The Myth of Personal Destiny

Do you worry about what you are meant to do with your life? What an absurd question, you might think, especially if you have read deeply in yoga philosophy, particularly the Bhagavad Gita.

Undifferentiated consciousness, acting through the ego, leads you to exactly where you are meant to be. All you ever do, as you sit on the precipice of any decision, is whatever feels most right to you in the moment. Character and past conditioning shape that decision (which includes your own unique understanding of “should, must, need, ought, shouldn’t, can’t, want, and have to”). What unfolds is your life trajectory, your dharma, your path.

Do you create your destiny? Popular mind says unequivocally yes. All “self-help” methodologies depend upon this assumption. Classical yoga teachings (and other traditional teachings) have a more nuanced understanding. The question is central to the science of Jyotish. But the answer, in terms of Jyotish and Yoga, is subtle.

What if Arjuna had not met Lord Krishna on the battlefield? Had not learned the secrets of yoga? Instead of realising his true dharma, he might have ended up in mental breakdown and despair. Lord Krishna’s teaching was fresh conditioning of the highest order, giving Arjuna the insight to act with divine intelligence. It lifted the veils shrouding his mind and gave him the conviction to fulfil his ultimate purpose. “Yoga is skill in action,” said Krishna. The universe aligned to bring Krishna to Arjuna, and Arjuna listened.

But the truth is, my friends, on this earth plane of duality, many of us do not realise the full potential of our innate dharma. Our actual lived dharma takes a deviant course, because of various circumstances creating a different karmic path.

In 2009, I smuggled a curry leaf plant from India into Ireland. What an adventure through security that was! The little sapling was wrapped in plastic, its root ball covered with a damp cloth, and hidden in a jug, also well wrapped. I surrounded the jug with dirty clothes and stuffed it into my carry-on rucksack along with many other random items.

Security in Paris stopped me. They searched my carry-on. I was trembling with terror. They came SO close to that poor plant. After pulling umpteen bits and pieces out of my rucksack, the security woman discovered the jug at the bottom, wrapped with brown paper and bubble-wrap and criss-crossed with tape. “What is this,” she asked. “A jug,” I answered, giving as little information as possible. She felt it. Felt like a jug. And then miracle upon miracle, she let it go. She did not unwrap it. With my heart in my stomach, I moved on. Unbelievable. I had made it past the French border and into Europe. My curry plant, tucked stowaway into that cramped jug, was safe. It was on its way to Ireland.

It could have ended differently. The security woman might have unwrapped the jug, found the tiny plant and tossed it into a bin for sharp, sudden death. Instead, the plant made it to my conservatory, where unfortunately, a long slow life of misery was awaiting it. Despite my best efforts, this tropical plant could not adapt to the Irish climate. To this day, it is not dead, a tribute to its stamina and tenacity. But it is a pathetic, truncated specimen, whose few leaves I can’t bear to harvest.

Back in the garden centre in India in 2009, this tiny 10-rupee plant was one amongst hundreds of similar plants for sale. Those that ended up in gardens in South India would be full-sized trees now, vibrant with thick growth and shiny aromatic leaves.

My poor curry leaf plant could have been such a tree! Instead, fate snatched it away from its natural habitat and its dharma unfolded quite differently. Obviously, the plant was passive in this, total victim to its bad luck in being chosen by me that fateful day back in 2009.

A human life is a different matter, however. It is why in India it is said that birth into a human form is most fortunate, better even than a deva, because human life offers the best potential for spiritual advancement.

Why? It is because human life inevitably involves suffering (same as a plant), yet also awareness (same as a deva). Suffering is the First Noble Truth the Buddha taught. It is precisely our suffering–all the different flavors of loss and pain—that motivates us to seek beyond the surface. Worldly things one way or another disappoint. Arjuna was in a state of profound despondency on the battlefield. That is why Lord Krishna came to him and that is why he was so ripe to listen, to listen deeply from the heart. Suffering can awaken the heart to seek; and when it does, it is a form of divine grace.

Yet nobody wants to suffer. We all want the good stuff. We all want to be like those curry trees growing in South India, fulfilling their highest dharma. So can we do it? Can we direct our destiny? We are not plants, after all. We can envisage, we can choose, we can make change.

This is where the question about destiny gets very, very subtle. The answer is yes and no, depending how you look at it. In one sense, the answer is yes. Yes, every action you take contributes to the direction of karma