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Volume XIV - The Smiling Forehead

Part I - The Smiling Forehead

Chapter VII
Destiny and Free Will

There are two points of view: very often people either believe in destiny or in free will. Those who believe in destiny do not believe in free will; it is a question of temperament, and it also depends upon the experience they had in their lives. Some people have worked and had some success and recognized it as the outcome of their work. Then they think, 'if there is anything it is free will. What we have done shows it: we have achieved results'. And there are others who have worked but did not succeed. In that case they begin to see that something is keeping them back from getting results, and then they think, 'There is something – destiny – which is holding us back'. Many think, 'It is a sort of laziness to be fatalist; after all it is a superstition'. And others think, 'Free will is just a name, a conception, an idea a person may have, but really it is all destiny'.

Nevertheless, their idea of free will has its meaning and this belief has its peculiar benefit in life, while at the same time the idea of destiny is profound. Whether a person believes in it or does not believe in it, there is always an attraction about it. One who reads the future will always attract the believer in destiny as well as the unbeliever. The believer goes to him with faith, the unbeliever with smiles. Whether they believe that it is true or not, both are attracted to know about destiny because it is the greatest mystery there is. One's own life in which one is most interested always remains a secret, a mystery, and this mystery is greater than any other in the world. No one can say, 'I have no interest in knowing about my life, in knowing why I have had that past, why I have this present and what future I shall have'. To know about it is the greatest desire one has.

Concerning the idea of destiny one may ask whether a plan is laid out so that every occurrence in life must be according to that plan. And if it is laid out, on what ground? Who has laid it out? If it is God who laid it out, how far could it be just on the part of God to make one happy and another miserable, one great and another small, to let one enjoy and at the same time make another suffer – living under the same sun, walking on the same earth? If it is man's action, is it in the first place the action of the past or is it the action of the present and, if it is man's action, to what degree is he responsible for it? These questions take a person to the depths of life's mystery, and once they are solved a great philosophical problem has been solved.

Most often a person has a preconceived idea, and this idea he keeps as a wall before him; content with what he knows about it, he does not try to inquire any further.

There is no doubt that a man is born with a plan to be accomplished in life – not only with instincts, with merits or gifts, but with the whole plan of how his life is to be. There is a saying in the East that one can read the life of an infant from looking at its feet; even the little feet of the infant show the sign of the plan that it is to follow through life.

There is a story that explains a little more the relation between destiny and free will. A seer was working as a porter (from the French portier, i.e. doorman.) in a rich man's house. Now there is a belief in the East that no sooner a child is born than angels come and write on its forehead the whole plan of destiny. But this seer-porter was a wonderful man. At the door, as soon as the angels came, he said, 'Stop, where are you going? I am the porter here! You cannot go in unless you promise to tell me about the plan'. The angels told him; he was a strong porter, he would not let them go without telling him. And so every time a child was born in that house he took down the notes of what was going to happen. Then the parents passed away. Theirs had been a rich house, but for some reason or other the money was lost. The children were left without shelter, and it fell upon the shoulders of the old porter to look after them with what little means he had.

As soon as they were old enough the children went to different countries with what little they had to spend. One day this servant of the house thought that it was his duty to go and see how they were getting on. Also for a seer it is most interesting to see the material phenomenon of the same thing he had seen inwardly as a vision. That comes as a satisfaction to a seer; it is naturally amusing for him when he sees on the outer plane the same things he had felt inside himself. It gives him the greatest fun, the greatest amusement.

So the porter went and saw one child of the house working as a horse groom. He was very sorry to see the child of a house, where so many horses had been kept, in this situation. He went to the young man and told him, 'It could not be avoided, it was meant that you should be so. Only, I want to give you one advice, because it makes me sad to think that you, in whose house were so many horses, now have to work as a horse groom. Here is a little money, take it and go to another city and try to work as a horse trainer. Horses of rich men may be given to you to train them, and I am sure you will be successful'. The young man asked, 'Can I do anything else?' 'No, that is the only door out. Perhaps you would have been a horse groom all your life if I had not told you this. Anything else you cannot do; this is the only path for you. Do your work in a different way and you will have success'. The young man did so and was successful.

The porter then went to the other son and asked, 'What is your condition?' 'My condition is that I wander about in the forest and bring back some birds. I sell them in the city and hardly get any money to live'. In those days there was a fashion among kings to keep a certain bird as a pet; that bird was called Shahbaz, the king's bird. The porter said, 'You must not look for game birds, look for this bird Shahbaz'. The boy replied, 'But if I cannot find it, should I then rather starve and die?'

'Do you know what your father was and what you are?'

'Yes, I had bad luck'.

'You will have better luck if only you listen to me. You need not change your profession of catching birds, but catch Shahbaz. You can sell it for millions. That is the bird you ought to catch'.

This story makes us realize what the seer does. A definite plan was made for those two young men; at the same time there was scope for free will to work – but within that plan. If one did not think of this scope one would go on in the lines of the plan and continue to live miserably. Seeing changes the scope. It is a great lesson and those who can understand this lesson can benefit immensely by it: seeing there is a plan and at the same time that there is scope to do better, and much better – yet within the plan.

Sadi, the great poet of Persia, has said, Every soul is born for a certain purpose and the light of that purpose is kindled in his soul'.

Now the question arises if a person is born with what the Hindus call karma: some action of the past, or something he has brought with him on earth, a good influence or a bad influence, something that he has to pay. No doubt there is truth in it and we can see that truth very often: a person is placed in a situation where he has to give, where he has to serve, where he has to sympathize without any intention on his part, as if he has to pay a debt to someone. He may not have the slightest desire to do so – at the same time it falls on his shoulders, he cannot help it. It is as if a higher at-one-ment has determined that it must be so. Whether the person does it willingly or unwillingly he must give his time, thought, sympathy and service to someone else.

Then one sees that a person receives money or comfort or love and sympathy from someone else. Whether he deserves it or does not deserve it is not the question to be thought about: one is in a certain situation and cannot help it. Whether people are willing or not willing, there is something that compels them, they cannot help it. This shows that one is born with that relation of give and take, one cannot help it. Among Hindus some people are accustomed to say that to them others are like children who have nothing to pay, just like parents will say, 'We have nothing to get from our children'.

This makes it clear that man is born with certain obligations which willingly or unwillingly he must fulfill. It also shows that, however powerful and however great a person may be, however good circumstances may seem, when there is to be a difficulty it cannot be helped; the difficulty will be there. And then at other times in life, in spite of all things lacking, a way is open; you have not to do much and it is all smooth. This also shows that there is a plan. It is not only qualification and cleverness that make successful, but a plan is to be accomplished. There are times when you are meant to have an easy life, success and all you wish, and other times when you cannot have these.

One may ask, 'Is it so that something is born with a person, or is it the effect of a person's action on the earth?' The answer is, 'Both'. Suppose an artist first made in his mind a design of a certain picture and then, as he made that picture, so he was inspired by it. This suggested him to change the design and, as he went along making the picture, it changed to such an extent that it became quite different from the picture he had made before. He had thought of putting two horns on a particular figure and now he made two wings: instead of an animal it became a bird. Even to that extent life may be changed by action. A right action, a good action is productive of power; it is creative and can help much more than man can imagine.

Then arises the question to what extent man can help himself. The answer is that man has two aspects in him. One aspect is his mechanical being where he is but a machine controlled by conditions, by his impressions, by outer influences, by cosmic influences, by his actions. Everything working mechanically turns his life accordingly: he has no power over conditions, he is just a tool of influences. The more this aspect is pronounced in man, the less evolved he is. It is a sign of less evolution.

Another aspect in man is creative, in which he shows the sign of being representative of the Creator, in which he shows that he is not only linked with God but part of God: his innermost self is God. Be not surprised therefore if you hear those amazing stories of sages, masters, saints and prophets whose command worked in the cosmos and by whose will a generality, a collectivity moved as they wished it to move. It is nothing to be surprised at. Outwardly every man is almost of the same size; no man is as high as a camel, or as stout as an elephant. Outwardly men differ little, but inwardly there is no comparison in the size of the spirit, no comparison between the understanding, the power and insight of one man and that of another. One walks, one runs, one flies and one creeps; yet all walk on the same earth, live under the same sun – all called men. Nevertheless, there is no man who has not a spark of this power, who has not the possibility of changing conditions by his free will, if only he realized what he is. It is the absence of this realization which makes man a machine.

Now coming to the causes that change man's life, man's destiny: these are not only his own actions, but also the thoughts of another. For instance I have seen many cases where a loving mother was not pleased with her growing child who did not satisfy her. This must always make the child suffer in one way or another; it is never otherwise. He may become a qualified and capable man, but not having satisfied his mother is quite enough for him to quit luck.

A keen study will make us understand how these things work, but from childhood we have been so absorbed in our own life and interest that we do not think much about how the thought and feeling of those around us act upon us. A rich man, displeased with his porter or servant, may speak roughly to him or insult him, not realizing at the time that perhaps the feeling of the servant, who is dependent and bound to that particular place, who thinks that his situation keeps him in that position, is hurt. Then, when the rich man goes to his office, to his affairs, he gets that pinprick there; he does not know why. He thinks that he has given a pinprick to a servant who could not return it – but someone else returns it. He feels it but does not know that it is the answer of the same thing he has done.

The more we think about this the more we shall believe that God works through all beings – not only human beings but even through animals and birds. And when we are able to believe this we cannot help believing the words of Buddha, 'The essence of all religion is harmlessness'. Harmlessness does not mean refraining from killing: one can kill many without killing. In order to kill a person one does not need to murder him; a glance, a word, a thought can kill a person, and that is worse torture than death. It is this experience that will make us say, 'My very feet, be conscientious lest you tread on the thorns lying on your path, lest they complain: You have crushed me'.

There is no end to consideration once a person begins applying this principle. If there is any religion it is in having consideration for everyone: earnestly to consider what feeling can be touched by a moment's mistake. If there is any abode of God it is in the heart of man. If the heart is touched wrongly it has an effect upon destiny, and we do not know to what extent destiny can be changed by the feeling of another person: it can change it more than our own feeling could. One always wishes good for oneself; no one wishes to be unhappy.

Then there are planetary influences, and one may ask, 'What are these planetary influences? What relation do they have with us?' The answer is that man also is a planet and, as one planet is related to another, so in the same way planets are related to mankind. Naturally the changing of the condition of a planet and what is produced by it, and what effect is produced by the planet, have an effect upon man's life.

One might ask, Is man so small as to be under the influence of a planet?' Yes, outwardly. Outwardly man is so small as to be a drop in the ocean. If the planet is the ocean, then the individual is a drop. But inwardly the planet is a drop in the ocean of man's heart. Asif, the great philosopher says, 'My ignorance, the day you will have vanished my heart will be open, and this whole universe will become a bubble in the ocean of my heart'. Smallness and imperfection are the outcome of ignorance and relate the heart to limitation. The day when the heart is open the whole universe will be in it, and the source of destiny, its secret and its mystery will be in the hand of man.

What is the manner in which we should believe in destiny and free will? The best way of believing in destiny is to think that all disagreeable things we have gone through belong to destiny; they are past, we are free from them. The way how to look at free will is to think that all that is before us, all that is to come, is the outcome of free will, and to keep before us as a concentration the thought: nothing wrong will touch us, but all that is good for us, all that is best, lies before us. It is wrong to think that worse things are in store for us because destiny has kept our karma and intends that we must suffer, that we have to pay for our karma, for the one who is conscious of his karma will have to pay a high interest; the more he is conscious of it, the more interest he will have to pay.

In conclusion we come to understand that there are two aspects of will working through all things in life. One is the individual will, the other the divine will. When a person goes against the divine will, naturally his human will fails and he finds difficulties, because he is swimming against the tide. The moment a person works in consonance, in harmony with the divine will, things become smooth.

'But', one will say, 'life has not been smooth for great personalities such as Christ. From childhood there were difficulties; his parents had to flee to the desert, and when the young Jesus was brought among the people there were still greater difficulties. The great saints and sages had great difficulties all through life; all was not smooth for them. Did they work against destiny, against the will of God?'

This question shows that to realize the will of God is difficult on the material plane. In the Bible we read, 'Thy will be done on earth as in heaven'. This makes us understand that it is not as easy for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. And this is a suggestion which teaches us a great lesson: there is a conscious will working and an unconscious will working. That unconscious working is abstract working, but the conscious working is divine working; it may be called divine will. It may have difficulties, but at the same time these difficulties have a meaning. In other words, success or failure of God, of godly power, means nothing: it is success in the end. And the success or failure of man also is nothing: it is failure in the end. If a man succeeds in collecting so much wealth or in attaining such a high position as he wants, what is the end of it? It will belong to someone else who will snatch it out of his hand. Therefore whether we have success or failure in life – if it is individual, in the end it is failure. But in the case of a godly purpose, whether it is failure or success, it is success in the end. It cannot be otherwise; it is only gain that is there.

Nanak says, 'The grain that takes refuge near the center of the grinding mill is saved'. So is the man who keeps close to God and draws his power and inspiration from God. When his life is directed by that power and inspiration, whether he has difficulties or ease, his way is always smooth and the end is what it ought to be.

checked 4-Nov-2006