A common argument is, one should have faith in God, He will do the needful, things will happen only when they are destined, and so on and so forth. Does that imply everything is predestined, preordained? And if it is so, what is the need to do any karma? What is the truth: destiny or free will? There is no doubt, from where I see it, that destiny plays an important role. Before I dig deeper, let me narrate a story to you:

Once upon a time, a man, in search of livelihood, on his way to another town had to pass through a jungle. It so happened that he lost his way in the woods. Roaming helplessly, he came across an old banyan tree, its roots hung low and it canopied a wide area. He saw a fox sitting under the tree. At first, he got scared, thereafter, relieved, for, he noticed that it was lame, an old fox, mostly disabled, unable to hunt.

He sat there in a shady corner. What he witnessed a while later amazed him, he observed birds who sat on the tree occasionally dropped pieces of meat, and the fox fed on them. That was how it survived. It dawned on the man that there was no need for him to run around, that, he too, like the fox, could just take up a corner somewhere, God would provide for him too.

Subsequently, he managed to navigate his way out of the forest and parked himself, under a tree, outside the first village he came across. He vowed to surrender to God and only live off what was offered to him. Only that, days went by and no one offered him anything. He was starving, on the verge of collapsing. His faith shook, just short of shattering, and he wondered how could God be partial, how come he provided for the fox and not him.

While he was engrossed in his own world, he saw a sannyasin, mystic, pass by. In his frail condition, he called out for the mystic, narrated his story, his predicament, and put him the question that bothered him. The monk chuckled, and said, “Who told you to take on the role of the fox? Are you lame? Disabled? You should be the bird, working for yourself as well as providing for those who depend on you.”

The anecdote has two morals, one, we cannot pick and choose roles as per our own convenience, we have to be pragmatic, realistic, honest with ourselves, and two, surrendering to God or having faith in Him does not mean we cease to make an effort.
So, what role does destiny play? Let me offer you two verses from the ultimate scripture on karma yoga:

Pañcaitāni mahābāhō kāraṇāni nibōdha mē
Sāṅkhyē krtāntē prōktāni sid’dhayē sarvakarmaṇām
Adhiṣṭhānaṁ tathā kartā karaṇaṁ ca prthagvidham
Vividhāśca prthakcēṣṭā daivaṁ caivātra pañcamam (Bhagavad Gita, 18.13, 14)

Hence: There are five constituents that comprise an action. The execution of a karma is not solely dependent on any one factor. Support (or approach or motive or influence or environment), doer, resources, effort, and destiny are the five elements.

Interestingly, in the aforesaid verses, destiny is labeled as daivam, divine grace, not bhagya, plain fate. The one who puts in a sincere effort, becomes a worthy recipient of grace. Non attainment of your goals is not always a failure, giving up, may well be.

Destiny plays an important role, it is no more than twenty percent though. If you operate in the right environment, conducive to your karma, tap into the resources required to execute your plan, stay persistent, your plans will materialize before long. No one has won lotto without being in possession of a ticket first, whether it was bought or gifted, regardless. This world, the whole universe operates on an interdependent phenomenon, it is interlinked, every action you perform can have far-reaching implications, almost like the butterfly effect where a small change, a slight modification, in a complex system can completely alter the final outcome.

If you are serious about attaining your goal(s), you have to operate in the right environment; you cannot practice swimming in a desert. When you engage in a relentless pursuit, in a supporting environment, your chances of gaining access to the right resources increase automatically. A little is left thereafter.

A wonderful Italian devotee, an engineer by profession, asked me once, “Why is it that spirituality flourished in India? How come it is home to some of the greatest spiritual leaders in the world?”

To answer, I asked her a question in return, “Why is it that start-ups prosper in Silicon Valley? How come it is home to some of the finest tech companies in the world?”

When you make an explicit attempt to address the four elements above, the fifth one, destiny, makes way for you. Your chances of being at the right place at the right time go up significantly.

What about those who seem to get it easy, who seem to be an exception to the guidelines above? Is their life not predestined? Well, whether you want to try your luck in the tiny subset of exceptions, hoping good things will just happen, or you wish to act in the large playground of norms, working towards attracting the desirable, that is your personal choice; be sensible.

To fellow Indians, at home and abroad, I wish you a Happy Independence day.

Vande Mataram, all glories, my obeisances to the motherland.
Swami


Editorial Note

Are you someone who believes everything is predestined? That, try as we may, we don’t have control over the events in our lives?

Ramana Maharishi, an Indian saint, was famous for his main means of instruction – silence.

Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, try as you may. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to prevent it. This is certain. The best course, therefore, is to remain silent.

If this is true, what role do any of us have to play in our own lives? Is life predestined entirely?

Yes. Everything is predetermined.

So, what is in our control then? The only thing truly in our control is our action, our conduct.

No matter how life plays out, we have the choice of how we want to act at any given moment. And perhaps this is where free will comes into play?

There is neither creation nor destruction, neither destiny nor free will, neither path nor achievement. This is the final truth.

Ramana Maharishi used words sparingly. And when the great master spoke, it would be to state resounding truths that shattered all illusion.

At the end, destiny or free will, the only truth is that we are part of the Whole. And whatever is meant to happen will happen.

We can only choose our conduct.

Divine Will prevails at all times and under all circumstances. Individuals cannot act of their own accord. Recognize the force of the Divine will and keep quiet.

 

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Still, here are some FAQs that may shed more insight on destiny and freewill for the curious mind.

1. Is life predestined?

Destiny can be changed

Our future is not set in stone, not everything is predestined. You can rewrite your script and work towards any desirable outcome, provided you understand that the goal you aim for may not be the outcome you actually seek at all.

Or that the result you desire may not give you the fulfilment you anticipate. A lot can change, and often changes, from the moment we begin our journey to the time we reach our destination.

If you are one who believes that everything is predestined and are now confused, The Four Truths of Life may provide some clarity.

2. Do human beings have free will or is life predestined?

Destiny can be changed. It starts with a firm belief that you can change your future by your own hard work.

In my view, the question of destiny or free will is a philosophical problem and has little to do with our real lives.

This question has no meaning to begin with. Just because we can string together some words and put an interrogative mark at the end does not mean we have formed a valid question. For one thing, we can neither prove nor disprove either destiny or free will. When you take one as the sole truth, you’ll find plenty of contradictory evidence.

With destiny, we are assuming that something that is bound to happen will happen no matter what. And the concept of free will states that our life happens to us at our discretion, that we make free choices uninfluenced by anything called karma, destiny or whatever.

The truth is somewhere in between. Perhaps a short story on destiny or free will could settle this eternal debate.

3. Assuming free will exists, how do I work my way towards success?

So, you are not one who believes that everything is predestined. You are willing to work hard and attain success.

The first thing to shift then is your mindset. If you say, I can’t do it, you are right already. But, if you ask, how can I do it, at least your mind will shift from denial to a thinking mode. And, all is possible when the human mind begins to pursue a line of thought.

In some way, people who succeed at anything in life are not usually sane. I say this appreciatively. There are four insanities they live and breathe. I call it the EPIC model.

  • Insanely Enthusiastic
  • Insanely Persistent
  • Insanely Independent
  • Insanely Clear

These Four Traits of Successful People will get you anywhere you want to go.

4. What is life really all about?

Let’s forget destiny and free will for a moment. Is life predestined? We won’t answer that. Instead, let’s talk about what life really is.

Life is anything but one chunk. Indeed, it is made up of a series of moments and experiences.

What if I told you that in one life, we actually live many lives? And that it’s up to us to make the most of every life we live in one lifetime. Every decade we live through turns us into a different person. Each decade is a new life of sorts.

  • 0-10
  • 11-20
  • 21-30
  • 31-40
  • 41-50
  • 51-60
  • 61-70
  • 70-80 & onwards

Read all about it in One Life Many Lives.

5. What role does karma play in destiny and free will?

Destiny is not something that can be proven. The truth is, anything can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter how good your karma is or how sound your destiny. One must always work in life believing in karma. Destiny can only play a role if you become a worthy recipient.

The video below talks further about how transforming our life is in our hands.

Timeline:

  • 0:37: Destiny cannot be proved
  • 2:03: The king who couldn’t thwart death
  • 3:40: Believe in karma
  • 11:26: Strengthen yourself to such a degree that the universe bows down before you