had, so I can only say that it is probably beyond our current understanding, but one can surely try and meditate on it and see what happens.
And finally - a lot of believers suppose that each Soul is given an appropriate Karma that has to be worked out. I understand the process by which a Soul receives its Karma as something akin to responding to the souls highest calling, which is quite unique to itself. In this regard I don't agree with the Buddhist idea of extinguishing the Self. On the contrary - I see our existence as a process in which we fit into our perfect Self as a hand fits into a glove.
Oh, well I could go on if someone found all this interesting. I think that's quite enough for now.
P.S. In my sleep tonight I suddenly realized a certain Buddhist truth in my dream and instantly entered an incredible and previously unknown state of blissful non-attachment, which was very sublime. It did not last, but I find it as a sign that I'm on the right path.