In comparison to many other world religions, Hinduism is often seen to be an intricate labyrinth of deities and religious texts. Some articles document a staggering 330 million deities and hundreds of religious texts extolling the virtues of these deities. It is no surprise then that the one question that Hindus find hardest to answer is, “What makes one a Hindu?”
Do we have a single authoritative text? A main deity? Is astrology accurate? Is Hinduism then a fatalistic religion? Do we have to pray every day? Can we eat beef? Do we have to be vegetarians? The questions go on and on.
However, here is the good news. Though Hinduism is a vast ocean, and any information we acquire over a lifetime is but a mere drop, the religion is much like science. Understanding the key philosophy underlying the religion actually enables one answer most of these questions. So I have tried to put together a 5 part series, talking about the key aspects of Hinduism, in the hope that it will help some of you guys with all of these questions. 🙂
The first main question I want to talk about today is this:
Is Hinduism a fatalistic religion?
Hinduism is often known to be as such because of certain misconceptions propagated by elements of Hinduism such as astrology and Karma. If the course of your life can be spelled out for you at the point of birth, it must mean that our life is predestined right? What then is the purpose of life? To live out our destiny? Does free will at all feature in Hinduism?
The short answer to all of these questions:
Karma is one of the most universally used terms, by Hindus and non-Hindus alike, to represent the idea of one reaping what they sow. In the Hindu context however, what exactly does it mean?
Karma essentially refers to the results of one’s actions. Think of it as a point system. If you do good, you earn merit points and if you do bad, you get demerit points. The idea of Karma is very closely tied to that of reincarnation, where one accumulates points across his/her various life times. At the point of birth, some of these points (both good and bad) manifest and determine the way you look, where you are born and the general course of your life.
So when astrologers use your time and date of birth to make certain predictions, they are forecasting your life based on this.
What then is the role of free will?
At every moment of our lives, we perform actions, and each of these actions will earn us either merit or demerit points. This then has the power to alter the trajectory of our lives and allows us to influence key events. Therein lies the power of prayer, for it helps us to mitigate any demerit points that we might have accumulated in our past lives due to ignorance and perhaps lessen the effects of any uncomfortable situations we are slated to experience as a result.
What if I do something wrong unknowingly?
Karma exists on 3 levels, actions, speech and thought. Though an ideal situation is when all 3 are aligned, life isn’t always as straightforward. Sometimes, we are placed in a position of having to tell white lies to protect the feelings of a loved one, and perhaps kill (think of all the cockroaches and lizards whose lives have been snuffed out) in order to protect ourselves. In such cases, what matters most is one’s intention rather than the actual physical action. Therefore, though we will have to bear the consequences of any action we have done, the intention plays a much larger role in determining the extent to which we reap the results.
Is prayer then necessary? Aren’t universal moral values sufficient to be a good person?
While being a good person would ensure that we continue to earn merit points, what about the effects of all that has been done in our past lives? Prayer therefore serves as a force that helps us to overcome the effects of the not very pleasant actions in our past life.
So is Hinduism a fatalistic religion? Most definitely not 🙂