Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Anti-Fatalism?

I have encountered the legend of how Pāṇini came to learn Sanskrit Grammar several times in Tibetan sources (e.g. Co ne’i bstan dkar, p. 179). I will leave to the Sanskritists to teach us whether the story has its Indian or Indic antecedent. I am, however, not so much interested in the story as such but rather in its implicit message of anti-fatalistic attitude or anti-fatalism or anti-determinism (karmic or otherwise). The story goes like this. Pāṇini wishes to learn Sanskrit grammar and goes to a palmist to let read his palm. The palmist flatly tells him that he is destined not to know Sanskrit grammar. He, however, is determined. He takes a sharp instrument and etches in his palm the palm-lines conducive to grammar knowledge and goes in search of a grammar teacher. He does not obtain one, and so invokes Mahādeva until the deity reveals to him and asks: “What do you wish?” “I wish to know grammar,” he replies. And he just utters “a, i, u” and lo! He comes to know Sanskrit grammar. The interesting point here is, on the one hand, the idea of intervening one’s fate or destiny through one’s sheer will, and on the other hand, the idea of divine intervention or help. The story reminds me slightly of the cutting of the “Gordian Knot.” There is nothing specifically Buddhistic in the story, but I have an impression that also some Buddhists would perhaps share the idea that one can change the course of one’s destiny through the sheer force of one’s will. Because karmic mechanism is defined by volitional impulses, one has the choice to set or upset one’s volitional impulses and thereby redefine the course of one’s destiny (even without the help of divine intervention). If one is not born with the right line of destiny on one’s palm, one corrects it and creates it! But please don’t try this yourself!

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