Life stems from desire —our desire to conquer the world. We aspire for fame and fortune, beauty and power, good health and happiness. And with these aspirations, we set out on our journey of life. To fulfill our dreams and ambitions, we put in effort (parakrma) and pursue actions (karma).
Our efforts are determined by our conditioning. While some of us throw in our all to achieve our aspirations, others wait for things to fall into their lap. The former are“doers” (karta), who believe in their ability and effort, while the latter are fatalists (bhogta), who expect destiny to come to their rescue and deliver. They accept the events of their life solely as destiny and do not suffer from anxiety.
However, both these approaches have a down side.
When we try too hard, we become anxious and take the outcome personally. If the outcome is favorable, we border on conceit and if the outcome is unfavorable, we cave in to despair. In the great Indian epic Mahabharata, which is a story of war between two set of cousins, the envious Kauravas and the peace loving Pandavas, Arjun (one of the five Pandava brothers), refuses to fight the war. Although Arjun knows it to be a “just war” (dharma yuddha), he is rendered weak because he is consumed by the consequences of his actions. It is at this stage that his friend and charioteer Krishna intervenes, and exhorts the dejected warrior, “Be intent on the action, not on the fruits of action.” (Bhagwad Gita)
When we perform actions without worrying about their success or failure, victory or defeat, loss or gain, we are more tranquil and it also leads to greater skill and concentration in the performance. Getting emotional about the outcome of our actions, distracts us from doing justice to the task at hand.
Krishna also makes it clear that the spirit of detachment is to be practiced for the outcome (phal) of our actions, not for the action itself. He adds that, “Perform necessary action; it is more powerful than inaction; without action you even fail to sustain your body.” (Bhagwad Gita)
Hence, those who perform actions with a sense of detachment, that is, half-heartedly and leave things to destiny, rarely have the desired outcome, because even for destiny (bhagya) to deliver, one is expected to make a sincere effort.
People who rely on their destiny rarely read opportunities, because of their complacency. Osho, the Zen master, says: “Right effort means don’t try too hard. Right effort also means don’t stop trying completely. When you are trying too hard you become tense; when you are not trying at all, you become lazy. When you are trying playfully you are neither lazy nor tense. Your life has beauty, grace, balance and harmony. Be in the middle, that’s exactly the meaning of right effort.”
But as we move ahead in life to fulfill our aspirations, we observe that while some wishes are fulfilled, others seem beyond human effort. No matter how sincere our effort, no matter how much we persevere, our aspirations just refuse to materialize. And bewildered at our inability to fulfill our wishes, we stand at a crossroad. We can either accept the outcome graciously, or, if we are stubborn, resort to unfair means. Perseverance is a form of human effort; insistence is a form of violence.
In ancient India, children were made to comprehend the sense of mystery surrounding life through tales and fables. It was through the context of these stories that children learnt to accept that there is much in the world that is beyond their control. Therefore, it is wise to be able discern between things that can be changed and things that are best accepted.
Our violent assertion of self-will gets us nowhere. Instead, our bull-headed insistence adds to our account of negative karmas. When we resort to shortcuts to fulfill what is not meant to be, we may achieve or acquire whatever it is that we set out for, but we will not enjoy it. Such is the working of existence (Law of Karma). Its justice is poetic. Existence would either physically debilitate us or mentally pervert us and deem us incapable of enjoying our ill gotten end (dushphal).
But why is it, that in spite of our sincere efforts, some wishes get fulfilled while some don’t?
The answer lies in the Law of Karma. The law of karma, which is an innate property of the universe, fulfills our wishes or frustrates us in accordance with our karmic balance sheet. The more karmic credits we have, the easier it is for existence to fulfill our wishes. But, if our karmic account does not have enough karmic credits, our desires remain unfulfilled. Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik, a writer and an authority on Indian mythology, explains: “Selfish actions that make demands on the world and indulge the ego are debt incurring actions. Selfless actions where the ego sacrifices its pleasures for the sake of the world are equity earning actions.” (Myth=Mithya by Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik, Penguin Books)
Hence, if we truly want our wishes to be fulfilled, we need to earn them by undertaking equity earning actions (sukarma). Our insistence or assertion by resorting to shortcuts only delays its fulfillment. These actions emerge out of our bloated sense of ego, which refuses to accept defeat. Such an ego operates solely on the visible and the tangible aspect of existence. It is completely oblivious to the parallel reality that operates along the visible and the tangible.
The human mind is capable of two modes of consciousness, the rational (tatva gyan) and the intuitive (bramha gyana). The Upanishads speak of them as a higher and a lower knowledge; they associate the lower knowledge with various sciences and the higher with religious awareness. While the rational mind prods us to perform the necessary action, the intuitive mind helps us to accept the outcome of our actions with equanimity. The intuitive mind is aware of the forces on which the tangible and the visible operate, the parallel reality (prakritti). If we really want our dreams and aspirations to be fulfilled, let us seek the assistance of these invisible forces at work (existence/Brahmanda), through our good deeds, rather than through ego driven assertion of self-will.
Our rational mind can make us clever and intelligent, but our intuitive mind makes us wise. It is here, with relation to the outcome of our actions that we need to leave things to destiny. Having done things to the best of our ability, we need to leave the outcome of our efforts to destiny. This way, we strike a perfect balance between human effort and destiny. Effort is ours to perform; outcome is for our destiny to deliver.
Accepting victory or defeat, success or failure, with equanimity, brings “beauty, grace, balance and harmony in our life,” in the words of Osho, the Zen Master.