The Necessity of Effort
Will or inclination, even according to the rules of law and scriptures, is the prime instrument of all action, just as the reflection of light gives various colors to things.
Fortune and effort contend with each other like two rams of unequal strength where the mightier overcomes the other. Therefore man should apply himself diligently and employ his skill and effort in such a way that his today may overcome his tomorrow.
When one finds himself led astray by the demerit of his acts of a former state of existence, he must attempt to subdue them by the greater energy of his present state. One should endeavor to exercise his efforts so much that he may beat down the evils resulting from his bad fortune (or predestination). The evils of bad fortune are undoubtedly removed by the meritorious acts of the present life, just like the bad consequence of an act of yesterday is averted by its remedy of today.
Having trampled over an unfavorable fortune by one’s reliance upon his continuous effort, he must attempt to secure to himself every good for his well-being in his present life. Know that tranquility is not to be found through the effortlessness of dull ass-like men. It is the lawful energy of men which is said to secure his welfare in both worlds. One should make his way out of the pit of this world by force of his energy and diligence, just like a lion breaks out from his cage.
Every day one must contemplate that his body is subject to corruption, his beastly acts must be kept back, and man-like acts put forward. Good efforts are attended by good results just like bad ones are followed by bad consequences. Chance is merely a meaningless word.
It is a pleasure to men of perverted understanding to think of themselves as guided by their fortunes. Prosperity flies far away from such men who depend on their luck. Therefore let a man diligently apply himself first to his reason, and then investigate the works of subtle, hidden spiritual knowledge.
Whatever one attempts to do, he readily meets with its reward. This is the effect of effort. Fate is nothing but the same thing. Thus fate, being nothing but a name for our past actions, it is as easily overcome (by present acts) as a boy (is subdued) by an adult youth. As some bad conduct of yesterday is corrected by proper behavior of the present day, so is past fate is removed by present acts. Like two rams, our fate and efforts are fighting one another. Victory is always on the side of the stronger.
The strong efforts of men truly constitute the fortune that governs them, and these two are viewed alike by the wise.
Present acts destroy those of the past life, and those of the past life can destroy the effect of present acts, but the exertions of a man are undoubtedly successful. Of these two powers, that of the present is manifestly superior to the past.
As a hail shower lays waste the cultivation of a whole year, so also does predominant fate sometimes overpower the attempts of this life. However it does not behoove us to be sorry at the loss of our long earned treasure, for what does it serve to have sorrow for something that is beyond our control? If I have sorrow for what I am powerless to prevent, then I may as well weep all the days of my life because death will not spare me.
Actions of the past and present lives are the two fruit trees growing in the garden of humanity. Whichever is cultivated the best thrives and bears most fruit. He who is unable to overcome his false fate by his best efforts is no better than an ignorant beast that has no power over its pain or pleasure. He who thinks of going to heaven or hell by the will of the Maker is also a slave to destiny and is no better than a beast. The man of a noble mind who is employed in acts of goodness, breaks off from the errors of the world like a lion from its cage. Those who vainly imagine themselves to be led about by some supernatural power, and so slight their necessary duties, are to be shunned at a distance as the mean and base.
The wise know infinite happiness or a tranquil spirit is the supreme good, and those
good works are fit for study which lead to that state.
The acts of our former lives constitute what we call our fate (daivam) or destiny and they return to us from the region of the gods for our good in both worlds. We blame a fate that is the creation of the fancy of the ignorant, who by their adoration of such passivity meet their own destruction. One benefits himself always by his activity in both worlds, as the good acts of today gives a grace to those of yesterday. Only the ignorant depart from the beaten path and fall into the error of fatalism. Therefore give up that false faith in an unreal fate, which is a mere creation of the imagination and devoid of any cause or effect.
Knowing the efficacy of activity, every one should work on personal effort and attain to his highest perfection by attending to good scriptures and the wise counsels of learned men. Knowing that the bondage of our births is full of pain, let people listen to the wise and strive to exercise their efforts to obtain the true and sweet blessing of tranquility.
Excerpts from “Yoga Vasishta” by Sage Valmiki, translated by Vihari Lala Mitra