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Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi’s most famous words clearly explains the truth on Destiny and Karma.When Ramana Maharshi’s mother come to Tiruvannamalai to persuade Ramana to return home with her, Ramana Maharshi wrote in a piece of paper and gave it to her.The note read –
“In accordance with the Prarabdha ( karma – destiny) of each person,the Ordainer (God) controls the fate of souls in accordance with their past deeds. Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, however hard you may try. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, however hard you may try to stop it.
The debate between free will and destiny happens out of ignorance.According to Ramana Maharishi- ‘The only freedom man has is to strive for and acquire jnana’ (knowledge). Through knowledge comes free will. You have the freedom to either accept your destiny (prarabdha) or to struggle with it, leading to further entanglements.
People are always looking to ‘change’ their destiny. Through knowledge, you realize that you have the free will to ‘create’ your destiny. Your choice of response decides the outcome of your actions. For instance, when you indulge your ego or give in to greed and ambition you incur debts. But when you suffer your misfortunes silently and fulfill your duties in a detached manner, you clear your past baggage of debts.
To create a good destiny for yourself you need to do actions which will earn you equity, actions such as worship and charity.
This is the only privilege a human can have to ‘create’ their destiny.One must not identify with your actions and perform one’s actions and duty and responsibility in a detached manner without any attachment for the world. When you perform actions without self-identifying (ego or arrogance) with them, you do not incur any karma.
You merely wash off your past karma and once you have cleared your karmic baggage you are freed from this cycle of birth and death. The game of Samsara (worldly illusions / maya, attachments, bondage) will not invite you anymore. You are permanently liberated.
Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi accepted the validity of the laws of Karma but said that they were only applicable as long as a person imagined that he was separate from the Self and was ignorant of the truth ( self ). Ramana said that individuals will pass through a series of pre-ordained activities and experiences, all of which are the consequences of previous acts and thoughts.
He said that every act and experience in a person’s life is determined at birth and that the only freedom one has is to realize that there is no one acting and no one experiencing. However, once one realizes the Self there is no one left to experience the consequences of actions and so the whole structure of Karmic laws then becomes redundant.
Ramana Maharshi made it clear that if the agent, upon whom the Karma depends, namely the ego, which subsists between the body and the Self, merges in its source and loses its form, how can the Karma which depends upon it survive? He says when there is no ‘I’ there is no Karma.
The essence of Karma is to know the truth of oneself by enquiring ‘Who am I ?” “who begins to do Karmas?’ Unless the doer of Karmas, the ego is annihilated through enquiry the perfect peace of supreme bliss which is the result of Karma Yoga cannot be achieved.
To the question from a devotee “Is there such a thing as free will? Ramana Maharshi asks: Whose will is it? As long as there is the sense of perfomer, there is the sense of illusionary enjoyment and of individual will.
But if this sense is lost through the practice of self-enquiry (Vichara) and one becomes self-realized,then the divine will act and guide the course of events. He clarifies that free will holds the field only in association with individuality. As long as individuality lasts there is free will.
All the scriptures are based on this idea and therefore advise us to direct the free will towards right goals. “Destiny is the result of past action. It concerns the body. Let the body act as may suit it. Why are you concerned with it? Why do you pay attention to it? Should anything happen, it happens as a result of past actions of divine will and other factors”.
Ramana Maharshi says that there are only two ways to conquer destiny or be independent of it. One is to enquire for whom is this destiny meant for and discover that only the ego is bound by destiny and not the Self and that the ego is non-existent.
“The other way is to kill the ego is by completely surrendering to the Lord, by realizing one’s helplessness and saying all the time, ‘Not I but Thou, O Lord’ and giving up all sense of “I” and ‘mine’ and let God do what he likes with you.
Surrender can never be regarded as complete so long as the devotee wants this or that from the Lord.True surrender is love of God for the sake of love and nothing else, not even for the sake of liberation. In other words, complete eradication of the ego is necessary to conquer destiny. It is immaterial whether you achieve this effacement through Jnana Marga – self-enquiry or through Bhakti Marga – path of devotion.”
Ramana Maharshi says that a man might have performed many karmas in his previous births and as a result his present and future births are decided. A few of these alone will be chosen for this birth and he will have to enjoy their fruits in this birth and the other karmas he may experience in his future births. All this Karma can be destroyed by acquiring knowledge of the Self.
There are mainly three types of Karma.
1) Sanchita Karma. The Karmic debts accumulated from previous births.
2) Prarabdha Karma. That part of one’s Sanchita Karma which must be worked out in the present life. Because the law of Karma implies determinism in human activities, Prarabdha is often translated as destiny.
3) Agami Karma. New Karma accumulated in the present lifetime which is carried forward into future lives.
Ramana Maharshi regarded the law of Karma as a manifestation of God’s will. He said that prior to Self-realization there is a personal God, Iswara, who controls each person’s destiny. It is Iswara who has ordained that everyone must suffer the consequences of his actions and it is Iswara who selects the sequences of activities that each person must undergo in each lifetime. One cannot escape from Iswara’s jurisdiction while one still identifies with the activities of the body.
Individuals have to suffer their Karmas but Iswara (God) manages to make the best of their Karmas for his purpose. God manipulates the fruits of Karma but he does not add or take away from it. The subconscious of a human is a warehouse of good and bad Karma. Iswara (God) chooses from this warehouse what he sees will best suit the spiritual evolution for each human, whether pleasant or painful. Thus there is nothing arbitrary. God is the one who distributes the fruits of actions to each person according to his Karma.
Karma or destiny can be put to an end only by doing self enquiry of “WHO AM I” and realizing the self.Even if we do Japa or Meditation or Yoga,If the feeling ‘I am doing Japa’ is there, then the bad actions committed by a human will still stick to him.
So as long as the feeling ‘I am doing’ is there, one must experience the result of one’s acts, whether they are good or bad. How is it possible to wipe out one act with another? When the feeling that ‘I am doing’ is lost, nothing will affect you. Unless one realizes the Self, the feeling ‘I am doing’ will never vanish. For a person who realizes the Self where is the need for Japa? Where is the need for Tapas (austerity)?
It is true that we are not bound. That is to say, the real Self has no bondage and it is true that you will eventually return to your source. But meanwhile, if you commit sins then you have to face the consequences. You cannot escape them. If a man beats you, can you say: “I am free. I am not affected by the beating and feel no pain. Let him continue beating me”. If you can really feel the pain then you can do what you like but what is the use of just saying in words that you are free?.
Bhagavan’s written reply to his mother clearly states Ramana’s belief on destiny – “The Ordainer (God) controls the fate of souls in accordance with their prarabdha karma (destiny to be worked out in this life, resulting from the balance sheet of actions in past lives). Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, however hard you may try to make it happen. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, however hard you may try to stop it.
All the activities of the body and actions are pre – determined from the time we are born. It does not rest with you to accept or reject them. The only freedom you have is to turn your mind inward and renounce activities there. Ramana Maharshi always maintained that everything is pre-determined. Why does the body come into existence? It is designed for the various things that are marked out for it in this life…. As for freedom and free will, a man is always free not to identify himself with the body and not to be affected by the pleasures and pains consequent on its activities.
Find out who is that who has free will or predestination and abide in that state.. Then both are transcended. Discover that and be at peace. The only path of karma (action), bhakti (devotion), yoga and jnana (knowledge) is to enquire who has the karma.who am i ? Through this investigation, the ego disappears and the state of abidance in the Self, in which none of these negative qualities ever existed and only the truth remains.
As long as a man is the doer he also reaps the fruits of his deeds, but as soon as he realizes the Self through enquiry as to who the doer is, his sense of being the doer falls away and all the three types of karma (destiny) is ended.
This is the state of eternal liberation.There are only two ways in which to conquer destiny or be independent of it. One is to enquire who undergoes this destiny and discover that only the ego is bound by it and not the Self and that the ego is non-existent.
The other way is to kill the ego by completely surrendering to the Lord, by realizing one’s helplessness and saying all the time: ‘Not I, but Thou, Oh, my Lord’, and giving up all sense of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ and let God do what he likes with you. Surrender can never be regarded as complete so long as the devotee wants this or that from the Lord.
True surrender is love of God for the sake of love and for nothing else, not even for the sake of salvation.
If this surrender is complete then the grace of Arunachala or a living Jnani – Enlightened soul can help the mind merge with the Hrudayam (right heart) and escape all karma of past births and also escape the chain of re-births in future.