During the course of my writings, one interesting comment that I received from a reader friend said, “God said to Job from the whirlwind; ‘Who is this that darkens council with words and not knowledge?’ There is only one who has the ability to describe heaven, and that is the one who created it, the one who watched it form, that is Jesus Christ, who came to Earth to explain it to you, and did so quite simply. If you are going to talk about Heaven, or hell, these are God’s to define, not yours”. ….The idea seems to clearly indicate that there should be no room for self-effort in one’s salvation, and that all human thought in religion must, of necessity, be dogmatic. …..So I thought I’ll clarify.
“Yesterday I was clever.
That is why I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise.
That is why I am changing myself”.
– Sri Chinmoy
Talking of Spirituality, the first question we must ask: Are we at the mercy of Destiny? I have heard –
One day the Sultan of Damascus was in his palace when a young man who was his favourite, agitatedly came rushing into his presence and proclaimed that he must immediately leave for Baghdad, and begged that he be allowed to take His Majesty’s swiftest horse. The Sultan asked: ‘But why are you in such haste? and the man replied, “As I passed through the garden of the palace I saw Death with his arms stretched out in my direction and it thoroughly frightened me, so I must lose no time in escaping him”.
The favourite was allowed to take the horse he wanted, and then later when the Sultan went to the garden, he saw that Death was still standing there. “Why did you threaten my favourite?” demanded the ruler. “I did not threaten him”, Death replied, “I threw up my arms in surprise at seeing him here, for I was to meet him tonight at Baghdad”…Is that the work of Destiny or Fate?
Whenever we run into struggles and reverses in the course of our lives, the question arises: Are we playthings in the hands of the forces of nature or slaves of a God who presides over the affairs of the world? Or, are we helpless creatures lying at the mercy of some whimsical Fate, believed to be the guide of our destinies?
Going by this fatalistic or confusing approach, there is then no place for self-effort. We are plain slaves, bound and stuck until God finds time to look at our ‘sufferings’ from his long list of ‘priority job’ of saving others who are higher placed in suffering hierarchy than us. Hope too seems to vanish into thin air when we are plagued by such a thought.
It is not so asserts the Hindu scriptures by stressing the importance of self-effort in our spiritual life. Meditate on these words:
This Self cannot be attained by the weak, by the inattentive, nor by one who practices spiritual disciplines improperly. The wise who strive through proper means realize the Infinite Spirit. — Mundaka Upanishad.
“Know thy Self to be the Master, sitting in the chariot of the body. Consider the intellect as the driver and the mind the reins. The senses are the horses and the sense-objects are the roads. The wise call the Self the enjoyer when He is identified with the body, the senses and the mind”. — Katha Upanishad.
“Men obtain desired objects by personal effort. Those wanting in self-effort speak only of destiny. Neither the lazy nor those who depend solely on destiny reach their goal. Therefore, a person should, by all means, persist in self-effort”. —-Matsya Purina.
“Success of actions rests equally on destiny and one’s efforts. Of these two, destiny is the expression of the efforts made in a previous life”. ——— Yajnavalkya Smriti.
“Surrendering all actions to the Supreme Spirit, fixing the mind on the indwelling Self, and abandoning all longings and Selfishness, fight the battle of life without fear or excitement”. —Bhagavad Gita.
Heaven and hell are, let us undersand it clearly, not physical locations somewhere, but are the states of one’s being. When you are not, you are heaven; when you are, you are hell. It depends on the effort as to whether you make your mind a friend of your self, or make it your foe.
Reflecting on the above passages that are so close to real-life experiences, one will not be left in any doubt that self-effort and surrender should go hand-in-hand. Both are to be regarded as expressions of Divine Grace.