reconciling the notions of destiny and duty (part 1)

reconciling the notions of destiny and duty (part 1)
Photo by Kristopher Roller / Unsplash

If you’re into philosophy and spirituality, I’m sure you would have pondered upon some critical questions with regard to human existence:

  • Are certain events destined to happen in our lives?
  • Should we surrender and go with the flow of life or take charge and make things happen?
  • Do we genuinely have free will? Or are we just puppets in the hands of destiny that make us dance as per its will?

The narrative of the ancient Indian epic Ramayana can be a great resource for us to understand the role of destiny in our lives.

In the epic, once Ram, the protagonist, is commanded to undergo a forest exile for 14 long years, he repeatedly invokes the notion of destiny to pacify the people near and dear to him. When his brother Lakshman criticizes their father Dasharatha’s order and calls it unfair, Ram calms him down by saying that everything that happened was the will of destiny. He even advised his second brother Bharat to bear no resentment towards Kaikeyi (Bharat’s mother and Ram’s stepmother), for she was nothing but a pawn acting on behalf of destiny.

The Ramayana essentially states that the events that led to Ram leaving the kingdom of Ayodhya and going to the forest to encounter demonic forces there were influenced by the gods. It was all meant to happen. Why is that? Because this was the only way for Ram to fulfill his mission as an incarnation of the Divine Lord. Ram is a manifestation of the Lord of destiny—the supreme being whose will directs destiny. And so, in a way Ram was exiled by his own will.  

Ramayana, however, doesn’t emphasize Ram’s divine aspects, it only discusses his path as a mortal being facing extraordinary circumstances and his emerging as the ideal human, someone we can all look up to. Therefore, Ram’s mindset and his actions are instructive in understanding how to respond to the will of destiny in the best way possible.