On the Necessity of Activity
Having obtained a body free from disease and a mind free from trouble, one should try to know the knowable to prevent further births. Whoever wants to avert his destiny through action obtains the acme of his wishes both in this world as well as the next. But whoever is averse to diligence and relies on his luck is an enemy to his own soul and sacrifices all his virtues, riches and hopes. This is the long and short of all the scriptures (shastras), that diligence preserves our minds from all evils by employing them to whatever is good and right. To apply with diligence to whatever is excellent, not low or mean and not liable to loss or decay, is the lesson of parents and teachers to their sons and pupils.
Wise men escape from great difficulties by means of their efforts, but not so the mistaken fatalist by his fruitless inertia. Whoever acts in any manner gets his reward accordingly, but the inactive man has nothing to expect anywhere. By well directed industry a man reaps the best reward, as he meets with its reverse by his misapplied labor. Think upon this, O Rama, and do as you like.
The boundless joy arising from equanimity is said to constitute one’s supreme good. This blessing also results from a man’s diligent application to the scriptures. Understanding leads to the knowledge of the scriptures, and the scriptures tend towards our right understanding of things. Just so does the lotus serve to beautify a lake, and the lake lends its grace to the lotus.
Now, O lord of Raghu’s race, employ your efforts to the exertion of your manly activities in such a way that you may live unafraid of being bitten by the snake-like people in this tree of the world (crush the malice of your enemies).
Invalidation of Destiny
What does “destiny” mean? It has no form, no act, no motion or might. It is only a false notion rooted in the (minds) of the ignorant. “Destiny” is a word that has come into fashion from the idea of karma, the idea of future retribution for one’s past actions and the like. From this, ignorant are led to believe that there is such a thing as destiny, something incapable of explanation, which has led them to a fallacy much like mistaking a rope for a snake.
Yesterday’s misdeed is rectified by the following day’s good action. Therefore let this day supersede the past and employ yourself today to action.
See Rama, how people use their own industry to make wicker vessels so handsome that they hold water, all without the aid of any destiny. In all our works of giving and receiving, walking, resting and the like, we see no causation by destiny in their completion, just as we see medicines causing healing. Therefore, O Rama, give up this destiny of your mistaken fancy, which in reality is devoid of its cause or effect and is a false and ideal nothing. Give yourself to your best efforts.
It is a man’s activity and nothing else, O Raghava, that is the cause of all his actions and the recipient of their consequences. Destiny has nothing to do with it. Destiny refers to the good or bad results that proceed from action. People label the wished for and unwished for consequences resulting from the good and bad deeds of human activity as destiny.
Truly, O Raghava, destiny, though empty as a void, appears to be real to somebody who thinks it to be an active agent, while others know it to be inactive.
In the end, even all the various desires that men may have entertained in their minds come to be accounted as his deeds. All animals also act according to their desires, doing nothing for which they have no inclination in their natures. As a villager goes to his village and a townsman goes to town, so it is the nature of desire to lead men to their particular acts.
The keen and firm resolution with which an act was done in a former state of life, that truly is termed destiny in successive births. Thus the acts of all active beings conform to their natures, and the actions of men are in accordance with their desires. Desire is nothing other than the mind itself, and the mind is the same as the human soul. The mind is the soul and cause of all acts which they call the doings of destiny. Certainly, without the mind there is no destiny. This mind is truly the living soul that acts as it desires and accordingly enjoys the fruit. The same is destiny.
Rama, know that the mind, the heart, desire, action and destiny are synonymous terms applied by the virtuous to the unascertainable soul. Now whatever the so-named soul undertakes to do continually and with a firm resolution, it obtains the fruit thereof accordingly. O support of Raghu’s race, it is by means of the activity or effort of the soul, and by no other means, that the soul obtains everything.
Desires are of two kinds: some lead to good and others to evil. Hence the desires of one’s prior state must have been of one kind or the other. If pure desires guide you now, gradually you will be led by means of your good acts to attain the state of your lasting welfare. But if wrong inclinations tend to lead you to difficulties, of necessity you must try your best to overcome such propensities.
Rama, you are wise, perfectly intelligent, and composed of more than just a dull body. Now if you need another’s guidance to waken your intellect, then where is your own intelligence? If you would have someone else enlighten your understanding, then who was the other who illuminated him, and who is the other to illuminate that person also? Therefore, because no one is wholly devoid of understanding, let him improve it himself.
The currents of our desires flow between two channels of good and evil. It requires the exertion of our actions to turn them to the right course. But because the human mind is like a child, it must not be forced. The training of a child is like that of the mind. It is done slowly by gentleness and indulgence, and not by force or hurry.
O sinless Rama, at present your desires are lying dormant in your mind. They require some practice to be employed only to the doing of good. If you will not exert yourself now to improve your dormant desires by constant practice, you can never expect to be happy. When doubtful, incline towards what is good, and as you thrive on this you shall have no evil to fear.
Whatever one practices, with time he will become perfect, just like studying from childhood makes the learned free from error. When you have good will inside, you must accomplish your purpose by means of your activity and your subjection of the organs of your body. So long as your mind is imperfect and unacquainted with the state of divine truth, you must attend to your teacher, books and reasoning and act according to their directions. Having first finished your acts and known the truth, you must abandon even your meritorious deeds, and all your desires with them.
Having known by your good understanding that the virtuous course led by honorable men is truly good, give particular attention to know the nature of God, then forsake even that and remain as silent as an ancient sage (muni).
Excerpts from “Yoga Vasishta” by Sage Valmiki, translated by Vihari Lala Mitra