One of the most earnest and persistent debates of mankind has always been about the role of destiny in one’s life. One school of thought proclaims that destiny controls everything. Proponents of this philosophy believe that God has already written everyone’s fate and one is bound to navigate the terrain charted for him in advance. According to these fatalists, no one has any freedom of choice. On the other hand, those who believe in the theory of free will claim that there is nothing called destiny. They emphasise that man is free to act in the manner he likes. All of one’s situations, successes and failures are of his own making. Advocates on either side of the divide have their own arguments.
Bhagavad Gita has addressed this issue quite convincingly, in shlokas from 18.13 to 18.15. Five factors which are involved in the accomplishment of any action have been identified as under :
i) adhishthana, ii) karta, iii) karna, iv) cheshta ; and v) daiva. Whatever action, whether right or wrong ; which one undertakes through his body, speech or mind – it is caused by these five factors. In other words, these five causes are responsible for success or failure of any human initiative.
Literal meaning of adhishthana, the first factor, is abode. Here it refers to the body, because it is the seat of action. Body is the centre from where all actions take place. The second factor namely karta means the doer. Here it refers to the ego because it is he who performs all actions. Being merely a witness, the self is akarta or non-doer. But self can also be included in the determining causes of action because activities of the ego begin only when the self starts witnessing these activities. The third factor namely karna means instrument. The various kinds of instruments of action are the senses. It is through these tools that one performs different types of actions.
All these three components namely body, ego (or the self) and the senses are determined by nature as no one has any control over his birth. No one can decide as to when, where and in what condition of life, he would be born. He cannot choose his parentage, race, social status ; or environment etc. All these are determined by one’s past karma and various other circumstances which are presently beyond the control of the individual concerned.
One cannot change or control the above mentioned three endowments of life. But subject to these limitations, one has freedom of choice. That is why the fourth factor namely cheshta becomes most important. It refers to the various kinds of endeavours one undertakes to make his life a story of success. By sincere efforts, one can overcome even worst of the circumstances.
A word of caution here. Cheshta does not mean any effort but an effort in the right direction. Freedom of choice should not be used to destroy oneself. That is why at the end of dialogue with Arjuna, Shree Krishna advised him to think seriously about the wisdom granted to him, and then decide what to do and what not to do.
Thus, Bhagavad Gita does not endorse the view that what is destined to happen will certainly happen. If that were so, cheshta would have no role to play in one’s life. To take the game of bridge as an example, one has not invented the game, designed the cards or framed the rules for playing it. He can also not decide which cards he would get. To that extent, one has no choice. But to play the game well or badly is in one’s own hands. A good player can win even with worst of the cards ; and a bad player gets defeated even if he had best of them. To put it in broader terms, Ishvara, the Supreme Lord, has provided the mankind with perfect infrastructure in the form of various support systems. It is now for man to make or break himself.
Success is ensured not by hard work alone. In all human endeavours, there always exists a supernatural element which enhances or diminishes one’s chances of success or failure in that endeavour. Sometimes inspite of most favourable circumstances and best efforts, one may not get the desired results. And sometimes one gets more than what he had hoped for, without much toil. That is why one of the factors for accomplishment of any work has been stated to be daiva, the divine providence. This unknown factor is often called destiny, fate or luck. Role of the luck factor in anybody’s life can never be denied. Destiny has its own importance. But belief in destiny can never be an excuse for inaction or carelessness.
To conclude, both dedicated work and divine providence play important role in one’s life. Endeavour and good fortune are not apart from each other. Thus, one must work hard with diligence and determination ; and then leave everything to the will of the Divine. God works not for any narrow considerations but for some broader and higher purpose, which man may or may not be able to understand.