Confronting the Determinism of Nature

Confusion may arise when we look at the Gita’s statements about the control that Nature exerts over our actions, and its indication that trying to suppress or coerce the nature is a useless task (like trying to straighten out the curled tail of the dog!). The Gita repeatedly emphasizes this situation in multiple different ways and contexts, the idea being that Nature operates like a machinery of the three qualities (
gunas) and that thereby all human beings are basically determined in their actions and reactions. Sri Aurobindo cites several instances: “The Gita says, indeed, ‘All existences follow their nature and what shall coercing it avail?’ which seems, if we take it by itself, a hopeless absolute assertion of the omnipotence of Nature over the soul; ‘even the man of knowledge acts according to his own nature’ And on this it founds the injunction to follow faithfully in our action the law of our nature.”

At the same time, the Gita does not recommend a helpless surrender to any impulses of desire or action which want to take hold of us. Clearly there is a distinction being made here which needs to be sorted out and understood.

The difference appears to be one that recognizes that there can be a basic and essential “nature” that provides the overarching framework for the action of an individual, while at the same time, there can be specific items “overlaid” on this basic nature that are not essential to it.

In the science of Ayurveda, a similar concept holds that there is a “prakriti” representing the “born nature” of a person, and a “vikriti” which is the actual formations that have occurred to create short term propensities and imbalances. Using this conceptual framework, we can apply it to the larger question of determinism that the Gita raises.

The Gita moderates its seemingly “absolute” statements with the exhortation to control and manage the impulsions of desire and their effects: “In the object of this or that sense liking and disliking are set in ambush; fall not into their power,l for they are the besetters of the soul in its path.” The force that needs to be controlled “…is desire and its companion wrath, children of Rajas, the second Guna, the principle of passion, and this desire is the soul’s great enemy and has to be slain. Abstention from evil-doing it declares to be the first condition for liberation, and always in enjoins self-mastsery, self-control, samyama, control of the mind, senses, all the lower being.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 21, The Determinism of Nature, pp. 207-208