Destiny and Free Will

Destiny & Free Will — Are we mere puppets in the God’s hands?


The article reviews and reasons why no philosophical concept in the history of mankind has received as much acceptability as the concept of saMsaara – the continuous cycles of birth and death, puurva karma – deeds of past life and praarabdha – the unconquerable destiny. This theory that was proposed in the Upanished in the millennium BC remains uncontested and sans an alternate hypothesis till date in the realms of philosophy.

Different schools of philosophical thoughts of Hindus though attack each other bitterly and without inhibitions on various concepts seem to vote unanimously in favour of saMsaara – the “cycles of birth and death” …… and more

A closer look at any life whether lived in mediocrity or greatness shows that the chain of events are nothing but pure accidents. In fact it appears that what we humans term as success is, more often than not, achieved by a single ability called Serendipity – a faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident. An extreme stubborn human desire to seek method in the seeming madness in the ways of the God has always met with mischievous determination on part of the God to be capricious, making all models of forecasting from Vedic astrology to the ultra-modern techniques of weather forecasting inaccurate. The moment we start feeling comfortable about these models the God seem to tap on our shoulders and say: “Hey! look at this”.
Then the “Indonesian Tsunami” happens making us wonder whether all that we spoke about and believed till date was junk?
Your secret astrologer predicts “unexpected gain”; you win a lottery and then, you lose it all in the stocks before the champagne is chilled, making you wonder whether someone up there played the whole game to humble the astrologer and you had nothing to do with the coming or the going of that so called good fortune! Such things, in different magnitudes, happen more often than one can imagine sending people in all strata of society ducking for cover, clutching a new teddy–bear (a better astrologer perhaps!) in search of a feeling of security that does not exist on this planet.
"titixasva bhaarata – O! Descendant of Bharata learn to endure this – Lord Krishna counsels in Bhagvad Gita (2.14).
This, perhaps, is the reason that no philosophical concept in the history of mankind has received as much acceptability as the concept of saMsaara – the continuous cycles of birth and death, puurva karma – deeds of past life and praarabdha – the unconquerable destiny. This theory that was proposed in the Upanished in the millennium BC remains uncontested and sans an alternate hypothesis till date in the realms of philosophy. Different schools of philosophical thoughts of Hindus though attack each other bitterly and without inhibitions on various concepts seem to vote unanimously in favour of saMsaara – the “cycles of birth and death”. At the same time, unfortunately, no concept in the intellectual domain has been as irresponsibly handled as the concept of saMsara. Upanisheda philosophers cannot exonerate themselves of this charge no matter what respect their greatness may command. Since the time this philosophical doctrine was proposed its trivialized versions and ill-understood concepts have percolated down in the society in form of superstitions, which even the superhuman efforts of Lord Krishna in Bhagvad Gita was unable to dispel. The bootleggers amongst the philosophers have imaginatively used these ill-understood concepts to swindle the masses and the disease continues to afflict the body of society even to date.

Are we mere puppets in the hands of the God?

NO. That is a gross trivialization of the concept proposed in the Upanisheda philosophy. The concept does not say this. On the contrary it says the opposite. It says that etiological analysis (science of scribing causes to happening or law of causation) is not possible. In other words, the same action performed by two different individuals has never been found to produce the same result. For example, I cannot play tennis like Boris Becker, that’s simply not possible. Even if I play as well or better there is no guarantee that I shall achieve the same fame as Boris Becker. I may make it better, worse or just fade into oblivion. Who knows? The concept underscores the importance of free will since without free will there cannot be karma today or there could not have been any ‘karma’ in the past. As we shall see below, the concept of saMsaara attempts to explain why there can be many results of the same human action but it candidly confesses to complete intellectual bankruptcy when it comes to contemplating result of a particular human action. Thus we have the famous verse of Bhagvad Gita “ To action alone thou hast the right and not to the fruits; let the fruits of action be not your objective, but, let there be no attachment to the inaction”

Philosophical Evolution and need of the concept: Rigveda:

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:Its loveliness increases; it will neverPass into nothingness; but still will keepA bower quiet for us, and a sleepFull of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing. That was John Keats in Endymion. The imagination that is unadulterated by maturity, imagination that is untouched by the ferment of adolescence – a pure and healthy imagination of a child. This is the Rigvedian way. In Rigveda there is celebration of life, there is God who is sapient minded benefactor of humans who is pleased by sacrifices (kavikratu, purohitam hotaaram). He is friendly loving and lovable. In Rigveda we meet him often embellished in hundreds of beautiful adjectives that the language as rich as Sanskrit can offer. There is no lamentation of death. The death to Rigvedic Rishis is just an inevitable aspect of life. After death there is the Lord Yama (the Hindu God of death) and his wife Yami who offer you painstakingly appointed retirement rooms to rest in comfort and security away from the vagaries and fluctuations! Hidden amongst the hundreds of thousands of verses composed over a millennium (or more) and built into melodious lyrical meters called anuSTup, gaayatri and triSkuT is a subtle philosophy of life which needs to be understood by using the analytical tools of purvaa and/or uttara miimaaMsaa. In miimaaMsaa there is neither the time nor the fascination for beauty. It’s a relentless enquiry into the causes much like the forensic surgeon performing post-mortem autopsy on Lady Cleopatra.

Philosophy of Upanishads
(Addressing the all powerful)

Behold with sleepless eyes! Regard this EarthMade multitudinous by thy slaves, whom thouRequitest for knee-worship, prayer, and praise,And toil, the hecatombs of broken hearts,With fear and self-contempt and barren hope.

This is Percy B Shelley in his magnum opus Prometheus Unbound [3] This is the imagination of a man who is tanned, burnt, dusty sweaty and tired wading through the desert called life – this is more akin to the philosophers of Upanisheds. Moving from Rigveda to Upanisheda is like waking up from a sleep in the midst of beautiful dream. If the God is a benefactor, just, fair and master of all and we, the human are his children then how in this world of such a God is so much of inequality around? Why some start business and prosper, others try the same and lose even what they have? Why we see best amongst men (puruSottam) being shunned by the goddess of fortune who more often than not seem to bless the undeserving (nara-adham)? Why even the justice that is clear to mediocre mind of humans is lost on the sapient minded God? The list of questions confronting the Upanisheda philosophers was long and without answers. The trivial solution that, there is no justice in the world was not satisfactory. The answer to the question finally came from the Rigveda. Subtle references to aatma (soul), cycle of: night following the day followed by the day again, and the ill-developed concept karma were developed to form a theory of praarabdha- the inevitable and unconquerable destiny The uniqueness of everybody’s destiny came from the puurva karma (the deeds in the past life) and the cycles of life and death (saMsaara) explained why each must suffer/relish that which is predetermined and strive so that balance is shifted towards more pleasure and less pain till finally there is nothing more to suffer and no need to re-manifest. This ultimate state was called the “moksha” termed as the ultimate objective (param puruSaartha) of every manifested being. Now the seemingly chaotic world of the God started looking orderly, more intelligible and manageable. The concept immediately received acceptability amongst all the philosophers and various philosophies were developed to assist man in his path to achieve the Moksha. Sage Kapil’s Sankhya Shastra sought to understand the nature of the soul and its relationship with nature the prakR^iti and followed a rigorous logical approach in conducting enquiry into the human sorrow. Sage Kapila went as far as to state that the concept of cycles is good enough to understand all human matters and existence of God need not be postulated. It is like a lame man with assistance of a blind man reaching a desired destination by accident – where is the place for God here? , he asked and earned a title of niriishvarvaadi. Yoga (later compiled by Patanjali in his yoga-suutra), on the other hand, accepted existence of God and sought to free human mind from the adulteration of the information collected through sense organs. The Yoga sought to use the normally un-used features of brain’s software. The ultimate objective of Yoga is to completely get rid of the “clinging to life” which, according to Patanjali, stemmed out of avidya or lack of knowledge and thereby free the soul from manifesting repeatedly. Mahrishi Vyasa in Bhagvad Gita (which forms a part of Mahabharata) brought these two systems of thought together and proposed a revolutionary third system of thought called Bhakti-marga (the path or worship) for the common man as an easiest method to achieve Moksha without being bogged down by the rigours of logic that is involved in the study of the Sankhya doctrines or the tough discipline of mind and body that the Yoga demands. Therefore finally Bhagvad Gita succeeded, to great degree, in giving the final shape and finishing touches to the philosophy and Mahrishi Vyasa succeeded by giving illustrations of human behaviour in the eighteen volumes of his unrivalled literary work now known as the Mahabharata (originally believed to be titled by Sage Vyasa as “Jaya-kavya) in convincing the masses about the doctrines listed in the eighteen chapters of Bhagvad Gita. The concept of destiny, karma, saMsaara was thus established firmly after the composition of the Mahabharata and is the most widely believed and accepted

Peeping into future – Vedic Astrology etc

Vedic Astrology is one of those bodies of knowledge that has had its equal number of accolades and brickbats in the history of civilisation. It has been a complex phenomenon. There are staunch believers, vehement non-believers and secret believers amongst the non-believers. There is nothing wrong with Vedic astrology but the same cannot be said about the seekers of questions and the astrologers. The dilemma was well settled by Kautilya in Arthashaastra. On one hand Kautilya advises Chandragupta to select the head priest of the palace on the basis of his ability to make accurate horoscope charts and interpret them and on the other hand he advises him to ban forecasting future as a means of livelihood and imposes punishment of confiscation of total assets of any individual caught charging fees for astrological prediction.


Vedic astrology is a relentless quest in search of information that is left behind by nature about the future of an individual on the basis of his deeds of past and present life. In that manner an astrologer can say a lot about you that can assist and counsel you as you wade through the tough process of uncertain life. However most of us are not interested in that which can really assist us. What we seek to know, as Osho Rajneesh puts it, is: whether I shall slip on the banana peel tomorrow and fracture my ankle? No Vedic astrologer, however accomplished he is in his art, can answer that. However, neither we want to accept that nor the astrologer who soon begins to feel like the God himself. The problem is with you and the astrologer its not with astrology. The same is true with various related sciences like palmistry, numerology, tarot reading and Tantra.

© Surin Usgaonkar

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