What is the "Bahala-na" Mentality of Filipinos?
The Philippines is a Bahala-na republic
Back in 2008 I bought myself one of those fancy t-shirts with funny logos that are sold in the Philippines.
One of those logos said "Bahala-na Republic", a play on words for the expression "Banana Republic".
The reason why the Philippines is described on my t-shirt as a "Bahala-na Republic" is because in the Philippines there is the bahala-na or bahala-na si Bathala mindset.
Bahala means something like "taking care".
For example Filipinos use the expression bahala ka sa buhay mo meaning "you take care of yourself".
Na basically means already
Bahala-na si Bathala
Filipinos use the expressions bahala-na and bahala-na si Bathala.
Actually the very word bahala comes from Bathala.
Who is Bathala?
"The word Bathala is believed to have come from the Sanskrit Bhattara Guru or “the highest of the gods.”
In Philippine mythology, the highest-ranking god of the ancient Tagalog people is Bathala, also known as or Maykapal or Abba. Bathala is the creator of all things — the sea, the sky, the earth, and all the plants. He dwelt in the highest realm of the sky....It was after the arrival of the Spanish missionaries on Philippine shores in the 16th century that Bathala came to be associated with the Christian God, who is referred to as Panginoon (Tagalog) or Diyos (from the Spanish Dios)"- source https://www.tagaloglang.com/bathala-the-tagalog-god/
So bahala-na si Bathala means "God will take care".
Bahala-na as faith
There are events we can't control and in the Philippines there are many such events like super-typhoons for example.
I experienced a fierce bagyo or typhoon while in the Philippines, back in 2008, and I think I have an idea of what it is like to feel powerless and at a loss of what to do in the face of those cataclismic events.
Those natural calamities are definitely beyond human control.
In the face of events that are beyond human control those who have a solidly grounded faith in God or Bathala can cope with the uncertainty and maintain a measure of peace of mind, and, in fact, the biblical Bathala says something along the lines of "do not be afraid for I am with you" and Bathala also says "trust in God with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding" and the Bible mentions the "peace of God that surpasses all thoughts".
So Bahala-na si Bathala in the sense of serious faith in God's ability to intervene or, at least, provide peace of mind, is a form of protection for those who have this kind of faith.
Bahala-na as fatalism
However, more often than not, the average Filipino who displays a Bahala-na attitude doesn't quite come from a position of serious faith but, because for most Filipinos (as well as for most followers of any mainstream religion in any part of the world) the approach to spirituality is rather shallow and it is nothing more than the following of a bunch of traditions and rituals, this attitude seems to have a more fatalistic que sera sera flavor, not only toward events beyond human control like typhoons and so on but also toward the consequences of lack of planning and poor decisions.
Bahala-na and the law of cause and effect
So how do many Filipinos deal with things they can control?
Well, from my position as husband of a Filipina I observe a lot of attitudes in the Filipinos I interact with that border on indolence or, in some cases, even sheer irresponsibility.
I have met Filipinos who have fancy cars and the latest electronic gadgets but they are baon sa utang or mired in debt.
Others make kids as soon as they move to my country before they find a proper job or house.
Others share their apartment with another family to be able to buy an expensive car, eat out often, send money home to support a lot of relatives who don't always have real emergencies.
And they dismiss the possibility that they might not be able to pay back their debts, support their children and find themselves in other dire situations with a bahala-na approach.
Nature teaches us that every cause produces an effect and this law is ruthless: if we sow badly we reap bad consequences.
The famous motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said that "casualness leads to casualties".
Casualness, neglect, lack of planning produce negative consequences that could be avoided by making better decisions upstream and in some areas Filipinos tend to be rather kampante (leave things to chance).
Is Bathala always bahala?
In modern Philippine society Bathala is the Christian God and most Filipinos belong to religious groups that are supposed to base their beliefs on the Bible.
Is the biblical Bathala always bahala no matter what one does?
Well, as far as I know, the biblical Bathala gives a lot of babala (warnings) like for example:
"If someone wants to build a tower he should calculate the expense", Jesus said that in the Sermon on the Mount.
For example if a poor Filipino wants to have a lot of children he should make sure that he has the possibility to support them or "calculate the expense".
If he fails to plan ahead and shows pagwawalang-bahala (carelessness) for the babala of Bathala is Bathala going to rescue him from the ikinababahala (worries) of his hasty move?
Maybe what Bathala will say to him is bahala ka (you fix your problem), not bahala ako, because I have given you the babala and you have shown pagwawalang-bahala for my babala.....or something along these lines.
Many Filipinos neglect their health:
for example many consume a little bit too much alcohol
Alak (alcohol), says Bathala, is "pampasaya ng puso" (makes the heart rejoice) but Bathala also gives the babala that one should only be drinking "kaunting alak" (a little bit of alcohol) not kaunti container as many Filipinos like to do, otherwise alak becomes pampasaya ng mayari ng sari-sari store (pampasaya of the owner of the grocery store) and not pampasaya ng puso.
With regard to alak Bathala gives a lot of babala like "ang lasenggo at matakaw ay maghihirap" (the drunk and the glutton will go broke).
And one of the babala that Bathala gives is the equivalent of the law of cause and effect: "anuman ang inihahasik...iyon ang aanihin" (you reap what you sow).
Bathala is not always bahala
Bathala is not always bahala, rather apart from events we can't control we generally reap what we sow and.... bahala tayo not Bathala.