May, 1987

DESTINY, FATE AND FREE WILL

The word ‘Karma’ as defined in most dictionaries, is – “In Hinduism and Buddhism, the whole ethical consequence of one’s acts considered as fixing one’s lot in the future existence. A doctrine of inevitable consequence, thus – Destiny and Fate.”

This definition, although it is repeated, practically verbatim, in three dictionaries, is woefully incomplete as it relates to the life pattern of the individual.

Karma, as an entity, has three basic components, Destiny, Fate and Free Will. The last named is usually given too little attention in articles written on the subject of Karma. In fact, most dictionaries do not mention it at all! The result is that a considerable degree of misunderstanding has developed concerning the nature and function of the two recognized components.

Many persons find it difficult to distinguish between Destiny and Fate. I have even known some who believed that the two were identical! (Even the dictionaries give ‘Fate’ as a synonym for Destiny, and Destiny as a synonym for ‘Fate’!

This totally fatalistic approach might be a comforting belief for those who wish to escape all responsibility for their own actions, since they could all be blamed upon Destiny and fate. If the two were identical, there could be no such thing as Free Will and no one could be held to be responsible for their actions.

The truth of the matter is that Free Will is a powerful factor which stands between Destiny and Fate, constantly shaping and modifying the latter.

We can, perhaps, make the situation a little more understandable by a single example in which two men find themselves alone and lost in the middle of a desert at midday. Their camels, their water and all of their supplies had been stolen while they slept, and they are afoot in the burning sand.

One of the two men reasons thus – “Whatever the causes that brought me to this place, whether faults of my own or of others, I am here, and I cannot alter that fact! It is Destiny. I cannot prevent the sun from shining. I cannot, by any effort of will cool the sands, nor can I get water from them. It is obviously meant that I should die here. it is Destiny, I must accept my Fate!” He makes no further effort and soon dies of heat and thirst. The other man says to himself, “It is true that I cannot help being here, nor can I prevent the sun from shining or the sand from being hot. My being here and the conditions which surround me are Destiny over which I have no control, but whether they are meant to end my life, or only to test my endurance, I do not know, nor am I the one to judge. If they are meant to end my life they will do so in spite of anything I do, if they are meant to test my endurance, it is my duty to make every possible effort to survive. I can see, in the distance, what could be a a grove of palm trees. If I can but reach them, they may afford me some protection from the results of these conditions which I cannot change.” Although it would have been much simpler and easier for him to collapse in the sand and die as had the other man, this one refused to accept that Destiny and fate were identical. He said to himself, “I was given free will by my Maker, and I am going to use it as long as I can.” With a tremendous effort he struggled through the burning sand until, at last he reached the oasis where he found both shade and water. He survived until he was rescued by a passing caravan. The Destiny of these two men was identical up to a point, but their Fate was very different. The force that brought about the change was the Free Will and determination of the individual. All of which simply demonstrates that, while no man can alter Destiny, every man, and woman, is, to a large extent, the master of their Fate!

(signed by Daniel W. Fry)