How much in life is predestined, or is life completely predestined? Does karma play a role, and what percentage of our life is a result of the choices we make? To understand this, one needs to understand the difference between destiny and free will. 

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

 

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If what happens in our lives is a mix of karma, free will, destiny, and the choices we make, then how much of it is predestined? Let us look at a few more insights, to ascertain how much of our life is predestined.

Is our life predestined by God? How much can we change it?

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 fulfillment 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 feel that your life could be more beautiful, take charge and work towards it for our actions alone steer our life. No doubt that our thoughts, words, emotions, and desires influence, but ultimately what greets us in the future is what we create with our acts in the present. The more real your action, the more positive the reaction (from nature). Read more, here.

If life appears to be predestined, then how are we responsible for our actions?

People who create opportunities approach things differently. Really, it’s that simple. Be not afraid of making mistakes because right wisdom often comes from lessons we learn from our wrong decisions. If you want to wake up to the glory of a beautiful dawn, you have to live through the darkness of night. Read more here.

If everything is predestined, what is the point of me putting in any work to succeed in life?

There are essentially four elements that lead to success. They are:

1. Knowledge: Are you well-equipped? Mentally and skill-wise? If not, what do you need to do to acquire it?

2. Approach: Do you have the right mindset and approach? Are you positive, optimistic, ready, flexible? Can you keep yourself motivated? 

3. Resources: Do you have the right tools, resources, or are you trying to drill a hole in the wall with a spoon?

4. Efforts: Are you putting your best foot forward no matter what?

There is a fifth element. You can call it grace, fate, luck, destiny, or anything else you wish. This one manifests when you do not waver. It may appear like a coincidence, a stint of luck or serendipity, but the truth is with the four elements above, you create that perfect moment of realization, of attainment. Read more here.

My spouse believes that everything is predestined, how do I make her see that life is a fine balance?

You can’t help someone see the world differently unless they are willing to change the story they believe in.

And, if you take a moment to reflect on it, you will discover that we have a story for everything that happens to us. For every single one of our feelings and actions, we tell ourselves a story. That narrative becomes an integral part of our lives; indeed, it takes over our intelligence and wisdom, reducing us to merely a character in the story. Even if that character is the protagonist, it’s still just a part of the story, whereas you could be the writer of your story. Read more here.

If a painful part of my life appears to be predestined, how do I be happy and hopeful under almost all circumstances?

The truth is that life is hard work and there’s no one singular easy way of being positive all the time. Having said that, we can learn to be mostly positive. Even those who appear naturally positive and confident learned to be that way, consciously or otherwise. Read more here – my two cents’ worth on positivity.

Why do my plans fail all the time, is it all predestined, or do we make our own destiny?

Here’s my two cents worth; five reasons why your plans don’t materialize:

1. You are all thought and no action

2. You expose your plans too early

3. You give up too soon

4. You don’t listen

5. You don’t follow your discipline

Read more on each of the five reasons here.

Does discipline have the power to change what is predestined?

When you want to get something done, you just have to get on with it. With discipline, as you start to see results, you feel more motivated, enthusiastic, and positive. No matter how negative you are, even if you are hopeless of succeeding, if you follow the discipline, you will see success. There are no two ways about it. Read more here.

If everything predestined, is it futile to work on accomplishing our dreams, or is it a result of our own decisions, choices, and mistakes?

Life may not seem fair but no one can take these three rights away from you. The right to dream, the right to choose, and the right to act. Dream with open eyes. Make mindful choices and act responsibly.

I just wish to share with you how each one of us carries within us a seed of greatness. It is up to us whether we resign to our fate or rewrite it. It all starts with a dream, and what does it take to realize a dream? I will explain this with an inspirational true-life story. Read the story here.

I have always been confused if life predestined or do we have free will?

If must you assess life in the framework of destiny or free will, here it is: what you control is free will and what you don’t, destiny. You may think that it is all predestined.

Instead of thinking of destiny or free will, begin with the assumption that you can transform your life, you can master yourself and you can write your future. Once you set your mind, give your everything to make it happen. Whatever be the outcome, the journey itself becomes every bit worthwhile. Read more here.

I believe everything is predestined, what is the purpose of this life, and how do I make life more joyful and meaningful?

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. 

If you want to feel that joy, you must begin by serving yourself, by valuing yourself, by caring for yourself. Responsibly. You are not a morsel thrown at some destiny. You are not at the mercy of your fate. You’ve as much right to life as anyone else. You can live many beautiful lives in this very lifetime. Live a new life every decade with the same childlike curiosity, ignorance, willingness, and dreams you had when you were in your diapers (alright, maybe a little older). Read more here.