Weaver’s Wisdom

AH! DESTINY. SOMETHING THAT APPLIES TO BOTH PATHS: THAT OF THE FAMILIES AND THAT OF THE RENUNCIATES. CALL IT KARMA, BUT NEVER FATE. Some have translated the Tamil word uull as fate, equating fate with karma. However, fate implies an unavoidable doom, and that is not a description of karma. Webster’s Dictionary says, “Fate refers to the inevitability of a course of events as supposedly predetermined by a God or other agency beyond human control. Destiny refers to an inevitable succession of events as determined supernaturally or by necessity, but often implies a favorable outcome.” I prefer the word destiny—from the Latin, meaning “determination,” “fixed standing”—if either must be used, as it implies less inevitability and flows better with the reality that each soul creates its own future by its own actions. §

Fortunately, in recent times, the word karma has been brought into English. Webster’s defines it as, “A deed, act, fate. To make, form. Similar to the Welsh pryd: shape, time. 1) Hinduism, Buddhism: the totality of a person’s actions in any one of the successive states of that person’s existence, thought of as determining the fate of the next stage. 2) Loosely, fate, destiny.” This reveals a combination of destiny, fate and karma to unfold the complexity of how the soul shapes its own future.§

It is interesting to note that the originally Latin word fate (“pronouncement, prediction, prophecy”) actually goes back to the times of the Greeks and Romans, when the Fates, as they were called (also Moirai for the Greeks and Parcae for the Romans), were three Goddesses—Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos—believed to guide human destiny. We might surmise that their role was or is like that of guardian devas, or even Mahadevas, who assist man in shaping his own destiny by revealing pathways that are auspicious and karmically positive. The Greeks say that Clotho is the spinner of the thread of destiny. Lachesis is the measurer of the thread of destiny. Atropos is the cutter of the fabric of destiny. §

I have never liked the word fate. It has always reminded me of the strain of fatalism in the Abrahamic religions, preaching that everything is predetermined, foreordained, and there is nothing you can do if you are doomed. You are at the mercy of outside, and sometimes hurtful, forces. The burden is intolerable, in spite of some theologians’ efforts to alleviate it by elaboration of the concept of free will. The Vedic traditional view of karma is not of this kind. Jyotisha, Hindu astrology, tells us the stars only impel; they do not compel. Karmas are of man’s own making, making him the creator of his own destiny, not the victim of some other force, whether divine or not. Bad karmas (kukarma in Sanskrit) can be mitigated through remorse, prayer and penance, called prayashchitta. Though karmas may be the worst of the worst, once they are mitigated and atoned for, one can lead a joyous, happy religious life. §

 Fate, on the other hand, is taken as a damnation, a curse from God if it is bad, and nothing, literally nothing, can be done to soften or avoid it. The concept of fate holds one who believes in it in a state of constant, ever-growing fear and hopelessness. Fate is a foreordained destiny imposed upon each person from some unseen outside force, whereas karma is of man’s own making. As we explain in Dancing with Siva, “Karma is not fate, for man acts with free will, creating his own destiny. The Vedas tell us, if we sow goodness, we will reap goodness; if we sow evil, we will reap evil. Karma refers to the totality of our actions and their concomitant reactions in this and previous lives, all of which determines our future. It is the interplay between our experience and how we respond to it that makes karma devastating or helpfully invigorating.”§