Is man the master of his own destiny? The debate has gone on for ages, the one between fate and free will , and it at once determines the difference between the ‘exoteric’ and the ‘esoteric’ astrologer.
The former is a confirmed fatalist who believes that his life has been mapped out before him, something over which he has no control. But the esoteric astrologer believes that as a man sows, so he must reap because he is of the view that although ‘the stars condition, they do not compel.’
There are numerous instances where predictions have proved true despite all efforts to disprove them. David , son of Jesse, was once the favourite of Saul, King of Israel. But Saul, knowing that it was decreed that David, and not one of his sons would succeed him, sought to kill him, and David fled. Then in a great battle against the Philistines on the slopes of Giloba, the three sons of Saul were killed and a shattered Saul killed himself.
In the Yoga Vasishta the sage explains karma or action and phala or result to Rama and Lakshmana. Vasishta says that man gets the result of his own action and the result is the final outcome of reaction between one’s action and one’s environs. He finally says that if one doesn’t get the proper result of one’s action it is because of his actions in the previous life .
In the Bhagavad Gita , Lord Krishna elucidates upon fate and free will when He admonishes Arjuna that he, Arjuna, should not shy away from killing his adversaries as he was only an agent and would be killing those already killed, which He could see but Arjuna could not. He further explains that not even a leaf moves without His will.
Then how is the man responsible for his deeds and misdeeds? Sages would argue that this logic can be adduced only when one surrenders oneself completely to God. It is said that Ved Vyasa had himself made the horoscope of Duryodhana and predicted that Duryodhana would be a great and invincible monarch, and have a long life. When Duryodhana was killed people asked Ved Vyasa why his prediction did not come true. Ved Vyasa replied that it was because of his unbecoming actions , which negated that beneficial impact of stars.
The early sixteenth century Europe witnessed a fierce debate on the whole issue of fate versus free will with Martin Luther publishing his work on predestination and Desiderius Erasmus writing a book on free will against Luther’s doctrine. Erasmus’s critics replied in vituperative pamphlet, but later acknowledged ”the freedom of will in all men who have the use of reason”. Erasmus answered with an equally vitriolic pen and Luther confessed that he prayed for a curse upon Erasmus.
In the seventeenth century, witchcraft and astrology were completely banned in Britain. When William Lily Rose’s prediction in 1646 that London would be razed by a devastating fire in 1661 came true he was tried by the House of Commons. People thought that Rose would be executed but that was not to be. He gave such a convincing reply that he was discharged with ”utmost civility”. Almost all the predictions done by Nostradamus long back in the sixteenth century have proved correct.
The great astrological savant, Dr B V Raman’s world predictions made Hindu astrology popular in the West. He had predicted World War II a year or two in advance. His famous book World Prospects in 1938- 1939 was highly acclaimed. Dr Raman opined that astrology was a science of tendencies . Free will played an important role in human destiny which was entirely conditioned by past karma. Destiny could be broadly divided with two categories -the essentials and the non-essentials.
Life events covered by the essentials were birth, death, marriage, career, parentage and status in life while the rest were non-essentials. Free will played its part on non-essential events when one would get the feeling of achievement. But no amount of human effort could prevent death. Its time, place and manner were pre-determined on the day one was born.
Alan Leo has summarised this conflict between fate and free will : ”Man is a spirit or to speak more correctly a soul, with a body. His ‘spirit’ is free, immortal, undying and permanent, but his soul is imprisoned in the ‘matter’ or bodies, through which it manifests on the lower planes. Matter is ever changing, impermanent, limited and circumscribed, hence matter is fated while the spirit is free. Between motive and act , the spirit and the body (or ‘matter’) man’s soul is at some times bound, at other times free -never wholly free, nor wholly bound, but linked to both states of existence by subtle bonds and thus ever harnessed to the circle or ‘wheel’ of necessity.”