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.
We have visible evidence (of the efficacy) of activity every day, in the examples of men travelling in distant countries (for the sake of gain). He who eats becomes satisfied and who does not starves. So he who walks is said to proceed and not one who rests. In like manner, whoever speaks is called a speaker and not the silent man. Thus action makes the man.
Men of acute understandings raise themselves to elevation by their association with the virtuous, study of good works, and active employment in duties tending to their own good. 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. It is also by virtue of one’s deep study and good company in youth that a man later attains his desirable objects.
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
Vasishta continued saying that:—
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.
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.
Investigation of Acts
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. 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. 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, 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 when 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. You who is the mightiest of the mighty must exert the force of your activity to turn your mind away from a direction to the profitless and towards a profitable course. By directing the mind from the wrong to the right way, it will take the right course; and the opposite is true also.
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