Hinduism and Fatalism

One of the common misconceptions about Hinduism is that it advocates fatalism.

Fatalism with respect to individuals is a philosophical doctrine that an individual does not have full control over the events that happen in his life. There are two flavors of fatalism – whether it applies only to the future or to the present also. In the first case, my current action does not have any effect on my future. Whatever I do, I cannot change whatever that “has” to happen. The second case is more severe. I do not have freedom of action now. There is no freewill. I am forced to do whatever I do.

Before talking about Hinduism, let us see two other schools of thought and see if they are fatalistic.

Current science is based on the assumption that the fundamental nature of the world is material. The fundamental particles that make up this world of living and non-living things is matter (and energy). All thoughts are the result of chemical and electrical reactions happening in the brain. So, if all thoughts are the products of material reactions, then there is no place for a freewill, free from the influence of matter. If the fundamental nature of the world is only material, there is no place for freewill. This logically leads to fatalism.

Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) hold that there is a “God” in “heaven” who has created the world and who influences the situations and actions of people. To the question why one child is born in a hut in Africa and another child is born in a big hospital in Canada, the answer given is “because God willed so”. Much of what happens in the life of a child is because of the upbringing. So, the individual is not in control of most of what happens in his/her life. Even to the question of why some people live their entire life without a chance to hear about this “God” (and His Son or Prophet) and some people live in a “pious” society, there is no better answer than “will of God”. This is obviously fatalism.

Freewill is one of the fundamental principles of Hinduism. In fact, the individual is defined as the container of the freewill. The body and mind are instruments of this individual (called Jiva) to manifest its freewill. Whenever the jiva (using its freewill) decides on a course of action, a part of the action is one of the two contributors to the current result and a part of it accumulates to a store of the effects of past actions. This store is solely responsible for the situations that the jiva faces in life. This store is the other contributor to the current result. The store can be considered as the current state of the jiva. The freewill can be considered as the input and the result can be considered as the output. So, the input results in a state change and an output. Then the jiva makes another decision (input) on the new state. This results in a state change and an output. This goes on in an endless cycle. This is a steady-state model. This model cannot explain when and how this cycle started. This model cannot explain when and how this cycle will end also. But it very satisfactorily answers the current condition and the dynamics of the world and the individual. Birth and death are mere events within this cycle. The jiva’s existence runs across innumerable births and deaths. So differences in birth and death are easily explained. This model puts the complete responsibility of the situation and the action in the hands of the individual. You cannot get more anti-fatalistic than this. This is the model that Hinduism sticks to.

The law of cause and effect in this system is given the name God. So God is a principle. An individual can give a personal facade to this principle and call it by any name – Rama, Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva, Hanuman, Ganesha, whatever. What personal face the person gives to the principle is left to the individual’s choice. A person may choose not to give a personal face and prefer to treat it as an impersonal natural law. All are welcome into the fold of Hinduism.

A person who abides by the law of the land feels secure with the law enforcement system, whereas a person who violates the law is afraid of the system. Similarly, a person who leads a moral life feels secure in the system and develops love towards God. A person who leads an immoral life always feels threatened by the system and is afraid of God. The law is inviolable and perfectly fair.

Prayer, austerities, compensatory actions, etc are also actions, which also take part in the cycle of cause and effect. The law is always fair. There is no favouritism. A person who understands the system and knows how to harness the system uses all the means available. So God cannot be accused of being partial to people who pray. He merely metes out the results of the actions of individuals.

The various forms of astrology merely indicate the store of the effects of the past actions. They do not and can not fully decide on the course of the future. Not all jivas will hold body in the world at any point of time. A number of jivas are waiting to get an opportunity to take a birth in a body. The collective store of all the jivas who are holding a body in the world defines the state of the world. The planets do not affect people. As everything, including the planets, is a part of a single huge complicated system, some people have discovered some patterns and have designed the system of astrology based on that.

Thus the Hindu model puts the complete responsibility of the situation and the action in the hands of the individual. It is the perfect non-fatalistic system.

 

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About gokulmuthu

A student of Advaita Vedanta in the light of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Ramana Maharishi, etc.
This entry was posted in hinduism and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Hinduism and Fatalism

  1. Arnab Lahiri says:

    Dear Gomu Ji

    Again a superb article. Is cycle and its end (Moksha) I understand, but is there really no explanation to the beginning of the cycle? Why actually the Atman takes the form at t=0? Is there any explanation to the statement?

    One more question is the state of intermediate? Does birth takes place as soon as the Jivatman leaves the body? Or as the Puranas says there is an intermediate time where it has to undergo the cycle of hell where purification and distribution of merit (heaven) takes place?

    If we read Gita then we find that it mentions the two paths and the existence of merit after exhaustion of which the Jiva is born again. My question is- is there something called hell and heaven?

    Thanks and regards,

    Arnab Lahiri

    • gokulmuthu says:

      Dear Arnabji,

      There is nothing called the beginning of the cycle. All three – jiva, jagat and iswara – are anaadi.

      After death, when the jiva will take the next birth is not fixed. It all depends on complicated karma matching.

      Heaven and hell are only states of mind. You need not think too much about them. Real spiritual progress happens only in this world where freewill works. Heaven and hell are more like dream worlds which are purely bhoga bhumis – no new karma is created, existing karma is exhausted. Chance of attaining mental purity is very less there.

      Advaita Vedanta advocates focusing on jivanmukta here and now. You do not have to wait till the death of the body.

      With regards,
      Gomu.

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