Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fate and Prayer - by Swami Parmarthananda Saraswati

"What can I do it is my fate". It is not uncommon to hear people bemoan their fate. Many people believe we are destined to meet our fate but still seek a way out. One of the questions often asked is whether fate can be changed by prayer. This is an eternally debated question. Some argue for and some against. Interestingly both groups claim scriptural support. 

Those who believe fate cannot be changed quote a well known Sanskrit sloka that says whatever is written on one's forehead cannot be changed even by Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma or other Gods. If suffering is our fate, we are destined to suffer. Even if we are able to escape suffering now by some means or the other, we will have to face it later. Even though fate is unavoidable, this group believes in the efficacy of prayer. The question arises - if fate is inevitable, why pray? Prayer is not meant to change fate but give us the strength to face adverse circumstances or situations in life if that be our fate.

The second group believes Fate can be changed by prayer and site any number of Puranic stories. Even the worst fate of death can be changed by the Lord. The story of Markendeya is well known. This devotee of the Lord who was given a life of only sixteen years but at the end of the allotted time span Shiva appeared and saved Markendeya from Yama. Markendeya went on to live to ripe old age. This great devotee composed a prayer on Shiva titled Chandrasekhara Ashtakam that says '  "what can Lord Yama do?"... Lord Shiva destroys all fate. I myself am the example'. The story of Satyavan and Savitri is another example.

Which group is correct? Can vidhi or fate can be changed by prayer or not? This question has a unique answer.Both groups are correct. Naturally the question arises - How can both groups be correct? If one is right, the other has to be wrong. The problem arises because we use the word 'fate' loosely, giving it many meanings. Fate can be defined as karmaphalam meaning the fruit or result of one's( past) actions. Fate is not something written on our forehead by Brahma according to his whims and fancy. If so the Lord will be partial.

How Prayer Works

Fate can be broadly classified into two categories: durbala vidhi meaning weak karma phalam and prabala vidhi meaning strong karma phalam. When the issue 'can fate be changed by prayer' is raised, we must first clarify what type of fate is meant - durbala or prabala. Durbala vidhi can be weakened or even totally eradicated by prayer while prabala vidhi cannot be changed by prayer. However prayer will give us the strength to face adversity. Thus prayer works in twofold manner. As our vidhi is mitigated, we must become purer and purer.

Since our karma or actions are not uniform, the results of our actions will also not be uniform. As an example, consider the chanting of Rudram. We can chant Rudram once, eleven times, one hundred and twenty one times or more. The manner or quality of the chanting itself varies. Thus an action varies, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Consequently fate or karma phalam also varies, quantitatively and qualitatively. This applies to all our actions - religious or secular.

As stated above, prayer mitigates or destroys durbala vidhi and gives us the strength and immunity to bear prabalavidhi. We can choose any prayer for chanting. Chanting Shatarudriyam (Rudram) is especially potent and efficacious. Kaivalya Upanishad discusses the benefits of chanting this prayer - ' he who studies the Shatarudriyam is freed from sins arising from all commissions and omissions. Therefore, he gains his refuge in the One who is Truth Consciousness - Siva, the Supreme Self'. Thus chanting Rudram is a powerful prayaschith.

It is important that we chant Rudram properly. Improper chanting will not only not give us any benefit but may engender paapam. However not knowing the proper method of chanting need not discourage us since the scriptures have prescribed a 'short - cut'. One mantra that occurs in the middle of Rudram says 'nama sivaaya'. The scriptures say chanting 'nama sivaaya' is equivalent to chanting the entire Rudram.

Chanting Rudram will give us aapekshika shanti (relative shanti) or peace of mind and ultimately will give us aatyantika shanti ( absolute shanti) or moksha.

Om Tat Sat