Theosophical Encyclopedia

Fatalism

TE 8

The subject is bound up in the concept of KARMA. According to Theosophical theory, what one does at any particular time causes one’s future (environment, social situations, etc.), but does not pre-determine how one will respond to that future. While people very familiar with a particular person might be able to predict how he or she would react in any situation, that does not imply that the person is fated to act in that manner. It is a common observation that people often behave in unpredictable ways. In other words, karma may draw us to certain circumstances, but we are able to respond to them with free will, whether we actually do so or not. Some Hindus do interpret karma in a fatalistic manner, feeling that they ought not act to prevent something since it is that person’s karma to be in the situation.

But this only betrays a shallow view of the law. As the Bhagavad-Gita clearly indicates (e.g., in 4.18, among many other passages) to fail to do something is as much a form of action as to do something. As an example of such false reasoning, it might be argued that it would be wrong for you to rescue a drowning person because it is that person’s karma to drown. The reasoning is false because it can be argued with equal force that the fact you are there (and, presumably, able to save the person) shows that it is the drowning person’s karma to be rescued by you — as well as your karma to attempt the rescue. Furthermore, this kind of reasoning confuses the term “karma,” which simply means “action” (i.e., whatever anyone does), with its result (phala in Sanskrit, literally “fruit”). Everything one does (or fails to do) is karma!

It has been suggested that one’s astrological signs cause one’s future, but that again is based on a misunderstanding. Those signs might be interpreted as drawing you into certain situations (or giving you your character), but they do not pre-determine that you shall react to those situations (or be determined by that character) in an inevitable way. Furthermore, even clairvoyant precognition can give one only certain glimpses of the future, but the future has considerable indeterminism involved in it. In the case of an enlightened person, it would be impossible to predict the future simply because such a person is not driven by conditioning and desire, therefore has greater free will than most of us.

Furthermore, Blavatsky, in a discussion about astrology, states, “‘What is destiny?’ As understood by the Occultist, it is merely the chain of causation producing its correspondential series of effects. One who has carefully followed the teachings of Occultism, as recently given out, concerning Devachan and future re-births, knows that every individual is his own creator or his own father, i.e., our future personality will be the result of our present mode of living. In the same manner our present birth, with all its conditions, is the tree grown out of the germ sown in our past incarnations” (CW VI:228). So the doctrine of karma is not fatalism, nor is it incompatible with freedom of the will.

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