Destiny is a word which finds repeated place in our common parlance. But it is an extremely abstruse concept, when it comes to a question of discussing it and trying to make one understand what exactly it denotes in our life, experiences and actions. The reasons are first psychological, intellectual next and philosophical last.
The concept of Destiny is seldom explained in a proper background, keeping in view the purposes for which it is evolved, presented and accepted. Those who generally explain the concept will cite some odd experiences of their or others’ lives and then suddenly ask for believing and accepting the role of Destiny in all implicitness. Whenever one tries to explain the role of Destiny claiming a better insight, the idea becomes all the more distorted and no proper assessment is reached at. I do not know whether I shall be able to give any useful information on the idea and place of Destiny, although we have assembled here to gain a better understanding of what it means to every living human in the context of his or her life in the world. Nevertheless let me try.
I can think of Destiny and its place in three distinct levels. It is first a psychological prop to practically all kinds and sections of people. Men, may be women even more, have their life and influences first of all in the emotional and sentimental plane. Although many speak of reason, determination, decisiveness and the like, they have their first roots in the ground of emotions. This fact cannot be denied at any time. The basic emotional urges are desire, dislikes and fear. All the other sentiments and urges are further derivations of these three. While acting, while thinking, while talking and making selections and choices, you can find the gross or subtle influences of emotions in every one. This is so because of the laws of nature.
The emotions and the emotional needs will therefore have to be treated and catered to. To ignore the emotional facet of our life or to struggle to deny or suppress them will be to damage the psychological health of our life in the world. Naturally what every one needs at all times is to provide for the emotional needs in his own manner and then find his way to the level of reason, thoughts of propriety, and trying to be as discriminating as possible in all matters. Once you understand this principle, then I must say that the thought of Destiny goes a long way in keeping any one’s mind in a state of hope, confidence. Only when you have a mind patient, stable and hopeful, the efforts you make will tend to be creative and effective.
By Destiny, we mean the clearly laid out law or course which governs broadly one’s life and progress in the world, ever since he was born. It appears that everything one desires for or aspires to achieve in his lifetime cannot be realized in full. At the same time, while making his efforts at progress and achievement, often or rarely one may find favours and fortunes coming to his lot, even when he does not normally expect their grace. It is then a question of his reason or forethought failing to conceive of whatever is likely to befall his lot. In short, in place and out of place, man finds himself in the midst of favours as well as disfavours circumscribing his course of life. What will he think or say then? While the events he expects to meet come to be, while they fail to come in, then again if fortunes and blessings which he finds not likely to take place in the scheme of his thoughts do come to meet him, what is the possible line of thought to explain away the fate he is put to? We begin to say that it is all due to the play of Destiny, in whose hands the small becomes the great, the great becomes the small; the skilful turns a failure and the unskilled suddenly becomes successful, and what not.
All this just means that the facts of our life in the world do bring in an array of contradictions, when we try to link them up with our habitual cause and effect thoughts and principles. These contradictions, one kind or another of which invariably finds its place in every one’s life in the world, compel man and woman to take resort to the queer thing called Destiny, which has no shape, features or character, static or definite. The indefiniteness of man’s life in the world is thus ascribed to the indefiniteness of Destiny. It is perhaps like shifting the emphasis from one’s face, beautiful or ugly, to the reflection caused by the mirror seen in front. By saying this I do not mean any derision or denial of the concept.
I can think of Destiny, the thought on it, as useful to us only if it is able to restrict the undue haste and other unhealthy emotions of our mind, thereby providing us with timely confidence and strength to take up and pursue our objectives from time to time. Once you begin to think in these lines, then Destiny transcends the merely emotional plane to become a proper intellectual evolute having its authentic, irrefutable place in the lives of one and all. How?
You are living in the world, hosted by the planet earth. Our body is the visible connection for us with the earth and the world. The birth and growth of this body, with the various organs and parts it consists of, are strictly governed by the set laws of nature. But for the consistent laws of nature, the earth itself would not have been revolving as it does now and causing for us the climate, the weather, the day and night, the seasons of the year and the like, which enable us to live as we do. The body governed by these laws of nature do impose a great measure of restriction and discipline in the matter of maintaining and using it for our purposes. For instance, we have to breathe properly, eat well, exercise the body adequately, and like these do a number of other items too. Well, this is the bodily truth, the physical fact about our personality.
By the time our body has grown to a sizeable form and strength, the mind too gets evolved, and with that the mental facet of our life becomes strong in its expression. On the mental plane also, as in the physical, Nature operates its laws. And the entire mental welfare of ours has thus to be ensured remaining within these laws. The laws governing the mind are called psychological, or emotional. They are even more important, especially in some stages, than the bodily laws. The mental plane constantly throws us to emotional complexity born of what are popularly called dvandva, pairs of opposites. We call the pairs of opposites so because they always remain as pairs, one of the pair opposed to the other, both together constituting the complexity of the mind every time.
The law about the pairs of opposites compels every emotional development to be opposed by its opposite. Thus confidence is always subject to diffidence, hopefulness is threatened by hopelessness, fearlessness by fearfulness and so on. This is the law of human mind, its course. Being subject to it, what is every one to do, when his confidence declines or stands threatened? When we foster a wish or ambition and begin to make efforts to realize it, sooner or later comes in a doubt or fear as to whether our effort will succeed or fail, whether we will be impeded by one factor or another in the process. The doubt may be genuine, or may not be. Even when factually there is no scope for hindrance, the mind will likely think of one and get victimized by it. The mental process overpowers almost all people. It is not the fault of any one. I should say it is the fact and fate of human nature, the human mind and its working.
There are limitations for us in every front. The mind can work only being governed by the laws of the mind, as the body can in its turn by the bodily laws. What wrong or deficiency is there? As for the intelligence, that too is subject to the laws operating on it. The limitations are not made by us, they are held by Nature and pronounced upon us. We are to recognize and make ample provision in our own mind to reconcile with them and their consequences. If you do so, you will not have any occasion to grieve over any instance, either on account of your own failure or the disfavour arising from any quarter.
Knowing that we are limited in our ways and the limitation is more to be accepted than countered, the better insight will be to remain reconciled with ourselves as well as the world conditions in which we are from time to time. This broad reconciliation must help us not to lose heart, or give vent to doubts and apprehensions in and out of place. At no time should our confidence and creativity be led to danger. Let there be obstructions, thwarting currents on our path, yet ‘I shall do my best and most sincerely’. Although there is an area of freedom for us in our life, it is surely circumscribed by a variety of limitations brought about by our own body, our own mind, our intelligence, then by the others, by the world at large. A clear-cut evaluation of this nature becomes an intelligent assessment of our own place in the context of the world. That is the way to equip ourselves intellectually with the idea of fate to the extent it is necessary.
At this stage it becomes an evolute, a postulate, which helps us to mould ourselves after an ideal, after a fact, a real situation. Apart from fostering a mere faith, or making an implicit acceptance, we begin to understand the state of affairs in the world, and in its context, our own limitations. And on that basis, various limitations and hindrances which we have to meet any time in our course are recognized. Our mind makes an ample provision within itself for any development to take place any time in our life. The rigid nature of thinking and expectations gradually give place to flexibility and an unfailing sense of confidence and strength. All this never at the cost of our enthusiasm to work for the objectives we set for ourselves. Also the occasion for disappointment or frustration gets ruled out, as we grow in our understanding. As against a psychological prop, whole issue turns out to be a clear intelligent assessment and then preparing of our emotions in the new light. You will find this level of attunement is rarer than the psychological level we discussed earlier.
Now let me go to the philosophical verdict on Destiny or fate, as it is applicable to a man or woman of sound viveka (discrimination). Is there anything like an absolute Destiny governing the life of an individual? If there is, what it is or will be? The answer is never a full ‘yes’, if we think about the nature of man’s life and role of viveka in it. All that one can say about life is that it is broadly indefinite, in every way, but there is normally a course of likelihood or probability in it. The limitations we have from the body are much more than those emerging from the mind level. The area of freedom man has within the mind-sphere is almost limitless. The power of thought is supreme, if you come to know of it closely. Reaching the level of intelligence, the freedom is even more. To the same sight or provocation outside, two individuals can and in fact do react in opposite ways. The children of parents who are given to bad habits, sometimes, instinctively as well as intellectually feel that they should not follow those whom they see in front, but find their way different. It can be the other way round as well.
If you read the mythological compositions of our thinkers, they have described several instances in which the so-called fate of death of a dear one has been reversed due to timely penance, austerity and discipline. In religious traditions as also in astrological forecasts, every fateful situation predicted is immediately followed by the suggestion to overcome it, or reduce its intensity, by taking to special and steadfast austerity or devotional disciplines. What does it mean? With the help of Almighty, that is what people generally say, His Grace, or, with the help of your own mind, its power of redemption, you can get away from even the severest of dangers. The idea is always to make a forecast and then prepare the victim to face it with a sense of caution, forbearance and a special blessing from the Almighty, the Maker and Master of every one’s destiny. The story of Savitri tells us how she succeeded in redressing her sure widowhood for having got married to Satyavan, much against the prophecy of the Sage that Satyavan would die too early in life.
The only way I can explain Destiny at any time is that it is indefinite on all grounds and at all times. Rains fall on the mountain top. The water gets collected from various parts and at one time, in a certain spot on the top, the nucleus of a river is formed. That means the water collected from all around has begun to flow. The moment the flow starts on, we call the process a river in the initial stages of making. All that we can say about the river is that it will flow on and on and finally will terminate on meeting the oceans far below. Is there any definiteness about the directions and paths in which the river will flow, the distance it will cover, the bifurcations it will give rise to before the entire course is completed? There are rivers which change their directions even after several years of continuous existence!
Also it is possible for man to make dams and other structures to intercept, contain or divert the rivers. All these are as effective as the rivers themselves. With all this done, the river will surely flow on and on, until it reaches the destination. The life of the human individual is also alike. Birth marks the beginning of one’s life-flow, and the fall of the body its end. Between the two, there is no definiteness at any time as to what will happen to him, what all can be achieved, and where all will his course be led to from time to time. In spite of the indefiniteness, he certainly has his freedom, selection and choice. The path of discrimination can be adopted not only within the so-called area of Destiny, but also to moderate or even gently alter the very course of ‘Destiny’. As is the voice of Destiny, so also is that of paurusha (human intelligence and will). The Shaastras give equal importance to both. Paurusha has its own place of creativity.
If everything is dominated and guided by Destiny, where does the question of doing anything at all arise? The Shaastras on the other hand stress repeatedly the need for making timely efforts and for cultivating an ample sense of discrimination. The process should not be a kind of fight or competition. It should be a gentle and moderate application of one’s own potentials with a view to realize what best is possible in every situation.
I generally cite an example to illustrate Destiny: Imagine a cow tied to a peg with a long rope for grazing. The animal goes round and round eating from wherever she likes. After several hours she fills her stomach. There are cows that get entangled in the peg. There are some who can also get disentangled by walking the opposite course and thereby regain the full freedom which the length of rope permits. The course of Destiny and the freedom it gives to the individual are also alike.
There is nothing like a fully predetermined course of life, anything totally unalterable by nature. At the same time, there is no life which is completely free of all limitations. All persons are not equally tall. The taller man can walk generally faster. That does not mean the shorter ones will not be able to live and move about as effectively as do the taller ones. When both get into a vehicle, the difference in heights or the length of legs has no consequence either.
As for the limitations and dangers which confront us in the name of Destiny, this is what I feel: Limitation is always a counterpart of freedom. There can be nothing like an absolute freedom in any context. Each unit of existence, the more so a human individual, is born or made as an effect of a certain or a number of causes. The effect will have to depend upon its own causes, their nature and scope. That means, there is a measure of conditioning, restriction or limitation when anything is born or made. To be so is not strange at all.
Is there not a particular course (trajectory) and a limit set for the revolution of the earth, which makes its course cyclic? The situation is a sequel to the very birth of the planet, the forces of gravity belonging to it as well as the allied planets and bodies. Will you say the course of the earth is determined by fate?
Then, let us take the system of rail and road transportation. The rails and roads are made by man, the expert designers and engineers from the human society. There is nothing predetermined about them, for the whole evolution is from man himself. No God comes in the process at all. The vehicles are designed and manufactured by man, in his own factory. The rule of traffic are also evolved by him. Men are appointed by man, taught by him, and entrusted with the task of running the whole system. In spite of this all, do we not have accidents on the rail as well as road fronts? Whenever an accident takes place. an enquiry is held, and invariably reveals that the outcome has been due to a mechanical failure of the vehicle or due to the inattention or lack of caution in man in abiding by the traffic rules. Often we find spots or turns notorious for accidents, and the road experts are dealing with the situation by taking special precautionary measures to remedy the defects. What does all this indicate?
Failures, accidents, clashes, dangers and the like are an indispensable fate in the course of our life on earth, whether it is in the sphere of the mind, or of matter and energy. Like friction in obstructing and facilitating motion, like obstructions from the earth itself to the flow of water upon it, these are part of the entire process. We call many diseases incurable. Calling them so are we just remaining helpless? Research studies are done again and again, and as a result, in some cases, we evolve preventive or curative measures. Even then you will find new confrontations coming up, and the process of containing them is therefore still on and on.
If you mean by the term ‘Destiny’ the several limitations which circumscribe our freedom and efforts in the various spheres of life, or the likelihood of dangers and risks facing every one from time to time during his journey on this earth, then it makes some sense. But by Destiny is not meant just this at all. People interpret Destiny as a collection of unique consequences pronounced upon the individual much earlier than his birth in the world. These consequences had arisen from causes which existed earlier to his present life, and being so there is no question of denying them or trying to get relief from their marked display. And in that sense, I cannot approve of Destiny at all. There is no Destiny which curses people any time. There is no Destiny which will not relax its hold however much one may make an effort for the purpose. The Almighty is not one who subjects all the people to a peculiar merciless law, intended to punish them or even reward for something they did prior to their births in the world.
On the other hand, I would like to speak of the Almighty as all-mighty indeed, and merciful too. The thought of the Almighty should be such as to give you enough confidence, strength and salvation from the continuing ‘threat of Destiny’. In this way the concept of Destiny changes in its emphasis and influence. It becomes a unique source of hope, patience and forbearance
Try to make your way positively in the midst of whatever limitations and confrontations you may meet from time to time in your path. Failures or lack of favours, if there are, you may ascribe to the area of Destiny, and yet find your comfort and promise every time. Or, even when you make remarkable headway, if achievements and credits flow to you in abundant measure much beyond your own reasonable expectations, avoid getting unduly elated or proud by again bringing the thought of Destiny, who is apparently kind to you. This will be a skilful means of keeping the mind healthy and cheerful by safeguarding it against depressions as well as inflated delights. Extreme delights are in a way as bad as extreme depressions. The best is the path of moderation, the middle-path of evenness of attitude. And nothing conduces to its preservation as much as a right understanding of Destiny and aligning it with your own paurusha (assertion of human will) and viveka(discrimination)
On the philosophical front I have something more to say. But let me stop for the time being with whatever we have discussed, wishing you the best of strength and hope in whatever be the so-called indefinite Destinies of you all.
Harih Om Tat Sat.
Author: Poojya Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha