Is not sadness often caused by the disappointments of unfulfilled desires? By something that we get and do not like, or, liking, do not get? Do not the oppressive influences of our unwholesome surroundings, including our disliked neighbours, produce despair and sadness in us? Are not these the symptoms of unbrotherliness and selfishness?
Sadness is akin to sorrow, the first of the Four Noble Truths of Lord Buddha. The second and third Noble Truths indicate the cause and cure of sorrow. All of them point to selfishness—the dire heresy of separateness—as the root of all misery. The remedy—surmount and eradicate selfishness by conscious, deliberate efforts; become unselfish first, selfless next; aspire to open up a channel of communication with the Higher Self by subduing the lower.
What produces sadness? Mainly, our objective external surroundings, or rather, our attitude towards them; also, the subjective internal images which assail us when a deliberate attempt is made to shut off the sensory channels. Says The Voice of the Silence: "Withhold internal images, lest on thy Soul-light a dark shadow they should cast."
How are these adverse influences to be neutralized and overcome? How else than by the simple expedient of placing ourselves beyond their power and exposing ourselves consciously to beneficent, cheerful and helpful influences? That is what H. P. Blavatsky means when she says that "by altering the surroundings of the organism we can alter and improve the organism; and, in the strictest sense, this is true with regard to man." For those who wish to dispel depressing moods, W. Q. Judge's suggestion is that they try to feel the joy of others. The enlightened Buddha recommended good company for guarding against bad influences. Hence, in the three Refugees for those desirous of the spiritual life, the Sangha is included. This Sangha, or Order, implies companionship of those who are inspired by similarity of aim, purpose and teaching—all for spiritual upliftment.
Fate, Destiny and Karma appear synonymous; but the first two are only partial aspects of the third. W. Q. Judge's answer to a question on the difference between Karma and Destiny establishes the position clearly.
Destiny is the English word applied to a Karma so strong and overpowering that its action cannot be counteracted by other Karma; but in the sense that all happenings are under Karma, all things are destined as they occur. Men have always found that some events were so inevitable that, for want of knowledge of the law of Karma, they have said, "These things were destined." But when we grasp the meaning of Karma, we see that destiny is only the working out in action of causes so powerful that no act of ours and no other sort of Karma could by any possibility either avert or modify the result.
But what is destiny? Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary gives two short definitions: "unavoidable fate," "necessity." Webster's Dictionary defines the word as a "predetermined state; a condition foreordained by the divine will or by human will." The words "destiny" and "fate" are generally considered to be synonymous, yet they do not mean exactly the same thing. Destiny, according to H. P. Blavatsky, is "the power which rules over the actions, sufferings, life and struggles of men. But this is not Karma; it is only one of its agent-forces."
The allegorical presentation of the Fates in Greek and Scandinavian mythologies shows many parallels with ancient Indian traditions and is in accordance with the universal ideas of the perennial philosophy of Theosophy.
Moira, the Greek Goddess of Fate, says Madame Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine, "is a deity 'who...gives to all their portion of good and evil,' and is therefore Karma. By this abbreviation, however, the subject to Destiny or Karma is meant, the Self or Ego, and that which is reborn." The Moirai, the goddesses of Fate, are three in number. The word moira means "part," and their number corresponds to that of the three "parts" of the moon: the waxing, the full and the waning. The Moirai are known as the Spinners, Klothes, although only the eldest of them is called Klotho. The second is called Lachesis, "the Apportioner"; and the third, Atropos, "the Inevitable." Homer mostly speaks only of one Moira, a single spinning goddess who is "strong," "hard to endure" and "destroying." The Moirai spin the days of our lives, and one of these inevitably becomes the day of death.
These three Moirai have to be understood as symbols of the three groups of Karmic Life-forces which operate on three planes in accordance with law, in the formation of the three bodies which are the vehicles of the soul. "Atropos" signifies the higher-mind forces conjoined with Buddhi, which build up the causal body, the Spiritual Soul, the vehicle of Atma, and together they form the immortal individuality. "Klotho" represents the "web" of psychic forces which build up the psychic body and provide a connecting link between the physical man on the one side and the spiritual on the other. "Lachesis" signifies the forces of heredity and growth on the physical plane, which build up the physical body for a life-period. This lowest vehicle, the physical body with its limitations or possibilities, is animated from the astral and pranic planes, for by itself it is inert and lifeless.
In the Scandinavian Edda, the Norns, the three sister goddesses, make known to men the decrees of Orlog or Fate. Their names are "Urd," the Past; "Werdandi," the Present; and "Skuld," the Future, "which is either rich in hope or dark with tears." Like the Moirai, the Norns also are symbols of the life-forces which operate in forming the soul-sheaths or bodies on different planes. The object and scope of these forces are determined by the Archetype, or divine pattern within, which fixes for each soul the instrument through which it may work.
H. P. Blavatsky refers to these sisters in her story "Karmic Visions" (reprinted in The Tell-Tale Picture Gallery):
"What is my Past?" enquires the Soul-Ego of Urd, the eldest of the Norn sisters. "Why do I suffer?"
Thus the Norns reveal the decrees of Fate, "for out of the past and present the events and actions of the future are born."
In the Hindu tradition, three kinds of Karma are spoken of:
Destiny is Karma that has ripened and whose motion toward expression cannot be averted or postponed. It may well be termed Prarabdha and cannot be overcome any more than one can change the family, nation, or race into which one is born. The proverb says: "What cannot be cured must be endured." So also with Prarabdha precipitations, which should be utilized to develop patience and endurance. "The ripple of effect, as the great tidal wave, thou shalt let run its course." Yet, though nothing can be done to this Karmic precipitation, a great deal can be done in it.
The endurance of Prarabdha should be looked upon as a test. This test consists in our facing the effects without depression, without complaining, without self-pity or the feeling of martyrdom. One sure way is to keep the consciousness away from the processes of effects and to put it, as far as possible, on the Spirit and on Spiritual truths.
The precipitation of bad and difficult Karma is a test of endurance. The general reaction is to seek refuge in prayers and in propitiations of the Deity. Among the four classes of men working for righteousness, who worship Krishna, are the afflicted. The test of endurance passed, we find that some development of Spiritual Will has taken place.
The aspect of Buddhi Yoga which corresponds to Prarabdha and which frees us from the bonds of Karma (Gita, IX, 28), is the offering as sacrifice of that Prarabdha to the Divinity within. It is the surrender of our personal will or volition to the Divine Will of the Higher Self.
The definition of destiny as "unavoidable fate," referred to earlier, can be understood now in the light of the preceding.
Then what of the other definition mentioned earlier—"necessity"? How is this "necessity" aspect of destiny built up? By a repetitive process, leading to the acquirement of a skill or the formation of a habit; and the continuance of the habit leads to destiny. "Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny." The seeds of destiny, verily, are wrapped up in the daily, hourly and momentary habits of thinking and of acting that men pursue.
The manner in which one turns into a chain smoker illustrates this process. From small beginnings rooted in bravado and confidence in his own will power, the occasional smoker reaches the stage of a habitual smoker, for whom extrication from this enslavement becomes difficult. The habit that has been consciously and deliberately formed has been built into the character and has turned into a network of "necessity"! This is the "avoidable" aspect of fate. If people would only realize where their actions—including thoughts, feelings, emotions, speech and deeds—are leading them, they would avoid the fate that is to be, by properly controlling all these channels of activity.
In this connection, H. P. Blavatsky states that, just as a spider spins his cobweb, so each one, from birth to death, weaves around himself, thread by thread, his destiny or Karma. When the last strand is woven and man is seemingly enwrapped in the network of his own doing, he finds himself completely under the empire of this self-made destiny, which either fixes him like an inert shell against the immovable rock, or carries him away, like a feather, in the whirlwind raised by his own actions. Such is the destiny of the Man, the true Ego, not the automaton, the shell that goes by that name, the namarupa. It is for the Real Man to become the conqueror over matter.
In The Secret Doctrine, H. P. Blavatsky says that man
cannot escape his ruling Destiny, but he has the choice of two paths that lead him in that direction, and he can reach the goal of misery—if such is decreed to him, either in the snowy white robes of the Martyr, or in the soiled garments of a volunteer in the iniquitous course; for, there are external and internal conditions which affect the determination of our will upon our actions, and it is in our power to follow either of the two.
The natural and legitimate question is: "What is greater than destiny?" The answer—Exertion—sounds simple, yet is most profound. The Rajadharmanushasana Parva of the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata narrates that, while lying on the bed of arrows on the battlefield, waiting to drop his mortal coil with the northward turning of the sun, the venerable grandsire, Bhishma, advised Yudhishthira thus:
O son, thou shouldst always exert with promptitude, for without promptitude of exertion mere destiny never accomplishes the objects cherished by kings. These two, namely, exertion and destiny, are equal (in their operation). Of them, I regard exertion to be superior, for destiny is ascertained from the results of what is begun with exertion. Do not indulge in grief if what is commenced ends disastrously, for thou shouldst then exert thyself in the same act with redoubled attention.
Destiny, therefore, is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.
Hence, in the words of Longfellow:
Let us then be up and doing,
For, as another poet, William Ernest Henley, wrote:
It matters not how strait the gate,
We are the real mover behind the ideas and behind the will—the Experiencer—Spirit itself—that which looks out through our eyes and that which senses through our organs. It is the same Self in each and every instrument. Spirit has the faculty of identifying itself with the business upon which the mind is concentrated, so that it becomes involved in its instruments and confused by its involution. Although we are Spirit—divine, eternal, beginningless, endless—we have created right or wrong ideas as to our own natures, as to anything and everything which we experience in any direction, upon any plane of being. We are the One Reality behind all experiences, behind all planes of being—which are but temporary in their nature, while Man himself, divested of every means of communication with them, becomes creator of his own means. Within the spiritual nature lie every possible power, force and means for the creation of a more and more perfect instrument, yet, by our own actions, by our own creation of false ideals as their basis, we have made the conditions in which we find ourselves.