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Hill, Peter R. (1988) Fate and freedom in the "Mahabharata". PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25501/SOAS.00029485

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Abstract

The thesis considers the eternal problem of fate and free-will as it applies in the Mahabharata, the longest epic in any literature. In the Indian tradition the problem is explored in terms of whether human beings have any control over their own destiny and the world around them; or whether they are under the control of powers and forces beyond them. Chapter 1 examines the Epic doctrine of karma, which in theory represents the ideal compromise solution for it accepts the importance of both determinism and free-will in the lot of the individual, viewed as an entity transmigrating through time. The chapter finds that it is not a solution which finds much favour with the pravrtti or 'this worldly' side of Hinduism, which predominates in the Mahabharata. From their standpoint, karma can all too easily seem just another term for the workings of inscrutable fate. Chapter 2 examines the Mahabharata's views on predestination, the idea that the destiny of the individual is controlled from the beyond by a god or gods. After establishing the structure and nature of the Epic cosmos, the chapter considers the part played by gods and goddesses in the affairs of mortals and finds that three great Gods alone, Brahma, Civa, and Visnu, can be considered to play a predetermining role in the triple-world, for they must for ever try to make good the deficiencies in their own creation. However, the degree of their predetermining intervention differs according to how they are conceived. In the theological sections the great Gods are conceived of as indeterminate essences that predetermine all actions; in the mythology and the legends, they are conceived of as thoroughly anthropomorphic beings who predetermine only the essential events in their desire to preserve the order of the triple-world. The freedom of mortals is thus restricted, instead of negated. Finally, the chapter examines the position of such personalised abstractions as the Placer, the Ordainer, and the Ruler, which play a very prominent part in the proceedings of the Mahabharata. Whether, in any particular context, they are considered to be an independent force, an epithet of a great God, or impersonal fate thinly veiled, they invariably play a much more thorough predetermining role in the affairs of the triple-world. Chapter 3 considers the Mahabharata's views on how the destiny of the individual is controlled from the beyond by the impersonal forces of fate and Time. After examining the difficulties of clearly distinguishing between personal and impersonal forces of control, the chapter considers the range of circumstances in which impersonal fate is cited as the causative force. It also emerges that fate is conceived in quite different ways. In some contexts it is inscrutable and purposeless, and in other contexts it assumes a moral dimension. Equally, in some contexts it is considered to be all-powerful and ineluctable, predetermining all events and actions; but elsewhere fate is a force that can be overcome or made favourable. Chapter 4 considers the Mahabharata 's views pertaining to human free-will. The chapter examines; various 'compromise' answers offered, in which outside forces of control and individual freedom all play a part; the considerable importance attached to human effort and exertion; the means by which individuals can control their own destiny (sacrifice, tapas, knowledge and devotion); and the problem of individual responsibility. Chapter 5 analyses the problem of fate and free-will in the most famous single component of the Epic, the Bhagavadgita. The chapter argues that efforts to find the Gita's answer to the problem are misguided for the Gita offers various answers. The chapter does suggest what was the the favoured view of the Gita's author, but argues that he effectively undermined this solution out of a desire to build up the position of his personal God, a vital component in the Gita's answer to the contemporary crisis in the orthodox tradition. The conclusion points to the great variety of solutions the Mahabharata offers to this eternal problem, but emphasises that despite the fatalistic image of Hinduism, the Mahabharata - for various important reasons - has as much. if not more, to say about the efficacy of human action and free-will.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier): https://doi.org/10.25501/SOAS.00029485
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:14
URI: https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/29485

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