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Buddhism in the News


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Buddhism, Hinduism, Karma, Fate and Predestination.

Whatever decision we think we are making is actually being made for us, because the decision is the end result of a thought and we have no control over the arising of the thought.

-Ramesh Balsekar

James: Upon first reading this I agreed with it but now that I've been contemplating upon it for awhile I'm wondering, "Do we really have no control over the arising of the thought? Don't we have control over what we think?"

I realize that karma plays a role in our thought process but this quote seems to confuse karma. It rather seems fatalistic and seems to lean toward teaching predestination and from what I've learned Buddhism doesn't teach fatalism or predestination:

It is quite often the case that we find people misunderstanding the idea of karma. This is particularly true in our daily casual use of the term. We find people saying that one cannot change one’s situation because of one’s karma. In this sense, karma becomes a sort of escape. It becomes similar to predestination or fatalism. This is emphatically not the correct understanding of karma. It is possible that this misunderstanding of karma has come about because of the popular idea that we have about luck and fate. It may be for this reason that our idea of karma has become overlaid in popular thought with the notion of predestination. Karma is not fate or predestination.
James: I'd really enjoy hearing your thoughts on this quote, fate, karma, predestination and how it relates (or not) to Buddhism. Part of this could be a difference between Buddhism and Hinduism as this quote came from a daily Hindu wisdom email. And while I don't know Hinduism as well as Buddhism it was my understanding that Hindus don't believe in predestination either.

~Peace to all beings~

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Jamie G. said...

Free will? Maybe not. Check out this article.

When you get down to it, Karma may play a much bigger role in our choices than we realize.

I have some more thoughts about Karma. I got to thinking. If you believe the whole rebirth thing, but not in reincarnation, I'm basically inheriting someone else's Karma, no? So their bad (or good) choices are now reaping effect in my life?

Sometimes it's confusing to think about this kind of stuff.

Barry said...

In my experience, karma is simply my failure to take responsibility for my life as it plays out, moment to moment.

When I take responsibility for my life by making beneficial choices, then I "put down my karma" - as Zen master sometimes say.

By studying my own mind, I can see that I make hundreds and thousands of choices throughout the day. In every situation, there is a millisecond of decision-making.

Sometimes these pass by so quickly that I'm not aware of the choice being made.

But in those times when I'm aware and present, then I can observe the arising of choice and watch myself choose one way or another.

Sadly, many of my choices aren't so wise or compassionate. But without this awareness, then my life is as meaningless as Ramesh Balsekar suggests it is.

zzz... said...

I like the idea that everything is preordained. It is quite liberating.

What I am today is the result of what has happened in the past. And what will happen tomorrow is the result of what happens now. So when something awful happens, such as exam results come in and I've failed again, then I get out of sadness and other emotions by thinking this way, "What has happened has to happen because of the way it happened to be in the past. But the I that is now- if I don't think about what has happened and what will happen- has total freedom to feel happy and peaceful."

And as a result of this line of thinking, I do get out of emotional states, negative and positive, in quite a short time, and can do something to correct the situation.


Angela said...

I guess my thought has always been "everything happens for a reason." And whatever is happening now is due to a decision that was made at some earlier time.

I very much believed that our life was meant to play out in a certain way. However, we can make a choice that will lead down a different path. Although the outcome will ultimately be the same.

Eh, I don't know if that makes any sense. Another good, thought-provoking post.

The Humāinist said...

I am still undecided when it comes to determinism. There is little doubt that in the physical world around us, determinism is king. But if we adopt it for mind also, it makes free will nothing more than an illusion. I have a hard time coming to grips with a lack of free will. Not only do I feel it strongly within myself, how can anyone be held accountable for their actions without it? Perhaps I am only fooling myself, but I think in the minds of sentient beings is the one place in the universe where determinism can be... "bent" ...for lack of a better term. I know that brain chemistry and other physical factors control much of what we think and do, but I still feel there is some small amount of 'wiggle room' in there for free will. I think of it like being on an airplane and the captain gives you permission to move about the cabin. We're very restricted in where we can go and what we can do, but we can move around a little.

reymiland said...

My question would be:
If Buddhism does not condone predestination, then how can it hold the teaching that the actions of this life, through the action of karma, affect a future incarnation? Are not the actions of one, leading to the existential conditions in the next, predestination?

They call him James Ure said...

I think of it this way. Our karma puts us into situations where we might be more likely to do, say, or think something in a certain way. However, in the end we do still have a choice.

We may be 90% more likely to make (X) decision but go the (10%) route based on events unfolding in the present moment.


I think Buddhism prefers the teaching of cause and effect, which is based upon previous decisions of free-will.

Predestination means that those decisions have already been made for us.

DT said...

I think the quote is half accurate. What happens to you is controlled by your thoughts in my opinion. However the quite says you cannot control your thoughts and I disagree with that. I think the power if belief is very strong and you can will yourself to think a certain way. In turn your actions and situations will reflect that.

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M said...


From an advaitic point of view, almost everything is pre-ordained.
The one thing that is not pre-ordained is our will to choose the path of Meditaion/Self-enquiry/Mindfullness.

It is a pleasure to browse this blog.


Piyush said...

Sanatan Dharma is the oldest culture in the world, and there was a time when it was spread throughout the world. People can find swastika in every culture like the American Indians, Greece, troy, Italy, Russia and many other countries have this symbol. Look at the 108 symbols of god in Sanatan Dharma and their origin. Things will become very clear about the origin of humanity in this world. It is time to free ourselves from the lies and deception spread throughout the world about our culture.

Dont forget, even today in Sanskrit and Hindi the words for Divorce and any other abusive words do not exist. Yet it contains words like Yantra ( machine) and Vimana ( air-craft), which existed far before the western civilization constructed aircraft themselves.

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