Is there a destiny, and can we change it?
Is there a destiny, and can we change it?
Whether it seem good or evil to men’s eyes,
Only for good the secret Will can work.
Our destiny is written in double terms:
Through Nature’s contraries we draw near God;
Out of the darkness we still grow to light.
SRI AUROBINDO (Savitri, Book 6, Canto 1, p. 424)
It is often assumed that whatever happens to us in life has already been decided by God. It is as if God prepares a schedule of events for our stay in the world while our soul is getting embodied. This divine document, which is kept secret from us, is our destiny. While faith in destiny is almost universal, opinions on the extent to which it actually determines the course of our life, and the extent to which we can change our destiny, differ widely. At one extreme are those who do not believe in destiny, and think that our own actions alone determine what happens to us. This opinion typically belongs to young, intelligent and rational persons. However, their supreme confidence does not usually survive the erratic and unpredictable course of life. At the other extreme are those who not only believe in destiny but also insist that it just cannot be changed. But even the most staunch believers in destiny do not think that destiny determines every minor detail of our life. For example, few would think that if I add today one spoon of sugar to my tea instead of the usual two, it is because the change was a part of my destiny. The truth about destiny is complex, and all diverse points of view have a grain of truth but none of them probably is the whole truth.
The scientific counterpart of destiny is a combination of genes and the environment. These two together determine our capabilities, behaviour, susceptibility to disease, and many other characteristics. Since we have apparently no role in choosing our parents and the environment in which we grow up, a lot that happens to us is beyond our control. Destiny is as good as a name as any, which we may give to the entity that controls the uncontrollable in our lives.
It seems that the broad outline of our life is pre-determined, but the details are left to us. The details that are left to us give us plenty of opportunities for exercising our freewill. Freewill gives us the freedom to make choices. The choices that we make have two principal consequences. The most critical result of the choices that we make is the effect of these choices on spiritual growth, or the level of consciousness. Within the same situation, the choice that we make determines whether we rise or fall in consiousness. The other result of the choices, specially major choices such as choosing a career or the person whom we marry, is that the choices determine in a big way the conditions and circumstances we will get in the years to come. The conditions that we get are often attributed to destiny. Thus our destiny is being rewritten during life by the choices we make. To illustrate this point, if on the road we come across a T-junction, we have a choice to make. The choice that we make has two consequences. First, depending on the choice we make, we go towards or away from our destination. In life, the choice that leads to spiritual growth takes us towards the goal of life. Secondly, on the choice that we make depends the scenery that we will find around us. In life, on the choice that we make depend the conditions and circumstances that we get in life. For example, when Arvind Kejriwal was with the Income Tax Department, he was at a T-junction, the choices being whether to continue or to quit. By quitting, he took one big leap towards the goal of life. Secondly, the conditions that he would have got for further spiritual growth would have been quite different for him in the Income Tax Department as compared to what they are in politics. That corresponds to the scenery.
Irrespective of the choices we make, the experiences in store for us are generally a mixture of those perceived as pleasant and those perceived as unpleasant. We get both these types of experience because we need both for fulfilling the purpose of life, which is spiritual growth. If all were going well, life would become for most of us so interesting, absorbing and entertaining that we would forget the purpose of life. On the other hand, if everything keeps going wrong with life, most of us would go into a deep depression, and again the purpose of life would remain unfulfilled. If this basic fact of life is understood, not only can we remain calm in all circumstances, but we can also use all experiences for growing spiritually, for it is possible to grow through so-called good fortune as well as through misfortune.
If the circumstances we get in life are a mixture of ‘pleasant’ and ‘unpleasant’ irrespective of the choices we make, how does it matter what choice we make? It matters in at least two ways. First, good choices take us towards the goal of life, bad choices take us away from the goal of life. Secondly, good choices give us lasting mental peace, whereas bad choices make us uneasy, and the uneasiness may sometimes continue to haunt us for years. This raises another question, how can we make out good choices from bad. The best choices come from the deepest Self, and are communicated to us by our inner voice. In order to identify this voice, we should ask ourselves which of the options we have will give us immense joy and leave us in lasting mental peace. That is the best option, irrespective of how many rational arguments we can find against it. Further, learning to contact our deepest Self, which is the Divine in us, also helps us pray sincerely if conditions in life become too painful. Sincere and intense prayer can also make a difference to the subsequent conditions we get in life. As the Mother has said, “be always at the summit of your consciousness and the best will always happen to you…. the individual can at least, when he is confronted by a danger or a critical situation, call upon his highest destiny by aspiration, prayer and trustful surrender to the divine will. Then in proportion to the sincerity of his call, this higher destiny intervenes favourably in the normal destiny of the being and changes the course of events insofar as they concern him personally”. Sri Aurobindo has also said that destiny depends on “powers and forces of which for human life at least, human will, aspiration and faith are not among the least important”.
Thus, we start life with a range of possibilities. What actually happens within that range is determined partly by our actions, which include our sincere aspirations and prayers. Our actions may exaggerate, minimize or substitute the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ things that are destined to happen to us in life. Thus we do have a destiny, but it is neither detailed nor indelible. This is true of destiny at the ‘micro’ level. At the ‘macro’ level, we all have the same final destiny: to unite with the Divine. The variations in the destiny at the ‘micro’ level, over which we have partial control, only affect how long we shall take to achieve our final destiny, and how zigzag our path will be.