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Divine Grace and Self-effort

(Daiva and purushakara)

— Swami Satyakamananda



The creation is under the control of eternal and unbroken chain of Time, without any beginning and without any end. This stride of Time is ceaselessly going on. In the womb of eternal time cycle, the Triune of creation-preservation-destruction is continually taking place. Present creation is a link in this recurring Triune. Hence every being in this creation is also under the control of Time. The eternal time (God) is the maker and preserver of Universal Laws though itself remains aloof like air which emits sweet or foul smell depending on surroundings although air itself is free from any smell. Great time, the Master of Existence, ordains Natural Laws for supporting this cosmos. Had there been no hard and fast Law of Nature manifesting God's will, an apple tree might produce any other kind of fruit and the Sun might refuse to rise and set at right times making the day or night uncertain.

Prarabdha or past actions of Jiva, the being, are those the effects of which cause this present birth for burning up the past actions through experiences both good and bad. It is like the ripe fruit which is ready to be served. Sanchita Karma or stored-up actions are those which may be compared with the unripe fruits that cannot be served readily. Such past actions are to be suffered for in some later births. The Kriyaman Karma may be termed as the actions performed during this birth, the results of which will be transferred in some distant rebirth for their redemption.

Any being, however pure and perfect he may be, is unable to resist the Prarabdha from unfolding its relentless sufferings in this birth. But Prarabdha cannot upset the great men who calmly accept it like a routine-bound happening while ordinary people undergo heavy sufferings from its severity and are deeply hurt and afflicted to the extent of losing their heads.

Verily it has been uttered by Lord Krishna in the Gifa regarding bodily death—"For certain is death for the born, and certain is birth for the dead”. Any mortal being is thus subject to repeated birth and death. This fearful cycle of birth and death necessarily continue till the dawning of self-knowledge. None can defy this inexorable Law of Nature. Michael Madhusudan Dutt, the eminent Bengali poet, rightly reflected, "Once born you are sure to face death; who is immortal anywhere? When is the river of life lulled to rest?" Water is never at rest and life on earth is ever uncertain. The self-seeking soul is never free and peaceful. It is bound in the wheel of birth and death to compensate for its past actions. We look upon our wives, children and wealth as our dearest possessions. But they are nothing but a brief dream. We try to enjoy coveted mundane pleasures but soon leave behind everything in response to the call of death. Again we shall be born with our past created tendencies and again we shall strut and fret awhile and then die. In short, weal and woe is the obverse and reverse of the same coin. If you accept one you can’t deny the other. It is a pretty strange rotation in the whirlpool of life. How firmly the past-created tendencies stick to our nature has very aptly been described by Sri Ramakrishna thus “Maya or delusion can’t be got rid of so easily due to habits acquired in previous births. Our intimate association with delusion in the past makes us prone to accept the transitory pleasures of life as real. Look, how strongly this past tendencies are impressed in human nature! Once a prince was sporting with his playmates of the same age. In his past birth this prince belonged to a washerman’s family. Now he asked his friends to refrain from playing. He suggested them to wash clothes striking them on his back while he would lie on the ground." This is an example to show how the past tendencies force their way for expression even in this birth. The only way out of this enigma of recurring birth and death is to transcend this cycle of birth and death by cultivation of self-knowledge. Without reaching that sublime state one should not hope for mitigating his sorrows, miseries and bereavement. Of course it demands observance of extreme devotional performances to win divine grace. Then only one can cross the turbulent caters of birth and death. There is no other short-cut route. Cultivation of self-knowledge and desire for God’s association is the only means for attaining peace and freedom of soul. Only wholehearted devotional activities can lead us to that cherished goal and thus stop the cycle of birth and death.

There is a traditional old story which reveals that firm and settled purpose can even undo the Prarabdha. The story runs thus: Ashwapati, the king of Madra, got a beautiful daughter by worshipping Goddess Savitri. So the daughter was named Savitri after the Goddess. As time grew Savitri reached the age marriage. But unfortunately due to her courageous spirit no groom could be found. King Ashwapati, having no other choice, sent Savitri out on a tour through countries for selecting her groom. At last Savitri found the gentle Satyavan, son of the dethroned king Dyumat Sen, in a beautiful garden. Savitri was charmed at the sight of gentle Satyavan and bestowed her love on him. Soon she returned to her father’s court for his permission to marry Satyavan. Narad, the great sage, was present at that time. He admired all the good qualities of Satyavan but pointed out that Satyavan's span of life was only one year after his marriage. But Savitri could not withdraw her love and soon the marriage was solemnised. At last the year drew to a close and the Lord of Death came to take Satyavan to the realm of death. Savitri also followed them. The Lord of Death requested Savitri to return and wanted to give her numerous profitable boons. Savitri, the pure lady, argued that the life of a wife was meaningless without her husband. The Lord of Death could by no means dissuade her from following them. Seeing her stubborn effort for fulfilling a noble cause he yielded at last and granted longer life to Satyavan. For many years they happily lived on this earth. Savitri thus became immortal on earth for her purity and penance. She could defeat Prarabdha in this way.

According to Swami Vivekananda dependence on fate and self-effort both are necessary for fulfillment of an aim but he stressed on the latter. Fate could provide a man with his food but the action of chewing and swallowing the food, that is self-effort, should come from the man’s side. Of course fate and self- effort paired together to accomplish great tasks. A chariot cannot run on one wheel only. Fate plays a big role in many cases. The mast of a boat may be hoisted by self-effort but in the absence of a favourable wind in the form of fate the boat will not accelerate.

In reality fortune and self-effort are equally poised. What we reaped as the product of fortune in this birth was earned by hard labour and self-effort in some past birth.

Swami Abhedananda says : "We must have self-confidence. Rely upon yourself only. You must have self-confidence and faith in yourself. Self-confidence depends upon self-effort or purushakara and not upon daiva or adrista. Daiva means Prarabdha i.e. the accumulated results of the works of your past life and Prarabdha creates your body and the Samskaras. But Prarabdha has a limit, whereas Purushakara is limitless. When an animal like cow is tied in a rope, his/her freedom is limited within the circumference created by the length of the rope, and this is Prarabdha. But he/she (the cow) can unfasten the binding of the rope and can move in the limitless space beyond the circumference created by the rope, and this is Purushakara. By dint of Purushakara everyone can change his habit or condition. Adrista makes a man a machine, nay, adrista or daiva turns a man into a slave. So do not depend entirely upon adrista or daiva or Prarabdha, but bring confidence upon yourself. Say that you are the Atman, the source of infinite power and strength and then you can do and undo everything at your will. Providence will help you if you have faith and confidence in you. Purushakara is the only means by which you will be able to go beyond all limitations and all bindings. Purushakara is sadhana and this Purushakara will make you free forever and ever from the chain of nescience or maya. Sri Ramakrishna has admitted both daiva and Purushakara, but he has not laid stress upon daiva or adrista or the unseen force. He has said that the wind of compassion (kripa-vatasa) naturally blows in the sky, you shall have to raise the mast to make the boat (of your life) move speedily to its destination. This effort, or work of raising the mast, is Purushakara. If you let your will and effort play freely, it will be redoubled by the will of the Lord”.

Passing thoughts like floating clouds cover our mental horizon. As one group of thoughts slips out of the conscious plane of our mind another group is ready to occupy its place. This does not mean that the former thoughts are lost for ever. They remain in subtle form in our subconscious mind. They go deep down into our memory and can be called up in congenial moments. Such memories of an entire life form Samskara or deep-rooted impressions. Of these impressions some are responsible for our next birth and these are called Prarabdha. Man is oscillating between birth and death for burning up his past accumulated actions. As soon as man would recognize his spiritual entity of infinite bliss and discover the causes of his bondage he would be able to free his soul from mundane sufferings and transcend the cycle of birth and rebirth.


About the Author
Swami Satyakamananda is a Monk of Ramakrishna Vedanta Math, Kolkata.

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