FREE WILL AND DESTINY
DEVOTEE: Rabbi, what is the extent of our free will, and to what magnitude are our lives controlled by destiny?
RABBI: In the Torah, in his final discourse, Moses said to his people, "See! Today I have set before you [a free choice] between life and good [on one side], and death and evil [on the other]. I have commanded you today to love God your Lord, to walk in His paths, and to keep His commandments, decrees and laws. You will then survive and flourish, and God your Lord will bless you in the land that you are about to occupy. But if your heart turns aside and you do not listen, you will be led astray to bow down to foreign gods and worship them. I am warning you today, that [if you do that] you will be utterly exterminated. You will not last very long in the land which you are crossing the Jordan and coming to occupy. I call heaven and earth as witnesses! Before you I have placed life and death, the blessing and the curse. You must choose life, so that you and your descendants will survive. [You must thus make the choice] to love God your Lord, to obey Him, and to attach yourself to Him. This is your sole means of survival and long life when you dwell in the land that God swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, [promising] that He would give it to them." [Torah, Duet. Netzavim, 30:15-20] In other words, Moses is explaining that God is giving the people the free will to act as they like, but is warning them that if they act wrongly, against the will of the Lord, they will suffer the results of their misdeeds. The people are to that extent the controllers of their destiny.
DEVOTEE: The Vedic understanding is similar. The Supreme Lord directs us what to do and what not to do. If we act against the directions of Lord Krsna, we become fully responsible for the results of our actions. Ignorance of the law is no excuse to be saved from punishment. According to His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, "Without knowing the subtle laws of nature, if we tried to justify all our deeds as influenced by the will of the Personality of Godhead, we would be attempting to bring partiality, inebriety, and gracelessness into the acts of the all-good Personality of Godhead. It should never be imagined that various mundane discrepancies arise by the will of the Personality of Godhead--that some are happy by His will and others are unhappy by His will. Such differences in the world are due to the proper or improper use of free will enjoyed by the individual living entity." [Message of Godhead]
RABBI: These are very good points. I have personally seen many times, that when a man is in extreme difficulty and does not have a good understanding that his difficulties are ultimately due to his own misdeeds, he loses his faith in God. He may actually become an atheist because he cannot accept that a good and loving God would allow an apparently good person to suffer. Many people give up their religious faiths, including Judaism, due to an imperfect or incomplete understanding of free will and destiny.
DEVOTEE: Yes Rabbi. It is so very important that everyone understands the basic principles of free will and destiny from a theistic perspective. The Vedic understanding of karma and of reincarnation are very important to the theistic understanding of why things happen they way that they do. If we cannot explain free will and destiny theistically, then we will concoct an atheistic philosophy to explain it. To follow an atheistic path ruins our chances to develop love for God and to return to His eternal abode. Karma is an inescapable subtle material law of actions and reactions. For every action that man performs, there will be a perfectly proportionate reaction. Often times the results will come from a previous life's activities and he cannot determine what good or evil he may have done to cause his present life's condition. Ultimately, we should free ourselves from all material reactions by engaging in only those activities that will directly lead us back to God. Such activities are called transcendental and are performed only to please the Lord. Transcendental activities do not bind us to this world but liberate us, whereas material actions, those done against the will of the Lord will certainly bind us to this world of suffering.
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