This article is kindly submitted by Saroja Swami and Alphonse Benoit. It adds a valuable different perspective to the question of free will which was explored earlier in Dear Rumi; Do I have free will? Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments below; or even submit them for consideration to be posted in our blog.


By Saroja Swami & Alphonse Benoit

Karma ON DESTINY:The ‘effects’ of the past ‘causes’ upon us, now is called Destiny. The Rishis (the learned or the wise), in The Upanishads (the teachings) have declared that what we meet in the present life is Destiny[1]. Karma literally means ‘deed or act’ and more broadly names the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction which governs all life. Destiny is the product or effect of the past and it forms one aspect of the Law of Karma (every action has an opposite reaction; what goes around comes around; what you sow, so you reap). Thus the Law of Karma (Action-Reaction) is governed by the scientific theory of causal order of nature, or it is the cause and effect phenomenon of every one’s action in the past upon oneself in the future. The Rishis declared that it would be unscientific and illogical to confine the theory to the present life only. The effects experienced in the present life must have had their causes in the past life and the causes created in the present life shall grow into effects to be lived in the future lives.

Thus the Law of Karma (Action-Reaction) is governed by the scientific theory of causal order of nature, or it is the cause and effect phenomenon of every one’s action in the past upon oneself in the future.

Thus destiny today is caused by our past actions and we have no control now over things we have done in the past. Hence we are products of our own destiny and this has reference only to our past! However the Rishis were also kind and showed the effects of Astrology on people’s life, Thus, Hindus also believe in Astrology to mitigate the effects of our action in the past. Indian astrology is part of every Hindu’s individual psyches. As in any astrological form, the Hindus believe that special relations exist between particular celestial bodies and their varied motions, configurations with each other and the processes of generation and decay apparent in the work of fire, air, earth and water. The motion of the stars and celestial bodies govern only the element and material world, leaving the soul however free to choose between the good and the evil. Thus for most Hindus, from the disposition of the planets at the time of one’s birth, the future is calculated in a personal horoscope. The almanac of the planets is consulted in all undertakings, from the choosing of spouses, fixing of auspicious time for the weddings, business transactions, building houses and bridges, to sowing and harvesting and war[2]. The nine cosmic influences (Navagrahas) in Hinduism are the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the moon’s ascending node and the moon’s descending node. The nine cosmic influences are powerful deities that ‘seize’ or influence each person’s life. Every Hindu temple has a shrine dedicated to the nine cosmic influences. The nine cosmic influences are regarded as the greatest astrological significance and believed to influence the life of the individual and course of history. The positions and movements of the nine cosmic influences, influence one’s personal life from birth to puberty, marriage and death. They are especially worshipped in times of danger. The nine cosmic influences may exert favourable influences or they can be malevolent forces to be propitiated. They must therefore be propitiated in times, when their positions would influence one’s personal life and the well-being of the earth. The Saturn, the ascending and descending nodes of the Moon are inauspicious cosmic influences and hence maleficent. Hindus will say that during tough times, one needs to lie low rather than making already a bad situation even worse or some will say, the arrow that is aimed to the head goes with the turban only, by consulting horoscopes and taking some action on them. ON FREE-WILL: We Hindus believe that we are influenced by our own destiny since our present status is caused by our past. But at the same time we are gifted with the capacity to choose our present actions which are called self-effort (the Sanskrit word for this is Purushartha) which we also call free-will, choice, freedom.  Thus free-will is the self-effort or the choices we have by the new initiatives that we undertake intelligently and strive for and that are to be accomplished in the present and in the future. In other words ‘how we meet’ (by free-will, choice, freedom, self -effort), what we meet in our life (destiny) is Free-Will.

Thus free-will is the self-effort or the choices we have by the new initiatives that we undertake intelligently and strive for and that are to be accomplished in the present and in the future.

In fact the self-efforts exercised by the individual in the past have created the present destiny. But the future destiny can be changed for the better or for the worse, by exercising intellectual choice of the present self-efforts. The Law of Karma goes a step further than the Law of Destiny. The future lies in the hands of ourselves since we have the capacity to change it by our own self-efforts or actions. Thus we can make our future better than what is at present by our own self effort. In other words through our self efforts today, though we have to suffer the consequences of the past in the present, we can make our future better. The future is therefore a continuity of the past modified in the present. The freedom to modify the past and to create a future, either for the better or for the worse, is our self-effort or free will!! Karma is not fate, for we act with free-will creating our own destiny. The Vedas (sacred text or wisdom book) tell us, if we sow goodness, we will reap goodness; if we sow evil, we will reap evil. Karma refers to the totality of our actions and their concomitant reactions in this and previous lives, all of which determine our future. It is the interplay between our experience and how we respond to it that makes karma devastating or invigorating. The conquest of karma lies in intelligent action and dispassionate reactions[3]. Positive karmas give positive results. People should take care of the cause, their life and their community and the results/effects will take care of itself[4]. Not all karmas rebound immediately. Some accumulate and return unexpectedly in this or other births. The result of the karma we are experiencing now is Prarabdha (in Sanskrit, loosely referred to as Destiny). There are yet other karmas that are unresolved and we continue to make some even now and that are in future, to be resolved.

[1] Swami Chinmayananda 1975 A Manual of Self Unfoldment pp193 Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, India pp 23,   93, 168-169 [2] Dr Chandrabhanu,OAM 2014 The Planets of Destiny, Brochure of the Dance Drama NAVAGRAHA [3] Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami 1993 Dancing with Siva, Hinduism Contemporary Catechism pp1008 Himalayan Academy, India & USA [4] Bramachari Gautam 2014. A Monk in Chinmaya Mission in Templestowe. Q & A with him on 25/7/14