Our decision, our destination (Subhashita commentary)
vrajaty adhaḥ prayāty uccair naraḥ svair eva ceṣṭitaiḥ
adhaḥ kūpasya khanaka ūrdhvaṁ prāsāda-kārakaḥ
vrajati — slides; adhaḥ — down; prayāti — rises; uccaiḥ — higher; naraḥ — a man; svaiḥ — by his own; eva — certainly; ceṣṭitaiḥ — deeds; adhaḥ — goes down; kūpasya — of the well; khanakaḥ — digger; ūrdhvaṁ — goes up; prāsāda-kārakaḥ — the constructor of a home;
Translation: One sinks or rises in life by one’s own deeds, just as the person who digs a ditch goes down, whereas the person who constructs a house rise up.
— (Subhāṣita-ratna-bhāṇḍāgāra, Sāmānya-nītiḥ, Verse 62)
We live in an uncertain world where many things can go wrong at any moment. To stay steady amidst such uncertainty, we need something certain to hold on to. One certain truth is that ultimately our decisions determine our destinations; we end up where we choose to go.
True, the reactions to our actions may not come immediately; the philosophy of karma explains that many nuances shape the correlation between action and reaction. The Bhagavad-gita (04.17) states that the intricacies of karma are too complex for the human mind to comprehend.
Still, we implicitly accept the principle of cause-effect correlation. Whenever we see something unexpected, say, a burn scar on a friend’s hand, we ask, “What happened?” Our unspoken question is: How did you get this scar? And this question presumes that things don’t just happen causelessly – they always have a cause. Conversely, causes do lead to effects, even if not immediately apparent.
Our capacity to be agents who choose and cause is known in philosophical parlance as our agency. This Subhashita illustrates our agency: A person who digs a ditch may well fall into it, whereas a person who builds a house can find shelter in it.
The Gita (14.18) outlines how our actions shape our destinations: if we live in the mode of goodness, we rise to higher levels of consciousness and existence; if we live in the mode of passion, we return to where we are; and if we live in the mode of ignorance, we sink to lower levels of consciousness and existence.
This principle of our agency shaping our destiny applies to our spiritual journey too. This journey is intended to raise our consciousness beyond even the mode of goodness towards Krishna, the supreme spiritual reality. The best way to spiritualize our consciousness is by practicing bhakti-yoga (14.26). If we practice devotional activities steadily, we will gradually but certainly rise towards Krishna. Thus, we will relish the joy and sweetness of proximity to the one who is the reservoir of all happiness.
Conversely, if we engage in anti-devotional activities and succumb to immoral indulgences, then we will have to bear the consequences. Even if we don’t immediately get the karmic consequences at the external level, we will surely get them internally in terms of our lowered consciousness. We will feel intellectually paralyzed and devotionally deadened, unable to process philosophical insights or relish spiritual joys. The Gita (02.44) cautions that the materially infatuated can’t relish spiritual absorption.
When we aspire to rise spiritually, we can rise not just by our own intentions, but also by Krishna’s grace. If we beseech his help while practicing the activities of bhakti, he will eagerly help us rise. And he is ready to uplift us from wherever we are presently, even if we have fallen grievously. In the Gita (09.30), he declares as saintly even those who have succumbed to a grievous lapse, as long as they stay determined in their devotion to him.
So, even if we are presently sunk in difficulty, we can take heart by remembering that we never lose the potential to rise. If we make right choices and thus show Krishna our desire to rise, he will raise us to heights far beyond what we can conceive. And ultimately, in his remembrance and service, we will find security, serenity and ecstasy.