The Karmas and our destiny

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Wed Jul 9 16:47:11 CDT 1997

On Wed, 9 Jul 1997, Jonathan Bricklin wrote:

> > The logical position of advaita is extremely clear about this. Destiny is
> > just the sum total of the fruits of all previous actions.
> Clear but illogical without a starting place for the first action which
> presumably would have gotten the ball rolling.

Granted, but if one says karma is because of avidyA, then the next logical
question, is "whose is avidyA?," an answer to which will involve more
logical fallacies, such as that of infinite regress. It is best to say
that yes, there is something illogical about it, but that is because logic
cannot give a complete description of the universe.

When one has seen that the ball is completely still, one is not interested
in explaining how it started rolling. Because, the impression that the
ball is rolling now, or that something set it rolling in the past, or that
it will continue to roll in the future - all this is a mistaken belief

> If you take the position that all actions are predestined you begin to
> dissolve the sense of an actor doing the actions.  It would seem to me that
> might put you on the yellow brick road as well as well as any other
> spiritual practice.

To say that all actions are predestined is not necessarily going to help
in a spiritual practice, if such a statement is made from a passivity that
shuns action. The Indians on this list have seen the consequences of such
a fatalistic attitude, which can hamper spiritual progress as much as
anything else. Maybe the non-Indians have had too much of free will in
their own societies, so that they want to deny its value. This is not a
value judgement, but a simple neutral statement. Feel free to correct me
if you think otherwise.

Moreover, if one dissolves the sense of the actor doing all actions,
without substituting an ISvara as the only actor, so to say, you could get
diverted to a position that denies the very Being of an actor, but oddly
enough leaves the action untouched. This is precisely the objection that
SankarAcArya has to madhyamaka philosophy.

It does not help to say in an absolute sense that all actions are
predestined, nor does it help to say in an absolute sense that all actions
are due to free will. It is more important to realize that in an absolute
sense, all action is ignorance, and to reach the state of non-action
(naishkarmya) that way.

> >By exercising free will
> Is this like taking a dog for a walk or are "you" doing the exercising?
> > one brings upon a certain destiny
> If you feel you are originating anything (and free will has no meaning
> without that sense) then avidya is present.

Yes, any talk of karma assumes avidyA. Both destiny and free will belong
to the realm of avidyA.

My point is this. If one is talking of karma, one is conceding the
existence of avidyA. The realm of avidyA is the realm of dvandvas,
opposites. Given this avidyA, what is the use of talking only about
destiny, without also talking about will?

People are fond of the following two things,

1. All action is predestined.
2. Ask, WHO is doing the action?

Fine, that might be a valid road to self-enquiry for some, and might help
dissolve the sense of an actor doing the action, but it leaves the
possibility that the destiny is left undenied. Hence, I would ask a third
question also, namely

3. WHOSE is this destiny?

A reflection on this third question illustrates my objections to simply
talking about destiny. I am not saying that destiny is completely unreal.
So long as one talks of destiny, one also has to admit some sort of will.
Both destiny and will belong to the same level of relative existence, and
both are denied in an absolute sense. Don't deny one and emphasize the

Just as avidyA is his who sees it, destiny is also his who lets it control
him, and will is his who decides to exercise it. If you say, "destiny
controls my life," you still see avidyA, and I would say in response, "you
can change your destiny through the use of your will." If you say, "all my
life is an outcome of my own free will," you still see avidyA, and I would
say in response, "there is something called destiny too, which monitors
and regulates your will, so that your will is not all that free after
all." To both attitudes, I would next say, "both destiny and free will are

But then, it is important to note that some people are looking for simpler
answers to everyday questions, and the teacher has to give an answer that
is best for the purposes of the current situation, and is still logically
consistent with the philosophy. In other words, the adhikAra of the
questioner is an important factor that has to be taken into account,
without necessarily compromising the central position. There is no purpose
served by telling an ignorant man dying of starvation that the body is not
the Self. The spiritual and material well-being of such a man is better
served by first feeding him and teaching him some avenue to earn a living,
so that he may feed himself. The Self-enquiry can wait for a more
opportune situation. The attitude has to be similar with respect to


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