Dealing with Chance, Fate and Acts of God
Summary: This essay is about the role of fate, chance, random events or acts of God in human life according to Hinduism and how to protect yourself from accidents, calamities and unforeseen events.
Fate is what you create. Calamity is what you invite. Jayaram V
An act of God is similar to what happens when you enter deep space without wearing protective gear. Jayaram V
If you want to bring order into your life and reduce the play of uncertainty and cruel fate, you must live an orderly life, practice discipline and harbor peaceful and harmonious thoughts. Jayaram V
Dharmo Rakshita Rakshtah. If you protect Dharma, Dharma shall protect you. Manu Smriti.
Satyam Vada, Dharmam Chara. Speak Truth. Follow Dharma. Taittiriya Upanishad
Three primary forces are at work in our lives namely your actions, the actions of others and random events or acts of God. They are primarily responsible for our lives, karma, fate or destiny. In Hinduism, they are known as adhyatmika, adhibhautika and adhidaivika respectively. Of them random events take precedence over the rest because they happen randomly and unpredictably due to chance or fate and cannot be easily controlled or prevented. In this essay, we shall discuss the importance of fate, chance, random events or acts of God in human life and how to deal with them from the religious and spiritual perspective.
Vidhi, Chance, fate or divine providence
Much of what happens around us or to us happens rather by chance. You may initiate actions, but what follows from them depend upon many factors. Sometimes situations arise on their own such as an accident or a chance meeting. You do not cause them. They just happen, rather randomly without any predictable pattern. Take the simple case of driving to a nearby place to attend a meeting or meet a person. The decision to go there is yours, but you cannot predict what may happen on the way. As you drive to the place, you randomly see many things on the way including the people, the vehicles, the traffic, noise, etc. Even though you may have been driving on the same roads for a long time, each time you go out you will find a different scenario, different people, vehicles and traffic conditions. None of that happens because of you but rather randomly by chance.
The same is true with many experiences in your life. Much of what happens to you or what you experience in life is purely by chance. You may invite a friend to a restaurant for lunch, but the waiters who serve you and the people around you in that restaurant happen to be there purely by chance. You may not interact with them, but their very presence is proof of randomness at play. Even if you lead a dull and routine life, each day will be a new day for you, filled with many random events and experiences, which you do not cause to happen but happen on their own. If you turn on the television, whatever that you see or listen is due to chance or randomness only.
The play of randomness also manifests in several other ways. For example, both birth and death are random events. You cannot consciously determine when and where you want to be born or die. The births of your children or your relations are also random events. They come into your life purely by chance. You do not also choose your appearance, gender, the place of your birth or your parents. Even in arranged marriages, chance plays a vital role in bringing the bride and the groom together. Many scientific inventions happen by chance, so is the progress of our civilization.
Random events also influence the collective destiny and karma of the people and the earth. Natural calamities and catastrophes are striking examples of random events which can leave big scars on the face of the earth. Although, modern science may help us predict most of them, no one can forecast how they may have an impact on the lives of individuals or the environment. The earth itself is subject to many random events and extraterrestrial hazards such as meteorites and random outbursts of radiation from the sun’s corona.
Life is created in such a way that life feeds upon life. Most encounters between predators and preys are random. In that sacrifice of life, no one knows when someone becomes the sacrifice or the sacrificer. Life is uncertain because we are vulnerable to random events and the unpredictable actions of others. Even we do not always know how we may act or interact in a given situation. Your mind itself is constantly subject to random thoughts, feelings and emotions.
The impact of random events
On the positive side, random events facilitate renewal and regeneration and create opportunities for life to flourish on earth. They promote modifications of Nature and the transformation and recycling of natural resources and energy. In worldly life, they create new possibilities and opportunities to people to overcome their problems or find new avenues to reach their goals. They also help beings to learn from their experience and become wiser, stronger and resilient. Although rebirth is determined by karma, it is also shaped by random events that may arise from karma only or by the will of God.
On the negative side, chance, fate or random events create a lot of suffering and emotional turmoil and make the world a difficult place to live. They make life uncertain and create fear, stress and anxiety. Modern science recognizes the unpredictable nature of our existence and the play of chance and random events. According to Quantum Physics, no one can accurately predict how subatomic particles (quanta) may behave when they interact with each other. Their existence itself remains uncertain until they appear.
Thus, in the quantum reality, as in life, there are no certainties but only possibilities and probabilities. No one can tell how the reality manifests in your life or progresses. You may make intelligent guesses, but you cannot be certain. The same is true with our lives. Even if you are the greatest astrologer on earth, you cannot correctly predict every situation that may manifest in your life or how you may deal with them. You can only make intelligent guesses, hope for the best or the worst and stay prepared.
Dealing with chance or random events
When people are struck by fortuitous events, they blame themselves, their fate, others or God. Rarely do they acknowledge that it is the way of life, or chance and random incidences have their own place in the progression of life upon earth. Subconsciously they may worry about them and use different coping mechanisms to safeguard themselves. However, it is a superficial approach, which deals with the symptoms rather than the disease. Very few people consciously focus on the random nature of life to resolve its root causes rather than their effects.
We can deal with the uncertainty to some extent by being careful and vigilant and by taking precautions and preventive measures. You may not control what fortuitous events may happen in your life. However, to some extent you can control what type of random events or chance happenings may manifest in your life. In this, discretion and your conscious choices and actions play an important role. For example, if you associate with evil people, chances are you may more likely become a victim of their evil actions. Those who excessively smoke or drink have more chances of falling ill, suffering from heart attack or cancel.
By taking vaccines or leading a healthy life, you can avoid many types of diseases and health hazards. With the help of insurance, you can take care of losses that may arise due to accidents and sickness. By avoiding friendship with bad people or staying away from evildoers, you can remain free from trouble. By driving defensively and following traffic rules, you can avoid the possibility of accidents and traffic violations. Such calculated measures can save you from a lot of trouble, although they may not entirely guard you from fortuitous circumstances.
How God protects the worlds from chaos
It is common sense that if you are careless, unprepared or negligent, you will more likely suffer from random events or acts of God. Hence, in Sanskrit, the same word, pramada, is used to denote carelessness, danger and accident. The meanings are justified because accidents happen mainly due to negligence or carelessness. If you are careless or unprepared, you will be taken by surprise when calamities strike. Hinduism envisages that beings are subject to ignorance, negligence and delusion. Hence, they are potentially vulnerable to random events and their unpredictable influence. The tradition also provides a comprehensive solution to avoid them, minimize them or escape from them, apart from teaching followers how to remain calm and peaceful, with faith, hope and inner strength when they happen.
The Vedas explain the underlying mechanism of chance or fortuitous events, and why life is uncertain and unpredictable. They envisage existence as having the twin states of chaos and order. They declare that before the beginning of creation, existence was chaotic and mysterious (asat). Out of the chaos, God manifested order and regularity (rta) to create worlds and beings, and names and forms. For their protection and preservation, he promulgated Dharma. Dharma (the set of laws) ensures the continuation of the worlds by establishing and ensuring order (rta). In the end, he unleashes chaos again to destroy the worlds and beings. Thus, existence alternates between chaos and order. They constitute the fundamental duality of the manifested creation or the night and day of creation.
In the higher worlds, order and regularity are more striking and powerful. As you descend from the higher to the lower worlds, the intensity and destructive power of chaos will proportionately increase. Hence, the lower worlds are unsafe, unstable and fit for only the dark and destructive forces. In our world, which is a mixture of dualities, Dharma is the balancing force, which keeps order and chaos in equilibrium, and serves as the foundation, upon which rest peace, harmony and happiness.
When Dharma prevails, order (rta) prevails, and when it declines, confusion and disorderliness (anrta) arise. Similarly, when you live an orderly life and perform your actions in a proper (orderly) manner, life becomes more predictable and less vulnerable to chance or fortuitous circumstances. The opposite is true when you engage in sinful actions. Thus, commitment to Dharma and rta (order) in every aspect of your thinking, conduct and behavior is important to make your life more predictable and less chaotic. When it is absent, your suffering increases.
Seven Lessons from Hinduism regarding fate or chance
It is not an exaggeration to say that Hinduism, more specifically the Vedic religion, offers a comprehensive explanation about the role of fate or the mechanism of chance in creation. It also provides a logical explanation why random events of acts of God manifest in our lives to create chaos and confusion, besides suggesting practical solutions to deal with them. The association of snakes with Shiva and Vishnu in Hindu iconography is not a fanciful, aesthetic exercise or indicative of its primitive heritage. It symbolically denotes their control and lordship over the disintegrating forces of darkness and chaos, as represented by the snakes. In this regard, the following points are worth mentioning.
1. Hinduism recognizes the unpredictable nature of existence, which manifest in our lives as fate (vidhi), chance (daivika), luck (adrishta) or acts of God (adhi-daivika). They play an important role in regulating life upon earth as instruments of Karma and Dharma, and keep the beings bound to the cycle of births and deaths. Random events denote the presence of supernatural forces at work or the footprints of God in the mortal world.
2. Existence (sthithi) alternates between the fundamental duality (dvanda) or the alternative states of chaos (anrta) and order (rta). They are interchangeable and exist in the whole creation as the two sides of the same reality. In Hinduism, they are symbolized as divine and demonic states, or light and darkness. The divine worlds are orderly and harmonious while the demonic ones are chaotic and conflict ridden. The mortal world is where both these opposing forces engage in an ongoing conflict. The world is ruled by Kala, who is the lord of both Death and Time. As the lord of Death, he has control over the destructive power of chaos; and as the lord of Time, he ensures the orderly progression of the world through the various phases of the cycle of creation (Kala chakra).
3. Creation (Shrishti) manifests out of chaos as an orderly process. God is its source. With Nature as his field, he establishes order and regularity or the natural rhythm (rta) of life. However, mortal life is still subject to chaos, since it is part of the duality and cannot entirely be suppressed or separated from its orderly existence, just as darkness cannot be separated from light. However, they exist in the world in varying degrees of statis or equilibrium.
4. God plays an important role in regulating order and chaos upon earth. With the help of Dharma, he ensures the order and regularity (rta) and keeps the forces of chaos under control. He also makes certain aspects of creation beyond the reach of chaos. For example, the breath and the Self in the body and the highest divinities in the heavens cannot be touched by chaos. He does it by upholding Dharma and ensuring that each object and aspect in creation act according to their Dharma or natural propensity. Thus, fire will always act like fire, water like water, air like air and so on.
5. As the Supreme Being, or the Lord of the universe, God not only upholds Dharma but also entrusts the duty of upholding it to different classes of beings in different worlds. In heaven, gods are supposed to undertake the duties of God to uphold it, while on earth humans are supposed to do the same. If they do their duties well, they will experience peace and happiness. If they neglect them or avoid them, they suffer from its consequences and incur sin which manifests as fate (vidhi) or karma or both. By practising Dharma and living righteously, they can minimize the role of natural calamities, adverse conditions and unforeseen dangers and ensure the order and regularity of their lives as well as the world.
6. When Dharma weakens due to the negligence or carelessness of its guardians namely gods or humans, the worlds will become chaotic and subject to the increased play of randomness and the destructive influence of dark forces (Asuras), who are always intent upon spreading chaos and looking for opportunities. It means when Dharma declines beings suffer more, as the world witnesses more calamities, accidents and destructive events. When chaos begins to threaten the existence of the world, often God directly incarnates upon earth to restore Dharma and bring order.
7. There is a deep correlation between Dharma and karma. Dharma is a set of duties and responsibilities. To practice them you must engage in actions (karma). Hence, Dharma is the foundation of karma. If you live an orderly life and engage in righteous actions, you will have order and harmony, but if you live a disorderly life and engage in evil actions, you will have chaos and disorder. As an aspect of God, you have an obligatory duty to represent God and manifest his will. If you ignore it and pursue selfish desires, you will suffer from the consequences of sinful karma. This is inviolable the law of God (Niyama), which determines your fate (Niyathi) upon earth according to your conduct.
Fate is a self-created and self-imposed limitation
There is a thin line of difference between chaos (anrta) and orderliness (rta). What separates the two is Dharma or the controlling and preserving force of God. Dharma is the antidote to chaos and randomness. It ensures the order and regularity of the worlds and keeps chaos under control. God upholds Dharma by establishing certain restraints or controls (Yama) and laws (Niyama), which ensure that things remain within their spheres and act according to their inherent Dharma or essential nature. It is why in Hinduism, Yamas and Niyamas constitute the foundation of spiritual practice and liberation.
Niyathi means what is ordained, determined or fixed. It is also another name for fate (vidhi). Things in creation are fated to act in a certain manner according to their qualities or properties. So are human beings. Thus, strictly speaking fate is not a random act of God or a chance event. It is rather a restraint or limitation placed upon the beings by God as part of their karma or as a consequence of their good or bad actions. For example, if a person is fated to be born as poor, poverty becomes a restraint or a fixed condition (Niyathi) in his life. That limitation can severely influence his ability for better or worse to deal with fortuitous events or achieve his goals. It is why when random events manifest some people benefit from them, while some feel helpless and suffer.
Individually, you are expected to respect the natural progression of life and live according to the laws that pertain to the age or the epoch in which you live. This is honoring the Niyathi or the established (fixed) order of things. You are also expected to lead a disciplined and responsible life, protect the order and regularity of the world at your level, perform all your obligatory duties and stay free from evil by transcending selfishness. You should also lead a virtuous life, live in harmony with yourself and others, take refuge in God and acknowledge that your duties are his duties.
They constitute the yamas and niyamas of the divine order, meant for righteous living. They safeguard you from chaos and the wrath of God (Kala). If you observe them and live by the principles of Dharma, you will establish order and regularity in your life and environment, and experience peace and happiness. Otherwise, you will be rendered helpless and ineffective to deal with misfortunes and random events caused by Fate or chance (or acts of God). The greatest of all misfortunes is the bondage to the cycle of births and deaths and a certain fate that limits your ability to escape from it.
Dealing with uncertainty in the pursuit of the four aims of human life
Since Dharma is the key to the order and regularity of the worlds and beings, and thereby to peace and happiness, it is recognized in Hinduism as the foremost of the four aims of human life (Purusharthas). The Vedas proclaim that those who live as householders should never forsake Dharma or their obligatory duties towards themselves and others. They have a divine responsibility to live like gods upon earth and do their part. They may pursue materialism (artha) and even sexual pleasure (kama), but should always do it with Dharma as the foundation of their lives and actions.
Dharma is important for the renunciants (Sanyasis) also. In the pursuit of liberation, they may give up worldly life or the duties of householders, but they cannot abandon discipline, austerities, virtues such as nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing and other moral aspects of Dharma. They constitute his armor, which protects him destructive forces of life.
Fate and the life of renunciation
A renunciant may give up complete enjoyment and lead an unchartered life, without desires, aims and expectations, but he cannot at any time forsake virtue. He has to uphold moral duties (Dharma) so that his virtue will protect him from chaos. Hence, the Manusmriti rightly declares, “Dharmo rakshita rakshatah,” which means if you protect Dharma, Dharma shall protect you. This law applies equally to the Sanyasis also.
The life of renunciation is outwardly chaotic and indeterminate since it is devoid of willful effort. However, inwardly it is supported by dutifulness, selfless effort, discipline and orderly conduct. While a Sanyasi may willingly yield himself to chaos to cultivate equanimity and strengthen his will as part of his self-purification, he cannot commit intentional suicide, nor can he forsake his basic commitment to his moral duties as an aspect of God.
His way of life may have some similarities with that of a drifter, who embraces an uncertain and aimless life and lives like a drifting leaf, which is caught in the whirlwind of fate. The Sanyasi, or the recluse (sadhu) may live his life as it happens, without any particular desire or aim and without securing it with defensive mechanisms and careful planning. However, he does it for different reasons. He is active and alert, but without desires and egoism. He may withdraw from worldly life and submit to fate as part of self-cleansing, but does not live a lazy life.
Unlike the drifter who has neither aim nor faith nor interest in the virtues of a disciplined life and who willingly invites chaos into his life due to sheer boredom or laziness, the renunciant embraces fate and randomness because of his faith in himself and God. He does it to perfect his practice on the path of righteousness. Through that, he strives to overcome his impurities such as ignorance or delusion and become pure and divine. A renunciant is a drifter with a disciplined mind and body. Although he wanders, his mind remains stable and fixed in the contemplation of God or the Self. Therefore, even if fate tries to unsettle him, chaos cannot enter his mind.
Why selfishness is dangerous and evil
In Hinduism, selfishness is considered the chief evil because it not only disrupts the order and regularity of the world and creates chaos but also increases the probability of chance, calamity and uncertainty. It makes you ignore your connection with God and act independently. You are an aspect of God and an essential part of God’s creation. You are meant to live here as God himself and participate in the great celestial song of God (Bhagavadgita) called creation.
In that austere effort, you should sing along to create the symphony of life, rather than acting on your own and creating discordant notes. If you act selfishly and egoistically and try to create your own song, you will become responsible for disrupting the harmony of God’s creation and suffer from the consequences. This is where the law of karma comes into play. If you are selfish, you will lose the protection of Dharma and become a victim of chaos.
It is why Hinduism declares selfishness as adharma (evil). If everyone lives for himself or herself, ignoring the welfare and interests of others and the will of God, there will be confusion and chaos. As morality declines and as people ignore their social duties and responsibilities in the pursuit of selfish desires, the world will witness increasing incidences of conflicts, disharmony, social unrest and disorder.
Thus, for peace and happiness, there is a vital need for people to care for each other, help each other and live in harmony with themselves, with others, with gods, with Nature and with their environment. They should not only live selflessly and harmoniously but also observe the rules and restraints according to their Dharma so that they will not let evil forces invade their lives and create chaos. When they live responsibly, there will be collective peace and happiness as Dharma protects them from natural calamities, accidents and other acts of God. Otherwise, they become vulnerable to them.
Why charity is important to peace and happiness
It is also why dana (charity) is considered the highest virtue in Hindu Dharmashastras. Giving promotes selflessness, sacrifice and cooperation and makes a devotee a true servant of God (Bhagavata). The essential purpose of a Vedic sacrifice is also the same. It facilitates charity, harmony and interdependence. Through sacrifices, people offer food to others, give gifts to the priests, please the gods and obtain their blessings so that they can improve their fate or karma and achieve overall peace and happiness. When people care for each other, live in harmony, they help each other, protect each other and collectively work together to safeguard their lives from calamitous events.
Caste system was invented by Vedic people for the same reason. It was originally meant to promote order and regularity of society and prevent chaos and class conflicts. People are happier and effective when they are in harmony with themselves and express their natural talents and hidden potentials. They become unhappy and anxious when their freedom of choice is limited and they are forced to work against their will or their natural propensities. Unfortunately, the idea was lost beneath layers of selfish justifications and inequitable laws, which led to disunity, injustice, chaos and confusion.
The purpose of Karma Sanyasa Yoga is also the same, to be part of God’s eternal Dharma and live for him and his creation rather than for oneself. The Bhagavadgita assures that those who are devoted to God and do their duties as a sacrifice, without desires and expectations, will surely attain God and never return to earth. In other words they will be permanently rescued from the chaos of bondage and rebirth.
Random events arise from many reasons. Some of them can potentially harm you and upset your life, peace and balance. When adversity arises, or when calamities strike, you may blame God for your suffering or you may harbor ill will and resentment against others. However, you must remember that suffering, chaos and confusion invade your life when you forsake dharma, embrace evil and live dangerously.
If you want to escape from cruel fate, you must take refuge in God and Dharma. Only they can protect you from chaos and confusion or the disorderliness in your life. An evil person may enjoy relatively greater success than righteous people or achieve name and fame in a short time with dubious means. However, he cannot escape from the vulnerability or the high probability of becoming caught for his crimes and landing in the prison, or meeting cruel fate in the hands of another evil person. If you associate yourself with evil people or follow evil ways, you increase the chances of evil consuming your life and peace.
Virtuous and responsible living is your greatest protection against fate and the hazards of mortal life. This is the secret we learn from the scriptures. When you uphold Dharma as a service to God, he becomes your protector and takes care of your karma as well as your fate. Therefore, live a disciplined and righteous life. Stay clean and avoid bad company and evil habits. Protect the order and regularity of your life by practising Dharma and by observing the Yamas and Niyamas (rules and restraints) of God's eternal law. This righteous approach will help you not only remain prepared for all eventualities and possibilities but also cultivate wisdom to deal with them when they arise.
Dharma (Duty and virtue) is your only protection in this cruel world against known and unknown dangers and harsh conditions. Even God helps you only if you practice Dharma and abide by it. Dharma does not necessarily mean religious duties. If you are a good person, lead an orderly, responsible and disciplined life, kind and help others, entertain harmonious thoughts, avoid evil company, cultivate devotion and faith in God, and stay free from evil habits, it is as good as practising Dharma. By that, you minimize the chances of evil unleashing its fury in your life. Chance then becomes a blessing rather than a curse.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- Hindu Gods - Lord Ganesha
- God and Self in Hinduism
- Goddesses of Hinduism, Their Symbolism and Significance
- Purusharthas in Hinduism
- The History, Antiquity and Chronology of Hinduism
- Ashrama Dharma in Hinduism
- Hinduism and Buddhism
- Death and Afterlife in Hinduism
- Hinduism and Divorce
- Hinduism and Adultery
- Hinduism, Food and Fasting
- The Future of Hinduism
- Good and Evil in Hinduism
- The Hindu Marriage, Past and Present
- What is Maya in Hinduism?
- The Origin and Definition of Hindu
- Hinduism and Polygamy
- Hinduism and polytheism
- Hinduism and Premarital Relationships
- God and Soul, Atma and Paramatma, in Hinduism
- About Suicides in Hinduism
- Religious Tolerance in Hinduism
- Violence and Abuse in Hinduism
- Traditional Status of Women in Hinduism
- Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali
- About Hanuman or Anjaneya
- Hinduism and Same-sex Marriage
- Perspectives on What Karma Means
- Hinduism - The Role of Shakti in Creation
- Significance of Happiness in Hinduism
- Hindu God Lord Shiva (Siva) - the Destroyer
- The Role of Archakas, Temple Priests, in Hinduism
- Hinduism - Gods and Goddess in the Vedas