Does God Control Your Life?
This essay attempts to answer some fundamental questions in Hinduism about the role of God, who controls your life, whether God is the judge and controller of your actions, how far you are responsible for them, and whether God plays any role at all in shaping your life and actions.
How much freedom does an individual has in choosing his or her actions? This is a very ancient question which different religions and schools of philosophy answer differently according to their fundamental beliefs and doctrines. Sometime ago, a movie was released in India, in which the protagonist of the story files a court case against God for an earthquake that ruins his business and destroys his house on the grounds that since God is responsible for the damage he should compensate him for the loss. The movie makes a subtle argument that those who invoke the name of God for their own ends are equally answerable to the acts of God, and therefore they should speak for Him and defend the case on his behalf.
The irony of the movie is that the producers themselves invoked in vain the name of God and made a commercial movie about Him, and in doing so they proved that they were not different from the spiritual people whom they projected as culpable. They also grossly misrepresented the concept of God in Hinduism by ascribing to Him the functions that are commonly portrayed in Judeo-Christian religions.
The Supreme Being of Hinduism is not a judgmental, nit-picking God who will put you in an eternal hell if you fail to acknowledge Him or His so called son. He will still let you be yourself and live your life with no additional punitive actions. From the following discussion, you will realize why it is so and why the God of Hinduism stands apart in comparison to the God of Christianity. It is another example of how much our religion is becoming distorted by the increasing influence of commercial movies and Judeo-Christian beliefs upon Hindus and the growing ignorance among them about our theology and culture.
The three factors that influence your life
Central to all schools of Hinduism is karma, which means that your life is largely your responsibility within the bounds of existence and the laws of creation. Within Hinduism itself you may find different answers to the question, depending upon how the different schools and sects approach the problem of desire-ridden actions and their mitigation. However, they are all based upon the law of karma, according to which your past actions and their consequences determine your future.
The law of karma operates at different levels, and it is not confined to the actions of an individual alone. There are primarily three types of karma or actions that determine the course of your life, namely your actions, the actions of others, and fortuitous events or the so called acts of God. In Hinduism, they are called adhyatma, adhibhuta, and adhidaiva respectively.
The first category includes your past and present thoughts, actions, desires, and attachments. In the second category fall the actions of all humans, other living beings, objects, and elements that have a direct or indirect bearing upon your life and destiny. In the third category are the acts of Nature or fortuitous events that happen inexplicably and mysteriously, with or without your involvement. These are the events that often lead to a lot of grief and crises of faith whereby we blame God or lose faith in him.
Of the three, individual actions (or inactions) play a major and central role in shaping your life. The other two are also important, but they may also be caused or aggravated by your own actions, which you may not remember well because either they might have happened in the past and you might have repressed those memories, or they might have happened in your past lives.
God's role in creation
Sometime ago, thousands of pilgrims who were visiting the Kedarnath temple in India perished due to flash floods. Newspapers in India reported that many people were asleep when the floods occurred, and they perished before they even knew what was happening. In the aftermath of it many people felt that their faith was shaken. People speculated upon various reasons to know why it happened. Some even wondered whether having faith in our gods had any meaning at all because how could God, of all powers, let such a heart wrenching tragedy happen to his own devotees on such a massive scale? To all such emotional arguments and critical remarks, the following discussion may provide some answers.
According Hinduism, Isvara, the Lord of the universe, or God, is the supreme controller, but he is neither a judge nor a tormentor. He treats everyone equally, and exemplifies the spiritual virtue of sameness (samatvam). Hence, He does not discriminate between his different creations, not even between gods and demons, unless there is a compelling reason that may destabilize the balance of the whole creation. He helps only those who seek his help or intervention. Otherwise, he remains silent and indifferent.
The Vedas affirm that God creates and regulates all worlds and beings without any particular aim or desires. He is the source of all but seeks nothing in return, not even your love because he is so selfless. Although He is the supreme controller, it does not mean that He micromanages your life or controls your every action. It may be true only from a transcendental aspect, because in the transcendental states there is no duality between Him and you, or between Him and His creation. In the supreme State of Brahman, all are one. From that perspective one may argue that God creates and controls everything and is responsible for all.
However, it is not the entire truth. The equation changes when you view Him from your perspective as if He is a separate Being who is distinct from you and the rest of His creation. God becomes a different entity in your mind when you consider the diversity of the world with duality in relative terms as subjects and objects, and pairs of opposites. In this state, which is called the deluded state, you will realize that God is hidden, silent and seemingly inactive or indifferent because neither your mind nor your senses can reach Him. It is as if God does not exist at all, and you are but the center of the universe.
The duality and delusion are part of the intent and purpose of creation. Although He manifests the worlds out of Himself and creates an alternate reality, He does stand apart from it to regulate it. Since it is an aspect of Him only, He imparts to it His power of self-existence or the ability to regulate itself without the need to supervise from without. He sets in motion an alternate reality and lets it exist by itself so that he can become its witness without becoming involved. In other words, He manifests all creation, and puts it on an autopilot, or some kind of a self-regulating mechanism.
God and Nature
God's materiality or Nature (Prakriti) is the autopilot, which acts as the field in which God manifests creation. In itself, Nature is an automaton or a preprogrammed entity that operates according to predetermined modes, laws, and realities (tattvas). It is eternal and self-existing, but needs an impetus and certain conditions to become active. In the active mode, it has the twin states of being and becoming. It acts according to either preexisting causes in which effects are already hidden and which are already preprogrammed, or intelligent causes that require the force of will. Almost all schools of Hinduism recognize both God and Nature as eternal, self-existing, and independent realities, except the schools of non-dualism (advaita). Even they acknowledge that Nature is a self-regulating mechanism, although it may be part of Isvara and depend upon Him for its activation.
Of the numerous manifestations of Nature, some are endowed with intelligence and some without it. Those that do not possess any intelligence remain completely under the control of the laws and modes (gunas) of Nature, while those that are endowed with intelligence may act according to their will and intelligence, or according to the laws of Nature. For example, in your own body, functions such as breathing, heartbeat, blood circulation are on autopilot, whereas your mind, speech, hands, feet, and senses are under the control of your will and intelligence. While your birth and death are not under your direct control, you can regulate many aspects of your life using your will and intelligence.
From the above it is clear that in this world there is no act of God that you can directly attribute to God, other than the act of Creation itself. Isvara, the Supreme Lord manifests the worlds and beings, but remains in the background as a passive witness and enjoyer. He lays down the ground rules for the grand spectacle that he rolls out like a dream, and lets Nature self-regulate itself. Hence, in Hinduism we call Him the Seer, who watches His own play (lila) without being involved with it. In that Play, Nature acts as His eternal companion, with her dutiful and reliable machinery (yantra), which is programmed to act in certain predetermined and predicable ways to impart order and regularity to the course of existence. In that vast apparatus of Nature, some have the freedom to use their will and judgment according to their discretion, while the rest have to abide by its laws.
The atheists' justification
Up to this point of our discussion, you can see that both theists and atheists have their own justification to believe or not believe in God or attribute or not attribute any role to Him in their lives. However, these differences arise mainly due to the way they perceive the world. The atheists see existence from ground up with the visible world as the only reality that is regulated by a set of predetermined laws and processes, while the theists see it from the vantage of the highest heaven with the mortal world as a passing phenomenon controlled by a self-regulating Nature, and God as the everlasting, absolute controller of it.
On the surface, the atheists seem to hold the ground because one can physically and even scientifically perceive that the world is on an auto-pilot guided by a set of laws, as if no one is in direct control of it. One may perceive intelligent processes hidden within existence, but cannot discern the connecting, unifying, and controlling link. Life seems to happen either according to predetermined laws and processes, or according to some random phenomena that cannot be rationally explained. Nature seems to be a set of laws and self-regulating mechanisms, with no correlation to our morality and ethical values. Nature does not seem to care whether you are moral or immoral and whether you believe in God or not. You may address the problems of existence with your moral nature, but Nature on the whole seems to be neutral. Perhaps it is the purpose of your intelligence to inculcate in you a certain moral sense and make you aware of your obligatory duties and moral responsibilities, or it may be even a part of Nature's hidden program to help you resolve the problem of karma.
The problem of karma
The question that arises then is, if everything is on autopilot in a self-regulating world, where can you place God in it? What difference does He make to your life, or the lives of others? Is it even worth praying to Him or thinking of Him? Does He deserve to be worshipped at all? If God's creation is on autopilot, and there is no direct involvement of God as such in any aspect of it, does it mean that we are on entirely on our own in an inhospitable and dangerous universe where things do not seem to be what they are?
The answer is yes. God does not control or regulate your life at all. He does not decide what food you should eat for your lunch today or tomorrow. He does not decide which books you should read, which movies you should watch, or which person you should marry. You have to make those decisions to continue your existence and shape your future. There is also no guarantee that your prayers will be answered at all. It may sound disappointing or even shocking, but the truth is in this world we are on our own. Any role that you think God plays in this world is through Nature only. For all practical purposes, as a being who is endowed with intelligence and will, you are the master of your life, with the freedom to make your decisions and choose your actions. This is the purpose and intent of creation. The Creator wants you to believe that you are on your own in the field of Nature so that you will have the ego and the delusion, which make you live and act as if you are separate and distinct from others.
When God may help and intervene in your life
However, fortunately you do not have to accept the delusion and the ignorance that are imposed upon you by Nature, and ignore the role of God. You have the freedom to use your intelligence and will and see the truth that is hidden beyond your senses. You have the discerning wisdom to either let life happen to you or make life happen. You can let Nature control your instincts and passions and live by its laws, or you can exercise your will and wisdom to gain control over them. While the law of karma determines the course of your life, you can even neutralize its negative effects and achieve your liberation. These provisions or solutions are part of God's self-regulating mechanism only. The theistic schools of Hinduism hold that although existence is a self-regulating entity and is guided by the divine laws of Nature one can still invoke God and seek his help to intervene in your life. According to them in the Natural order of things God does not interfere with the order and regularity of the worlds, because he is impartial, indifferent, and without desires. However, He does respond to our calls and prayers in the following circumstances.
- When true devotees with a pure heart pray to him and seek his assistance. Our scriptures say that God listens to His devotes who have renounced their desires and attachments, having completely surrendered to him, and spend their lives in his contemplation, with their minds fixed upon Him. While he does not discriminate against anyone, he does promptly respond to the calls of his devotees. In some extreme cases, He also takes over their lives and their entire karma. The Puranas contain many instances in which God comes to the rescue of His devotees and save them from difficulties.
- When society is in chaos due to the decline of dharma and the ascendance of evil. If God decides that the order and regularity of the worlds are threatened due to decline of dharma and ascendance of evil He may directly or indirectly intervene to restore order.
- God also manifests in creation as various deities, divinities, and celestial beings. Each of them is endowed with numerous powers. It is their obligatory duty to help those who invoke them for help and make them offerings. Through rituals and sacrificial ceremonies, people can pray to them and seek their help.
How the world and people may influence your life
As stated before, your life upon earth is influenced by three factors, of which the actions of others constitute the second. For example, your parents, elders, friends, teachers, government, institutions, spiritual teachers, can positively or negatively affect your life in several ways. Although your life is largely shaped by your own thoughts and actions, you cannot deny the role they play in your life. It is not true that you alone are responsible for it or you only attract them into your life. It may happen because of either your karmas or their karmas or both. Your karma and your life are intertwined with that of several. Those with whom you might have shared your past may be born as your relations or friends, or they may live in the same place or region where you live. Some of them may reappear in your current life because you or they have to learn lessons, settle scores, or repay past debts. However, sometimes it may also happen without your involvement at all because of the actions of others, or the laws of Nature. It is also true that your life is shaped not only by your individual karma and that of other individuals, but also by the collective karma of groups, associations, institutions, and nations.
The same is true with natural calamities and random events, or the so called acts of God. They may happen because of your past karma, the karma of others, or the collective karma of groups and nations. There is a natural order to everything. The world progresses in certain ways and passes through the set conditions and periods or epochs. They are part of the natural laws which we discussed before. They are universally applicable. Hence, no one can escape from them. For example, in Kaliyuga, the age of darkness, more people will come under the influence of passions because of the predominance of tamas. They act more aggressively and suffer more intensely than the people who lived in Satyuga (the age of Truth.) When the king or ruler of a nation declares war upon another, the people of both nations suffer, even if most of them may not have precipitated the situation by their actions.
From the above we can conclude the following.
- You live in self-regulated, impermanent world that operates according to certain set of laws and modes of Nature.
- God does not take any active part in what happens to you in this world, except in the transcendental sense as the source of all and as the only absolute Reality.
- He neither sits in judgment over your actions and choices nor micromanages your life.
- He gives you all the freedom you desire to be yourself and do whatever you intend to do. Whatever limitation you may experience comes as natural laws.
- You may identify yourself with God and attribute your life and actions to Him, but it is a choice you make, not a universal practice that everyone is expected to follow.
- In the normal course of existence, each individual is primarily responsible for his or her life. Others may play a role according to your or their desires, past karmas or present actions, but even there Nature asserts itself as the law of cause and effect, or the law of karma.
- You have the ability and the intelligence to choose the course of your life, and whether you want to involve God or not. It is part of your karma only whether you want to seek God and work for your liberation, or you want to remain bound to the cycle of births and deaths.
- People blame God for the mistakes they make and the indiscretions they suffer. It is a fallacy to blame God for anything that happens to you. You may harm yourself by your deluded actions, but God does only good, and that also upon your request only.
- Therefore, do not blame God for anything, even for the fortuitous events or the so called acts of God. Instead of complaining, ask with all your heart what you desire to seek, and it shall be given to you.
- Wise people surrender to God and let him become the source of their lives and actions. Follow their example, and it will lead you to the world Brahman.
- If you cannot sincerely do it, use your will and intelligence to perform your obligatory duties for good ends, so that even if you do not invite God into your life or lead a God-centric life, you will still have a better life in the next birth.
- Remember that at each moment and at every turn in your life, you can choose from multiple options and opportunities to make your life better or worse. If you wisely make those decisions, you can ensure your physical, mental and spiritual Wellbeing. It is part of that wisdom only to invite God into your life and make the center of it.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- Fate And Free Will In Hinduism
- Fate and freewill by Sri Aurobindo
- Fate, Freewill and Fatalism in Hinduism
- The Concept Of Karma Or The Law Of Action In Hinduism
- Perspectives on What Karma Means
- Hinduism and Islam, A Comparison of Beliefs and Practices
- Thoughts and Aphorisms of Sri Aurobindo
- An essay on yoga and skills by Sri Aurobindo - Hinduwebsite.com
- Karma or Kamma In Buddhism
- Sri Aurobindo on Astrology
- The 12 Manifestations of Brahman, the Supreme God of Hinduism
- Ten Distinguishing Features Of Hinduism
- Ten Reasons Why You Should Worship Shiva
- The Ten Main Duties (dharmas) in Hinduism
- Does God Control Your Life?
- Does God Take Birth?
- क्या तुम ने कभी शान्ति की खोज में निकल पड़े हो?
- मजबूरी से मुक्ति कैसे मिलेगी?
- क्या कोई तुमको देख रहा है?
- Hinduism - Rules for Fasting
- Conditioned Ignorance, The New Social Evil
- Confusion Over Indian History
- The Dharma of Helping Others
- Teaching Faith in Classrooms
- The Problem of Conversion - Make Hinduism a Missionary Religion
- Hinduism and Its Intellectual Appeal
- What is Your Notion of God?
- The True Meaning of Prakriti in Hinduism
- The Origin and Significance of the Epic Mahabharata
- The Meaning and Significance of Heart in Hinduism
- The Construction of Hinduism
- Are You a Secular Person? Should You Be?
- Battle over Indian History
- Hinduism and Caste System
- Significance of Death in Hinduism
- The Role of Archakas, Temple Priests, in Hinduism