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Fatalism, Indian

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F068-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Indian speculation about the vicissitudes of human life has a long and complex history. Life in the early Vedic period was considered to be largely hostage to the ‘fate’ of natural and psychic forces controlled by various gods (devas). Fate was what proceeded ‘from the gods’ (daiva), who were considered to be the guardians of the cosmic order and the ultimate source of prosperity. Sacrifice and prayer were the principal means to win their favour.

Later the idea arose that one’s present lot is due, not to the whim of some god, but to karma, the effect of one’s own actions performed in this or previous lives. On this view, humans do have some scope or ‘freedom’ to change themselves and the environment in which they live. This more individual potential is called puruṣakāra, which, to varying degrees, may modify daiva. The literal meaning of this term is ‘human action’ (from the Sanskrit for ‘man’ and a verbal root meaning ‘to act’). With the increasing popularity of the karma theory, daiva tended to become equated with the effects of past behaviour.

Finally, in the context of the spiritual ascent towards a unifying vision of existence, the status of human agency itself became an issue. As long as the seeker remains blinded by false notions of ‘I’, the ego must experience a sense of agency and a modicum of freedom to chart its course of life. However, from the perspective of enlightenment, or mokṣa, all is ‘fate’ in the hands of a personal God or a Supreme Self.

Citing this article:
Woods, Julian F.. Fatalism, Indian, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F068-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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