Fate or Free Will
By Robert E. Svoboda

When asked to speak about whether we are here by our fate or by our free will:

OM Vakratunda mahakaya, surya koti sama prabha, nirvighnam kuru me deva, sarvakaryesu sarvada ...

Reluctant as I am to disappoint anyone, I should tell you from the outset that the question that you have perhaps come here to have answered, a question that has exercised various minds over the course of many hundreds or perhaps thousands of years, is a question that has no answer. Many people, having attained their own answers to this question, become very attached to their perspective on whether fate or free will predominates, and in each age a strong preference for a particular perspective tends to develop. The innate human tendency to exaggerate means that, when presented with an option to move either in the direction of moderation or of extremism, a majority of humans will automatically veer towards extremism. For example, many new age people (I am of course generalizing here) believe themselves to possess so much free will that they can pretty well change anything just by deciding to change it. And while this is indeed true for everybody; to some degree, it is true for some people to a greater degree than it is for others; and even those whose free will seems abundant will generally find it scarce at certain times in their lives. Here is another unanswerable question: suppose we have the desire to change, and we actually follow through on the change; does that change happens because we had the free will to effect it, or rather because we were fated to make the change and it simply showed up at that point?

To those people who are most fated to go through life with narrowed minds we can apply the Sanskrit term kupamanduka. Kupa means well and manduka means frog; to a frog that lives at the bottom of a well the sky is a small circle that seems far, far away. So long as the frog remains at the bottom of its well, it will remain with its misperception. If, however, either by the action of some fate-as for example a bucket dropping down into which the frog can hop-or by the exertion of free will-if by chance the sides of the well are not entirely slick but have little protuberances along which the frog can choose to climb-the frog happens to land at the top of the well, then suddenly the vast panoply of the celestial region is revealed to it, and only there as it stares amazedly at the intricacies of the heavens will it realize how wrong its earlier, narrower perspective had been.

The further down you find yourself in the well of your own preconceptions, the greater the degree to which these conditionings will make it difficult for you to perceive possibilities for reality other than those that present themselves to your small, circular vision. If you are down far enough, your views on every subject are likely to be extreme. From time to time as I interact with people in my guise as a physician, I run across the extreme form of this extreme view, when I hear people tell me that some health professional of the new age variety has told them that, if they are not getting well, it is because they wish to be sick. Now, undoubtedly this is sometimes the case, and yes, I have seen many people who are unwell because they have some good reason to be sick. Maybe it gets them sympathy from other family members; maybe it allows them to avoid the housework, or not go to work, or whatever. However-it is also very much the case that not every sick person is sick because they want to be sick. Sometimes illness is a matter of free will, and sometimes it is a matter of fate. To assume that sickness is always due to some desire to be sick, and that every patient could swiftly get well by simply willing to be well, seems to me a dramatic misreading of the Law of Karma. Human beings tend to dramatically misread the Law of Karma, for human beings, given the option of perceiving things clearly or perceiving things with a bias, will generally move in the direction of bias. We do this because we exist in an extraordinarily dense realm of reality, where we find ourselves because of the density of the karmas that caused us to be born here.

Fashions in bias do change; if today in the "modernized" world many people pooh-pooh the thought of fate, many "traditional" people remain convinced that everything in our lives is fated. Thousands of years ago certain Upanishads express the opinion that, should an individual fall ill, the worst thing he or she could do would be to go to a doctor. These texts explain that people become unwell as a result of unwise karmas, the results of each of which will have eventually be endured. Going to a doctor will just to postpone or attempt to evade those karmas. Instead of that, better to be brave about it, stiffen your upper lip, and plow through that misery without attempting to ameliorate it in any way. This view regarded the whole idea of doctoring as being somehow non-dharmic, immoral, anti-religious. The Charaka Samhita, Ayurveda's most famous text, was written partly in response to this "holier than thou" and "karmically purer than thou" attitude then rampant among the priestly characters who composed screeds like these Upanishads.

The Charaka Samhita contains a passage describing this priestly attitude, in which it asks the question, even if it is your fate to be unwell, what if it is also your fate to locate a physician? Is it reasonable to deliberately accept the undesirable fate simply because of some theoretical belief that it might somehow help you out in the future? Should you not instead respect the fact that providence has provided you an opportunity to assist your healing process? Naturally the physician's opinion was that patients should not be afraid to come to doctors and spend their hard-earned money on cures, which might or might not work; and naturally, if you sicken further or even die after the physicians have done their best to cure you, they may well claim that it was your fate not to respond to the medicine. Despite all this, aren't you still better off trying out medicine instead of simply sitting back quietly and accepting your fate-assuming of course that you have some reasonably competent physician available to you?

Of course, if you do go to the doctor, and you do take the medicine, and you do get well, we will never really know what would have happened if you hadn't; we'll never know if you got well because of the doctor or in spite of the doctor-except in those cases where malpractice clearly was the cause of your demise. Similarly, if you go to an astrologer who tells you to go out and feed crows on Saturday, and you do that and your problem with Saturn gets solved, was it solved because you fed the crows or in spite of your feeding them? We will never know.

And if it is not easy to know whether something is fated or not, it is also not easy to know if a particular fated event is actually good or bad for you. There is an old Chinese story of a horse who wanders into a farmer's yard. The neighbors complement the farmer on his good fortune at obtaining a free horse. The farmer says, "Let's see." Then as the farmer's son tries to mount the horse he falls off and breaks his leg. The neighbors commiserate with the farmer, but the farmer says, "Let's see." Then the emperor's troops come through dragooning men into the army for a suicide attack against the barbarians, and fortunately the son can't go because he is laid up with a broken leg, and when the neighbors again proclaim that to be a good fate, the farmer's response is again, "Let's see."

Ultimately we can rarely know for certain in advance whether it is a good idea or a bad idea to perform any single action. If you finally do decide to visit a doctor, suppose you happen to fall into the hands of the local quack? Or into the hands of an expert who is having an off day? Or suppose that you run into someone who succeeds with 99.9% of his patients, but you happen to be among the 0.1% of patients who fall into the area in which his blind spot is located. This question of the blind spot comes closer to the crux of the matter, for every human being has one. We can define the blind spot as an area of life in which you cannot be sure that you will be able to see things accurately. In such a case, it is very likely that the things of this life aspect will be "fated" for you, because you will not be able to see how to shift them. In this regard you are moving blind, which means that most any action you take will cause you to end up wherever it is that chaos theory, or Nature, or providence, or God, or the theory of causation, wants to take you.

This being the case, it is generally not such a good idea to assume that you will get an immediate result whenever you express your intention to do something and proceed ahead to do it. Generally also it is not a good idea to assume you will get no result if you attempt to make a change, as many people do. In this regard the Presbyterians come to mind. I will not claim that I understand the intricacies of Presbyterians dogma, but I have always been led to believe that they believe in predestination, an idea that certain people are destined to head to the celestial realms, and certain other people are destined to head elsewhere. I can only speak for myself, but I suspect that, if I were to believe myself predestined for heaven, that I would neither worry about performing any good works while on Earth, nor would I worry overmuch about others, other than perhaps to send them compassion in the hope that God would eventually change His mind and send everyone to a pleasant location.

The Presbyterians aside, it appears to me to be more common for people in the east to subscribe to fatedness, particularly with regard to the major events of their lives. To a certain extent this is because of what my mentor would call karmic gravity-the astral gravity of the location in which a person thinks, which influences the thoughts that arise. My mentor, the Aghori Vimalananda, used to call India the world's "karmic deposit counter," because people ended up in India when they had a large pile of bad karmas that needed to be worked off, and a deficit of good deeds that needed to be addressed. Vimalananda used to term the West-the United States in particular- the world's "karmic withdrawal counter," the place where you go when you have a load of good karmas that you want to enjoy.

For quite some time this was more or less true; during the ten years that I lived in India, and the past twenty years that I've spent three months of each year there, on average, I've had plenty of opportunity to see what goes on there. I think it is fair to say that it is a place where things move according to rules that are not at all evident on its surface, which makes it a place that requires great patience to navigate-all because of its very peculiar underlying karmic pathways. Until recently, it was far easier to enjoy pain-the usual result of bad karmas-rather than pleasure-a common result of good karmas. But now a middle class is forming in India, and a substantial fraction of people there are beginning to enjoy a fairly comfortable life.

Until recently in the USA it was fairly easy to enjoy your good karmas; and a large number of people continue to try to live in the manner in which they have become accustomed even after they have run out of the money to do so. What Americans are doing now is to use our free will to create karmas that may bankrupt us before too very long. We, individuals and corporations and government alike, are spending money that we do not have; and not just at a rate of five or ten dollars a day, but the rate of 400 billion, 500, 600, 700 billion dollars per year. Our economists tell us not to worry, because we have a twenty or thirty trillion dollar economy, and so what's a few billions? But we should in fact all be very worried, because the free will we're so blithely using now to go into debt will turn at some point into the fate of being unable to get out of debt.

My Jyotisha guru, an eccentric Punjabi gentleman living in Toronto, likes to use an automotive analogy to describe the difference between fate and free will. Let us suppose for a moment that you get into your car and drive onto the highway. This act itself establishes for you a certain degree of fate, because you are now, to some extent, at the mercy of the ambient conditions, including particularly the other drivers, then present on that thoroughfare. You now have the free will to accelerate to a certain speed, and how much you accelerate will determine how much free will remains to you to deal with any eventualities that may present themselves ahead. Should someone suddenly cut you off, how much you are "fated" to collide with that person will be determined in large part by how fast you are going. If you are driving at a high speed, you have used up the majority of the free will available to you in this situation, and you may not have sufficient accessible time and space to be able to evade a collision-a collision that will be the "fate" that your previously performed actions have generated for you. If, on the other hand, you have preserved some of your "acceleration free will" by refraining from accelerating to the maximum possible, you may retain sufficient "evasive action free will" to be able to avoid something that would otherwise appear to be fated.

Extending this analogy to the human condition, we can say that those people whose lives seem totally fated are people who have, in the past, accelerated themselves along a particular path that now they are having to continue on, even if they are now ready to get off; and those people who seem to be able to do as they please in life are people who have refrained in the past from over-acceleration. Most people's lives being only relatively fated, some avenue of useful activity can often be found for them that will assist them to ameliorate their conditions. In what life realm and to what extent we have the ability to evade fate and employ free will differs from person to person, and is sufficiently complex that one can study the subject lifelong, as has my Jyotisha guru, without ever being able to know it completely. But then, they say that even the gods themselves do not know the full implications of the Law of Karma.

Here a few Sanskrit terms come in handy as we explore the question of how astrology views this issue of fate versus free will. The first term is sancita karma. Sancita means accumulated. From the point of view of the Sankhya philosophy, a system which creates the philosophical underpinnings of Ayurveda, Yoga, Jyotisha, Vastu, Tantra, and other similar sciences-from this point of view, a karma is an action that one performs in the context of identifying oneself as the action's doer. This means that, whenever you employ your own personal ego to identify yourself as the doer of an action, that action becomes a karma for you, and you will have to experience whatever reaction that action initiates. In the Sankhya philosophy we call the force that generates self the ahamkara. Ahamkara permits individuals to exist by creating individuation. It is thanks to ahamkara that we are able to identify ourselves as being separate from the environment outside, and from other individuals. It is ahamkara that allows the immune system to distinguish what belongs to us and what does not, what is beneficial for us and what is not. At every moment ahamkara, the faculty of I-ness, strives to maintain a stable self, that the body-mind-spirit complex of the individual may continue to live.

Ahamkara does this with the help of the three powers that evolve from it, the Three Gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva is the principle of equilibrium. We can say that sattva is activated in you when the various parts of you are in a state of harmonious stability, and when you as a whole are in relative equilibrium with the external world. Whenever the outside world changes you will also be called upon to change; either you can attempt to change yourself, which will require you to mobilize rajas, the principle of activity, or you can remain where you are and wait for change to arrive, which will require you to rely on tamas, the principle of inertia. Sometimes there is wisdom in using tamas to resist change, and sometimes wisdom lies in using rajas to actively seek change; sattva is what helps you to manage change. Ample sattva makes your awareness clear enough to know what to do and when and how to do it; as you proceed to do what sattva proposes, you will usually find that you are employing your free will constructively by adapting appropriately to your environment. In fact, you will usually find your free will increasing, to the extent that you are actually able to adapt. To the extent that your mind is overwhelmed, by rajas, tamas, or both, to that extent that free will of yours will be unavailable to you; even if you have it you will be unable to make use of it.

Most of the time, in most people, the thinking mind is overwhelmed by rajas or tamas, despite the fact that the natural state of the thinking mind is sattva. What causes this to happen? One cause is diet, the free will that you use to determine what you put into your mouth. We modern humans now have abundant choice in foodstuffs; our free will to choose our food and drink has become extreme. For instance, I can now go into a natural foods supermarket and purchase the water derives from tender coconuts in at least three forms: in a box from Brazil or a can from Thailand, or whole tender coconuts, also from Thailand. Now, I don't know how many of you are of the pitta type nature, but those of you who are will tend to become easily overheated, mentally or physically, morally or spiritually, financially or otherwise. Should you happen to become overheated while in a hot climate or during a hot season, you could make excellent use of coconut water, which has a very cooling, pitta-calming effect, and which though until very recently available only in certain climes can now be delivered to your door. What was once almost impossible is now almost fate, if you use some of your supply of free will to take advantage of this particular, apparently desirable, fate.

Another sort of fate will creep up on you as you use your free will to select your menus. The habitual consumption of large quantities of excessively hot, spicy, salty, sour, fatty, proteinaceous foods during the hot season, in the middle of the day, in the middle of your lifespan, will send your pitta through the roof, and then, just as on the freeway, you will be so pitta-accelerated that you will be an accident waiting to happen. Then, even when you are in a situation where you could employ your remaining free will to do something good for yourself, you may not be able to do so, because you will not be thinking straight. What use is "free will" to you if you are not "free" to make use of it?

At any moment you need to be in the position to know whether you should remain at equilibrium, change, or resist change. You will need your intuitive mind to make these choices, as your thinking mind lacks the proper perspective (though it can be used once you have come to a conclusion to test whether in fact that conclusion is valid). The question is always: "Shall I change my current self-definition, hold on to it tenaciously, or permit the course of events to decide?" If for example I wish to employ my free will to become a fanatic, I must first determine whether or not there is benefit to me in becoming fanatic, and only then should I determine whether to make a sports team, or 16th century Turkish embroidery, or tender coconut water the single thing that is most important to me in the whole wide world.

Some months ago I sat airborne reading the Southwest Airlines in-flight magazine, and among other interesting factoids that monthly find their way to its final page I read that ten percent of the American population has reached a stage where they're seriously considering becoming so fanatic about a celebrity that they would do themselves or others harm if the celebrity was disturbed in some way. Alternatively, they might do harm to the celebrity; John Lennon was gunned down by a disturbed fan ("fan" being short for "fanatic"), and down in the state of Texas a few years back a talented young Tejano singer named Selena was shot dead by the head of her fan club.

One percent of the American population have already passed the point of serious consideration; they are already ready to do harm to someone if something happens to whatever it is that that they are fanatic about. The population of the US being now about 290 million, one percent of that number is 2.9 million; let's round that up to three. Three million people-which is near to the population of the city of Houston-exist today in a homicidal state of fanaticism. If they all lived in Houston, then the rest of us would have nothing to worry about; but they are everywhere. If 10,000 people inhabit your town, then one percent of them-one hundred otherwise relatively normal human beings-are now walking time bombs, some possibly strolling near your very home.

Such people have employed their free will, freely, to develop fate-the fanatic fate. Why? How is it that they elect to employ their ability to self-identify to focus on a single person, place or thing which is not in their self-interest to focus on? This question is sufficiently critical that we must begin our search for its answer by examining the different inheritances that every human being possesses. Your first inheritance is your genetic inheritance, which you become heir to from your forebears: your parents, grandparents and great grandparents in particular, but its influence persists as far back as seven generations. It takes seven generations to dilute the influence of an ancestor to less than one percent. It's a fairly standard idea, this one percent approach; a non-thoroughbred line of horses, for instance, requires seven cross-breedings with thoroughbreds until, on the eighth cross, the foal can be registered a thoroughbred.

For ten years I was involved in thoroughbred racing in Bombay, during which time I read the stud book through cover to cover, tracing bloodlines; it's a fascinating study. No matter who you are, human, horse, dog or cat, donkey or mule, the genes and chromosomes donated to you from your parents will so strongly determine certain aspects of your organism that those characteristics will be, for you, utterly fated. Take my own skin color-despite being born in the semi-tropical climate of south Texas, and growing up in the semi-tropical climates of east Texas and south Louisiana until I was a teenager, and then proceeding to Okalahoma (which feels semi-tropical, at least in the summer), and then moving to tropical India, where I remained for a decade, and then spending at least three months of each year since in India, and other tropical locales, I have never gotten any darker than I am today. This is for me quite unfortunate, but it is my fate. On occasion I have been exceptionally displeased with this particular aspect of my fate, particularly when I've inadvertently fried my hide, but all my complaining might as well be throwing rocks at the sun, rocks that will only land on my own head. Should they persist with their determination to inhabit sun-drenched districts, the bodies of the distant descendants of my blood relatives will eventually adapt-but only after generations, not nearly so fast as their minds would prefer. In this regard, our effective free will is negligible.

Like skin color, several other portions of your organism's basic physiology are fated; in other areas you have but limited free will. Should you like many Native Americans possess a gene that encourages you to become diabetic, that gene will be activated only if you eat incessantly twelve months out of the year (which, sadly, most people do nowadays); if instead you were to eat incessantly for only three or four months of the year, your potential diabetes remains dormant. This gene evolved because life was a matter of feast or famine in regions where food could not be effectively stored. To survive required a serious build up of body mass when food was present, and a consumption of that body mass when food was scarce. This was a good system for those environments. We can argue that it was fate that changed those environments; tribes were dragged away from their land and put forcibly onto a diet of what was basically fried bread and weak coffee. Over the course of about a hundred years they "adapted" to that diet; this has resulted in the highest rates of obesity and diabetes in the country, all because those organisms were doing what they were engineered to do in the environments into which they have evolved over thousands of years, but doing it in an inappropriate environment. My own skin continues to accept light almost indiscriminately, as it did for my long-dead northern European ancestors who so desperately mopped up each precious stray ray, even though that skin now graces a body for which the sun has never been a stranger.

Theoretically a Native American child has the free will to avoid diabetes by eating a good diet from the beginning of its life; practically, the second sort of inheritance-the socio-cultural, economic inheritance of the environment in which the child finds itself-may prevent this. If the child grows up in a family where fry bread has become an institution, because that's all people had to eat for generations, and the knowledge of how to eat a traditional diet has been lost, then fry bread may become a comfort food, and that child may find it very difficult ever to graduate to a healthier nutritional regime. In this case the child's society encourages it to move toward imbalance. Its free will remains quite intact, but the influence of other people's free wills employed long before makes it subject to a type of fate. Free will is not very free when it cannot operate.

And please don't think that this problem only exists down on the reservation! Back in 1998 Mike Cameron was suspended for one day from his school in Evans, GA, for wearing a Pepsi shirt to school on Coke Day. Now, I had already known that schools were getting branded; that is the latest battleground in the Coke-Pepsi war. As in WWI, when two armies meet they try to outflank one another; nowadays outflanking means that, when Pepsi buys a library for one school Coke will buy a gymnasium for another. Until recently each corporation only requires that the recipient school should carry only their products, in the cafeteria, the vending machines, and so on. Long, long ago, of course, when I was in school, we did not, even in high school, have vending machines; and if we had had vending machines, neither Coke nor Pepsi nor Dr. Pepper nor Mountain Dew would have been found in them. Even then school administrators were well aware that soft drinks do not promote attentiveness and good study habits. Now most every school has vending machines; schools are desperate for money, so they prostitute themselves to the soft drink makers, and then they are branded, and in some places like Evans, GA you have to wear their colors or you get suspended. Wear your gang colors and you get suspended; fail to wear the colors of the economic gang that has purchased your school and you also get suspended. What a world we live in.

Very few children in today's USA are encouraged to express their free will. Instead, we start them off in life by training them not to visualize. Instead, they get plopped in front of the TV. Fifteen percent of the one-year-olds in this country watch five or more hours of TV per day; another fifteen percent watch four hours. These are not two-, three-, four-, five-, or ten-year-olds, but one-year-olds. In the past, before electricity, children were told stories, which forced them to visualize the events being described to them. Even after radio was invented, and stories could be plucked from the airwaves, any accompanying images had to be generated by the listener. Now, all images are provided pre-digested to viewers; worse, the images so provided pass by so quickly that the child has just barely begun to concentrate on one when it disappears and the next materializes. When such a child, who is trained not to concentrate, not to visualize, goes to school and is inveigled to drink Coke or Pepsi, depending on which corporate gang has "bought" the school, we wonder why the child cannot study, cannot focus on its lessons. Then, instead of asking why the situation has developed, we go in for Ritalin, or some similar drug; and so, just at a time when the child's nervous system is developing, we get the child hooked on pharmaceuticals, to make sure that the drug companies can also make money.

So the child who is unbalanced thanks to being reared by the media, and fattened up on fast food, is now being medicated, so as not to disturb those children who are actually able to focus. The aim is to make it more likely that the medicated child will actually obtain sufficient education to fit into the system as an adult and continue to consume. The adult's free will has now been reduced to decisions about buying Coke or Pepsi, but it is not to our benefit for individuals to realize that, effectively, they have no free will. No, they should believe that they actually have the free will to use their votes to determine the outcome of elections, instead of simply to confirm the results that have been predetermined among the special interests whose money runs politics. We congratulate ourselves for being so much more enlightened, and freer, than Asians & Africans & South Americans who live under authoritarian, often brutally repressive, regimes, and indeed we do theoretically have far more potential choices than do they. All too often, however, our socio-economic, politico-environmental heritage prevents this free will from operating.

The third inheritance comes to us from our previous incarnations. If you've been a thief in your past five incarnations, there is a good chance that your mind is going to be focused on thievery from the very beginning of this embodiment. If you've been a holy person for the past several lifetimes, you'll at least be interested in holy things in this one. However, that interest will have to compete with the inheritance from your genes and the chromosomes, and it will have to compete with the influence of the culture.

We try to deal with the inheritance from our ancestors by performing pitr karma (ancestor rituals), which aims to attenuate their influence on us. We use our free will to attempt to lessen the fate that our ancestors try to create for us. Dead or alive, that ancestor continues to associate, to some degree, with the genetic material that created the body that he or she was inhabiting while he or she was living here. An affinity remains between that spirit and these genes and chromosomes, an affinity that permits that ancestor to live, to some extent or other, through those people who continue to possess those genetic patterns. Most people have one or more of their ancestors living through them, to some degree much of the time. Most people never notice, because ancestor influences are internal, and subtle, and most people focus their awareness outwardly, trying to decide which coffee company to patronize.

You may be able, by such methods, to distance yourself from the strongest influence of your ancestors; and you may be able to distance yourself, to some degree or other, from your culture-though this may mean that you have to flee from it for sometime, which is what I did. Ten years in India was an adequately long time for this purpose for me. During the first six years I visited the USA once, for one two-month period; then I started spending more time here, and now I am mainly out of India, though for the past twenty years I have stayed there, on the average, three months out of each year. Those months provide me needed perspective on my homeland, and my time over here provides me needed perspective on India. Should you be able both to placate your ancestors and get a decent perspective on your socio-cultural nativity, you will still need to address your karmic inheritance, which you will best be able to do with your fourth inheritance. This inheritance, which is applicable to but not necessarily available to all, is the inheritance you get from your guru. Everyone has a guru, but not everyone has an incarnated guru. For many, the available guru is simply the Supreme Reality, the formless, nameless, limitless consciousness; for some, those lucky enough to have developed an association with a particular tradition, that Reality gains attributes.

The Sanskrit word for tradition is parampara. In this context para means beyond, and parampara means "beyond, then beyond again," indicating something that passes from one generation to the next, and then the next, and so on, if not ad infinitum, then certainly beyond the normal human genealogical horizon. Those who have succeeded at aligning themselves with such a tradition are possessed by a current of awareness that directs their personal growth, in large part by mitigating or compensating for many of the deficiencies engendered by their three other inheritances. This fourth inheritance actually makes it possible for an individual to employ free will-in situations where it is employable. But even here the degree to which you can benefit from your guru & his or her tradition will depend, to a certain extent, on your fate.

The first of the Brahma Sutras, a group of pithy aphorisms on the Supreme Reality, is atha'to brahma jijnásá: "Now, therefore, there is the sincere desire for the Supreme Reality." Atha means "now," but not in the temporal sense. Atha is the "serious now," the now of whenever your curiosity about Reality turns into a burning desperation to know it, which happens only when your karmas have matured sufficiently to make you ready to know it. The test of whether or not you are ready to study the Brahma Sutras is not whether you have the free time to study them "now," but whether your awareness is ready to comprehend them. This might in fact happen at this moment, or it might only happen five hundred years in the future. Whenever it is that you become so permeated with the craving to know that the marrow of your bones begins to ache with that desire, then only will you be able to enter into the reality space that this text defines.

This is true for any subject of true value, like music. I recently read an interview with Quincy Jones in which he says that the first time he sat down at a piano & touched its keys he knew, in every cell of his body, that this is what he would be doing for the rest of his life. Let us for a moment presume that you have had a similar response to some branch of learning; perhaps it is a sincere desire to study Jyotisha, Indian astrology. Jyotisha is an exceptionally intricate study, and unless you are relentless, you will never succeed at learning it; this is why your desire must be sincere; not casual, not curious, but earnest, determined.

What you need first is a firm desire; once you have this desire, things will start to happen. The first thing that will need to happen is for you to make a firm decision to follow your star and study your subject, come what may. That moment of decision is the karma that starts you on your path.

But even after your moment of decision, there is still no guarantee that you'll succeed at your quest. You will need free time to study & practice, as well as the desire to do so; if you have to work many hours a day to keep the wolf away from the door, this probably won't be the case. Or, maybe, you will have time, but you will not have space. And, even with time & space, you will still need decent health; if you have to spend all your spare time on keeping yourself from falling ill, you will have neither the time or the energy to study.

You will also require a genuine guru. Plenty of people claim they are ready and able to teach, but few can really deliver. And even if you locate a mentor, you'll need to have the time & space to be taught by that person, which will be difficult if he or she lives in India, or Peru, or Australia, and you do not. Now, of course, we have the Internet, so you might be able to use video conferencing; but you will still need time, money, and high-speed Internet access. And your teacher's schedule has to mesh with yours; it will do no good if you & he inhabit the same city, but you work days and he works nights.

And-even if you have time, and space, and proximity, what if your personalities do not mesh? Even if you are a good student and she is a good teacher what if, whenever you are in the same room together, you are at daggers drawn, and all you can do is argue? So personality alignment must also occur. In fact, the list of necessary concurrences is effectively limitless, which is sufficient reason for us to conclude that it is only through the grace of Providence that human culture has been able to persist, and be transferred in a parampara, a succession "beyond the beyond."

But somehow it has persisted, in large part because fate is involved, fate that has been created for the specific purpose of maintaining the connections that perpetuate the traditions. It really all boils down to karma, first to sanchita karma, the big pile of karmas that you have accumulated by employing your free will over all your many incarnations, stretching back to the distant past. These are all the actions with which you have identified yourself as the doer. It is far easier to identify yourself with your actions as a human than as an animal or plant; because of this you can, as a human, proceed a lot faster in either a good direction or a bad direction. To complicate the situation, some of your sanchita karma is shared with your kinsmen and women, clansmen and women, fellow townspeople, fellow citizens of your country, and with all humans who have ever walked this planet.

Sanchita karma, which accumulates in your karana sarira, or causal body, determines where you go and what you do, according to how long each of the karmic seeds that you plant takes to ripen and produce fruit. The karmic fruits that ripen at a certain temporal moment determine in what sort of environment you will find yourself, as it will be that environment that will deliver all these fruits to you to nosh on. The flavors you enjoy as you do so-sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent or astringent-arise from the sorts of actions that produced them.

The group of karmas that have ripened just before a child is born determine how, where and when that child will appear in the world, and which flavors that child will enjoy at any one moment in its life, is termed prarabdha karma. Prarabdha karma is a kind of fate; it has limited you to your birth time and place. The degree to which you can hope to display free will while you are on earth is strongly influenced by all the pre-existing karmas that make up your prarabdha, in particular by the degree of "fixedness" of those karmas.

The Sanskrit word drdha means firm, unyielding, unchanging. Drdha karma is karma that is firm, fixed, unyielding, that will cause you to experience a particular result in some particular area of life no matter what you may do to try to change those results. This is the karma that will appear to you as if it were fated. No matter how much you may try to do things differently you will still be rewarded with the same result, either for good or for not so good. You've run into people who, even when they try to lose money, end up gaining money instead; and into other people who, even when they try their best to do something good, can never seem to get a good result. This can happen in any area of life. For example, many people go through a number of different marriages. In this regard I am thinking of Elizabeth Taylor, who has been through so many marriages that I can't keep count. Maybe eight? Maybe nine? Whatever. I am always surprised when I meet someone who has been married several times. I can certainly understand two marriages, maybe even three. But after three, as you proceed from four to the higher integers, it seems to me that one would want to start to think that the marriage business just might not be for you. After six or seven you should definitely be thinking-thinking seriously-that maybe this is a direction in which you should no longer go. My suspicion is that Liz has also suspected that she should retire her marriage license, but somehow, when the opportunity to get re-hitched arises, her drdha karma in the matter of matrimony overshadows her awareness, and causes her to try, try again.

We can compare being ensnared by drdha karma to being captured within a large, speedy river. Should you find yourself midstream in a swiftly flowing, turbulent river, your chances of emerging from it on your own are slim to none. The stream will take you wherever it wants you to go. Where it will take you depends on where it is going, and similarly, where drdha karma will take a person depends on which areas of life that karma activates. Astrology helps us determine these areas of life; one good way to perform this evaluation is to use bháva vicára, or house analysis. First, as always, we look for yogas that pertain to the house we want to analyze. Then we examine the conditions of that house, of its lord, and of its significator, then calibrate dashas and transits. We are looking for confluence-for the same message to be delivered to us from most or every examining angle-and once we start to find it, we become suspicious. The greater the degree of confluence, good or bad, the more fixed the results of that house.

The opposite of drdha karma is adrdha karma, which means not fixed. Adrdha karma positions you on the river's bank, close enough to jump in if you so desire, and far enough to be able to avoid getting wet if you'd prefer. While drdha karma effectively immobilizes your free will, adrdha karma enables you to use your free will fairly freely.

Drdhádrdha karma is fixed, but not completely fixed. The paint has been applied but is not yet dry; the concrete has been poured but has not yet set. With a good can of paint remover and abundant elbow grease, or a good shovel and a willing back, you may be able to get the paint off or the cement out before they bond indestructibly to your life. Drdhádrdha karma tosses you into the river, but offers you a dangling root, or perhaps a rope, or an intrepid dog, or some attentive person on shore, to help you get out again. There's still a danger that you'll miss the root, lose the rope, or fail to impress the human or dog; but you have at least a fighting chance of emerging. What permits you to emerge from drdhádrdha karma are astrological remedies; we call them upaya.

Astrological remedies are designed to help you steer your ride through the karmic rapids. You will need to decide on one area of life in which you want to make a significant change, then focus all of your energy on that area in an extreme, extraordinary, laser-like way, if you want to redirect it so that you veer from your "fated" direction into another direction. Often only a slight change in the karmic current will produce a dramatic effect. After all, an inch is as good as a mile. If you are fated to be mown down by a truck, and the truck misses you by an inch, it misses you; that's what's important. That one inch is the difference between moving on with your life-albeit a bit shaken by the experience-and getting shredded completely. The upaya provides us sufficient improved karma to be able to evade the worst possible scenario. We may not be able to evade the problem altogether, but we may be able to use our free will to reduce the intensity of the problem so it does not materially influence us too substantially.

An upaya can be general, or specific. Your personal sadhana, done sincerely, will act as an upaya that will improve your entire life, generally; but when you require a specific results, it is often more efficient to use a specific upaya. One consideration: you will never be able to know whether or not your upaya has actually worked. It might be that the upaya made an actual change, or it might be that what you feared was not fated to happen anyway, and the upaya had no effect on the outcome. And it might also be that it was your fate to have found the astrologer who gave you the advice that made you believe you were making a change, when in fact all you had to do was to express and maintain the intention by going through the motions of performing the remedy in order for the situation to unfold as it had to unfold anyway. There is no way to answer this particular question, but there is also no doubt that there is great benefit in focusing your intention, your icchá sakti; and upayas can be quite palpably useful in this regard.

Here is my mentor's favorite analogy on this topic: if in your prarabdha karma it is written that a rock must fall onto your head, then a rock will very likely fall onto your head. The only way you can get out of experiencing the rock's impact is to have someone elect to take that karma from you, and have the rock fall on his or her head instead. If not, then the rock will probably fall. But it will make a tremendous difference to you if the rock weighs one gram, one kilo, or one ton. You may not even notice the impact of the one gram rock, and if you are wearing an upaya helmet, the one kilo rock is likely only to make your ears ring. Very few humans, though, can withstand the impact of a one ton rock. Given adequate available free will, it is often possible to minimize the karma's intensity, because we must draw a distinction between the actual karmic reaction and its intensity. It is far easier to change the intensity of the action-the sakti associated with the karma-than to change the karma itself.

It has indeed happened that, in special cases, saints will take onto themselves the karmas of their devotees; and it has even happened that karmas have been taken on by others who didn't actually know how to take them on.

One famous historical case involved Babar, the first of the Mughal emperors, and his son Humayun, who became the emperor in the Mughal line. Humayun had become deathly ill; all the doctors had given up hope. Babar was of course devastated; he had become emperor not for himself alone, but for those who came after him; "beyond, and then beyond again." Babar wanted to form a dynasty, which meant that his son and heir needed to survive him. He could think of only one way out of this situation, so he went to his son's sickbed, circumambulated it, then prayed to Allah: "Clearly it is Your will to take one of the lives in my family. I hereby offer You my life in exchange for the life of my son." Whether Humayun was destined to survive and his father was destined to die, or whether something else was destined and Babar's prayer was answered, we cannot know; but the fact is that Humayun survived, and his father died.

If Babar's prayer did make a change, it probably happened mainly because the situation was so serious, with Humayun in extremis, and because Babar was so very, very serious about wanting to effect a change. Practicing your sadhana with this degree of intensity improves the likelihood that you will notice results from it. As Jesus so sagely commented, the best of all possible prayers is, "Thy will be done." You are saying to the supreme reality, "O Supreme Reality, thank You for permitting me to incarnate in a human form, for giving me this precious opportunity to serve as a vehicle for the Supreme Reality. I want very much to be the best possible mirror that I can be; I will do that as best I can. Please assist me in this endeavor."

Human beings have evolved for the express purpose of acting as bridges between the terrestrial and the celestial, as individual mirrors for Indivisible Consciousness. According to the Sankhya philosophy, the whole reason the universe was created was to permit Supreme to perceive itself. The universe is that mirror, and the humans in it are microcosms of the great universal macrocosm. In our world it is only the human being who can experience the full implications of the "All in One, One in All" conundrum, the experience of unity within duality, and duality within unity.

Now, this is a big job; and clearly it is easier to perform this job if you are healthy, and not impoverished, with a roof over your head. So when you pray, you are free to make helpful suggestions to the Supreme. It is, after all, supreme; it has a lot of work to do. And you are, after all, doing it a favor by serving as its vehicle. Do not try to blackmail the Supreme Reality, as that sort of cleverness always ends up badly; but do consider proposing a fair exchange. As Vimalananda liked to put it, a fair exchange is no robbery. You could for example explain to the Supreme Reality, "From my previous karmas has arisen a karmic current that is dragging me along in a less-than-salubrious direction. I do possess a sincere desire to act as a vehicle for Your awareness, to reflect Your Reality on this plane. Please do consider that helping me out might benefit You as well." And you need not apply to the Supreme Unmanifest directly; you may also request help from your personal deity. The gods and goddesses require us as much as we require them; we just have to approach them in the right way.

One good way not to approach them is as the Europeans did when they first came to India. They came, of course, from their own environment: cold, wet, dark. They had evolved a certain method of coping with it: wear heavy dark clothes and consume ample protein, washed down with alcohol. Whether this was healthy or unhealthy for them even in their own homelands is a different matter; it was the pattern they had established, a pattern which had persisted for generations. Then they reached India: hot, dry, dusty. Wind and dust. Heat and dust. They lived in India while continuing to follow their European lifestyle, importing their clothes, their food, even their beer. They walked around in beaver hats and frock coats, and their life expectancies were reckoned to be one monsoon; two monsoons at the most. The monsoon is the unhealthiest of India's seasons. It is preceded by two months of heat hell, during which all water dries up; then, all of a sudden, rain begins to pour. You might think that this would be good, since now everything dry will rehydrate. But no; everything gets wet and stays wet; then the mildew appears, which will be your companion until the rains end. All the pathogens that you accumulated during the dry season, that found it difficult to grow while you were desiccated, now have their opportunity to grow like weeds. Stagnant pools also promote the growth of parasite vectors, like the malaria-bearing mosquito.

The all-knowing Europeans, looking down on the "wogs" who wore almost nothing and ate very little, continued to consume a diet that heated up their bodies, held that heat in with their heavy clothes, and self-medicated their depression at being so far from home with rivers of booze. Their bodies heated up, their blood heated up, their livers heated up. The malaria parasites found themselves in heaven when they entered such bodies; they would proceed immediately to the liver, there to set up shop, and would have a wonderful time breeding and eating. If it was not malaria, it was something else; non-specific fevers have always been terrible diseases in India. The fevers possessed these aliens, and killed them off like flies, a pattern that continued until some of the survivors realized that they should wear short pants, eat curry and rice, and generally live more like the despised natives did. Those that did survive this Darwinian culling process survived because they realized that they had to adapt to the environment, instead of thinking that they could command the environment to adapt to them.

Of course we humans of the modern world, all of us, including the affluent among the Indians and Africans and other peoples of the tropics, all of us continue to believe that we can control our environments, with aircon in the summer, and central heat in the winter, and the rerouting of troublesome rivers, and whatnot. In the long run, we will also be forced to adapt, to use our free will to align ourselves with our environments, before global warming and its attendant climatic crises destroy us. Like those Europeans of earlier centuries who, in Kipling's felicitous phrase, "tried to hustle the East," we have been misusing our free will; and very soon we will have to repent, or die.

But then, human beings learn by experimentation; often they learn best when experiments go wrong. I like the way the Italians put it: The best way to learn is to beat your head against the wall. It's very effective; after beating your head against the wall long enough you know precisely how that actions feels; you will never forget it, particularly if the wall was hard enough, and you beat your head against it firmly enough. In English, we say experience is the best teacher and a fool will learn from no other. Generally speaking it's always better, after obtaining a certain amount of your own experience, to take advantage of other people's experiences. This is why my Jyotisha mentor says when you are studying astrology you should always look at someone else's horoscope; make someone else miserable. Why miserable? Because if you look long enough at any horoscope you will find plenty of undesirable influences. How could it be otherwise? We are not born down here to live trouble-free lives; we are born down here to deal with sticky karmas. Very, very few people live trouble-free lives.

Even the incarnations of God, the avataras themselves, have had miseries to deal with. Let us begin with Lord Ramacandra, Visnu's seventh incarnation. Things started out for him really well: born a prince, he enjoyed three devoted brothers, a devoted father and three devoted mothers, and the two great rishis Vashishta and Vishwamitra as his gurus. He married Sita, daughter of the Earth goddess and of the great sage King Janaka. Then he was anointed king-and on the very next day he was forced to leave his kingdom, exiled to wander in the forest for fourteen years. Sita and his brother Laksmana accompanied him, but then Sita was abducted by an invincible demon, and Rama had to raise an army of monkeys and bears, build a bridge across the sea, and invade and conquer the demon's island and slay the demon in order to retrieve his wife.

Everything looked very good in Rama's life-until it did not look good anymore. And this was the condition of Visnu incarnate on Earth. Other incarnations of Visnu also had their problems; and the prophets and saints, the men & women of God? Tremendous difficulties. The humans who have really good destinies are truly few and far between, because it usually takes substantially disturbed karma in order to appear on this planet, at this level of density of consciousness. Better karmas tend to propel people into more subtle directions.

This is why Jyotisha, Indian astrology, recognizes only two planets that are true benefics. I use the word "planet" here as a translation for the Sanskrit word graha. Graha doesn't actually mean planet; graha means a thing that grasps, grabs, grips or gropes your awareness. A graha seizes you and forces you to behave in a certain way; it possesses you and causes you to move in a certain direction. As long as you are moving in that direction, being possessed by that thing, you are being controlled. You may think you have free will, in fact, often, you will believe you have free will, but you are being directed by the influence symbolized by the planet. Do the planets actually do it? Or do they just symbolize the karmas that have taken you over? Or both? Or neither? We don't know, but what we do know is that most people are possessed by something most of the time. The more your awareness is outward pointed, the less you will pay attention to how you are being possessed, to what is actually driving you. The more you are possessed, by the grahas, by toxins, by obsessive ideas, by disembodied beings, the less your own free will will be able to operate; and if the possession is sufficiently strong, you will believe that you are acting out of your own free will when actually you are a mere automaton. Which brings up interesting, though unanswerable questions, like: does the degree to which you are possessed equate to the degree to which you were fated to do something, or not?

Often we can get some useful information about the degree of fate versus the potential for free will in a person's life by examining these nine grahas, of which five are actually planets, the five planets that are visible to the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Two more are luminaries: the sun and the moon. And then we have Rahu and Ketu, the so-called north and south nodes of the moon, which are the points where the orbit of the earth around the sun intersects the orbit of the moon around the earth. These are the points where eclipses take place; Rahu and Ketu are shadows in the sky, eclipse shadows that eclipse the mind and the awareness.

The two true benefics are Venus and Jupiter-and even these are not entirely good for everybody. They are wholly good only for those people in whose horoscopes they own either the rising sign, the sign on the horizon at the time of birth, or the fifth house, or the ninth house. If they fail to own any one of the first, fifth or ninth houses in a birth chart, they cannot be fully relied upon to deliver benefic results.

The two grahas that are good part of the time are Moon and Mercury. Moon is good when it is bright, especially when it is waxing; Mercury is good when associated with a good graha; when it consorts with bad grahas, it turns bad. Mercury is always two-faced, naughty and nice. Next in line, after the two good grahas and the two okay grahas, comes Sun. Sun is called a "cruel" graha because it burns all the juice out of life. All you need do is to stand outside at midday under a tropical sun, with the mad dogs and the Englishmen, to know just how cruel Sun can be.

Finally come the four malefic grahas, which tend to cause imbalances. These are, in ascending order of malice, Ketu, Rahu, Mars and Saturn. My Jyotisha mentor asserts that, effectively, there is but one graha in Indian astrology, and that is Saturn. Saturn is the planet of anubhava, of experience.

Mythologically, Sun is Saturn's father. Saturn's mother is actually the shadow of Sun's wife. After bearing him three children Sun's wife could no longer withstand her husband's brilliance, so she brought her own shadow to life, and went off to do penance. Sun was so bright that he did not actually notice his wife was gone. Sun sired three more children on his wife's shadow before he discovered his mistake-but by that time Saturn had been created.

The sun archetypically represents the soul or the spirit, and Saturn the shadow that is the ego. The ego always has a blind spot, which distorts accurate perception of reality. Combine spirit and ego together and you get experience, which will teach you what you need to know-sometimes by making you beat your head against the wall. Saturn represents all those experiences that you would like to have avoided but could not-all of those things that are really and truly fated in your life. Even when you are trying to move in the right direction, all of the karmas that want you to be flung into the middle of the river and carried down over the waterfall will continue to tug at you. In order to get to a place where you can even consider employing your free will, you really must identify how to get out of your current karmic stream, how to avoid continuing to make the same mistakes that generated that stream in the first place.

Vimalananda was always fond of saying. "Don't pretend; don't imagine that you are not going to make mistakes. You will make plenty of mistakes. You are a human being; human beings are born to make mistakes. What you can do is to try always to make different mistakes each time." Experiments offer opportunities to change; making the same mistakes over and over again only deepens the rut you are already in, reducing your possibilities of escape once you really need to escape.

One difficulty is to know which free will to employ. We strongly appreciate Jupiter and Venus, even when they do not act in utterly benefic ways, because they are more likely to encourage us to think in intelligent ways than are the other grahas. Of course, the auspicious thoughts they engender may or may not translate into good results, which is another useful thing to remember: even when you do the right thing, you may not necessarily get the right results if it is not the right thing for the circumstances.

In Naples, drivers regard traffic lights as suggestions. The Neapolitans say, "A red light is a invitation to consider stopping; not a command, just a suggestion." That's an important thing to know if you happen to be driving in Naples; you will want to know how the Neapolitans are employing their free will, and act accordingly. You wouldn't want to export the attitude of Naples to Germany, where traffic signals must be obeyed, even when no one else is at the intersection. It's very important to tailor the exercise of your free will to the time and space in which you find yourself.

An Italian friend of mine, a very clever guy, drove down to Naples on business some years back. He had heard that Naples was full of car thieves, but he thought "Well, I will stop for just a moment on the street, run up to the room where I have my appointment, and ask my friend there where is the right place to park." As soon as he got into the room his friend asked, "Where's your car?" When he heard, "Down on the street," the guy said, "Go down immediately!" By the time he got back to the car five minutes had elapsed-and in that five minutes, all four wheels had been stolen. In five minutes. This was a useful experience; my friend will never do that again. Nowadays, when he goes to Naples, he usually flies or takes the train. When he does drive, he parks only in garages patrolled by uniformed guards. One unpleasant experience provided the perspective he needed to ensure that he would employ his free will in this regard more wisely in the future.

Here's another example of free will gone wrong: Hawaii's sugar cane planters once thought that they could control the plague of rats in their fields by importing the mongoose. But somehow they forgot-or didn't bother to try to find out-that rats are nocturnal and mongoose are diurnal. Now there are two plagues: one of rats and another of mongoose. The planters got what they asked for-and then hated the results. Always remember that the only thing worse than not getting what you want is, often, getting what you want.

Look at all the people-the examples are too numerous to mention-who have major piles of money and are completely miserable. They seem unable to do anything else lifelong other than create problems for themselves and for others. In fact, it seems like the more possessions they possess, the more miserable they become. Their external condition looks beautiful, but their internal condition, the experience of life that they are having, is malevolent, worse than worthless.

In Jyotisha we distinguish between bhava and rasa. A bhava is a state or condition; in astrological parlance, it is one of the twelve "houses" of the horoscope. Each bhava indicates the state or the condition of some of the things in your life. The sixth bhava, for example, signifies the state or condition of your debt, enemies, and diseases; it also represents your maternal uncle(s). The fourth bhava indicates the water in your life; water in every sense, including emotion. It also represents your home, vehicles, and mother. Whenever you study anyone's horoscope you always take a look at both the natal chart and the horary chart, the horoscope taken at the time of the reading. The birth chart is a map of the karmas that caused the child to be born; the horary chart tells you whether, how, and to what degree those karmas have changed since birth. Where the natal horoscope indicates drdha karma in one area of a person's life, the horary chart will almost always show drdha karma, good or bad, in that same area. Even if other areas of that person's life have changed, the change will not have happened to any great degree in that one area of life. This is drdha karma-karma that is seriously stuck, literally fated.

A look at someone's bhavas will give you an idea of that individual's natural life circumstances, without letting you in on what kind of direct life experience will flow from that condition. We express this experience of life in terms of rasa. Some people who begin life with major difficulties are unafraid of tackling those challenges; they find difficulties and the possibility of overcoming them exhilarating, and can sometimes distill excellent results from adversities. Nelson Mandela is an excellent example: a man who languished in prison for a quarter-century, utterly under the power of racists backed by the power of institutional racism, who would, I'm sure, have killed him if they thought they could have gotten away with it without causing a civil war. Despite thus losing at least one quarter of his life to incarceration, he left jail still able to take an evenhanded approach to politics, encouraging his country by example to move in a healthier direction without bitterness. Here is a man whose bhavas fated him to be locked up, who nevertheless extracted a life experience, a rasa, that was very satisfying for himself and for millions of other people around the world.

Nelson Mandela took the extremely limited free will offered to him, and used it in an exceptionally positive way; so many others take bhavas that are very good but then use their free will to move themselves in the wrong direction. As Voltaire used to say, you may not be able to alter the cards dealt you in the game of life, but you certainly have control over how you play them. Even if your free will does not extend to changing your fate, it may extend to being able to manipulate your life in such a way that you minimize one area of fate that is not so desirable, and maximize one area of fate that is.

The problem remains that fate is something that baffles even the gods and goddesses. Once upon a time there was, in the heaven of Indra, king of the gods, a parrot; Indra's pet parrot. His name has not been recorded; let's call him Fluffy. Fluffy the parrot had a good relationship with Indra and, this being heaven, everything always looked good: the gardens weeded themselves, dust never accumulated, disease and old age never intruded, and death was a distant, if still distasteful, eventuality.

Everything was going along very well until one day the realization came to Indra that his parrot would in fact eventually die. Not wanting that transition to catch him off guard, Indra decided to try to find out when the parrot was fated to die; so Indra took the parrot to Brahma, the creator of the universe, who had also created the parrot. Indra asked his question, and Brahma replied, "I just create things. It's not my job to decide how long they last; my job is just to create. But you've asked a good question, and now I'd like to know the answer. Visnu preserves things; let's ask him how long he is going to preserve the parrot's life."

Brahma, Indra and the parrot accordingly all trooped over to Visnu's residence, where they saw the Blessed Visnu lying peaceably on Sesa, his thousand-headed snake who floats in the Ocean of Milk. They asked their question, and Visnu replied, "My job is only to preserve. Lord Siva is in charge of ending life, you should ask him. But now that you mention it, this is a good question. I'll come with you to Lord Siva, to hear the answer."

Indra, the parrot, Brahma, and Visnu proceeded to Lord Siva's abode, where they asked the great god their question. He replied, "It is true that I end the lives of living beings, but I kill according to the dictates of Vidhata (Fate), who decides who needs to die, and when. But now that you bring it up, I too would like to know when the parrot is going to die. The only thing to do is to visit Fate-Vidhata will be able to tell us."

Soon Brahma, Visnu, Siva, Indra and the parrot were knocking on Fate's door. When Vidhata opened the door and invited them in, they started to ask their question, but Vidhata interrupted: "Take a look at the parrot." And there was Fluffy, lying on his back in his cage, his little claws straight up in the air, stone dead. Indra was of course ready to weep, but his curiosity overcame his grief. Deciding to mourn later and ask questions first, he was just opening his mouth when Vidhata said, "Before you arrived I already knew that you wanted to know when the parrot was going to die. As it turns out, it was written in the parrot's fate that when Indra, the parrot, Brahma, Visnu and Siva all appeared in front of me, the parrot would die; and, in fact, the parrot died the moment you all arrived here. If you had never had the idea to ask when the parrot was going to die, none of this would have happened, and the parrot would have stayed alive indefinitely. It was because it was time for the parrot to die that the parrot's karmas goaded you to ask your question." And that was that; there was nothing more to say. Everyone went home to contemplate the lesson they had learned.

Vidhata doesn't do anything himself, of course; all he does is to distill the influences of all the karmas that impact an individual. This distillation establishes the sequencing of the impending karmic reactions, which are then delivered with the help of Brahma, Visnu, and Siva. Before we think of altering our fate, first we need to learn how to live up to the fate that is already written for us. And the best way to do that is to heed the words of Sri Krsna: "Perform all the activities that are appropriate for you to perform, with no concern for the fruits thereof. I will determine what fruit is appropriate for you, and see that you receive it."

Mahatma Gandhi used to say that after God created the Law of Karma, he was able to retire. From that moment the mechanism of karma began to work, and hasn't stopped for a moment since. We have no alternative but to respect the Law of Karma, because as long as we exist we are its subjects. We also have no real alternative to respecting Saturn, because if we respect Saturn warmly enough, despite his lack of humor, and even though he is dour to the extreme, he may be willing to cut us some slack. A good way to influence Saturn positively is to revere Siva; and a good way to do that is to sing some song that is dedicated to Hanuman. Hanuman, or Anjeneya as Vimalananda preferred to call him, is an incarnation of Siva, and Hanuman has a positive influence over Saturn. When Hanuman is happy he will intercede with Saturn on our behalf, and then something good may happen. Maybe it will be that one inch, or one millimeter, or one quark that will swerve us away from colliding with whatever is hurtling towards us, saving us for another day of sadhana, another day of moving towards becoming the people that we were created to be. Jaya Hanumanji!

Maha Ganapataye Namah