Doesn’t religion make people feel helpless by teaching that everything is destined and nothing is in their hands?

by January 18, 2014

This is not the true teaching of religion, but is a caricature. If that were its actual teaching, then why would religious scriptures urge us to do certain things? If nothing were in our hands, then even doing the things enjoined by the scriptures wouldn’t be in our hands? The Bhagavad-gita was spoken to inspire Arjuna to do something – and something quite assertive at that. So, it’s teaching obviously couldn’t be that nothing is in our hands.

And as regards making people feel helpless, it is the opposite belief – everything is in our hands – that fosters helplessness. The fact of life, whether we like it or not, is that many things in life are not in our control – we might get infected by an incurable disease or entangled in an irresolvable misunderstanding or trapped in an irresistible storm. By imagining that we are in full control of such situations, we only set ourselves up for feelings of frustration.

In the Vedic wisdom-tradition, these two ideas are known as karmavada (everything is in our hands) and daivavada (nothing is in our hands; everything is destined). These ideas are the two extremes of the pendulum of human imagination. The reality is the steady middle state: success requires both our endeavor and favorable destiny.

Let’s understand this with the example of agriculture. A good harvest requires both diligent plowing and timely rains. Plowing represents endeavor and rains represent destiny. Despite plowing, no harvest can result if it doesn’t rain. Similarly, despite our best efforts, we may sometimes fail due to adverse destiny. When people don’t know about the role of destiny in determining results, failures make them feel hopeless (“I am good-for-nothing”) even when they have the potential to perform in the future. Consequently, they suffer unfortunately and needlessly from mental problems like inferiority complex, low self-esteem, depression and self-pity.

Though we alone don’t determine the result, we do play a significant role in determining it.  Going back to the farming analogy, the farmer must plough the field for favorable rainfall to produce crops. Similarly, we must endeavor for destiny to deliver results.

Thus, a proper philosophical understanding far from making us feel helpless inspires us to work wholeheartedly. Additionally, such an understanding also decreases our feelings of helplessness when things are beyond our control. We understand that God is in control of those things and that he is our greatest well-wisher. Faith in him empowers us to accept that the seemingly bad situation is for our greater good, just as a surgeon’s cuts though painful promote the health of the patient. By praying to God, we get the inner strength to go and grow through the difficulty.

Thus, the materialistic understanding breeds frustration, whereas spiritual understanding engenders hope.

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