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The Fate of Free Will

“Jo hona hai so hoga’’ (What’s meant to be, will be) is a phrase familiar to us all. It accurately describes the fatalistic way of the Indian society. Since birth we are told stories of demons, monsters and evil kings rising to power just to be inevitably slain by Gods and Goddesses. When I was little, the stories meant little more than a face-off between good and evil to me. What really intrigues me about all the stories now, is the sheer grit of the villains. It is a universal timeline of events that destruction follows creation, and new life arises from the ashes of destruction. But the demons in our mythological stories performed such superhuman feats to please Brahma, Vishnu or Shiva that it shaped the way our entire universe was constructed. They underwent extreme physical and mental discomfort in exchange for the boon of immortality. They always succeeded in their endeavours through sheer determination but there was always just one catch that resulted in their downfall ultimately-their ego! Their ego always got in the way. Often times they underestimated women, children and other mortals which led to their destruction. 

Ancient Indian societies primarily believed in predeterminism. Predeterminism is the philosophy that all the events of the past, present and future are already decided by God, fate or an incomprehensible force. Yet the concept of karma is an established recurring theme in all the scriptures. It held me in confusion for the longest time. What if our lives are predestined, so are our thoughts and actions? And if we are destined and designed beforehand by omniscient Gods, then where is the importance of individual choice and why this hypocrisy of karma then? Delving deeper into the Scriptures shed some light on it though. While belief in predestiny finds its roots deep within Indian culture, we believe strongly in the power of human will.

In the classic story of bending one’s fate, Satyavan’s death had been prophesied.  Yet heartbroken at the loss of her husband, Savitri in her grief pursues the God of Death across worlds to the gates of Yamlok. Giving in to her persistence, Yamraj grants her any wish of her desire as long as it isn’t for her husband to return to life. Pondering through her options, Savitri knows how to bend her will to the fate set before her. She wishes for 100 children. Yamraj consents to her wish and continues, only to find Savitri still following him. She explains to the annoyed God of Death that she needs her husband to come back to life so that her wish can be fulfilled. Savitri snatched back her husband’s life from the God of Death himself.

The story talks about the possibility of changing one’s fate by sheer will power, intelligence and perseverance.

Ghor-tapasya of Parvati forced the hermit Lord Shiva himself to a life of domestic bliss. Prahlad’s strong belief in his devotion to Lord Vishnu resulted in the death of a tyrant blessed with immortality. 

This belief has been expressed not just through mythical tales, we have found multiple other channels in our everyday life to exercise this free will to bend fate in our favour. The gods have already decided my dad’s fate. Yet, my mother fasts on auspicious days for his well being.

Vastu Shastra, gemstones, lucky numbers, auspicious colours and astrology which encompasses it all, are all proof of human effort at making a dent of choice on the structure of fate that surrounds us.

Unlike the beliefs of other religions and philosophies, Indian cultures always supported an individual’s debate with their deities. 

Indian scriptures  are impregnated with such tales of victory of free will over fate through belief, hard work, intelligence, and persistence. This intricate to and fro between the belief in a predestined life and the power of human will is a beautiful example of the Indian society trying to emphasise the impact of awareness in our lives.

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Astrology, Fate and Karma

The very essence of astrology is based in determinism; the position of the planets, stars, and moon at the time of our birth, decide our destiny for us. Our natal chart remains the same throughout our lives and never wavers. Once the position of celestial bodies at the time of birth is known, it takes mere moments to figure out the position of the relevant cosmic entities at any moment during a person’s life. Yet, a big part of astrology is about being able to change one’s life. Awareness is astrology’s key companion in this system. Simply knowing what to expect is a big part of the battle. Providing coping mechanisms to deal with loss, trauma, and the challenges of our day to day lives is the foundation to bending our fate through the guiding light of astrology. 

Let’s say a person, Kriti, is told by an astrologer that she could experience a stress-related ailment in a month.

Kriti can decide to get stressed about this information itself. If so, she constantly worries about this prediction and chooses to handle this information negatively. She ends up being sick after a month and blames it on fate.

Alternatively Kriti could choose to make positive changes in her life. If her health is going to deteriorate in a month, she has all of 30 days to sort out all the issues that stress her currently. She also starts taking better care of her health. She exercises, eats better, meditates and communicates better with her loved ones. After all of these positive changes in her life, if she does suffer from an ailment, she would at least be prepared for it. Her hard work would also help her cope better with her sickness. 

If she chooses the latter path, she basically chose to empower herself using the wisdom of Jyotish Shastra (astrology) and be better prepared for her future.

Either way, astrology helped her be aware, what she chooses to do with that information is her doing. It does sound like a chicken and egg situation. If her life was already chalked out for her by the Divine Will, she really didn’t have control over actions either. 

But I like to believe that even if she was fated to fall ill, her actions after she acquired the information were solely her decision. Vedic philosophy supports my claim. Vedas preach ‘A Balanced Universe.’

Light-darkness, creation-destruction, good-evil, fate-free will, all play an equally important part in all our lives, it’s this delicate balance between these opposing forces of nature that keeps the universe going.

Astrology, the all-seeing eye of the Vedas is a gift to humanity which has stuck in this dilemma of predestiny and free will. It brings about self awareness in a person.

If divinity is in us and we are divine, we just need to be aware of it to be able to access this divinity within us. If so, we may realise that the Divine Will is a part of us, it is a part of our free will, our thoughts and actions. What we really need to fathom is that our free will is an equally important part of the Divine Will that we call fate.

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