Western idea of determinism and Hinduism’s concept of Karma have several similarities. While determinism as a philosophical idea does not involve God, the concept of Karma in Hinduism is intrinsically interwoven with God’s will as a strong mediating force.
According to Wikipedia, “Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition and behavior, decision and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences.”
Hinduism’s Karma principle concurs with the above definition to a large extent, except perhaps, with the phrase “an broken chain”. Whether the chain of prior occurrences can be broken or not remains at the will of God, according to great Hindu Masters.
Does Hinduism totally negate existence of free will? Not really.
In Hinduism, everything in the relative plane involving name and form the entire cosmos, this world, all the sentient and non-sentient creations including human beings – is Maya, God’s divine play. Man is deluded by Maya and this maya makes him identify himself with his body, mind and ego. This maya makes him think that he has the free will. Free will is strongly associated with ego.
Free Will and Ego
In proportion to a man’s dependence on his ego, he believes he has the free will to function as he wishes. On the other hand, a saintly person, who is more and more aware of the supreme divinity controlling all, who is able to decipher the wily play of egotism inside human minds, understands quite lucidly on the strength of his experiences and convictions, that it is God’s will that is always done.
An egotistic person has the strong faith that he is the doer. On the other end, a saint who has surrendered his ego at the holy feet of God has the strong conviction that he is NOT the doer but it is God’s will that acts through him. Hinduism links this sense of doer-ship to the inescapable necessity of enjoying or suffering the consequences of the actions by the doer.
Relationship Between Actions and Results
Thus, if you engage in actions based on the whims of your free will, you have to own up the consequences or results or fruits of your actions. As a doer with ego, you have the freedom to act as per your free will. The actions you undertake in this way are known as “Agamya Karma” — actions that are bound to bring their fruits in (unknown) future. But the enjoyment or suffering you undergo presently based on your past acts across several births, done out of free will, is known as “Prarabhda Karma”.
One of the strongest messages given by Hindu Masters is that as long as one has the sense of doer-ship, a man has the freedom of choice in action (free will). But as an enjoyer of the consequences of past actions, he has NO freedom of choice! The extent of enjoyment or punishment and the time and sequence at which the fruits of actions are delivered unto to him, happen purely at the will of God, according to Hindu Masters.
Freedom of Action and “Vasana”
Every person in this world possesses certain inherent tendencies, based on his intensity of desire, his cultural background, his education, the extent of his faith in God etc. These indwelling impressions and tendencies, which Hinduism calls as “vasana”, meaning, very appropriately, smell, play a very strong role in the working of free will of people. Thus, under identical situations, a decision taken out of free will by one person will definitely differ from that of another person, based on their respective vasanas. Thus the concept of vasana of Hinduism agrees fairly well with determinism.
In Hinduism, the ultimate goal of human birth is stated to be God realization or salvation. To attain this goal, a total surrender of ego to the divine will (known as “saranagathi”), the total elimination of desires (which cause one to engage in action based on free will) by practicing discrimination and a total elimination of vasanas (which remain accumulated deep inside the heart across several births) through spiritual disciplines like meditation, form the essentials of religious practice for an earnest seeker.