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Is Destiny a Matter of Choice or A Matter of Chance?
|by Vishwa Mohan Tiwari, AVM (Retd)|
Lot of my friends ask me, 'Is Destiny a matter of Choice or a matter of Chance ?' This is, strictly speaking, self contradictory. The questioner believes that there is destiny; and that one can attain it through choices, or chance occurrences determine it; his enquiry is to determine whether it is a matter of chance or choice. To understand the contradiction and to go deeper into the subject, the terms must be defined.
Destiny is something to which a person or thing is destined i.e. the course of events in our life is predetermined to reach a preordained destination. Destiny implies that there is some Power which decrees or determines the course of events beforehand. In this view there is no chance or choice left. Let us be clear, any other meaning of destiny would not be permitted by standard dictionaries. However people use it in different senses than permitted by dictionaries. Some maintain that destiny is ultimately what you arrive at in your life. And for those who believe in destiny, fate is the principle or determining cause by which things in general are believed to come to as they are or events to happen as they do. Fate and destiny are therefore related causally; therefore one who believes in destiny has to believe in fate.
Choice, or free will, needs availability of alternatives for any thought, speech and/ or action from which one can choose.
Chance occurrence of an event is one in which no cause can be identified explaining its teleological or purposeful specificity. It is also known as a random event. Dictionary defines it as, chance is something that happens unpredictably without discernable human intention or observable cause; it also means the probability of an indicated outcome in an uncertain situation.
In destiny there is nothing random, there is no chance, nor there is any choice because, by definition, it is all preordained. If destiny rules then either there are no choices and chances or even the choices and chances are dictated by the destiny. Can one call a choice a real choice if it is predetermined by destiny! A predetermined choice is no choice! The word 'destiny' implies a teleological or purposeful relationship also between a cause and its effect on a human being, in addition to physical cause and effect.
The discussion on the subject gets confounded because of the incorrect use of the word 'destiny', even by learned persons. Let me quote an example from a speech by Jawahar Lal Nehru on 15th August 1947, the first independence day of India. He declared it as our 'tryst with destiny'. He certainly did not mean that we had secured the hard fought freedom because it was preordained by some Supreme Power, or it was our fate or fortune. He meant that we had earned our freedom by great sacrifices and suffering chosen by us. Therefore he did not use the word 'destiny' in the defined (in a dictionary) sense of the word. He certainly used it in the sense of destiny that is carved out by immense human efforts. If we agree that this is the definition of 'destiny' and not those that are given in dictionaries, then destiny depends upon both choices and chances; of course assuming that we work and toil on our choices. Differences in opinions on the subject occur because of use of different meanings of the word 'destiny'. Strictly speaking, the words 'choice', chance and 'destiny' are antipodes of each other. My thesis is to state that it is not destiny but choice and chance that determine the course and achievements of life, just as securing of our freedom was not our destiny but an outcome of chances, our choice and trials and tribulations. I am willing to admit the existence of 'destiny' in a scientific sense; we can say with confidence that 'eclipses' are destined. Similarly, the universe of planets, suns, stars and galaxies is destined to ultimately vanish into space. This is ordained by the laws of physics known today. The universe is not only expanding but expanding inexorably with acceleration!
'Life is but a stage on which we play our role', this metaphor is quoted by believers in destiny, but even this gives some choice if we delve deeper in to its meaning. Different actors may act differently not only because of their different abilities to enact the role, but because they interpret the role of the script differently. This is in addition to their ability to enact the role. They interpret the role they are playing differently depending upon their experiences and education. This is equally true in case of conducting symphonies, of say Beethoven; different conductors interpret the same music-score differently.
Some believers in destiny say that, 'My role in life is already given, my job is to enact it to the best of my capabilities. And some believers in destiny maintain that not even a leaf can move without the will of the God, implying that there is no freedom at all. Some believe that it is 'Sanchit Karmas' and 'praarabdha' that determine our present life. 'Sanchit Karmas' are the karmas or actions that have accumulated during our past lives and whose effects have not been exercised yet. 'Praarabdha' constitutes the results of actions in the previous births that have not been exhausted, and as per the strict laws of 'Kaarmic Theory' those causes have to unfold as results in this or future births. These believers also believe that they are somewhat free to act in this birth. Therefore whether one believes in rebirths or not, one can say that destiny is a matter of chance and choice both but constrained by certain forces from the past (lives). So, there are different meanings of the word destiny in which freedom is also included along with predetermined path of events. The problem in accepting 'destiny' as true is that it remains a faith, it cannot be proven, because destiny cannot be foretold. Astrologers claim to predict the future. Most often their predictions are wrong or they are so wonderfully worded that they can be interpreted to suit the final event. Not being a believer in destiny or astrology, I must admit that the astrologer and the faith in destiny are both socially very useful for believers, especially during difficult periods in life.
Above mentioned factors, most of the time operating as a community, do restrict and control the choices, yet it can be reasonably concluded that in most of the cases one can exercise ones choices, however restricted. One is aware of ones characteristics to a significant extent and to that extent he certainly makes a choice. At times one acts against ones known values in which case most of the time his unconscious or subconscious mind may be responsible. Result of one's choice may be either beneficial or harmful.
To make a choice from among 'destiny', chance and 'choice' has important ramifications, e.g. is a murderer responsible for his act if the murder was destined? Is one responsible for ones actions or not, is the most important question, answer to which would affect our lives seriously. Can we imagine, e.g., a murderer being allowed to go scot free because the judge believes in destiny that is ordained?
In Mahabharata there is a story in which a young boy dies because he was bitten by a snake. The mother wanted to kill the snake for it had bit an innocent boy for no fault of his. Ultimately the snake proves that he had bit the boy because the boy was destined to die. And the snake was pardoned. Of course in the Mahabharata there are many stories including Shri Madbhagwat-Geetaa which discuss these matters deeply. One need not conclude that Maharshi Vyaas wanted us to believe in destiny in this sense, otherwise Lord Krishna would not have exhorted Arjuna to fight the big war. Therefore the subject ought to be explored carefully.
No wonder, philosophers all the world over have been discussing this subject from time immemorial. In philosophy the subject is discussed under the title, 'determinism vs. freewill'. Philosophers were on either side of the issue till the mathematician La Place gave his scientific view. It said that if the causal laws of the mechanistic functions are known, and initial conditions given, then the future of any particular event can be correctly predicted. He called the world a great machine. Newton's Laws of motion had given this confidence because as per the laws of gravitation position of any body could be correctly predicted either on earth or in heavens. This strengthened the case for thinkers of 'deterministic' school. However there were some thinkers who said that LaPlacian theory was applicable to the mechanistic world but not to the human world. The case remained in favor of 'determinism' and for people believing in destiny, either religious or secular, till 1927.
In 1927 came the 'Uncertainty Principle' propounded by Heisenberg, later on a Nobel laureate. It states that it is not possible to determine both the position and momentum of a small particle like an electron accurately. If its position is determined accurately then its momentum cannot be measured accurately and vice versa. This demolished LaPlacian verdict, and 'free will's' case became stronger both in the mechanistic and human world.
Generally people, who strictly believe in destiny, do not believe in chance and vice versa. Einstein was one of the first who believed in the Planck's revolutionary theory of 'Quantum Mechanics', which depended on chance occurrences, and gave results in form of probabilities for an event to occur. Einstein was not comfortable with the probabilistic results. But even more fundamentally, he believed that nature exists independent of the experimenter, and the motions of particles are precisely determinable. The fact that quantum mechanics did seem consistent only with statistical results and could not fully describe every motion was for Einstein an indication that quantum mechanics was still incomplete. Yet he believed that those so called chances are not chances but there causes are not understood. Einstein, wrote to Max Born, on 4 December 1926: 'The theory (Plancks Quantum Theory) yields a lot, but it hardly brings us any closer to the secret of the Old One. In any case I am convinced that He does not throw dice'. To this Neils Bohr, who was another giant of modern physics, is said to have retorted, 'Do not dictate God what to like and dislike.' However the appropriate view of Einstein on the subject is
Therefore, like Einstein, one may not believe in chance and yet not believe in destiny, and may believe in choice.
Now let us look at what our great bhaktas and rishis have said on the subject. Bhaktas always desire love of God and they dedicate their actions to God. Therefore they are exercising their choice. It is a truism that mostly desires lead to actions. Our rishis have laid great stress on control of desires for a happy life. Obviously, desires can be controlled, but only if choice or free will exists. Further, for guidance of the life, they have laid four Purushaarthas : Dharma, Artha, Kaama and Moksha. These four 'Purushaarthas can be exercised or practiced only if there is freedom of choice. I would like to conclude by quoting the 14th shloka of 18th chapter of Shrimadbhagavat Geetaa, in which Krishna establishes a relationship between choice and chance :
The place where the task is to be done, the doer, different instruments available, different methods of execution and the fifth 'daiva' i.e. natural forces or forces not under our control; these five determine the course of action and result thereof. Thus, it can be concluded that chance and choice both are involved in any action in this life, along with the doer, his methods and the environment. And I would like to standby my conclusion despite the saying that, 'Destiny is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. However as a concession to the questioner I would say that, 'what we meet in life is destiny; and how we meet it is our choice!
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