[Advaita-l] Karma, Prarabdha and Destiny

Siva Senani Nori sivasenani at yahoo.com
Fri Apr 2 01:12:29 CDT 2010

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. For instance when Devavrata was born, King Santanu finally decided to object to the queer behaviour of his queen (who threw all the kids into river Ganga); this is destiny - a result of the karma that Devavrata as the eighth vasu did. So are the other situations facing him - King Santanu falling in love with Satyavati; vicitravIrya and citrAngada turning out to be as they were, the love between SALva and Amba, the determination of Amba and so on. However the decisions and actions of his life were all his own and on account of his free will: his diligence
 in learning and service of his guru, ferocious vows, decision to attend the swayamvara of the princesses of Kasi, to let Amba go, not to accept her when she came back, refusal to sire sons required to keep the line of Kurus intact, decision to fight on behalf of the Crown, revelation of the secret of conquering him to Yudhishthira, refusal to fight SikhanDi, decision to await makara sankranti to leave the body etc. And these resulted in his attaining whatever lokas he did thereafter (actually, I am not sure if he re-attained vasu-hood or got moksha having sung the glorious names of Lord Narayana and dying in the uttarAyaNa puNyakAla).

In the YogavAsishTha, which I was told on this list is an approved text for sAdhakas in the Sringeri maTha, Vasistha teaches Rama that adyatana (related to today, i.e. what you do today) is more powerful or effective (balIya) than prAktana (what was done earlier). The explicit reasoning given is along the following lines. Suppose, one has done a lot of pApa, can one change it today? One cannot. So, one option is do some puNya and reduce the accumulated pApa or do nothing and bear the consequences of that accumulated pApa. So, one of the choices (to do puNya), an adyatana, is more powerful than the prAktana.

A similar reasoning is given by Hanuman, the one renowned as knowing how to speak properly. After he is captured by Indrajit in the ASoka vana and presented before Ravana, Hanuman tells Ravana that he, Ravana, is presently enjoying the fruits of his past goods but the time will come when he has to bear the consequences of his bad deeds as well; but if he were to return Sita, he can somewhat reduce the consequence of his pApa and escape death at the hands of Rama.

What these show is that present good deeds a) are optional and b) reduce the effect of past bad deeds. The first demonstrates the existence of freewill and the second demonstrates the limitations of 'destiny'; together we see the interaction between the two. Thus in our traditional thinking, destiny does not conflict with freewill, and if any thing freewill triumphs destiny, however modestly. Please note the word 'traditional'. To highlight the same I had referred to traditional texts and not modern examples. There are some who invent their own definitions of destiny, freewill and karma siddhanta and then 'prove' that Indians believe that humans are like the particles in a cyclotron behaving in a manner predicted, nay decided, nay frozen by the starting conditions. Such, certainly, is not the view of our elders or the one depicted in the traditional texts. If lack of specific references to the quoted passages (from Yoga VAsishTha and RamAyaNa) is
 the only reason stopping you from subscribing to the traditional view, I will search and supply the references. 

Finally, a word about prArabdha. Whenever a misfortune befalls one, elders say that is his 'prArabdham'. If you think of your karma as a numerical quantity, the accumulated karma ilke the money in bank is called the sancita karma. This can be pretty huge. If a man were to start his life with all of that, he would not be capable of bearing the consequences of that. So, like you carry a more modest sum in cash when you set out to travel, for each janma, life man starts with a starting balance called 'prArabdha karma'. prArabdha, meaning 'begun' is from the same root as that of the word 'prArambha' which means beginning. Thus, destiny is on account of the 'starting balance' of karma, prArabdha-karma and not the 'accumulated balance' of karma, the sancita-karma. Many prayers of various gods - the lingAshTakam comes readily to mind - say that god destroys sancita-pApa. So, while freewill - worship of lord Siva here - can destroy even the accumulated
 balance; destiny is only as powerful as a subset of that, the starting balance.


From: Hitanshu <hits.subs at gmail.com>
To: Siva Senani Nori <sivasenani at yahoo.com>; A discussion group for Advaita Vedanta <advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org>
Sent: Thu, April 1, 2010 3:17:39 AM
Subject: Re: [Advaita-l] Karma, Prarabdha and Destiny

Dear Mr Senani, 

Thanks for helping me get more insight into puNya and pApa.
Would be great if you can also throw some light on the 3rd question.... and help me understand the relationship b/w karma, karmfal, and freewill.... how much is the role of freewill in determining destiny, given that the events that we come across are because of our previous karma..?



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