(Interactive session on 18.5.2013)
Keynote address by Ms. Suryakanthi Tripathi
(Other participant speakers: Ms.Valsa Abraham, Dr. Kalyan Kr. Chakravarty, Mr. S.R. Das, P.C. Jha, Asim Banerjee, R.K. Gupta, Paritosh Bandopadhyay, A. K.Segupta, Dr. Santosh Ganguly & Dr. Suhas Majumdar.
Anchor & conclusive remarks: Asish K. Raha)
The term ‘Destiny’ going by its plain dictionary meaning implies fate that is pre-ordained, while the term ‘Karma’ (Sanskrit word) means ‘action’. The question is whether our action is partly, largely or wholly pre-destined or the other way round, i.e. that our Karma determines our destiny, and hence our karma is not pre-destined. Before we examine the above apparently conflicting propositions, let us understand what Karma is and what we mean by Destiny.
Doctrine of Karma:
The doctrine of Karma explains life in terms of the past, present and the future. Now the question is – does Karma deny freedom of will? Does it deny self-determination? Before we search for an answer to those questions, we must address the other core question whether the causes of action can be found within the narrow limits of a single life. The Karma doctrine postulates Samsara or the continued existence of the self in a succession of lives. Hence, transmigration of souls (with subtle or astral bodies) becomes a corollary to the doctrine of Karma.
Karma may be moral, immoral or amoral. The principle of causality governs every action as well as its result or effect. In other words, every action has some potency to ordain for a person joy or sorrow or neutral effect, according to the quality, intent and circumstances of the action, and adds to his or her bondage to mortal existence or destiny.
As our Karma or actions determine our destiny, can we be called the creators of our destiny, even while being subject to the destiny that we have created? To address this question, we have to appreciate the symbiotic interface between our Destiny and Karma. This is theorized as Prarabdh Karma in Sanskrit, meaning ‘earned by our past Karma’. There are two components of Prarabdh Karma – fixed and variable. The fixed component includes family, environment, body etc. of the transmigrated soul in his new mortal life, while the variable component is latent in the child in form of habits, qualities, aptitude, tendencies, abilities etc. called Samskara in Sanskrit, which can be positive or negative. The variable components can be further cultivated, nourished or overcome by free will. The Samskara is the baggage or residual impressions of past lives that largely determine/influence the character of the individual. It is a revolving chain.
Destiny written on forehead – the locus of Third Eye:
There is a widespread belief in India that at the moment of birth or on the 6th night after the birth, Lord Brahma (not Brahman), one of the Hindu Trinity, comes to write the destiny of the new-born on its forehead, on a bone chip in-between the eyebrows, where the Third Eye is believed to be located. This writing on the forehead, which is unchangeable, is called Phalalikhita in Sanskrit. It is also believed that the tiny, flat bone chip (called Asthi) on which the destiny is written/programmed on the new-born’s forehead remains un-scathed by fire while the whole body (except the navel) gets reduced into ashes after cremation. As per the prevailing custom among the Hindus, Asthi and navel are immersed in the holy river after the body is cremated. It is only when the Third Eye gets opened through deep meditation that the subject can access all the information stored therein, which includes his past lives, present circumstances and future events.
Analysis of Karma:
Karma or Action has two components, a physical component and a mental component. Similarly action can be voluntary and non-voluntary. Certain actions are involuntary such as breathing, which is a need associated with all the living creatures. On the other hand a mental action is associated with all voluntary actions, which is known as the intention. In other words while mental actions involve mind alone, voluntary physical actions involve both the mind and the body. Physical actions being good or bad depends upon the fact whether they benefit others or hurt them. Good or bad intention depends upon the fact whether the intention is to help others or it is one’s self interest. Actions can, thus, be divided into four categories and the doers accordingly are known as angels, human beings, ignorant and devils respectively:
Where the intention and the action both are good,
Where the intention is good but the action is bad,
Where the intention is bad but the action is good, and
Where the intention and the action both are bad.
An example of good intention but bad action is forcing others to follow a particular religion and even killing in the name of religion. An example of bad intention but good deed is to do charity with ulterior motive.
Ego is often inseparable from action. Desires which arise from imperfection co-exist with ego. The bondage resulting from one’s actions prompted by desire can be broken only by shunning desire. The Srimadbhagwat Gita in chapter 3 states that one who outwardly restrains the organs of senses and action but dwells mentally on them is a pretender. On the other hand, one who exercises control over the organs of action and senses by the mind and engages oneself in the performance of duties without attachment is a superior being. Going a step further, the Gita clarifies that a self-contented person has no desire and, therefore, his/her action does not lead to bondage of soul.
Every human being has three layers of consciousness, namely, the gross or the physical whereby the being indentifies self by a name, surroundings and qualification, the subtle or the mental which is deathless and nameless and the causal which is supra-consciousness or God (refer chapter 15 of Gita). At the first level of consciousness, action is governed and prompted by ego, while at the second level, mind is able to discriminate good from evil, truth from untruth, and rises above self-interest. At the third and final level, the individual consciousness gets merged in Supra-consciousness or God.
The man alone has been given freedom of action; other creatures do not enjoy this freedom. They, rather, bear the reward or punishment of action. Even the higher creatures like angels do not have the freedom of action. Although they may enjoy the pleasures of the heaven, they cannot make further spiritual progress and have to take birth again as human beings after their Punya Karmas (the reward for good deeds) are exhausted. The man alone has the capability, through his actions, to acquire divinity or degrade to the level of beasts and other lower creatures. After going through the reward or punishment for the actions, it is open for the man to make effort again for liberation and attain the supreme goal of self-realization.
Every person has an aura around him and the impression of action is stored in the aura to be borne at an appropriate time. In fact it is the sum total of actions, desires and thoughts that is stored in the aura. The colours present in the aura around every person keep on changing constantly depending upon their actions. With the Satvik (pure) actions, the aura turns very bright and golden. Rajoguni actions (indulgence in fulfilling desires) turn it to red and with Tamoguni (deluded) actions the aura becomes black. The shades present in one’s aura keep on changing with different intensities of thoughts and desires. The colours present in the aura as a result of one’s deeds do not disappear till one bears the fruit of his action. After bearing the brunt of one’s deeds, one becomes purified and acquires capability of making spiritual progress, provided one does not indulge again in evil deeds. The aura not only indicates the fall or rise of the one to whom it belongs, but also influences others associated with him. The peace one experiences in the company of great persons and saints is mainly because of the influence of their aura that cleanses the mind of the visitors. The aura around saints is very bright and golden in colour, with that around head being more intense than the other parts of the body. With the spiritual progress, first the aura becomes light and as the ego and desires vanish, the aura intensifies, and gradually a bright light alone is left. Similarly, vicious people also have their influence on others.
Destiny or Prarabdh:
Outcome of actions is divided into three categories, i.e. the Sanchit Karma (accumulated deeds), Prarabdh (destiny) and Kriyaman (current actions). The Sanchit Karmas are the impressions of good or bad deeds, which are accompanying the soul from time immemorial. Prarabdh is that part of Sanchit Karmas which is to be borne in the present life. One has no control over Prarabdh and has necessarily to undergo the same, except that the realized saints or Spiritual Masters through their grace may lighten/reduce if not eliminate the effects of Prarabdh. Kriyaman Karmas are the current actions, performed in the present life; the fruit of some of which may be borne in this life itself and the balance are accumulated as Sanchit Karma to be borne in future at the appropriate time.
Apparent contradiction between Destiny and Karma:
There seems to be an apparent contradiction in the theory of action, as on the one hand it has been said that the man has freedom of action and on the other hand he is said to be bound by his past deeds or Prarabdh. This apparent contradiction, however, can be explained through an example of a running car. The running car acquires the momentum, which to some extent guides its direction and speed. The driver, however, has control over the accelerator, steering wheel and the brake. He can change the direction and speed of the car in a gradual manner, but if he applies the brakes or changes the direction suddenly, there are chances of accident and damage.
In the above example the momentum of the car is the Prarabdh, and the controls at the command of the driver are the current actions over which he enjoys freedom through his intellect and wisdom. By his current actions, therefore, one can gradually change the direction and the speed. Subject to this limitation, it is in his hands to choose his path. At times we come across examples of fast moving cars changing their direction by 180 degrees (i.e. complete reversal) on applying sudden brakes. These are the examples of people like Balmiki and Angulimal, who turned into great saints from an earlier life of heinous crimes, as a result of sudden realisation of the gravity of their misdeeds and taking a vow to be on the right path with firm determination.
Comparison with computer:
The human body can be compared to a computer, where the physical body is the hardware, the mind is the CPU and the ‘Indriyas’ (sense organs) is the operating system. Sanchit Karma and Prarabdh are the data stored in Asthi, or the computer chip, popularly known as the Third Eye, located in-between the eyebrows on the forehead. The password to access the data relating to the past, present and the future is stored in the depth of consciousness of every individual and the same can be retrieved through deep meditation only. Interestingly, this password is not unique but common to all individuals as it is believed that a person, who has retrieved this password, can read the destiny and the past of all others through his Third Eye. The actions are like new programs written by using the same operating system that get stored in the same chip, viz. the Third Eye.
Philosophical texts on Karma & Destiny:
Upanishads make a clear distinction between Vidya (spiritual knowledge) and Avidya (non- spiritual knowledge), Sat or Ultimate Truth meaning God/Brahman and Asat or Maya meaning illusory/transitory existence. When one attains realization of the Ultimate Truth or God/Brahman then Karma (action) and Prarabdh (destiny) disappear and the person becomes liberated from the cycle of birth and death.
Awareness of bondage is necessary to inspire one to make quest for freedom. Karma provides necessary means for instilling this awareness. When Arjun asked Sri Krishna whether a deluded person fallen from spiritual path would not get ruined for ever like a scattered cloud (ref. verse 38 of chapter 6 of the Gita), Sri Krishna replied that far from being ruined, such person would be re-born in the house of either a pious or a wealthy person, endowed with the wisdom of his previous life so that he could strive more than before for attaining liberation (refer verses 40 to 43 ibid). In chapter 9 of the Gita, while dwelling upon the Raja Yoga, Sri Krishna mentioned how a pleasure-seeking pious soul after enjoying the fruits of its Karma in celestial world returned to earth and thus went through the cycle of life and death (refer verse 21 of chapter 9).
The Buddhists while analyzing the effects of good (kusala) and evil (akusala) held that the former were more powerful than the latter (refer Milinda panha 3.7.7). The said text further states that the evil karma has limited potentiality and, therefore, it matures quickly and dies quickly. Consequently whereas good deeds may fructify in subsequent lives of an individual, evil deeds may fructify in this life itself (refer Milinda panha 4.8.24-29).
Conflicting views on re-incarnation, soul & God:
While Sri Krishna claimed to remember all his past lives (refer verse 5 of chapter 4 of the Gita), Gautam Buddha claimed to remember his 500 previous births. Jesus Christ mentioned that John the Baptist in his previous birth was St. Elijah who was initiated by Jesus in his previous incarnation. He further claimed that he was in existence even before Abraham. The Christians, however, do not subscribe to the theory of re-incarnation as they are not able to reconcile re-incarnation with the rising of all the dead souls with their respective bodies on the ‘Day of Judgment’ for determination by God whether they would be destined to heaven or hell perpetually. Only the concept of one-soul-one-body and not the same soul with multiple bodies fits into the postulate certainty of the Judgment Day.
Socrates and Plato believed in re-incarnation according to one’s Karma.
The Hindus and the Buddhists look upon life as an opportunity for attaining emancipation (Moksha or Nirvana) from the bondage of material longing or attachments. Even though Hindu concept of soul (referred to as Atman) may not be accepted by the Buddhists on the ground that Buddha himself did not mention anything to suggest its existence, the fact remains that the Buddhists accept the phenomenon of re-incarnation. The Charvaka School of materialistic thought among the Hindus, however, was the protagonists of ‘no soul, no re-birth, no God and one single life’. Hence the prescription of sage Charvaka was: “Jabojjibet sukham jibet, Rhinam kritva Ghritam Pibet” (Merrily live as long as you can; borrow money, if need be, to taste butter).
The weakness of the single life theory is that it does not distinguish physical from the mental, the body from the consciousness, simply holding that the mind dies with the body, and there is no existence of consciousness outside the body. The overwhelming evidence of Samskara with which a person is born is wholly overlooked or ignored. Spiritual experiences of the Yogis and the recorded versions of spiritual masters are also rejected by the Charvaka school for lack of direct evidence. Purely from a practical point of view, believer of a ‘single life & no soul’ would tend to be aggressively selfish, egoistic and corrupt, their motto in life being self-gratification at all costs. On the contrary, the theory of Prarabdh creates a sense of accountability in a person from the belief that for his or her wrong deeds he or she is bound to suffer, if not in this life, in the next life or in more than one life depending on the gravity of the action or the harm caused to others. Even those who do not believe in re-incarnation but believe in accountability of the soul to God on the Judgment Day creates a sense of moral compulsion on the individual to act ethically so as not to suffer incarceration in hell after death. Once we accept that one does not die with one’s physical death and that one reaps the fruit of one’s action, the single life theory fails to explain why a man without any past Karma or Prarabdha is born in a beggar’s family while another in a royal family. In other words, if we discard the theory of Prarabdha we have no reasonable explanation for apparent discrimination made by God in sending one to a royal/affluent/saintly parents and another to a poor/criminal/lecherous parents.
Theory of Everything:
The physicists like Stephen Hawking do not consider it necessary to look for a God to explain the mystery of the universe that includes Big Bang Theory, ‘M’ Theory, God Particles that have been largely explained as also other unresolved mysteries. Though it is true that the scientists at present are unable to explain all the phenomena, as they are still exploring the truth, they are confident that one day they would find out the Theory of Everything to unravel the entire mystery of creation not only of the numberless universes but also of the living beings. As of now, the ‘M’ theorists claim to have seen the shadow of the Lion, if the Lion is taken for ‘The Theory of Everything’.
According to Spiritual Masters like Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo, the Theory of Everything is embodied by God/Brahman. God has been likened by Swami Vivekananda to the core element in chemical science, after knowing which, nothing else is left to be known. Sri Aurobindo, on the other hand has described God as the Supramental or Super-mind. Once you know the Supramental, you have known everything. The approach of science is essentially inductive, as they proceed on the basis of experiments and empirical experiences from particular to general truth, while the approach of the spiritual seekers is deductive, as they strive to know God first and thereafter entire mystery of creativity unfolds itself to them. The Spiritual Masters of all religions, except Lord Buddha who did not dwell upon God, have depicted God/Brahman as the Supreme Consciousness (a combination of Sat, Chit & Anand called Sachchidanand). If the Theory of Everything as postulated by science is a source of our collective consciousness, there is no difficulty in taking it as synonymous with God/Brahman, and the theories of Karma & Destiny would fall in place as a logical corollary of a conscious, orderly and harmonious system.
According to oriental mystics, the key to all the mysteries of the universes and end to end information from the Creation to the Dissolution lies in the Third Eye. Does it contain the elusive inputs of the ‘Theory of Everyting’ that the scientists have been searching for?
Can the Destiny be changed?
There are instances suggesting that Spiritual Masters can change the destiny of individuals either by absorbing a part of their Prarabdh or by reducing the effects thereof to render the same bearable.
The other way to change the destiny is by absolute/total surrender to God in whatever form one conceives IT. In that event, the desire, ego and the self melt away and the Karma becomes selfless. The rope of desire & ego that binds a person slackens and the Prarabdh attached to such person slowly disentangles, setting him/her free. The path of total surrender, however, is an extremely difficult terrain and very rarely we hear of such persons who have completely conquered ego.
Is Karma pre-destined?
Nani Palkhivala, an eminent jurist of India, has narrated an anecdote (refer ‘Are we masters of our fate?’ by Nani Palkhivala, vide Rediff Special) that strengthened his belief in pre-destination. The anecdote was as follows:
After the Allahabad High Court decided to set aside the election of Indira Gandhi to parliament in June 1975, Palkhivala argued her appeal and application for interim relief in Supreme Court on 23rd June, 1975 and secured an interim order next day from Justice Krishna Iyer whereby she could continue to sit in the Lok Sabha and also continue to be the Prime Minister till the final disposal of her appeal. Same evening Palkhivala boarded Bombay flight when the passenger sitting next enquired how the arguments went in the court. When he briefly told him how it went, the said passenger cited an astrologer in Bangalore to tell him that Madam would lose the case and thereafter she would become the most powerful woman in the world. That power would last till March, 1977, and thereafter Madam would land in jail. All those predictions, incredible as it seemed at that time, eventually came to be true. With the declaration of Emergency on June 26, 1975, Indira Gandhi became the most powerful woman in the world, and her power lasted till March, 1977, and she was also imprisoned thereafter, as predicted by the astrologer. Incidentally, though Palkhivala argued the case of Ms. Gandhi in Allahabad High Court and Supreme Court, he opposed Emergency tooth and nail.
From the above anecdote, the question that arises for determination is whether the declaration of Emergency by Ms. Gandhi was pre-destined or it was her Karma for which she was accountable.
The following inferences drawn by Nani Palkhivala from his personal experiences including the above anecdote are pertinent in the above context:
“First, I believe that the basic pattern of an individual’s or a nation’s life is pre-determined.
Secondly, very few individuals have the gift of clairvoyance to foresee what is predetermined.
Thirdly, guidance is sometimes vouch-safed to receptive human beings by means for which there is no scientific explanation.
Fourthly, I do believe in the existence of free will but that again is within pre-ordained parameters. To my mind, the simplest analogy to the case we are talking about is that of a dog on a long leash — the dog has the freedom to move about as far as the leash permits, but not beyond.”
Going by the example of dog and its movement to the extent the leash permits, one may be led to conclude that Ms. Gandhi’s Declaration of Emergency on June 26, 1975 was pre-determined by Destiny with very little scope for flexibility or discretion. Therefore, her decision to declare Emergency was forced upon her by Destiny.
We find it difficult to accept the above proposition, even while accepting the anecdote as factually correct. If we accept the dog and leash analogy, it leaves very little discretion with an individual to do his/her Karma in any given circumstances, and, therefore, the liability incurred in terms of Prarabdh for one’s Karma itself becomes questionable in all conceivable situations. In the given anecdote, while we accept that Ms. Gandhi’s situation and circumstances were programmed by Destiny, the Declaration of Emergency was certainly not. It was surely her own decision and her Karma for which she was accountable.
Srimadbhagwat Gita happens to address the following two core questions most logically:
1) Whether one has the discretion or right to Karma in any given situation or whether the Karma itself is pre-destined.
2) What are the causes of action?
As for the first question, the Gita answers:
“Karmanye adhikaraste ma faleshu kadachana” (verse 47, chapter2), meaning that you have the right for action alone, and not the result. By implication, the result of our action comes in form of destiny, which is a continuing process, resulting from our past and present Karma. In other words, destiny is not in our hands. Thus despite lots of efforts and endeavour, one may fail, while another person by a sheer stroke of luck may succeed. This apparently inexplicable phenomenon is often explained away by luck factor. The Upanishads and the Gita on the contrary explain that as Prarabdh (the fruit of past actions).
The ‘Adhikar’ used in relation to Karma in the above verse makes it amply clear that every individual has a right of action and a clear choice for it. His action is not pre-determined or pre-destined.
As for the second poser, the answer of the Gita is contained in verse 14 of chapter 18 wherein it is stated that for every action there may be following five causes: 1) the body (without which no action is possible), 2) the ego (which enthrones itself in the body), 3) the five sense organs and their powers (eyes for sight, ears for hearing, nose for smell, tongue for taste and skin for touch) together with 5 instruments of action viz. power of speech, hands, feet, rectal and genital organs with mind and intelligence as the guide , 4) various activities performed by individuals, and 5) Destiny which is self-created. Thus it will be seen that Destiny’s role as just one of the five causes of action or Karma is mathematically one-fifth. However, the result of action or Karma is entirely determined by Destiny or Prarabdh.