S.Rajarathnam. prolific writer and renowned tax consultant
”Abject faith in fate or after-life is a mere superstition. But believers would draw comfort, that Periyar’s crusade against superstitions has, in their opinion, failed, because of ever increasing crowds in temples and pilgrimage centres like Sabarimala. They should all take credit for their faith that perpetuates superstition even among the educated classes. Even so, thanks to Periyar and his ilk, one can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Ever since the dawn of history, man has used his sixth sense to find excuse for his failures in fate, while taking credit for his efforts in the event of success. The stars are the villains for his misfortune.
Traditionally, fate is defined as a power or agency that pre-determines the course of events. Destiny is an expression used to refer to the finality of events as they have worked themselves out. This difference is that, the former refers to flow of events, while the latter refers to the final outcome. A third concept is serendipity drawn from a Persian fairy tale of “Three Princes of Serendip”. It is the faith with occurrence and development of events by chance or luck in a happy or beneficial way prompted by the facility of making providential discovery by accident.
All religions have accepted fate or destiny. It is the will of the gods pre-ordained or as understood by the Tamils written in the forehead of every new-born child. Stoics believed in fatalism as a philosophy attributing every action to a divine plan devised by the gods. Epicureans, however, had reservations in that they believed actions can be voluntary and that not all actions are dictated by the gods. The ancient Greeks believed that the gods particularly Zeus was responsible for the destiny of man.
Hinduism while strongly believing in fate also in contradiction believes in karma, which is the result of voluntary acts with the result, that one’s karma determines reaction to his own action and not the result of fate or the gods. Karma is in the hands of the individual, while destiny is in the hands of the gods. Hindus believe in rebirth with endless cycle of birth and death. Even some non-Hindus like Mende believe that there are consecutive lives for everyone. Reincarnation is accepted by the Jews by a tradition recorded in Talmud, their holy book.
Islam believed in fate or qadar which is a decree of Allah.
Christianity and Islam believe in resurrection of all the dead coming to life on the Day of Judgement. Jesus, after being put to death in the Cross had come back on resurrection. Jesus Christ, while dying in the Cross, sought pardon for those who committed him to it, for they did not, what they did, but blamed the God with the words “Father has thou forsaken me?”.
There has always been a dilemma as between fate or destiny and karma or free will. Thirukkural one of the earliest work of the Tamils has also recorded the dilemma with an explanation that man can overcome fate by his efforts.
ஊழிற் பெருவலி யாவுள மற்றொன்று
குழினுந் தான்முகந் துறும்
It means that there is no force greater than Fate, which will overcome all other forces. But it also claims in another couplet about effort which can thwart fate in following words:
உழையும் உப்பக்கம் காண்பார் உலைவின்றித்
தாழாது உஞற்று பவர்
It means that the fate can be conquered by persons who tirelessly strive to overcome it.
Free will is anti-thesis of fate. So is will to live in the philosophy of Schopenhauer and will to power in Nietzsche’s philosophy. These concepts envisage a power within man to change destiny.
A related concept is that of determinism where certain things happen not on our own will, but as a result of forces beyond the persons affected. Decrees of rulers or the calamities of nature determine a person’s life not of his own making or that of a pre-determined course of action confined to him. Serendipity is one such explanation.
It is Omar Khayam’s philosophy that, since you cannot avoid fate, accept it as an easy way out with a flask of wine, a book of verse and your beloved by your side in following verse:
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
And Wilderness is Paradise now.”
The above justification is further expressed beautifully in the following verse:
“Oh come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain; that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.”
The futility of argument about fate is expressed as under:
“Myself when young did eagerly Frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.”
There are quite a few precedents in literature as to the war against destiny. In Greek mythology, there is Oedipus and Odyssey explaining the battle between man’s effort and God’s will. Shakespeare’s Macbeth Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Samuel Beckett’s Endgame are all works that dramatise the power of destiny.
Voltaire’s Candide derides the belief in destiny narrating a series of calamities befalling a prince attributed by his philosopher to pre-ordained destiny. The prince now a slave working along with his philosopher in their master’s garden stops the philosophical discourse with the words, “Now let us turn to work in the garden”. A recent publication is a novel with the role of destiny is Preethi Shenoy’s book titled “It is all in the planets”.
The inevitability of death is illustrated in an Arabic story “Appointment in Samarra” the theme of John O’Hara’s novel with the same title. It is the story of a slave who went to the bazaar and rushed back to his master in jitters. When his master asked him what agitated him so much, he narrated that he saw two messengers of death staring at him in the bazaar obviously for taking his life. The master laughed and said that he was unnecessarily frightened. He begged his master to lend him his swiftest horse which would take him to furthest Samnarra to escape them. The master obliged him and he was on his way to Samarra. The master then went to the bazaar to see what frightened his slave. He saw the two messengers of death. He told them how they had frightened his servant by staring at him giving him an impression, that they had come for his life. The messengers of death said that it is true that they had come for his life, but they were not trying to frighten him, but were only surprised to see him here in the bazaar far away from Samarra, where they had appointment with him the very next morning. The slave, it transpired, was rushing to meet his appointment with death. One cannot avoid fate is the lesson of the story.
The belief in stars is so widespread that there is hardly a newspaper or a magazine, which is not having a column predicting future weekly or even daily by astrologers with reference to the ruling of star on his birth based on movement of the stars inferred from astronomy oblivious to giant strides made by the science of astronomy. In the magazine Kalki, there was a story of an astrologer, who predicted immediate death of a bridegroom, if he married the girl whom he loved. The boy married but the prediction did not come true. He became an object of ridicule of the people around him teasing him, that his prediction must have gone wrong, because of the interference of the Russian satellite with the dog Leica circling the skies.
Can man conquer death? As explained by Freud, he had to invent life after death to console himself. The concept was a soul with heaven and hell and reincarnation born out of his imagination. There had been attempts to fathom fact behind the claims of life after death known as paraphysiology with no certain outcome. As narrated by a Tamil poet in Sangam literature “Nobody has returned from the heaven or hell to tell us about them” indicating the indifference of the poet about the existence of either hell or heaven. Even some in the West speculated on this possibility as may be seen from G.N.M. Tyrrell “Personality of Man”.
Voltaire, an agnostic, is credited with a story lampooning the traditional beliefs, when he called a priest and a mendicant. People around him thought that this diehard opponent of both religion and fake medicine called them to make peace with them. No. He made them stand by either side of him and declared “I now die like Jesus Christ with brigands on either side”.
Modern science is skeptic about the belief in continuity of consciousness after death. No one can predict future. It is only by chance or accident that one may face pleasant outcome as understood in the concept of serendipity. The book with the same title and a film is a study of sociological semantics and the sociology of science. Serendipity is stated to be a scientific method juxtaposed with purposeful discovery by experiment or prophecy.
All in all, men feels helpless when he finds that he is not in control of his life. He has to find solution or solace in religion, fate, destiny, luck. He is credulous enough to believe in quacks, astrologers, soothsayers and miracle workers.
Abject faith in fate or after-life is a mere superstition. But believers would draw comfort, that Periyar’s crusade against superstitions has, in their opinion, failed, because of ever increasing crowds in temples and pilgrimage centres like Sabarimala. They should all take credit for their faith that perpetuates superstition even among the educated classes. Even so, thanks to Periyar and his ilk, one can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Dear Reader, when do we next meet? If we do not meet in this life, may be in heaven or better still in hell, where we are likely to have more interesting company! It is all in the stars!