There is an age old debate on the human experience. This debate is about Free Will v/s Destiny. It comes up over and over again and there has never been a conclusion reached.There are often two schools of thought. One school seems to prescribe that our lives are predetermined and everything that happens in our life is destined and we have very little control over it. The other school of thought is that we have a free will and we determine our own destiny and we can pretty much do as we please. The problem with either of the views is that they are both extreme views and tend to have an “either-or” approach to life. I have always believed life to be in shades of grey and believe there is really nothing that is absolutely right or wrong. It all depends on individual perceptions. We need to look at this question as an inclusive question rather than mutually exclusive.
There are few things in life which we all know and agree are predetermined. When we are born, the fact that we will all grow old and will die one day. You have no control over these events in your life. However most of your life is driven by Free Will or more specifically the choices you make in life. What you are today is a result of the choices you have made in your life and where you will be tomorrow will also be a result of the choices you make. At every stage in your life you are making decisions, sometimes consciously and many times unconsciously. Most of the unconscious decisions have developed over time and are a result of habits we have formed over many years. For example what you do after you get up in the morning, what you read every day, which television programmes you watch, the road you take to work each day and many more.
Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s search for meaning call our ability to make choices as Man’s greatest freedom. The book is very intense and shares his experiences in Nazi concentration camps. The one message which stands out from the book is that no matter what your circumstances in your life, we ALWAYS have a choice. You may argue that there are often situations when we feel that we did not make a choice. A very common example I have heard is from the corporate world. I often hear people complain that their boss is a pain or their employer is unfair or their job sucks. But they still decide to continue with the job. The reason here is that they don’t have a choice, because they have not been able to find another job and if they quit they won’t be able to pay their bills or sustain their lifestyle. My argument here is that you do have a choice. It’s just that you do not have the courage to make the choice of quitting your job and face the consequences of that decision. I’m sure you have heard many people who have dropped out of college, quit their jobs and taken a decision to change their lives. These were people who had the courage to make a choice and prepared themselves for the consequences of that choice.
I do think that destiny plays a role in our lives. But I think there are multiple destiny’s depending on the choices we make. In other words, at every stage in our life, we have choices to make and each choice leads us to a different destination. God gives us knowledge and the choices. However it is we who must make those choices and in doing so, we select our destiny. The question here is how do we make the right choices. The choices we make are based on our knowledge, beliefs and past experiences. This leads us into a very fascinating but often misunderstood truth. The truth is that “Your Thoughts make your Destiny”. This truth has been represented in many ways by many philosophers and wise men and in the holy books.
One of the best books on this is As a Man Thinketh by James Allen. Until I had read this book and started practiced its teachings, I held a very strong belief about our Thoughts. I believed that our Thoughts were not in our control. What we had control over is what we did with those thoughts. In other words we had no control over our minds (where the thoughts originate) and all we could do was to decide how we were going to react or respond to those thoughts. It’s been almost a year since I read this book the first time (yes I have read it a few times now!) and I now know that my belief is far from the truth. Not only do we have control over our thoughts, we can also actively shape what kind of thoughts we have. You may find this to be a ridiculous statement but once you develop an understanding of this and start practicing, you will soon start experiencing this. Here are some beautiful lines from The Dhammapada on the power of Thought.
All that we are is the result of thought,
Thought is its master, it is produced by thought.
If one speaks or acts,
With corrupted thought,
Then pain follows,
As the wheel follows the foot of the ox.
All that we are is the result of thought,
Thought is its master, it is produced by thought.
If one speaks or acts,
With pure thought,
Then happiness follows,
Like a shadow that never leaves.
So, if we know that we can control our thoughts, let’s look at how thoughts help us mould our destiny. It is believed that as humans we have more than 60,000 thoughts in a day. Most of these thoughts come and go, while some others linger on for longer. Let’s have a look at what happens to a Thought from the time we become aware of it. This is best explained through the visual below which I call the Cycle of Thought to Destiny.
Once a thought is generated by the mind, the next thing that happens is that we experience a feeling. This feeling can be positive, negative or neutral. So for example if the thought was about what we need to do at work today, then you could either have a positive feeling like feeling charged about getting to work. On the other hand you could have a negative feeling of spending yet another day at work. This is very nicely summarised by how people who have positive outlook towards life get up in the morning compared to people who are pessimists. The former will get up and says “Good Morning Lord” while the pessimist says “Good Lord, Its Morning”. It is often believed that the thought comes after the feeling. For example we feel angry and then start thinking. That’s right, however before you became angry, a thought came into your mind which caused the anger. The process is so fast that to an untrained mind it is invisible.
Your Feeling then determines your attitude. If you are charged to go to office, you will really look forward to going to work and the challenges the day has to offer. You will be eager to get to work and get the day rolling. On the other hand if you are feeling low or dis- charged, then you will literally have to drag yourself to get to work. You will be skeptical of your boss, your colleagues and will probably even think about all the issues and complaints that you will hear from people.
Your attitude translates itself into actions. This is something we have heard many times. Your attitude determines your altitude. HR managers are known to give a preference to someone with a right attitude with lesser skill sets over someone who has a bad attitude but excellent skill sets. The reason for this is that a person with a positive attitude will translate this attitude into taking concrete and productive actions. On the other had someone with a negative attitude will always come up with excuses, complaints and reasons on why something would not work.
Once you keep repeating something, it soon becomes a habit. A habit is developed through repeated actions. So if you keep coming up with excuses and are constantly complaining it will soon turn into a habit and before you realise you will have a tendency to complain and whine about everything. I’m sure you have seen many examples of people like this either at work or in your friends circle. Every time you go to them with an idea, their first reaction is that of skepticism and doubt. It’s almost like they feel obliged to challenge everything you tell them and show a general lack of enthusiasm for things.
Our personality or character is nothing but an aggregation of our habits. All the things that we regularly do is what people identify us with. So if you are someone who is always upbeat and enthusiastic, people will call you a very upbeat personality. If you are someone who takes on challenges and is not afraid to take risks, you are known as a very self-confident personality. Our personality is what we are and one of my favourite quotes is “You don’t get what you want but what you are”. So if our personalities is what we are and our destiny (what we get) is based on what we are then your personality eventually leads to your destiny. Our personality traits then emerge once again in the form of another thought.
What I have just explained above is nothing but the Law of Karma at work. The word karma is Sanskrit, meaning action and the entire cycle of cause-effect. The Law of Karma can be understood as the spiritual equivalent of Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which states that for every action [on the physical plane] there is an equal and opposite reaction. In physics, the understanding of the absoluteness of Newton’s law shed so much light on a world that had previously been shrouded in mystery, that today it lies at the foundation of many advances in science and technology.
The Law of Karma is equally unequivocal in the spiritual dimension. It states that ‘for every action on the spiritual plane there is an equal and opposite reaction’. This means that if happiness is given, happiness will be experienced in return and if sorrow is given, sorrow will be experienced in equal measure. In other words, whatever emotion I cause another to experience must ultimately become my own experience.
The law of karma operates whether or not we are conscious of it. By its functioning, our destinies are shaped. Its continued action arises from and depends solely upon man’s own free will. Thought is a seed; action is its fruit. The quality of fruit is determined by the quality of its seed. Good thoughts lead to good actions which benefit others as well as one’s self. The Law of Karma begins to work to my advantage when I stop habitual actions that are harmful, take responsibility to positively address the consequences of any such actions performed in the past, and pay attention to performing positive actions from this moment forward.
Your thoughts are influenced by 3 main factors
What goes in comes out. So Garbage in-Garbage out. As you sow so shall you reap. An apples seed will only give you an apple tree. So whatever information you feed your mind, those are the type of thoughts you will create. If the information fed is negative, your thoughts will be negative. If you feed your mind with positive, uplifting, motivating and inspiring information, then those are the types of thoughts you can expect to create. Become aware of the information you feed your mind with and make conscious choices to feed it stuff which will help harness positive thoughts. The information that you feed yourself with becomes the knowledge you build to bring the change in your life.
Our beliefs are based on the information we have been feeding ourselves repeatedly over the years. Beliefs have also to a large extent been shaped due to our past experiences. Our beliefs shape our thoughts and we tend to have thoughts which align with our belief system. For example a common belief amongst many is that people always have a vested interest in everything they do. If this is your belief system, every time someone does something for you, the first thought that comes to your mind would be “What’s in it for him?”. So if have to change your thoughts you need to change your belief system. This of course takes time and practice. You need to first have an open mind towards people and things. Napoleon Hill in his immensely successful book “Think and Grow Rich” has this as one of the laws “An Open mind toward everyone and all Subjects”. He mentions “Open Mindedness as an essential to belief”. Don’t believe anything blindly, even what I’m saying here. Experiment with things and experience them before you accept them.
Lastly our past experiences shape our thoughts. This is something all of us understand very well. We often say that I don’t have a very good feeling with dealing with him because the last time I worked with him he was very difficult to work with. This feeling first came from a thought that this person is difficult to work with. This thought came from your past experience with the person. Now, while you cannot change your past experiences, what you do have control of is your present experience which tomorrow will become your past experience. You present experiences are strongly influenced by the Law of Karma. So if you choose to look at your circumstances in a positive light your experiences will also end up being positive. For example if you learned to accept peoples differences and worked selflessly on arriving at a positive outcome and also happily accepted the outcome, then what you leave behind is a positive impression on your mind.
As you can see the Cycle from thought to Destiny and the 3 influencing factors are very closely interleaved and influence each other continuously. Once you have understood the dynamics of this (which comes with understanding, practice and experience), you will start to see amazing changes in your life.
What did you think about the article. Do you believe in Free Will or Destiny? Would love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below.