Every child born in this world is born to fulfill its own destiny. Parents, teachers and social institutions become instruments to support the child’s destiny and at the same time fulfill their own destinies in the process. The power of destiny and the course it takes is a mystery. As finite minds, we have theories and concepts but the truth about destiny remains a deep mystery.

The Bhagavad Gita teaches that all human actions are caused by prakriti (nature). There are five causes of whatever worldly action an individual performs (Bhagavad Gita 3.27, 18.14):

  1. The physical body
  2. The agent (ego)
  3. Various senses (means of cognition and perception)
  4. Different functions of various sorts (means of action)
  5. Destiny, the divine will (daivam)

The combined effect of the first four factors above is called the individual effort based upon the individual free will. The individual effort includes one’s willpower, initiative and drive, enthusiasm, education and training, material resources, interface with other agencies involved in the venture, and other special factors that may depend upon a given situation. All these factors are usually known and can thus be maximized to ensure success in a particular endeavor. The fifth factor, the destiny, is an unknown and unknowable factor in human lives. It presents an element of uncertainty in all human actions.

Law of Success

Since success in any human endeavor depends upon the above five factors, individual success may be mathematically represented as the product of the following variables:

S = E x D

This is the Equation of Success, where, S represents individual success, E the individual effort, and D the destiny.

In the above equation, each variable can range from zero to one. When S equals zero, there is zero success or complete failure. When S equals one, there is one-hundred percent success. Similarly, when E is zero, there is zero or no effort and when E equals one, there is one-hundred percent effort. Likewise, when D is zero, there is zero luck or bad destiny and when D equals one, there is good fortune or good karma.

From the above equation, it follows that even if D equals one (good karma or good luck), S will be zero if E is zero; S can become one if E equals one.

Thus we can logically conclude that destiny (or karma) alone cannot lead to success in life unless effort is maximized. This is the power of one’s free-will. It is why Krishna assures Arjuna success in the war with the Kauravas, but wants him to fight. Krishna tells Arjuna very clearly that his (Arjuna’s) destiny guarantees his winning of the battle, but he must fight.

“Arise [O Arjuna!], conquer thy enemies [E = 1]; enjoy thy kingdom and win thy glory [S = 1]. Through the fate of their karma, I have already doomed them to die [D = 1]; be thou merely an instrumental cause.”

Bhagavad Gita 11.33


Each of us is merely an instrumental cause, as the Bhagavad Gita says. However, we also have free-will (although limited). It is true that destiny is unknown and unknowable and its impact cannot be ignored, yet it is the effort that we must make best use of by utilizing our free will. We have right to work, but not to its fruits, says the Bhagavad Gita. We must work hard with faith and confidence but not become attached to the fruits of our actions. This is the fundamental doctrine of Hindu tradition—work but without attachment—declared in the Bhagavad Gita over and over again and specifically as follows:

“The wise, possessed with knowledge, renouncing the fruits of their actions, become freed from the bondage of birth and reach that state which is beyond all evil.” 

Bhagavad Gita 2.51

The Power and the Course of Destiny – Story of Patacara

At the time of the Buddha, a wealthy man lived in Savatthi, a city in ancient India. He had a charming daughter named Patacara. She fell in love with a servant in her parent’s house. When she came to know that her parents were going to marry her off to the son of another wealthy man, she decided to run away with her lover. Accordingly, one night she slipped out of her house with the servant and the couple traveled to a distant place where nobody could find them. They got married and began their new life together. The husband took to a wood cutting job and the wife did some menial work to support themselves.

In due course of time, when Patacara was ready to give birth to their first child, she said to her husband, “Here in this house I have no one to help me with my pregnancy. Parents always have a soft spot in their hearts for their children regardless of what their children do or not do. Please take me to my parents’ house so I may give birth to our child.” Her husband said to her, “My darling, what are you talking about? If your parents were to see me they would kill me then and there. It makes no sense for us to go.” She begged him over and over again but he refused to budge.

After some more time when Patacara was again ready to give birth to her second child, she decided to leave for her parents’ house without asking for her husband’s consent. One day when her husband was away at work, she left her home to travel to her parents’ house. When the husband came to know about it, he ran after her and pleaded her to return with him, but she refused. While this situation was happening a violent storm broke. Patacara told her husband, “I am experiencing birth pains. Please find me a place to shelter from this storm.”

Her husband took his axe and went in heavy rain looking for branches and leaves to make a temporary shelter. Seeing a bush nearby on an ant hill, he went to chop it down. As he was cutting it, a poisonous snake glided out and bit his hand, killing him immediately.

Patacara waited for her husband to return, but in vain. In the meantime her labor pain became severe and soon she gave birth to another son. Being in a frantic situation, she threw her arms around her children to shelter them while waiting desperately for her husband to return. Early next morning, with the newborn in her lap and holding the hand of the other child, Patacara went along the path her husband had taken and found him lying dead. Distraught and distressed, she wept and cried but there was nothing she could do.

Weeping and crying, Patacara continued walking towards her parents’ house until she came to a river which was flooded from the storm. Being weak and hungry, she could not carry both children together. She told the older boy to stay on the riverbank until she returned to get him. She carried the new-born across the river, put the baby on a bed of leaves and returned for the older child. While crossing the river she noticed a hawk coming down from the sky and swooping off with the baby. Patacara screamed at the hawk loudly, but the older child thought his mother was calling him. In a hurry to get to her, he slipped down the bank and was swept away by the river.

Grieving and crying, Patacara went on her way. As she came nearer to Savatthi where her parents lived, she saw a man who was just coming from the city. She inquired about her family from him. The man first avoided to answer her. When she insisted, with a broken heart he informed her that her parents’ house had collapsed in the storm, killing both of them as well as her brother, and that their cremation was just taking place.

Hearing this dreadful news, Patacara’s grief was too much to bear. She tore off her clothes, wandered around weeping and wailing. Some villagers noticed her awful condition and took her to a nearby monastery, where the Buddha was teaching. Upon seeing her condition, Buddha instructed his disciples to wash her, clothe her and give her food. After a while when she recovered her senses somewhat, she prostrated at the feet of the Buddha, describing her family tragedies. Buddha lovingly consoled her explaining the law of impermanence and other Buddhist doctrines. Under the Buddha’s loving care, Patacara slowly recovered her mind and requested Buddha to enter the order of nuns. The Buddha ordained her and she became a Bhikkhuni (nun). She achieved enlightenment in her lifetime and became a beloved and powerful teacher. She was a great comfort to those who came to her in difficulties. She left behind a poem, which narrates her moment of awakening.

Note: The exact details of this story vary from source to source. However, all sources agree that Patacara lost her entire family (husband, two children, parents and her brother) in one day. The story is adapted from “The story of Bhikkhuni/Arahant Patacara by BhikkhuJayasara.”


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