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|2-Fate and Free Will|
2-The Riddle of Fate and Free Will
This is a dialog between His Holiness Shri Chandrashekhara Bharati Mahaswami and a Disciple : [His Holiness was the Sringeri Mathaadhipati 1912-1954.]
HH : I hope you are pursuing your studies in the Vedaant as usual?
D : It is the problem of the eternal conflict between fate and free-will.
What are their respective provinces and how can the conflict be avoided?
HH : Your difficulty arises in the very statement of the problem.
HH : A conflict arises only if there are two things. There can be no conflict
if there is only one thing.
HH : That is where you are wrong again.
HH : As a follower of our Sanaatan Dharm, you must know that fate is nothing
extraneous to yourself, but only the sum total of the results of your
past actions. As God is but the dispenser of the fruits of actions,
fate, representing those fruits, is not his creation but only yours.
Free-will is what you exercise when you act now.
HH : Have it this way. Fate is past Karm; free-will is present Karm. Both
are really one, that is Karm, though they may differ in the matter
of time. There can be no conflict when they are really one.
HH : I do not want you to overlook it, but only to study it more deeply. The present is before you and, by the exercise of free-will, you can attempt to shape it. The past is past and is therefore beyond your vision and is rightly called A-Drisht, the unseen. You cannot reasonably attempt to find out the relative strength of two things unless both of them are before you. But, by our very definition, free-will, the present Karm, alone is before you and fate, the past Karm, is invisible.
Even if you see two wrestlers right in front of you, you cannot decide about their relative strength. For, one may have weight, the other agility; one muscles and the other tenacity; one the benefit of practice and the other coolness of judgment and so on. We can go on building arguments on arguments to conclude that a particular wrestler will be the winner. But the experience shows that each of these qualifications may fail at any time or may prove to be a disqualification. The only practical method of determining their relative strength will be to make them wrestle.
While this is so, how do you expect to find by means of arguments a solution to the problem of the relative value of fate and free-will when the former by its very nature is unseen!
D : Is there no way then of solving this problem?
D : That is, before the conflict begins, the problem is incapable of solution;
and, after the conflict ends, it is no longer necessary to find a solution.
HH : Fate, as I told you, is the resultant of the past exercise of your
free-will. By exercising your free-will in the past, you brought on
the resultant fate. By exercising your free-will in the present, I
want you to wipe out your past record if it hurts you, or to add to
it if you find it enjoyable. I any case. whether for acquiring more
happiness or for reducing misery. you have to exercise your free-will
in the present.
HH : You are again ignoring our definition of fate. It is not an extraneous
and a new thing which steps in to nullify your free-will. On the other
hand, it is already in yourself.
Similarly, the divine spark in us is ever bright with hope and makes it possible for us to confidently exercise our free-will. It is not for us to belittle the significance of these two boons -- forgetfulness of the past and hope for the future.
D : Our ignorance of the past may be useful in not deterring the exercise
of the free-will, and hope may stimulate that exercise. All the same,
it cannot be denied that fate very often does present a formidable
obstacle in the way of such exercise.
If we do not succeed at the very first attempt, we can easily deduce that in the past we have exercised our free-will just in the opposite direction, that the resultant of that past activity has first to be eliminated and that our present effort must be proportionate to that past activity. Thus, the obstacle which fate seems to offer is just the gauge by which we have to guide our present activities.
D : The obstacle is seen only after the exercise of our free-will; how can
that help us to guide our activities at the start?
If you do not succeed even after this renewed effort, there can be absolutely no justification for despair, for fate being but a creature of your free-will can never be stronger than your free-will. Your failure only means that your present exercise of free-will is not sufficient to counteract the result of the past exercise of it. In other words, there is no question of a relative proportion between fate and free-will as distinct factors in life. The relative proportion is only as between the intensity of our past action and the intensity of our present action.
D : But even so, the relative intensity can be realized only at the end of
our present effort in a particular direction.
D : How can I? The number and the intensity of the pulls will depend upon
the length which has gone into the wood.
HH : The number and intensity of the pulls needed to take out the nail depend
therefore upon the number and intensity of the strokes which drove it in.
Function of Shaastra:
D : The success or failure of an effort can be known definitely only at the end.
How are we then to know beforehand whether with our present capacity we may
or may not exert ourselves to attain a particular object, and whether it
is the right kind of exertion for the attainment of that object?
D : I quite realize this. But often it so happens that I am not really master of myself. I know, for instance, quite well that a particular act is wrong; at the same time, I feel impelled to do it. Similarly, I know that another act is right; at the same time, however, I feel powerless to do it. It seems that there is some power which is able to control or defy my free-will. So long as that power is potent, how can I be called the master of my own destiny? What is that power but fate?
HH : You are evidently confusing together two distinct things. Fate is a thing quite different from the other one which you call a power. Suppose you handle an instrument for the first time. You will do it very clumsily and with great effort. The next time, however, you use it, you will do so less clumsily and with less effort. With repeated uses, you will have learnt to use it easily and without any effort. That is, the facility and ease with which you use a particular thing increase with the number of times you use it.
The first time a man steals, he does so with great effort and much fear; the next time both his effort and fear are much less. As opportunities increase, stealing will become a normal habit with him and will require no effort at all. This habit will generate in him a tendency to steal even when there is no necessity to steal. It is this tendency which goes by the name Vaasanaa. The power which makes you act as if against your will is only the Vaasanaa which itself is of your own making. This is not fate. The punishment or reward, in the shape of pain or pleasure, which is the inevitable consequence of an act, good or bad, is alone the province of fate or destiny. The Vaasanaa which the doing of an act leaves behind in the mind in the shape of a taste, a greater facility or a greater tendency for doing the same act once again, is quite a different thing. It may be that the punishment or the reward of the past act is, in ordinary circumstances, unavoidable, if there is no counter-effort; but the Vaasanaa can be easily handled if only we exercise our free-will correctly.
D : But the number of Vaasanaa or tendencies that rule our hearts are endless.
How can we possibly control them?
When you know that a particular Vaasanaa is rising up in your mind, you cannot possibly say that you are at its mercy. You have your wits about you and the responsibility of deciding whether you will encourage it or not is entirely yours. The Shaastras enunciate in detail what Vaasanaa are good and have to be encouraged and what Vaasanaa are bad and have to be overcome. When, by dint of practice, you have made all your Vaasanaa good and practically eliminated the charge of any bad Vaasanaa leading you astray, the Shaastra take upon themselves the function of teaching you how to free your free-will even from the need of being led by good Vaasanaa.
You will gradually be led on to a stage when your free-will be entirely free from any sort of coloring due to any Vaasanaa. At that stage, your mind will be pure as crystal and all motive for particular action will cease to be. Freedom from the results of particular actions is an inevitable consequence. Both fate and Vaasanaa disappear. There is freedom for ever more and that freedom is called Moksh.
Created by Sushma Gupta on 5/9/09
Updated on 10/01/13