How the Bhagavad Gita Sets Us Free

We tend to view fate and free will as diametric opposites. The ancient text made a different argument long ago.

Vintage Hindu God Krishan Gita Birth Litho Print Original Vasudeo Pandya 1932 Bhagavad Gita free will
A 1932 painting depicting Krishna and Arjuna (Wikimedia Commons)

Kiran Sampath


May 17, 2024


9 min

Prince Arjuna faces an existential crisis: two sides of his family, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, are killing each other, and he doesn’t know if he should join the fight. Though parts of his dilemma may be unrelatable — the sound of hooves, bows and arrows, his chariot driver Krishna doubling as a spiritual guide — others aren’t, such as the paralysis and dread that comes with making what feels like a life-altering choice. If you replace Krishna with a friend, the differences blur. We all make decisions. Or do we?

For millennia, philosophers ranging from Epicurus to David Hume have struggled to resolve this problem. Two camps have emerged: the determinists believe that prior events — genetics, the environment, or laws of nature — drive all future events. The free willers think this is blasphemous: individuals have and do make choices. 

But impassioned debaters often forget to examine the query through the lens of the 700-verse Bhagavad Gita, one of the oldest philosophical texts in the world. Its answer might surprise you.

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