“No creature is endowed with the power of exercising any control over the course of events. Man has no independent status in nature.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 105)
This is one of the central tenets of Vedic philosophy; man has no independence. He surely has the choice to act as he wishes, but the results are not determined by him. Nature is the ultimate controller, and nature is managed by God and His energies.
Man’s identifying with the gross material body and his thinking that he has independence represent the two largest stumbling blocks towards spiritual advancement. These thoughts occur naturally in every human being, for all we know is our own body. We act in a certain way and we see the consequences, so we naturally think that we are responsible for creating results. If we’re hungry, we eat something, and then we’re not hungry anymore. If we want to succeed in school, we study hard, and then pass our exams. Again, we think ourselves the doer.
The idea of independence works the same way. Some countries are very proud of their independence, celebrating each year on the specific day that freedom was achieved. People can’t be blamed for celebrating nationalism in this way. Many societies have faced oppression throughout history at the hands of dictatorships and tyrannical regimes, so breaking free of these forces is certainly a momentous occasion. But are we actually ever independent?
The United States has had its independence from Great Britain for over two hundred years, but we see that there is still panic and turmoil every day. Just because one group of people no longer runs the government, it doesn’t mean that problems automatically go away. For the citizens of a particular country, there is never true independence because government is always there to manage things. Some people are happy with the job government is doing, while others are not. Thus a battle for control of the government ensues, which manifests either as elections or, in extreme cases, revolutions. This struggle for power has been going on since time immemorial.
This struggle for control also exists inside of each living entity. At our core, we are spirit souls, part and parcel of God. In order to take birth in this material world, we must accept a body consisting of the five gross elements (earth, air, water, fire, and ether) and three subtle elements (mind, intelligence, and false ego). As living entities, we have a choice in how our senses interact with the elements of nature. In this way, we have a small amount of independence. Yet material nature still reigns supreme. God is one but He is referred to by many different names; each of which describe His various activities and potencies. One of His names is Parameshvara, meaning the supreme controller. We may able to control our bodily functions to some degree, but God can control everything and everyone. The weather system itself is a miracle which scientists have yet to fully comprehend. They may be able to predict the weather a few days in advance, but they have no way of stopping it from raining or making it warm during the winter. They come up with various concocted theories such as Global Warming or Climate Change, but these bogus ideas all crumble over time since they don’t recognize the influence of the sun and God’s control over nature.
“O Arjuna, I control heat, the rain and the drought. I am immortality, and I am also death personified. Both being and nonbeing are in Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.19)”
We may act in a certain way, but we actually have no control over how events will play out. The threefold miseries of life will always get in our way. There are miseries brought about by other living entities, by our mind, and by nature. The interference of nature is easy to comprehend. We may work very hard during the day to maintain a nice house and a healthy family, yet one natural disaster can take all of that away in a second. Every year, tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes devastate the lives of so many people around the world. Other living entities also get in the way of our plans. The 9/11 terrorist attack was an example of this. People were just minding their own business going to the office one day, when all of a sudden, a plane crashes into their building, killing thousands and destroying the lives of many more.
So why do these miseries occur? With every action that we take, there is a corresponding reaction that must occur through the forces of karma. For example, if we kill another living entity unnecessarily and without just cause, then even if we aren’t punished by the laws of the state, we will be forced to suffer through karma, which is God’s system of fairness. The Lord, residing in the hearts of every living entity as the Supersoul or Paramatma, witnesses all of our actions. If we behave piously, we are rewarded as such, and the opposite holds true when we act sinfully. The laws of karma are absolute and must go into effect. Lord Krishna has deputed Dharmaraja, the god of justice, to handle all issues of fairness. The Vedas actually recommend capital punishment administered by the state for the most heinous criminals so that the sinner won’t have to suffer in a future life through karma. Every Vedic policy is carried out in full knowledge of karma, which serves to check our false idea of independence.
Aside from doling out simple punishments and rewards, karma also determines the circumstances of our birth. For example, taking a look at people born today, we see that those born in wealthy countries have a tremendous advantage over those born in starving countries run by dictatorships. Taking birth in a wealthy family is due to pious activity performed in a previous life.
“The unsuccessful yogi, after many, many years of enjoyment on the planets of the pious living entities, is born into a family of righteous people, or into a family of rich aristocracy.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.41)
No one has a choice in their birth. Yet we see that so many people are falsely claiming to be part of a specific race, ethnicity, or even caste. They feel they are better than someone else simply based on their birth, or they feel that other people are inherently flawed due to their skin color or ethnicity. This thinking is the root cause of racial problems around the world. What these people fail to understand is that they could very well take birth in another race in a future life. The material body is just a covering; we are all constitutionally the same since we are all spirit souls.
“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.47)
Knowing that we are not truly independent, does that mean we should just sit idly by and do nothing? Or better yet, should we just act however we want since karma will take care of everything? The answer is that we should act in concert with God’s instructions. The point of human life is to reconnect with Krishna, which will allow us to return to His spiritual realm after death. Though karma is absolute and requires us to repeatedly take birth in this material world, bhagavata-dharma makes one immune to the effects of karma. Bhagavan is a name for God meaning one who possesses all fortunes. Bhagavata is the name for one who is in association with Bhagavan, a devotee, and dharma means occupational duty. So we simply have to make our occupational duty that of constantly serving and being in association with Bhagavan, or God.
The major religions around the world each have one or two primary texts such as the Bible, Koran, etc., but the Vedas have many many major texts. There are too many to really count. This is because the Vedas offer many sub-religious systems for people who don’t want to follow bhagavata-dharma. Luckily for us, the great saints of the pasts, Bhagavatas, have synthesized the Vedic teachings for people of this age. The easiest way to engage in devotional service is to always chant the holy names of God:, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
The lesson taught by Lord Rama is that we should follow dharma at all times. The above referenced statement was part of a conversation between Rama and His younger brother Bharata. Lord Rama was an incarnation of Lord Krishna who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago as a prince in Ayodhya. Rama was the rightful heir to the throne, but Bharata was instead given the crown by their father Maharaja Dashratha. Bharata very much wanted Rama to take over, so he told Him how everyone would be miserable if He wasn’t their ruler. Lord Rama then responded with a few statements about how no one has independence, and that dharma should be followed in all circumstances. Rama was following dharma by remaining in the forest, since that was the order given to Him by His father. In those times, kshatriyas (warrior class) served as the kings and their word was more important to them than their life. Rama wanted to maintain the good name and reputation of His father, who had since passed away.
Each of us has our prescribed duties based on our qualities and our age, so it is important that we follow them. The highest duty for every person is to become God conscious. If we practice devotional service to God, we’ll make Lord Rama happy, which is reward enough.