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Why do the children have to suffer so horribly?

[This, in some way, is related to my earlier post Fate and Human Endeavour]

1.1. In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s final but incomplete novel the Brothers Karamazov, Ivan Karamazov , the argumentative intellectual among the three brothers,  is highly disturbed by the apparent senseless suffering in the world. Ivan proclaims that he rejects the world that God has created , because it is built on a foundation of suffering; especially the suffering of the innocent children. In an impassioned speech he tells his brother Alexei (a.k.a. Alyosha) that nothing can justify the suffering of innocent children; nothing can console it; nothing can compensate for it; and, nothing can restore a sense of order and purpose in the world in the face of a child’s suffering. What good any theology can do for children who are suffering, he demands.

To deny the reality of a child’s suffering ;and, pretend to justify that in the name of religion and ethics , he bursts out, is nothing but piling up falsehood, ignominy and perhaps worse. It is cruel to the suffering child.

Ivan then says, “Listen! If everyone must suffer in order to buy eternal harmony with their suffering, pray tell me what have children got to do with it? It’s quite incomprehensible why they should have to suffer. I would rather remain with my un-avenged suffering, and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong. The whole of  truth or harmony is not worth such a price. If I am an honest man, out of love of humanity, I must give my ticket back. And that I am doing. It’s not God that I don’t accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return His ticket.”(The Brothers Karamazov; Part Two; Book V; Chapter 4; Rebellion)

***

1.2. Why do we suffer? Why do innocent children have to suffer so horribly? It is a question that assails every parent bringing up a handicapped child. I found a resounding echo of that question and of Ivan’s outburst in Arun Shourie’s book ‘Does He know a mother’s heart?’ (Harper and Collins India;  2011). I could, in some way, relate to both.

2.1. Shourie’s book is a probing and an honest outpouring of a father, straight from his heart, in humility and out of immense love for his 34 year old son Aditya, suffering from cerebral palsy. Aditya ‘cannot stand or use his right arm; his vision is impaired ; and, he speaks haltingly. He has the mind of a child’. Looking after him has been a major preoccupation for Shourie and his wife Anita, for past thirty-four years. Life has neither been easy nor kind to them, with each day bringing up new complications- including Anita Shourie’s own painful bout with Parkinson’s disease. Now in his 70th year, Arun Shourie is at a loss, as he faces questions that have no answers, such   as: “Who will lift Adit out of bed as I weaken with age?” and “Who will look after him when we are gone?”

2.2. It is a moving and an intensely personal book written as a mature and a reflective father mellowing in age and sorrow attempts to  grapple grief, anguish and anger while he is bewildered by ‘Why’ of all unjust suffering. In his suffering he is lonely and helpless, as are most of the parents saddled with handicapped, autistic and such other children.

3.1. To start with, Shourie, just as Ivan, relentlessly indignant, questions god’s ways. Why does He subject children to such sufferings? Why does god make someone perfect while some are inflicted with imperfections? Aren’t we all equal in his eyes as we are told to believe? Isn’t his love for all the same? Then why are some discriminated… He is angry how a kind, benevolent and all-knowing God could allow innocents to be in agony.

3.2. Pain is a universal equalizer. It grinds down all to the irreducible; to their minimum. Shourie goes through range of emotions before he arrives at a rational approach to manage the reality of all life: the suffering. He goes beyond fate and faith; and accepts the reality of suffering; discards the ‘props’ ; learns to take the child  upon himself  without passing him on to a god or a Guru;  or without hiding behind a theoretical abstraction about suffering as handed down by someone else.”Suffering is real. Anything that dismisses it as ‘Maya’ or unreal is to mock at the pain of the other.” He shares his experiences; and urges all such parents to realize and give expression to the power of selfless love that is within them. He dedicates the book to the suffering mothers of the Special Children. He also lists out suggestions to manage such children.

***

4.1. Arun Shourie goes beyond “Why me?” crosses over to “Why?” and looks for explanations to human suffering as offered by numerous religious texts and the sages. His search for answers to these question forms the bulk of the book (I wish he employed the services of a good editor). First; Shourie examines the texts of the Semitic religions, comparatively and in the light of modern knowledge. Then he focuses on the explanations given by religious thinkers of modern India, like Gandhi, Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Ramana Maharishi and J Krishnamurti. Next he puts to scrutiny the classical explanations for the cause of misery; of karmic beliefs; of notions of illusion and unreality of the suffering. Further, he investigates metaphysical props such as god, fate and god-men. He also talks of the sheer desperation that drives the parents to irrational occult practices imposed by the Babas.  He then analyzes s the numerous alternatives that emerged.

4.2. As regards the god, he finds that god is a complex idea; each a product of its culture. The concept of God has changed over the centuries as human needs and knowledge too has changed. He finds all those notions do not provide adequate answers to the problems of suffering in life . He is disappointed at the explanation that a child’s suffering is in some way related to the  whole process of  problem-solving that is happening in a totality of the whole universe. “No cosmic purpose is served by our suffering or that of those dear to us. Just as no cosmic purpose is served by our being born or by our dying and that for the simple reason that there is no cosmic purpose”…. “We have no clue, hence god comes in as a filler of a mysterious unknown”…  “On the simple elementary fact, which the religion tries to hang on to god, that concept does not stand to examination.”

4.3. He is dismayed at the oft repeated logic of prarabda karma adduced to justify suffering: “Your child suffers for sins committed in a past life”; “and your child will enjoy great joy in his next life for the pain in this”.  If someone tells the mother “Your child suffers for your sins”, it is insensitive ; and, it is an insult to motherhood. No mother can be asked to prove she ‘loves’ her child. He cries out “Does He know a mother’s heart?

According to him “The explanations that scriptures proffer for the occurrence of pain and suffering do not stand up to the slightest examination”. And, “Suffering refutes religions.”

4.4. When a distressed mother seeks the help of a Swamiji or a Baba it is an act of desperation, more in hope than in faith. These are truly most agonizing experiences for the mother, as the hopes raised by the Baba soon crash down when nothing good happens to child. The pain, disappointment and helplessness grow many folds. Another is the anger and frustration that builds up nearing the point of explosion. It is the mother who suffers most. Is there a threshold for her pain? How much and how long can she bear the pain and sorrow?

The most noticeable feature of faith deposited in a Baba is that very few questions are allowed. Any question, no matter how reasonable or incisive, is dismissed with a simple “God’s ways are inscrutable” or “Our minds aren’t evolved enough to understand His higher purpose” or “All will be made clear at the End of Days”.

5.1. In a way of speaking, relying only on divine intervention, begging, beseeching  the Swamis and Babas to cure the child ; and, to relive the child  of painful suffering , basically mean  handing over our burden and our responsibility to someone else; and, expecting them to solve our problems. We surrender all decision-making, our attitudes to life and to suffering to Babas and others.  And, they are more than eager to act like pack leaders or like life-guards at the beach perched on high stools throwing instructions to a drowning person. Such help does not always work. Should we rest our hopes on a phantom reed?

5.2. Gods and god men are facilitators who aid our own introspection and internal growth. They are, at best, the props. Unless we learn to discard the props, strive to stand on our own and to fight our own battles there is no reasonable way out of the distress. Let’s stop doing things by proxy.

6.1. That veers Shourie towards the Buddha. Our Teacher recognized suffering the way it is, as the reality of life. He asked each one to formulate his attitude and to work out his salvation without relying on props or merely looking for explanations. “There is no use looking for explanations to suffering. Instead, attend , on priority, to the problem at hand, as if you are attending to a man whose hair is on fire  or to the one who is shot with a poisoned arrow”… “Whether the world is finite or infinite or both; whether the Tathagata survives after death or not , these are matters of speculation …there is birth, there is aging, there is death, there is sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair .These are the realities.  They have to be dealt with….” And there is a way of dealing with that. The only way is to accept it and deal with it rationally.

When the Buddha finally says ’workout your salvation with diligence’ he places the responsibility on us alone, relying on our effort and our experiences.

**

7.1. Viktor Frankie, a survivor of Nazi death camps, believed that ‘the last of human freedoms’ is the freedom to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances; to choose one’s own way. It is not the freedom from conditions; it is the freedom to take an attitude towards the conditions. This he calls it as ‘the last of the human freedom’. And there were always choices to make.

Taking a cue from that, Shourie says “Everyone struck a blow will find his own ways to cope – if it works then each of them is valid”.

7.2. When we see the helplessness of our child we are filled with anger, bitterness and lot other emotions questioning the very sense of our existence. Then, observe those emotions that swell up just as an outsider who looks at an object. That will help you to look at things as they are.

8.1. The child is as much a victim of circumstances as are his/her parents.  The everyday pains, aches and suffering surround both. But, so are the moments of joy and laughter. The helpless child laughs, loves and loves to be loved. Let not the parents’ unhappiness dampen the spirit of the little one battling the affliction.  Do the chores that have to be done, in good cheer. Thank him for letting you help.

8.2. Most emphatically what is needed is not pity, and not even sympathy. Empathy is the word – not feeling sorry for; not even feeling for. But getting into the skin and feeling like what the child must feel. It is hard to attain that  except by the mother  who ‘Loves –till it hurts’. It is said; ‘If you want to be truly selfish,   do help (love) someone who cannot do anything in return’.

8.3. Learn to look at the suffering and also at the child as a sort of teacher who taught you patience, non-attachment and above all to love unselfishly. We need to look at the situation afresh. Stop asking “why this has happened to me?”  But ask “how do we put the lessons we learnt to work for us as also for others?” It is extracting a purpose from debris. Do whatever has to be done, promptly, without postponing. Perseverance is as relevant as reflection.

8.4. The suffering of a helpless child forces us to subordinate our interests and our  pursuits to his needs. It teaches us to empathize others suffering. It might possibly lead to the path of service, in even the smallest way possible, contributing whatever skills or resources we have. Perhaps, pain is a sort of megaphone that awakens humanity in man.

The issues raised in the book concerns almost all who suffered ‘a blow’. One may agree with or sharply refute the book. Regardless of that, his conclusions offer a perspective to the problem of pain; and to the realization of the power of love.

Shourie lists the lessons he learnt in the light of his experiences.

8.5. Shourie’s outlook is life-affirming. He states that he found the strength to equip himself “to take the first step towards dealing with the suffering that we have to confront…. the illness is beyond our reach, but the quality of love we pour into the child and to his service, the extent to which we reach out to serve the one we love dearly ,  is in our control… the circumstance remains but what fills our mind now is not the circumstance, it is the thing that we have to do for the one dear to us”.

flordeloto

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2012 in Books, General Interest

 

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Fate and Human Endeavour

I recently read some posts which presented in ingenious ways their take on irrational and rational  faiths and beliefs. The term rational–faith seemed rather confronting, with the two contradictions placed face to face, as if one was challenging the other.  In that context, the fate and its inevitable part in human life were also mulled over. And, I found the posts interesting. I reckon there is a bit more to fate and its related issue: the human endeavor; hence this post.

What is fate?

1.1. It is common experience that most of the things that happen in one’s life result from one’s efforts or in the process of trying to do something. One is naturally gratified to see his endeavours crowned with success, either immediately or after a passage of time. And, the persons who succeed,deservedly ,  congratulate themselves over their efforts.  However, there are also occasions, though seldom, when things seem to just happen, almost on their own accord.  And at times , things seem to happen despite oneself. Such rare happenings could either be a delightful surprise or be a cause for  agonizing distress.

1.2. When a person is happy; when life is easy and pleasant; when things are flowing like milk and honey; or, when one is overwhelmed in joy from a windfall, then it is the good- fortune that smiles on him/her. When you or your dear one is suddenly cured of an ailment, it is then a miracle. When you just escaped an accident that could have grievously injured you or could even have killed you, it is then providence or divine intervention. You thank god profusely for his mercy.  You also come to accept providence as the divine will, the divine notion or plan that governs all events in the universe.

1.3. There also comes a time when ones effort does not bring forth fruits as expected; or, the things that started well begin to show signs of going weary. And it is worse when your project slides into an abject wreck, for no fault of yours. Nothing seems to reasonably explain your failures. The disappointments, sufferings and sorrow that follow are then blamed on fate.

2.1. Thus, a windfall or bright fortune is good luck. But, Fate  has come to  be understood as  one that is  inseparably linked to prolonged or acute suffering, undeserved punishment , reverses in life, unexpected losses , humiliation, poverty, disease , loss , death of near and dear ones etc. It is especially agonizing when the suffering is undeserved and unjust. What should one conclude when such acute loss or sorrow is brought about by no apparent fault of hers/ his; and, when failures are not rationally linked to any agent or any action?  It is his Fate, he laments.

2.2. Fate serves as a gap-filler to fill the vacuum in his understanding of the world around him when other visible or rational explanations fail. The concept is reinforced further, in a negative way, at the sight of an evil person enjoying happiness and good things in life, while a righteous one suffers eking out a miserable existence. Since neither the comfort nor the misery – undeserved in either case – can be explained in a rational way, they are routinely blamed on the inevitable play of the fate.

3.1. Having said that, what one calls Fate is not an objective reality. It cannot be perceived by human senses. Some call it a creation of human imagination ; or, at best is a default-inference. One could even say that man invented fate by re-ordering his moral world , so that he could ascribe to it whatever that did not fit into its paradigm. It may also have been born of man’s refusal to accept the idea that life is wholly irrational; and, out of his pet-belief that there is an unknown area beyond all that is known which would explain life and its mystique.

In a way of speaking, it might not be wrong to call fate a projection of man’s fears and helplessness in the face of strange, untoward, unexpected, undeserved occurrences for which he is wholly not-responsible and is unprepared; and, for which he has no explanation. It is something towards which he feels is driven, going by his hard experiences in the world.

3. 2. Fate, by its very concept, is thus, irrational. One could lament that Fate is blind; it gives solace but not light; and, never  guidance. Yet, one cannot entirely deny the unknown and the unpredictable elements of life.  Man, therefore, calls fate : a capricious phantom.  And yet, he manfully challenges this caprice, unwilling to surrender to its whims, to deflect its moves through precaution, valour, and various other brave and crafty ways. That is the crux of life.

Fate in Indian ethos

4.1. Surprisingly, the concept and the belief in fate is a late entry into the Indian ethos. None of the four Samhitas, the Aranyakas, the Brahmanas or the Upanishads speaks of fate. In Rig Veda, particularly, prayers are addressed to benevolent gods who are gently or fervently persuaded to grant fertility in crops and cattle, to bless with plenty of sons and wealth. There is a joyous optimism looking forward with hope to be truly alive over a ‘span-of hundred – sharad ritus’, the best of the seasons. These texts do not have trace of fatalism. But, the concept of fate and fatalism gained prominence much later in the Epics and the Puranas. We shall talk a bit more of that in the paragraphs to follow.

4.2. The first philosopher to formally propound the theory of fatalism (Niyati-vada) was Makkhali Gosala, an early contemporary of the Buddha. Some say; he was called Gosala because he was born in a cow-shed. Panini the Grammarian (around 5th century BCE) described him as Maskarin (maskara-maskariṇau veṇu-parivrājakayoḥPS_6,1.154 – a madicant who carries a bamboo staff).  Makkhali Gosala was a follower of Parsvanatha, the twenty-third Tirthankara,    in the Nigantha Nataputta Order of Jainism. Gosala too was a naked ascetic. Due to differences with the main Jaina Sangha, Makkhali Gosala left the Order ;and , founded his own sect: the Ajivika.

[ Dr. Benimadhab Barua (A History of pre-Buddhistic Indian Philosophy) says, Ajivikas cannot be entirely identified with naked recluse/ascetics. They were, in general, independent and self-respecting individuals who had following among the Jains as also Buddhists. The Ajivika thesis, in main, according to him, is that the universe is a purposive order where everything is assigned its place and function (niyati).The law of change is universal and all beings are capable of transformation; and most attain perfection in due time. The man’s life has to pass through eight stages of development at each of which physical growth proceeds along with the development of senses, moral and spiritual faculties. And, finally leading to purity of mind; purging it of all impurities that have stained it.

Thus Dr. Barua’s rendition varies from the popular versions of the Ajivika-beliefs.

Dr. Barua gives some biographic details of Gosala that are not mentioned by others: The Jain sources mention his name as Maskarin – one who carries a staff; also known as Ekadandin.  Maskarin preceded Mahavira by sixteen years. His actual name was Gosala Mankhaliputta – son of Mankhali and Bhaddha; and was born at Saravana near Savastthi. His father Mankhali derived his name from the profession he followed a dealer in pictures. Gosala followed his father’s profession until he turned a monk.]

4.3. Prof A L Basham writes (The Wonder that was India):

No scriptures of the Ajivikas have come down to us, and the little we know about them has to be reconstructed from the polemic literature of Buddhism and Jainism. The sect was certainly atheistic;  and its main feature was strict determinism. The usual doctrine of karma taught that though a man’s present condition was determined by his past actions he could influence his destiny, in this life and the future, by choosing the right course of conduct. This the Ajivikas denied. The whole universe was conditioned and determined to the smallest detail by an impersonal cosmic principle, Niyati, or destiny. It was impossible to influence the course of transmigration in any way.

All that have breath, all that are born, all that have life, are without power, strength or virtue, but are developed by destiny, chance and nature, and experience joy and sorrow in the six classes £of existence There are …8,400,000 great aeons (Maha-kappa), through which fool and wise alike must take their course and make an end of sorrow. There is no question of  bringing unripe karma to fruition, nor of exhausting karma already ripened, by virtuous conduct, by vows, by penance, or by chastity. That cannot be done. Samsara is measured as with a bushel, with its joy and sorrow and its appointed end. It can neither be lessened nor increased, nor is there any excess or deficiency of it. Just as a ball of string will, when thrown, unwind to its full length, so fool and wise alike will take their course, and make an end of sorrow.”

*

4.4. Ajivika sect was perhaps the first to put forward fatalism as being absolute and final. It embraced the concept of fate rather too tightly ; and, affirmed fate as the ultimate reality in human life. It believed: ‘there is no such thing as human endeavor, human strength or determination; all things are pre-determined’. His parent body, the Jainas , did not however quite approve of Gosala’s theory; and , promptly labelled it ‘ajnana-vada’, the doctrine of ignorance.

4.5. Gosala seems to say you are free to take the first step; but as soon as you take it, you are bound by the outcome of your act and have lost your freedom of choice. For instance; let’s say you are about to plant a sapling. As long as you have not done it, almost all options are open to you. But, once you decide on your choice, its outcome is also determined.  If you plant a mango tree, then you reap only mangos; and , no other fruit. In other words, you can act, but its outcome is predestined.

[This sounds very similar to Prof. Cassius .J. Keyser’s concept of Logical Fate which essentially means that from premises consequences follow. Choices differ . . . and when we have made it, we are at once bound by a destiny of consequences   beyond our will to control or to modify (See his Mathematical Philosophy). ]

5.1. Makkhali Gosala had declared: “There is neither cause nor basis for sins of human beings (ahetukavada). None of the deeds of man can affect his future births. All beings, all that have breath, all that are born, all that have life, are without power, strength, or virtue; but, are developed by destiny, chance and nature. All existence is unalterably fixed (niyata). Suffering and happiness, therefore, do not depend on any cause or effect; but, are pre-determined by niyati (fate). And, niyati being adrsta is unseen and preordained . Suffering and happiness, therefore, do not depend on any cause or effect ”.

5.2. The Buddha totally disliked the fatalistic theory ;  called its promoter Gosala as the most dangerous of the heretic teachers; and,  remarked  : “Just as the hair blanket is  the meanest of all woven garments , even so, of all the teachings of nagga-samanas (naked recluse) that of Makkhali is the meanest” (Majjhima  Nikaya :1:513).

5.3. The reason that the Buddha summarily dismissed the fatalism of Gosala was perhaps because, it rendered human life utterly irresponsible; robbing it of accountability for man’s evil or even good deeds. Gosala had said , man was not responsible for his deeds as he was under the control of fate.  Further, Gosala had discounted the role of Karman in life as also in life-after-life of all beings; but , had  asked all men and women to put faith in fate. Gosala had thus attacked the very foundation of the Buddha’s fundamental theory of the chain of cause-and- effect, where the effect is produced by a cause through modifications. The Buddhist law of causation – Pratītyasamutpāda – was the basis of every other doctrine in Buddhism including rebirth, karma, samsara, dukkha etc.

[But the later forms of Buddhism could not keep out the element of fate. For instance, a Jataka tale (No.257 Gamanichanda) makes out that chance predominates and takes over the course of human life as the agent of fate. And in another Jataka (No.538 Mugapakka)   a king chased by ill-luck for long period says “I know not where I go, the fate watching never sleeps”.]

Karman and rebirth

6.1. But what is Karman? Simply put, it is action, any action, good, bad or indifferent which involves a moral decision. But, occasionally, unwitting action – good or bad – also counts for Karman. It is the belief that ‘as a man decides, he acts; and, as he acts he gets the fruits of action  ‘.

6.2. It was much later that rebirth came to be associated with Karman: a man was born and lived according to what he did in his life on earth. This association had many facets. Initially, the rebirth had reference only to the future. But, with Karman , it became a two-ended proposition: a man’s past Karman determines his present station; and, his present station determines how he will fare in the future. It also meant that Karman took time to mature and to yield its results. This time gap (karma-pari-paka) was compared to the interval between sowing and harvesting; or between administering medicine and regaining health.

6.3. Karman in association with rebirth was , largely , an assumption (just as many of these concepts) ; and , was not proved by any of the valid means of knowledge or the methods of cognition (Pramana). But, Karman seemed to offer an explanation to the illogical inequalities and relative-injustices that one comes across in the world. That made it easy to explain the fact that certain persons occupy higher positions in the social hierarchy, enjoy the power and all the benefits that come with their status because of their Karman in their past births.

7. 1. But, these elucidations seemed to have a limited range, as they   did not adequately explain all events in human life. It was pointed out that similar actions do not always produce similar results. And, it did not explain the vast range of variations that occur even among the fortunate ones better placed in life. Further, it was argued,   how could an individuals’ Karman explain a natural calamity like famine, epidemic, accidents, disasters etc involving mass-deaths. Does it mean that all those victims had identical Karman which matured at precisely the same instant?

7.2. It was then put forward that   there had to be another factor which influenced human life , in tandem with Karman and rebirth. That unknown factor came to be accepted as the fate. It was brought in as a powerful agent to reinforce ; and, to strengthen the Karman-theory. The apparent injustices were ascribed to fate, whose mystiques could not be remedied or unveiled.

Thus, along with Karman and rebirth, fate became the third factor in controlling human existence, life and destiny.

Fate and religion

8.1. All religions, cultures and sects have element of fatalism, in some form or other. A faith in an unknown force which controls human destiny is at the base of most religions and mythologies. Elaborate tales are spun to drive home the conviction that a mystery surrounds human existence; and, it will never be fully revealed.

8.2. Most systems seek to see the God or  gods and fate as distinct powers. In some theologies, the God is seen playing with the fate , the grief and joys of his creatures; in some others , gods are subservient to fate; and , in few others, the gods and fate together exercise power over human destiny. In some cases, the fate , in one or other names, occupies a key position in the pantheon. For instance; Fate is also equated with Time, kaala: ‘if kaala is adverse and angry, how, then, shall we escape? ..!’. Time , in human life , runs along a single direction; and , it rushes towards death. Hence , Time becomes synonymous with death. And, death becomes an essential constituent of fate, which terminates the course of  life.

8.3. In the Vedic religion, which has a fluid pantheon, where new gods come and old gods fade away rather quietly, Karman, rebirth and fate continued to play a role. The fate , here, is both dependent and independent of Karman, as it was deemed possible for an individual to exercise his free-will in order to correct himself ; and , to improve his future prospects.

8.4. In monotheism where nothing can happen without the will of God, the God will necessarily have to assume the role of fate too. Otherwise, if its follower believes in destiny as determined by fate , then there would be no room for God, as the dispenser of destiny.

9.1. The things get bit more complicated when you put together the fate, the Karman, the grace of god and the human effort. If one strongly believes in fate and its role in determining human destiny, then Karman becomes redundant. If ,on the other hand, one subscribes to the faith  and belief  that it is the Law of  Karman , which governs human life and its future , then fate has no place in such a  scheme of things. And, if one has immense faith in God , who in his infinite grace, over rides Karman and fate, then either are rendered ineffective. In which case, total submission to god’s grace is the ultimate panacea for all worldly ills.

The diversity of the views regarding the relative merits of Karman, fate, divine favor and personal effort represent or depend upon the different anchors of human faith. Most theologies seek to reconcile these factors.

9.2. As regards human endeavour, one can never discount its efficacy in life. It is after all the man who decides the attitudes to adopt at varying times as he battles with life. It is also his decision to discard all or any of those approaches, or to relay on his own effort and judgment. Life has no meaning and is not worth living when human endeavour is not valued. Therefore, in day-to-day life, human endower runs alongside some sort of faith.

Fate in Epics and Puranas

10.1. It is in the Epics and the Puranas that fate seems to take the centre stage.

In the Ramayana and Mahabharata Epics, several situations are so crafted as if to bring human endeavour face-to-face with fate. In the many incidents narrated in the epics, fate does not act directly;  but it takes subtler methods of clouding the victim’s wits. Sometimes, fate acts as a living human enemy, hurting the unsuspecting victims.

10.2. There are homilies that acknowledge the supremacy of fate as that which cannot be grasped by thought; and, as that which is not destroyed in creatures”(Ram: 2.20:20). There are also remarkably brave statements which applaud human effort (purusakara or purusha-prayatna) ; and , decry dependence on fate as ‘false-games that people play and delude themselves ‘ : “when he  cleaves to fate without conducting himself like a man, he  labours in vain like a woman with an impotent husband (Mbh: 8:6:20)”; and, that “Low men given to indulgence of the passions blame the fate for their own evil deeds ” (Mbh: 8:67:1).

11.1. The principle characters of the Epics – Sri Rama and Yudhistira – lament and blame their miseries on fate: Who can fight against fate?”(Ram -2:22:20); ”The man to whom fate allots defeat, it robs him of his intellect first and then he begins to see things in a reverse order. Fate robs him of vision, falling like an eye of fire on him” (Mbh: 2.73:8; 3:295:1).

But what is more important here is that the heroes of the Epics, despite their miseries and delusions, do not give up;  but , keep on fighting resolutely  till the end.

11.2. But, it is the relatively minor characters that stand up for human endeavour ; and, refuse to accept the verdict of fate. For instance; Lakshmana argues with his   dejected brother : “why an able bodied man with his faculties intact should accept unjust verdicts of fate without protest?”. His argument has a subtle point : when success is achieved by ones brave efforts, people tend to ascribe it to fate and destiny. That is unfair, according Lakshmana, as it robs the brave man of his well deserved glory. To Lakshmana, it is cowardly to submit to fate, to suffer injustice without protest, while it is possible to do so, and then blame the fate for his misery (Ram: Kishkinda Kanda).

11.3. Karna the tragic hero of Mahabharata though a Kshatriya by birth was not aware of his origin, because he grew up as a charioteer’s son. When others jeered him of his low extract, Karna retorted  : “A charioteer or a charioteer’s son, whoever I may be, my birth was decreed by fate; but, I am the master of my valour”. Here was an instance of a proud self-confident person , who undertakes tasks and performs with faith in Purushakara.

11.4. The great battle of Mahabharata was, in one sense, a battle between fate and human effort. The warriors on either side knew well that victory was essentially uncertain; and, their own life was highly threatened . Yet, heroic men fought with great courage. Every warrior, mighty and small,  had realized that meek acceptance of fate meant negating the glory of his manhood. Yet, each one was also prepared to conditionally accept his fate as a venture into an unknown zone riddled with startling events. And, regardless of the outcome each fighter , even the ordinary one, was determined to battle courageously, more manfully and to fight against the mightier odds, if only to redeem his  pride and that  of his clan.

11.5. Mahabharata has some great statements on fate and human endeavour : “Whatever the enterprising man ever does, he must do it fearlessly; and , the success however depends on fate (yasmād abhāvī bhāvī vā bhaved artho naraṃ prati aprāptau tasya vā prāptau na kaś cid vyathate budhaḥ – Mbh: 8:1.47)” ; “as a lamp grows weak as the oil runs out, so the fate grows weak when the fruits of action are exhausted” (tasyādya karmaṇaḥ karṇaḥ phalaṃ prāpsyati dāruṇam – Mbh: 8:5:32).

12.1. Puranas were written mainly to glorify the powers, the splendour and supremacy of their principal gods or goddesses. They urge the devotee to surrender to the will and mercy of gods and goddesses. But, at the same time, they call upon men not to give up their efforts: “Some wise men call fate as the false hope that feeble cling to. For the powerful men, no fate is ever noticed. The heroic and the feeble take recourse to effort and fate respectively “(Devi Bhagavata: 5:12:28-30); and, “the wise hold that prowess is the best. Even an adverse fate can be overcome by the prowess of those of good conduct who are ever active and dedicated” (Matsya Purana).

Here, the emphasis is laid on human effort, without which even fate is powerless to achieve anything. Here , cleaving of fate is not condemned; but, doing so and abandoning personal effort is.

12.2. The Puranas tried to reconcile fate and human effort. There are several statements that emphasize that one should always be active in ones prescribed field of activity. And , that only the people without prowess talk of fate;  many alas do not realize that it is primarily their effort (purusha-prayatna) that paves way for their salvation. They emphasize the importance of self-initiative. The Puranas and its legends assured that human effort (purushakara) blessed by fate would surely bear fruit, in due time.

Fate and Human endeavour

13.1. It can be seen that absolute dependence on fate and the absolute reliance on human endeavour are projected as two extreme positions. It would however be prudent to recognize the limits of both; which is to say, one is powerless without the other or that where the one ends the other begins. Human endeavour, for instance, is the very act of living ; and, life has no meaning when human endeavour is not valued. Therefore, in day-to-day life, human endower runs alongside some sort of faith. But, one has also to recognize that even the most sophisticated of all human endeavours – let’s say launching of a space shuttle – involves and is subject to an element of unknown and unpredictable. You might assign that unpredictability in life whatever name you choose.

13.2. Shri DSamapath , elsewhere, remarked that in situations where one is faced with extremes there always are other possibilities open for resolving the conflicts. Those options might range from the middle path to the simultaneity of all possibilities. These, he calls as the metaphors of thought. Such multi-pointed approach would, naturally, take into account not merely the whole of a ‘metaphor’ but also its specific variations. It is in that context that the Vedic religion re-worked on the theory of Karman; and, rendered it more dynamic , by providing for the freedom of individual will, enabling him to correct the errors and to improve upon his good-performance. That was  meant to convince  that the outcome of one’s past action is not always beyond control or beyond modification,  provided there is a strong will to so.

13.3. Shri DSampath’s observation also implies that there could be as many approaches or attitudes to life as there are individuals. I agree with him. It appears to me that amidst all those options, what is important is to retain a  sense of balance in life recognizing the limits of each of the factors that play an effective role in the different contexts  of the varied spheres of human life. As Uddalaka Aruni counsels his son, one has to understand life through reason grasped in faith: ‘śraddhatsva somyeti; Have faith, my dear’ (Ch. Up. 6.12.2). … What that faith is at the very core of each being.

To sum up:

Haman initiative and endeavour is highly essential in life; without that, life would collapse on itself. But, that does not say everything. At almost all levels , even at its most sophisticated and highest level , human effort involves and is subject to elements of unknown and unpredictable; you may assign them any name/s . Which suggests that human freedom is  just operational; but, it is not absolute freedom.

Roger Sperry (1913-1994) a psycho biologist (neuro-psychologist and neuro-biologist) who won the Nobel Prize for his split-brain research) explained free will as follows

What one wants of free will is not to be totally freed from causation, but rather, to have the kind of control that allows one to determine one’s own actions according to one’s own wishes, one’s own judgment, perspective, cognitive aims, emotional desires and other mental inclinations.

We are free to select our assumptions. But to exercise this freedom, man must first realize that he is thus free. There could be as many assumptions and beliefs as there are individuals. Fate, god or such others could also be one of those beliefs. If one has firm conviction in ones belief and strives towards that, then ‘That’ would become the reality for him , in due time.  And that is his faith, the very core of his being.

Leaving aside remarkable sages and saints, it appears to me, for the men and women of the world,  it is important to retain a sense of balance and to understand life through reason grasped in faith, as said.

4PAN1T

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2012 in General Interest, Speculation

 

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