When everything is destined how can we have free will?

by Chaitanya CharanJanuary 5, 2020

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Transcriber: Dr Suresh Gupta

Edited by: Sharan Shetty

Question: When everything is destined how can we have free will?

Answer: It is wrong to assume that everything is destined. Baldeva Vidya Bhushan who is a prominent acharya in the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition mentions in his Govind-bhashya as well as Bhagavad-gita commentary that if everything is destined then there is no meaning to the existence of scriptures because scriptures tell us what to do and what not to do. So if our own actions were also destined then there is no meaning to scriptures because it means that we do not have free will and we are forced to act according to destiny’s will. Therefore, the very fact that Lord Krishna has given us scriptures which provide instructions about what is and what is not to be done to help us understand that we have free will and we have the capacity to choose.
It is true that certain important things in our life are destined but there are also equally not very important things where we have the capacity to choose. In the Mahabharata, Vidura while talking to Dhritarashtra reconciles destiny and free-will by saying that destiny determines the consequence of our actions, not our actions itself. Therefore, we have free will to choose our actions but once we have chosen our actions then we cannot decide what consequences we will get. For example, if a person boards a flight from Mumbai heading to Calcutta, then that person will have to go to Calcutta. Before boarding the flight, the person has more options to choose from but once he boards the flight, his choices are limited or even restricted (one may say he has the choice to jump off from the plane but that choice will lead to his death and so is not feasible).

It is important to understand that we are not entirely free to choose whatever we like. When we have a human body, we cannot fly like a bird which means that destiny may, at different times and to some extent, restrict the choices that we have. Still, within that restriction also we have certain freedom. For example, consider a horse tied to a pole with a rope. In one sense, the horse is restricted from moving anywhere and so cannot walk beyond the length of the rope but at the same time, the horse is free to move anywhere within the circle. Although there is restriction, there is some amount of freedom also. This means that destiny determines the circumference of our freedom, but it does not take away our freedom entirely.

Therefore, we too have free-will and the wonderful thing about free-will is that the more we use it in a right way, the more freedom we will have to choose our free-will. For example, when a person claims to be lazy, it appears to be a restriction to use free-will more freely but more the person tries to act energetically and tries to shed the habit of laziness, the more the person is able to give up laziness. Thus, we can see that there are certain things which are consequential and which can be changed. Our future is determined not so much by what happens to us but more by how we respond to those events. What happens to us is destiny and how we respond to it is our free will and the more we respond appropriately the more freedom we get to respond in a right way and with that understanding we can make the right choices.

Although certain things in our life maybe destined, it is important to know that not everything is pre-destined in our lives. Srila Prabhupada would explain that destiny determines the kind of body we get which is like a person getting a car to drive from Calcutta to Mayapur. The car maybe a fast car or a slow car, an old car or a new car but whatever car a person gets, he has the freedom to move along because the destination is not determined by the car, it is determined by the person himself. Similarly, destiny will decide the body we get and along with the body – certain events, accidents, its longevity etc but what the soul decide to do with the body depends on the person himself.

To summarize, we do have free-will and by using our free-will, we can bring auspiciousness for ourselves even within the limitation imposed upon us by our past destiny.

End of transcription.

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Chaitanya Charan

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