Reluctant as  I am to say- the headline was just to get you to read this( Sorry !) . I am afraid thousands of brilliant minds over the centuries also have not been able to solve this mystery and hence am tempted to conclude that this question has no answer .

However , as a student of astrology as well as an observer of the world around me I would like to share some thoughts .The question came up in numerous discussions with friends and colleagues as to how are the horoscopes able to predict our lives so well if we have free will and are the makers of our destiny .  First up, true to my training as an economist and statistician let me state my null hypothesis ( or basic premise which I will try to build on , in this piece ) – We have less free will than we think we do . Free will isn’t just the freedom to decide who we vote for but the choice of how shape our life and our destiny .

The tilt of the opinion has shifted on this topic through the centuries . In the ancient times the belief was that everything is pre destined and you must suffer the fruits of your karma – and this philosophy was applied to ridiculous lengths . For instance , if you were to fall ill in the ancient times (in some societies  it was believed that )– that was fruit of your evil karma and going to the doctor to ameliorate your agony was seen as running away from it and hence you were supposed to  quietly sit and suffer through any agony. Doctors would have had no livelihood at all if the Charak Samhita had not challenged such notions.

In today’s day and age however , the younger generation believes that they have so much free will that they can change pretty much anything by just deciding to change it .

But here is the interesting question – suppose we want to change something and make the effort to change it and succeed as well – does it mean that the change happened because of  our free will  OR rather because the change was pre destined and hence we acted in the way we did .

A friend of mine who was very keen to get married but was struggling to find a match was advised by an astrologer that he should be feeding black crows on Saturday to placate Saturn and remove the obstacles to his marriage . Soon the friend was seeing and having more lunch dates with ravens than he ever managed with women. Somehow, his mother managed to find a suitable match and he was over the moon and dancing on rooftops because the fiancée was really really  beautiful  . Now, was his problem solved because he was feeding the crows or was it destined to get solved anyway ( and irrespective of whether he dated ravens or girls).

 Incidentally , very soon after marriage this friend was heartbroken when he realized the wife is still involved with her previous boyfriend . When he asked the aforementioned astrologer why he had to suffer this fate – the astrologer rebuked him – “”I had asked you to feed only black crows – you must have fed some grey ones too and Rahu ruined your marriage ! My friend forgot to ask – whether this (feeding grey crows and its consequences  )was pre fated as well.

I think we can agree that our parents and genes for instance are a given ( and therefore pre fated in life )and not a matter of choice but we may have “limited” free will in areas such as health and physiology .  Why do I say limited ? For example , if you are born in a  Punjabi family where ghee laden paranthas every morning with a tall glass of lassi are an institution then you will have find yourself inexorably pushed towards diabetes unless you find your feet and push yourself hard  to exercise and also find a way to limit your calories .

When it comes to cultivating free will –  do note it  is your free will – not actions driven by conditioning that you are doing ( eg gobbling paranthas) . This free will is what will drive concentrated action and thereby change . We can cultivate this only through mindfully choosing our actions , responses and applying the complete force of our willpower and sankalpa on the chosen priorities .

Consider now how we raise our kids – Much before they start solid foods they are already ingesting a very stimulating media diet . They are playing with an I-pad before the first birthday and eating their meals while watching the numerous kids channels on TV. We don’t train them to visualize or concentrate  or sit quietly and meditate . Instead the TV or the ipad or the mobile becomes their pathway to binge watch- dulling their imagination and thinking both . Obviously the children will find it tough to really focus on their lessons in class because they are a lot less exciting than the content they are used to . Silence and mindfulness and solitude will be difficult to contemplate for their over stimulated brains.

As children grow , they are fed on the  sugar laden packaged foods and aerated drinks and face an enormous amount of peer and social pressure for conformity. Even if  the parents had somehow kept kids away from the media storm earlier by living  under a rock in this connected world and brought them up on a healthy diet at home – now surrounded by a  social media storm , friends and society around them gorging up unhealthy content and food- the children feel a strong pressure to conform and drift in the same direction .

As Swami ji said in one of the discourses – its very difficult to guide the children on the spiritual path given the various challenges today . And suggested a few potent ways to guide them.

These kids will then be adults who will think they are operating with free will but what is  really guiding them is the invisible hand of social conditioning and pressure  with very limited role of individual thought and mindful action. Our socio- economic ,  politico- environmental heritage is what drives our decisions while keeping us in an illusion that we are operating with free will

Another inheritance ( aside from parents and genes) we have is the karmic inheritance from our previous incarnations . Now if you have been a saint in the last 5 births , the saintly tendencies will be deeply ingrained in you under the hood . This may be called vritti or samskaras (in some streams of buddhist thought). These are internal and very subtle influences but are a part of your very emodiment .  However ,these interests will need to compete with your genes and the influence of culture .

You may be able to take mindful action to change your location and social setting to get away from the social-cultural heritage , get away from influence of ancestors /parents but you cannot flee from the karmic heritage unless a Guru sets you free – by putting you on the right path .And there too , while the Guru may show the torch- you need to have the free will to walk the path.

Which is why , while most of us think we are acting out of our own free wills , very few of us are – most of us have a deep programming influence from the various sources of conditioning . And therefore the horoscope and charts can predict our actions and outcomes with remarkable accuracy.

Is this really a very disheartening conclusion ? I would disagree- for its only post acceptance of a problem  that we can make any meaningful change . If we contemplate deeply , we would know our deep rooted tendencies and can look at transforming them to where we really want to go rather than where life’s current is currently  taking us .

I would be delving a little deeper in  the astrological terms  sanchita karma, prarabhda karma  , dridha and adridha karma ,upayas and other thoughts in the next post .  Jai Shri Hari !

PS: Note- I hope you read it with an open mind . A lot of us go through life with a narrow mindset like a kupa manduka ( kuen ka mendhak, frog in the well ) holding on to our own opinion as a the only truth . For a frog sitting in the depths of the well- the sky is a small circle – until he manages to climb the slick walls of the well or hitch a free ride up in someone’s bucket and the vast panopaly of the celestial wonders is revealed  to him and he realises how narrow and incorrect his earlier perspective was .  I have been that frog too 🙂

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