The karmas and our destiny

Jonathan Bricklin brickmar at EARTHCOM.NET
Fri Jul 11 01:25:16 CDT 1997

On Wed, 9 Jul 1997, Vidyasankar Sundares made a classic response to the
question of free will, karma, and destiny.  The response I'm about to give,
by carving out a part of that response, does an injustice to the
beautifully wrought whole of that response.

With apologies, then, here goes:

>...if one says karma is because of avidyA, then the next logical
>question, is "whose is avidyA?,"

Did you mean to type "Who's avidya?"  Assuming you did,  I would not say
karma is because of avidya anymore than I would say pink elephants are.
Avidya needs to be preserved as a technical term, perhaps synonymous with
ajnana, meaning spiritual ignorance or blindness as a result of which we
experience ourselves as individuated body-minds.  I don't think karma is
because of avidya, I think its because some guru or sage wanted his
sanyasins to clean the ashram.

>an answer to which will involve more
>logical fallacies, such as that of infinite regress.

Belief in karma is belief in the logical fallacy of infinite regress.  Why
not just drop it as a mishapen conception and leave it at that?  Asking
"Who's avidya?" does not as far as I can tell launch an infinite regress.
The answer is that the sense of an independent "who" is itself avidya.
It's like when we say lightning flashes.  The lightning doesn't flash,
rather the flash is the lightning (This example comes from Nietzsche, the

>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.

Less is more here.  Advaitism is far more coherent without karma.

>When one has seen that the ball is completely still, one is not interested
>in explaining how it started rolling.

Yes.  Of course, when one has seen that the ball is completely still, one
longer believes the ball is 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
> >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.

An important distinction must be made between belief in believing that
things are predetermined and believing things are predeterminable.  Only
the latter, I believe, fosters the kind of fatalism you rightly object to.
I would also argue that belief in karma, "I got where I am now because of
something I did before," is as responsible as any belief in predeterminism
for a passive acceptance of a miserable state.

>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.

I agree with this, except that the way you phrase it makes it sound like we
non-Indians might do better not by being absent the belief in free will
altogether, but by having less of it.

>It does not help to say in an absolute sense that all actions are

I would not say all actions are predestined, I would say all actions exist
all and only at once.  What else can the overwhelming evidence of
precognition and retrocognition, supported by a static view of general
relativity, as well as the most profound utterances of sruti and smirti,
mean if not that?

>nor does it help to say in an absolute sense that all actions
>are due to free will.

 Nor in a relative sense either.

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.

 A belief in predestination is a first step only in deconstructing the
self.  A belief in free will, on the other hand, is a rope tied around the
ankle to keep you from realizing the state of non-action.

>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.

Not if you keep talking.

>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

A relative sense of destiny belongs to the same level as the illusory sense
of will.
There is, however, an absolute sense of destiny, but no absolute sense of

>Just as avidyA is his who sees it, destiny is also his who lets it control

> If you say, "destiny
>controls my life," you still see avidyA,

You also speak nonsense.  Destiny, absent a specific destiny, hypothetical
or otherwise, is not intelligible.

>and I would say in response, "you
>can change your destiny through the use of your will."

Yes, by all means, fight nonsense with nonsense.

> There is no purpose
>served by telling an ignorant man dying of starvation that the body is not
>the Self.

There is if you have no food to give him.

>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

You may be right.  But if there are self-inquirers out there who feel that
there is no better moment than the present to abandon a belief in karma, I
would be interested in hearing from them.

Jonathan Bricklin

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