[Advaita-l] Karma, Prarabdha and Destiny

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Fri Apr 2 04:10:30 CDT 2010


It is a very nice explanation of the concept of Fate and Freewill, Siva
Senani ji.  Thanks for such a fine exposition of the topic.   Here is an
excerpt from the book 'Exalting Elucidations' containing a dialogue where
Sri Abhinava Vidyatirtha Swamiji of the Sringeri Peetham gives replies to


Disciple: Do we have the power to overcome fate? On the one
hand, the saastra-s say that one can conquer fate. For
instance, in the Yoga-vAsiShTha, it is said:
शुभाशुभाभ्यां मार्गाभ्यां वहन्ती वासना सरित् ।
पौरुषेणप्रयत्नेन योजनीया शुभे पथि ॥(YV, II.9.30)
(The river of tendencies flows along the auspicious and
evil paths. By means of effort and manliness, one should
direct it along the auspicious path.)
This shows that free will is more powerful than fate. On
the other hand, the ëàstra-s also say:
यदभावि न तद्भावि भावि चेन्न तदन्यथा  (Panchadashi, VII.168)
(What is not destined to happen will not happen. What is
to happen will not be otherwise.)
Will Acharyal kindly clarify the position?
AcharyaL: First of all, one should know what pràrabdha (fate) is.
This should be understood along with its mechanism of
fruition. Those actions of the previous births that are yielding
fruits now constitute the cause of this birth. It is this set of
actions that we call pràrabdha. It does not force one
along a good or evil path. Karma-s that have started yielding
fruits gradually lead one by stimulating tendencies of likes
and dislikes in the mind. Hence, Lord Krishna has said:
(BG, III.33)
(Everybody, including a knower, acts according to his nature.
Nature compels beings. What can restraint do?)
Having explained this verse, Shankara bhagavatpàda raises
the following objection: “If everyone acts as compelled by
nature, there is no place for sastra-s at all. Such being the
case, what is the purpose of the sastra saying, ‘Be
righteous’?” He then points out that the next shloka provides
the response. That verse is:
(BG, III.34)
(Attachment and aversion are rooted in the senses, towards
their objects. One must not come under their sway. They
are indeed one’s foes.)
Thus, it is clear that if we conquer likes and dislikes, we
will no longer be under their sway. So, we should shed
likes and dislikes and then voluntarily function in keeping
with the scriptural teachings. You asked whether prArabdha
(fate) could be overcome. The reply is, “It can positively
be overcome.” If it is that prArabdha cannot be overcome,
man cannot be held responsible for his actions at all. He
would not have any choice.
I earlier said that the karma that is now fructifying is
praarabdha. It is what we did in the previous births. Hence,
praarabdha cannot be stronger than effort. We can change
the tendency created by our earlier actions by suitable
exertion in this birth. However, if the tendency caused by
the karma of our previous birth is very strong, we will
have to put in a proportionally stronger effort to counter it.
This is true in most of the cases. Of course, one’s freedom
is not absolute.
An illustration is a cow tethered to a post. It can roam
about freely only to the extent of the length of the rope. It
cannot go beyond. Similarly, the fate of the country, the
free will of other people and our former actions place a
limit to our freedom.
A person may board a train but the train may meet with an
accident. In the same way, sometimes, one might have
answered a question paper satisfactorily but the expected
result might not materialise. One should not give room to
worry on seeing all this. Almost anything may be attained
in spiritual life by effort. One may be destined to be a
householder but with the blessings of a Guru and by effort,
one can lead the life of a brahmacaarin and, later, that of a
sannyaasin. Though the consequences of earlier karma-s
have to be experienced, the intensity of pràrabdha can be
decreased by the grace of Ishvara. The negative effects of
pràrabdha can also be reduced to a great extent by means
of medicines, japa, homa, pUjà, dhyaana and satsanga
(company of great souls).
D: If, according to one’s horoscope, one would live for eighty
years, does it mean that one will not die before that?
Similarly, if another is to have a very short span of life, can
he not live beyond that age?
A: The reply to your questions is in the negative.
D: Does Acharyal then mean that the horoscope is read
wrongly or that casting of the horoscope is itself wrong?
A: Neither.
D: In that case, all that is predicted with the horoscope as
basis is useless. Further, palmistry is not sensible. Hence,
no purpose is served by the JyotiSha saastra. Is this
Acharyal’s view?
A: Not at all.
D: Will Acharyal kindly explain?
A: The horoscope merely indicates the effect of karma-s that
one had done in the previous births. In this birth, by
exercising free will, we can definitely change the course
of events. If we earn the grace of the Lord, like
MArkaNDeya, then we can live longer than we are destined
to. Similarly, by falling into evil ways, we can spoil our
health and die earlier than we are supposed to. Further, we
hear astrologers say, “If one acts as follows, the effect of
that karma will be reduced.” If the verdict of the horoscope
is immutable, what is the use of such expiations?
Nobody need to fear a horoscope. It is only an indicator of
what is to come. We can certainly alter destiny if it is
unfavourable. Another point to be remembered is that
destiny can very well be favourable. In such a case, our
efforts will readily bear fruit.

(A parable told by the Acharya is being posted in the next part)

On Fri, Apr 2, 2010 at 11:42 AM, Siva Senani Nori <sivasenani at yahoo.com>wrote:

> Dear Sri Hitanshu
> There was an excellent discussion on freewill versus destiny in the last
> two weeks on the list with many links being given by learned contributors
> like Sri Vidyasankar. To summarise those, a man is both a karta (doer) and a
> bhokta (enjoyer). In other words, the situation that one faces is destiny, a
> result of karma; but what one does facing the given situation is on account
> of one's own free will.

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