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Is our destiny predetermined? I've read some stories which do show that a person's destiny is predetermined, like:

pathi pragrahiṇaṁ kaṁsam
ābhāṣyāhāśarīra-vāk
asyās tvām aṣṭamo garbho
hantā yāṁ vahase ’budha [SB 10.1.34]

Meaning : While Kaṁsa, controlling the reins of the horses, was driving the chariot along the way, an unembodied voice addressed him, “You foolish rascal, the eighth child of the woman you are carrying will kill you!”

The above part relates to the incident when Kamsa imprisoned Devaki and Vasudeva.

Kamsa relented but imprisoned both Devaki and her husband Vasudeva (from Wikipedia)

It was decided that Lord Krishna, the 8thson of Devaki will kill Kamsa.

So, if every action of living being is predetermined, then why are we reborn as another animal, or if human, then why do we have problems because of our bad Karmas? I can also take an example of a Jyotish (astrologer) who predicts our future which is also a sign of predetermined destiny.

This question is somewhat related to my previous question which discusses karma.

Over there, user explains that the karmas of past life also affect our new life but if every individual's future / destiny is predetermined, then it's not the person who is doing bad karma, as it is already written for him that he will be doing bad.

So these two topics are somewhat redundant. If destiny is predetermined, then there is nothing as karma, and if we have karma then why are our lives predestined? An individual can do good things in order to get over his bad karmas, but if he is not destined to do so, he won't, which will increase bad karma for him.

Hence, I would like to understand predetermined destiny vs karma.


tl;dr

  • Is our destiny predetermined?
  • If yes, then why count karma, as our actions are already decided?
  • Also, how can an individual possibly get rid of bad karma if his destiny is predetermined with bad actions?
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    I believe there is a difference between what we call destiny and actions..is there any confusion between the two? Actions are not pre determined. The situation is; and how you act in that situation is the karma . – Pratik Bhat Jul 26 '14 at 19:59
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    @PratikBhat no, what I meant was, Krishna had to kill Kamsa, so that means his destiny/future was already decided right? Now when he kills is what I call his action, say if you kill an ant, is your action, now when you kill, we say that you did bad, and thus affects your karma, but if it was already destined that you will be killing that ant than you will do it anyways right? hence the question arises that why karma if our actions are written already – Mr. Alien Jul 26 '14 at 20:00
  • I think of it like a computer program. Everything is predefined in the source code, yet its execution cannot be told beforehand. It has conditionals, loops etc. that define the final path of execution at the runtime! – Sam Jul 13 '18 at 17:28
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+50

This is a very good question because most of us often wonder about it many times. So I am explaining it with an example. It will be a bit lengthy, so please read it with patience. Also make sure to read this answer to get an idea about the three types of karma.

Are our destinies predetermined?

Yes, they are. Destiny means a set of events and experiences that are certain to happen in a particular person's life. So most major events in our lives are predefined. For example, where and to which family we will be born, what type of job we will be doing, what incidents and life we will be experiencing, etc. are predefined.

But, for any event to manifest a certain set of actions are also required. Hence, for the manifestation of certain predefined events, the necessary actions will also have to take place. That is why certain actions are also predefined and these set of preordained actions are known as prarabdha karma. And for the actions to manifest we will need to have that kind of desire and mindset. Hence, people's likings, nature, etc. are also acquired as per their past actions.

For example, due to a past wrong action (stopping the four Sanat kumaras from meeting Vishnu) Sishupal and Vakradanta, in their previous life as a guard in Vaikuntha (abode of Vishnu), got cursed and had to take birth as a demon, and Kamsa in his previous birth was demon Kalanemi and was cursed by Hiranyakashipu. And because they were predestined to be killed by Krishna, most of their actions were destined to be wrong and demonic in nature.

If destiny is predefined, then why do our actions affect our karma?

Indeed true.

  • "If whatever I'll do in my life is already predefined, then certainly I shouldn't be held accountable for my actions."
  • "After all, it's all fated, why should my actions count? Why should they affect my karma?"

Yes, these are all valid questions. But the point is, not all our actions are predefined. Only those set of actions that will give rise to predetermined events are predefined. And in our life we do both kinds of actions, predefined and not defined. Those set of actions that were not predefined are known as Kriyamana Karma (accumulating actions). It is mostly these actions that affect our karma, not the preordained ones. Generally, preordained events and actions being effects of our past life actions, once experienced, they get balanced out. But the Kriyamana karma, being newer actions that we do in this present life, get stored to be experienced later. Let me give an example for better understanding.

Example

Suppose you had done many good works in your previous life and for that reason you are destined to be wealthy and famous. So, if in this life, you have become an engineer or programmer, then you will feel attracted to develop a software that it will become famous and earn you money. So most of your actions will be towards fulfilling that objective. You will be coding day in and day out and doing a lot of things for it. But along with that you will be doing many other actions that are in no way relevant to your destined objective. For example, you may see a person who needs some help and help him out, scold or abuse someone for no reasons other than out of anger, and many other little things you will be doing that no way contribute to your destined objective.

  • So those set of minor and major actions that do not contribute to your destined experience of wealth and fame are stored to be experienced later. (kriyamana karma or agami karma)
  • And those set of actions (like coding, planning etc.) that do contribute to your destined objective are generally not considered unless the sense of doership is attached to them. (prarabdha karma)

Let me represent the flow of karma in a diagram:

karma in a diagram

How can an individual possibly get rid of bad karma if it has already been defined in his destiny?

Unfortunately one can't. There is no way to escape from the effects of actions without experiencing their results. Just like an arrow already shot cannot be taken back, prarabdha karma that has already set out in motion cannot be escaped from. It will catch you sooner or later.

Example:
After knowing Devaki's 8th son was going to kill him, Kamsa tried many tricks, methods and plans. But no matter how hard he tried, eventually he had to meet his destiny.

However, whether prarabdha karma can be avoided or not, depends upon its strength. If one uses his kriyamana actions for acts of penance and expiation (this includes astrological remedies), then those new good actions may cancel out or reduce the strength of prarabdha actions.

Example:
Markandeya rishi was destined to be dead at the age of 16. But he engaged himself in the devotion of Shiva and practised austerity sincerely. Hence, due to his devotion and penance by the grace of Lord Shiva he escaped his certain death.

Also if one realizes Brahman and acquires the knowledge, all his actions are burned away and he becomes free:

yathaidhāṁsi samiddho ’gnir bhasma-sāt kurute ’rjuna
jñānāgniḥ sarva-karmāṇi bhasma-sāt kurute tathā
[BG - 4.37]

Meaning
As a blazing fire turns firewood to ashes, O Arjuna, so does the fire of knowledge burn to ashes all reactions to material activities.

However, preordained karma that has been already rolled out, cannot be taken back and one has to experience his prarabdha just for the current life even after realization of knowledge of Brahman. But a true jnani sees everything as Brahman and hence prarabdha doesn't affect his mind:

utpanne tattvavijñāne prārabdhaṃ naiva muñcati
tattvajñānodayādūrdhvaṃ prārabdhaṃ naiva vidyate
[Nadabindu Up. - 22]

Meaning
Even after attaining knowledge of the self prarabdha never exhausts out. But after realization of knowledge prarabdha is not felt by the jnani as he considers the body as unreal.

Apart from jnana, by devotion and grace of God also one gets liberation from all his stored sinful actions:

sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ
[BG - 18.66]

Meaning
Abandoning all kinds of dharma if you surrender only to Me, I will give you liberation from all sins, you need not worry.

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    Brilliant and illuminating answer, thank you. It seems this theme of "Surrender to god, and all your sins are washed away" is present in other religions too. – a20 Aug 6 '14 at 10:38
  • What do you mean by preordained karma has already rolled out? – user12458 Nov 21 '14 at 14:41
  • According to BG Ch. 10 V.3 - One who knows me as birthless, beginning less and the supreme controller of all the worlds. He being undeluded among mortals is delivered from all sins. What does this mean? – user12458 Nov 22 '14 at 10:41
  • @jabahar I am stuck with karma. Could you tell me clearly if the bad karma that is to be experienced in this life be removed with austerity (you said Sage Markandeya's example)? – user12458 Nov 30 '14 at 13:00
  • @JavaTechnical all I can say is that it depends upon the nature of Karma. It's just like mathematics. The severe the Karma is, the higher amount of expiatory actions will be required. And some bad actions may be too heavy to be negated and cleaned away by austerity in one life. – Be Happy Dec 1 '14 at 6:52
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results are predestined, not the ways to reach to the result.

There are 100s of byroads to reach any destination, now its upon your choice, which road you choose, which ultimately decides your karma, and hence your sufferings and enjoyments on roads thereafter, but ultimately your fate will remain same, just the roads will be different according to your karma in this and previous lives.

I have been told a very nice cycle, that ultimately everything has happened in the past, the same will repeat today, and same will again happen in future.

These souls remain same, their actions are same, their sufferings will remain same.

Only thing is, choose a right path for you, obviously you are destined to choose that path, but still use all your intellect to choose the path which hurts the least, and chances of taking you to the divinity are most.

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This is an excellent question.

Is there any way to reconcile between predestination and the Karma theory?

I will say one can reconcile provided you think of karma theory operating from the point of view of jiva while predestination is operating from the point of view of the Divine. We, jivas, live in time and so have a clearly defined past and hopefully a future. The Divine is beyond time and the concepts of past and future do not make sense from the divine point of view. Thus we will interpret our present experience as due to past events and we have no capacity to see the future.

At most we can calculate probabilities of what will happen in future. There is no such restriction at the Divine level because it is beyond the concept of time. From the divine point of view everything is known.

Thus both predestination and Karma theory could be correct with the proviso that Karma operates in our plane while predestination operates in the Divine plane.

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As per my study and experience also.... Yeah... we are destined..and the destiny is predetermined.... there is nothing we can do.... its like we have acted in a movie a certain role.... and we watch it on the screen... seeing our own self playing the role there... now if we see any mistake made there by us in the movie... nothing can be done... we cant see it undone....the movie has been released...and so the world is.... its a very painful-bitter realization...but it is......some points for the consideration of learned seniors:

What we all seem doing in current life time depends on various and predetermined factors like:

1)The physical body which we born with... we see some kids blind by birth...or handicapped by birth and its going to decide and limit what and how much we can do in life....and we cant change it...so no free will 2)the family, their status...parents...the culture....the gender male or female...may be the incarnating soul takes a body of a girl and gets aborted in the womb......so no free will 3)the mental capabilities... i have seen some kids born mentally retarded....no free will there is a huge list of points can be produced here to prove the lack of free will in life......

In my student life I joined the theosophical society and one day i asked the same question: do we have a free will? do we have a freedom to decide to do or to not??? A very senior member there having white eye brows answered me while laughing; "if we offer a plate full of meal to you, the bite will fly to your mouth or you will raise your hand to take it???"

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    Welcome to Hinduism.SE. It would be great if you can edit your answer and make it more readable. E.g., there's no need to use '...' or '???' :-) Also, you can use markdown lists for bullet items (1, 2, 3 etc.), for more editing tips see here. – sv. Feb 7 '16 at 4:59
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    When giving references its best to use Hindu references. Theosophy is not Hinduism. – Swami Vishwananda Feb 7 '16 at 5:00
  • Your answer is good minus ... & ??? signs. I too 'believe' in similar philosophy, don't 'know' it to be true. @SwamiVishwananda regarding sources I don't think one can suggest anything definitive. Eternalism is quite a match. Besides that, I have also posted a possible theory as a comment to main question. – iammilind Feb 7 '16 at 6:25
  • @SanJeevMishra Give references​ to your answer. – user9392 Jun 4 '17 at 5:10
  • Exact answer! By the theory of cause and effect one can easily prove that every effect has a cause back in time. The first cause probably was Aum. That time all was decided. And now we just have to watch the movie of this universe which only exists in our mind. False identification causes the illusion of individual being separate entity. In reality there are no others. There is only one and that is aathma. wHEN THERE IS NO seperate entity as individual how can there be individual doers! All has to be fixed and life has to be a dream. the questions of actions affecting karma doesnt make sense. – Sai Baikampadi Jun 7 at 15:29

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