Effort, Not Fate or Chance
Liberation, whether of embodied or disembodied spirits, consists in their detachment from the objects of sense. Hence the soul unattached to sensual gratification is liberated, having no idea of objects of the senses. Liberation, whether with or without the body, produces unselfishness. We have lost our selfishness ever since we have come to the knowledge of an undivided unity.
Know, O son of Raghu, that everything in this world is obtainable by our efforts being properly employed. There is no other way to gain results except but by our efforts.
An effort, when directed according to the counsel and conduct of the good in the exercise of the action of the body and mind, is attended with success. Otherwise it is as vain as the freak of a madman.
Know our actions to be of two kinds, namely those of former and present lives. Know that the acts of the present life generally supersede those of the past. Know also that energy joined with constant practice and supported by wisdom and some stimulating force is able to break down Mount Meru and the demerits of acts in men’s former lives.
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.
Good or evil results depend upon how you try, but according to fatalists, fate and effort are the joint causes of acts. The truth is, human exertions are either lawful or unlawful. The former lead to success and the latter to dangerous consequences. 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 incurs a failure or danger even by his lawful efforts, he should know it to be the result of his misapplied efforts. By utmost exertion in the right way, like gnashing his teeth, one can overcome his misfortune and that bad luck that sometimes baffle his efforts.
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.
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.
Know that like all things, there is a limit to both human fate and effort, just like a pot or a picture has a finite capacity and length. It is by means of good conduct derived from best precepts and the company of the good that one succeeds to his object. A disposition that breaks loose of these is sure to fall to the contrary, to ruin.
Again any man who conducts himself in the right course of action will never fail in his attempts at anytime. Some among the best of men had been reduced to misery by their poverty and helplessness. Yet by exertion of their manhood, they have again risen to the eminence of Indra. By learning the scriptures well from boyhood, by keeping company with the good, by possession of good qualities, and by diligent application, a man is sure to gain his object.
It has been seen, known, heard and experienced that acts are rewarded with success. They are dullheaded who think of obtaining it through fate or luck. If there were no folly of idleness in this world, what man would fail either to be rich or learned? It is because of idleness that this earth is filled to its utmost limit of the sea with indigent and beastly men. After passing his childhood and getting rid of its false and idle playfulness, and when he has attained the age of youthful vigor, let a man apply himself diligently to the company of wise men, and to the cultivation of his understanding by a knowledge of the scriptures and their meanings, and by scanning well his own faults and qualities.
Excerpts from “Yoga Vasishta” by Sage Valmiki, translated by Vihari Lala Mitra