What does the marble and nail grid analoy exactly illustrate wrt the relationship between free will and destiny?
From: Pancha Pandava Pr
Transcription By: Jyoti Shirsangi Mataji
Edited By: Shyam Venkateswaran P
Question: In explaining how our free will can take us to a better situation even in the presence of destiny, you give the example of a marble moving through a grid of nails. Can you explain this example and also clarify what the example is meant to convey?
Answer: The example is that if there is a grid of nails with nails kept at an equal distance horizontally and vertically so that there is a small space between them, and a marble can barely pass through it. Then when a marble comes, it falls from above, and these grids are kept in such a way that they are not exactly in the straight line. They are all diagonally placed so that no marble can just pass straight down through the gap between all the nails. It may pass through one gap, but it will come across a nail, and like that. So, the point in this example is that the grid is fixed. So similarly, to a large extent, the situations that we are going to face in our life are in many ways fixed. So, we are like the marble that is passing through that grid. Now, when the marble passes through that grid, the marble is basically an unconscious thing. So depending on the force and the angle at which it falls, if it falls on the left side of a nail, then it will just go towards the lower direction from its left side; if it falls on the right side of that nail, it will go on the right side. And like that, the marble’s downward trajectory will be purely determined by the mechanics of the situation because the marble doesn’t have consciousness. But we as souls have consciousness. So although what we meet along the journey, the trajectory of our life may be fixed, how we respond to it doesn’t have to be fixed. For the marble, that will be fixed by the laws of mechanics, but for us it doesn’t have to be fixed. So, if we visualize a marble which could somehow be made to always fall on the right, whenever it meets a nail, instead of going to whichever side of the nail it is falling on, if it always goes towards the right, then, the first fall, it moves towards the right, second fall it moves towards the right, third fall it moves towards the right, and then if it falls round a grid of 100 nails like this, then by the time it reaches the bottom of the nail grid, then it will have fallen at a very different location from what it would have fallen if it had just been randomly falling through the grid. So, the grid remains fixed, and the fact that the marble was falling through the grid remains fixed, but by small micro changes in the way the marble moved at each interaction, at each collision, by small guided changes or by small fixed changes, that means moving towards the right, by those small fixed changes in the marble at each interaction, the trajectory was substantially changed.
Similarly, when we are practicing, we are living in the world. So, practically speaking, the world offers us unlimited choices. At this moment, you can here this audio, you can watch TV, you can gossip with friends, you can study, you can sleep, and you can do so many things. So, we have so many choices. At a deeper level, all our choices are essentially boiled down to two: whether I will go towards Krishna or I will go away from Krishna. Different actions that I do in the material world may take me away from Krishna to different degrees, and different actions that I do in the realm of devotion, or that are connected to devotion, they may take me towards Krishna to different degrees, but essentially, lets for the point of this analogy, consider the point that, we essentially have two choices: whether I move towards Krishna, or I move away from Krishna. Now, if we leave ourselves to external influences, then sometimes when we are in association of materialistic friends, we will move away from Krishna, and if somehow we come in association of devotee friends, then we may move towards Krishna. So, that is like the marble- if it falls on the leftward side of the nail, it falls leftwards, or if it falls on the rightward side of the nail, it goes rightwards. But all of us are not like marbles because we are conscious, and conscious means that we have free will. So, by our free will, if we choose to consciously move towards Krishna with every opportunity, every moment of choice that we have, then although the change may seem micro at this moment, I can hear the answer or I can do something else, but by making the small choice of trying to understand Krishna Conscious philosophy, and then making similar choices regularly, over a long period or even over a substantial period of time, our life’s direction and trajectory will change dramatically. So, if we continue doing this for weeks, months, and years, then we will have moved far, far closer to Krishna by that time than if we would have just left ourselves to our externals.
So, what this example illustrates is that although the marble can’t change the grid that means we can’t change the set of circumstances that we will meet in our life, but within those set of circumstances, how we respond, we have freedom, and depending on that freedom, how we use that freedom, we can change our destiny significantly. Destiny not in terms of what will happen to us, the grid will remain the same in many ways, but where we will go through that array of grids. For example, if a person is an alcoholic, and whenever any problem comes in life, immediately that person’s mind drags that person to alcohol. So now alcohol will always make the problems worse, the person wastes money, the person throws up, makes a mess of life, maybe drives drunken and meets with an accident, or causes an accident. So, all these choices because of drunkenness, they take the person lower and lower and lower. Now each choice, maybe once drinking a little extra, or twice drinking a little extra may not seem to be much, but over a period of time, addiction will be very serious. On the other hand, if the person decides that every time I face a problem, I will take shelter of Krishna. I will chant, I will associate with devotees, and I will seek relief in remembrance of Krishna, then that steady choice will make a huge difference in where the person will be after a few months or definitely after a few years. So in this way, although we have many things in our life destined, still, by making small right choices, we can make big differences in our life in the long run. This is what the marble and nail grid analogy illustrates.