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, at 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 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? 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.