[Advaita-l] Fate Vs Free Will - the most debated subject

Aravind Mohanram psuaravind at yahoo.com
Sat Mar 20 13:13:39 CST 2004

This is a very interesting topic. Many people, majority of Hindus have a strictly fatalistic view, giving no room for free will. However, the sastras and acharyas don't support such a view. Even in Bhagavad-Gita after giving Arjuna all knowledge about atma-tattva, Lord Krishna asks Arjuna to deliberate on what He had said, and do what he wishes to (yathe icchasi tatha kuru...) and Arjuna in reply says, you have removed my bewilderment, and I have regained my memory, and says karisye vacanam tava (I'll act according to your instructions). 
Karma puts us in a certain situation (circumstances), but the choice to respond to that situation is always with us. For example, a person maybe born in a very poor family - he can either feel depressed about his situation or muster up courage and say that I'll respond to it in a positive way. There is a gulf of difference between these two approaches and this is what I think sets great men apart from losers. 
Ofcourse, this free will that we have is also limited (because of our conditioned life) and controlled by the three modes of nature, sattva, rajas, and tamas. A person in ignorance is even ignorant of his free-will and acts completely according to the dictates of the gunas. A person in passion is in a slightly better situation and those in sattva or goodness have more opportunities to exercise their free-will. But, one can execute his free-will completely only when one is situated on the platform of brahman. In the Gita, Krishna says that, actually we are not the doers of our activities, but the modes of material nature are. This is true for conditioned souls, who are struggling in this world. But, self-realized souls, are beyond the influence of the modes of nature and are thus able to execute their free will. And, in Gita, Krishna exhorts Arjuna to align his will with that of Krishna's and that's what Arjuna does and thus sets a perfect example for common men. 
Smt. Latha wrote:
"To uproot that ‘Fate’ I now need to work harder, even more vigorously to nullify the force of that obstacle. Once the current forceful action can nullify the forceful obstacle resulting from the past deed, we can clear the hurdle and progress."

In addition to putting one's best efforts, one should surrender unto the Lord (BG 18.66), because He says He'll take care of the reactions, which is our past karma. So, hard work should be combined with the instructions of the Lord and acharyas, in order to be free from the material nature. We have to be smart too...Again, in the Gita Krishna says, that this material nature is insurmountable, but those who surrender unto the Lord, can easily cross over it.
There is an interesting section in the book by Stephen Covey (7 habits of highly effective people), where he discusses about stimulus and response and how we have the choice to respond to any situation (free will). He also tells a story of a Psychiatrist who suffers in the holocaust, but gets a strong realization about his inherent free will. I recommend reading this book through the eyes of the Gita for those who haven't. Thanks.

latha vidya <lathavidya at yahoo.co.in> wrote:

Hari Om,


There is always so much heated debate going on about Free-will Vs Fate (or God’ Will).

Previous Sringeri Acharya Sri Sri Chandrashekhara Bharathi Swamiji explains this very well:

What we call ‘Fate’ (or adrishta= that which can not be seen) is nothing but the result of the action that we have committed in the past with our own ‘Freewill’ then. Each action of ours is like a seed sown which when grows into a tree gives us the fruits sometime in the future. (The duration required for the fructification of each action differs – it may be immediate or it may take many births!) If the seed was of a virtuous action, it bears the fruit of happiness. If the seed was of non-virtuous action it bears the fruit of sorrow for us. Either way, we had the freewill to act and choose the kind of fruit it is bearing now.

Whenever I say that ‘Fate’ is acting in the form of an obstacle in my path of achieving the desired result, I need to understand that it is the result of my own misdeed committed in the past. To uproot that ‘Fate’ I now need to work harder, even more vigorously to nullify the force of that obstacle. Once the current forceful action can nullify the forceful obstacle resulting from the past deed, we can clear the hurdle and progress. 

Acharya gives an analogy of a hammer and nail:

When a certain nail driven in the past deep into the wall is posing me a problem to drive it out of the wall now, I should not lose my enthusiasm and abandon my attempt saying that Fate is more powerful than me and hence I am not succeeding in my present task. Instead if I can understand that it was my own forceful hammering of the nail in the past which had made it get deeply embedded inside the wall, I now need to use a force which is all the more powerful to pull the nail out of the wall ! 

Any undesirable result of the Prarabhda Karma (Fate or God’s Will) can now be annihilated and overcome by countering it with an exceedingly powerful present deed that is well within my ‘Free Will’!

Hence Fate and Free Will are both Free Will only which differ just in Time perspective.


Latha Vidyaranya

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