Is our destiny determined and controlled by some transcendental being?
Or is it somehow fixed at birth and unchangeable?
These are matters that we usually don’t think too much about.
If, however, nothing goes well for us no matter how hard we try, we are apt to think, masochistically, that we have been “born under an unfortunate star,” to resign ourselves to “our fate, about which nothing can be done,” or to wish to cling to some transcendental being, as the words “depending on the gods in time of trouble” suggest.
But is our destiny in fact determined and controlled by something outside ourselves?
Is it with us from birth, and unchangeable?
From ancient times there have been those who subscribed to fatalism or determinism, believing that destiny is a thing fixed at birth.
What time it will rain tomorrow is already determined.
Whether you can get into the university of your choice is already determined, regardless of how much you study.
Whether you can marry or not is determined from the time you are born. If you marry, your partner is already determined.
These are fatalistic or deterministic ideas.
Some 2,600 years ago, Shakyamuni completely rejected all such ideas as the false teaching of fatalism.
In Buddhist terms, they are called gedo, meaning outside the Way of Truth.
Since such teachings go against the law of cause and effect, they lead human beings to unhappiness.
The reason is that, if our destiny is already set, then all our efforts and hard work become meaningless, and the will to make an effort disappears.
Some may say that the decision to make an effort or not is itself predetermined, but that reasoning makes us even less likely to try to exert ourselves.
That is why Shakyamuni rejects the idea of determinism, which makes us weak and listless.
He declares instead that our destiny can be radically changed through our own actions.
In fact, though, even those who say that everything is predetermined study the night before a test because they believe that the act of studying may change the outcome of the next day’s test.
If they get sick, they go to the hospital because they believe that the act of receiving treatment there will aid in their recovery.
They go to their place of work, unpleasant though it may be, because they do not want to be fired.
They believe that going to work and doing their jobs well will ensure the security of their livelihood.
If our destiny were already fixed, then the results would be the same whether we studied or not, went to the hospital or not, and did our jobs well or not.
Everything we did would be meaningless.
But no one lives his or her life that way.
Everyone believes that his or her actions now will affect tomorrow.
And that is absolutely true.
How, then, do our actions give rise to happiness or unhappiness in our lives?
In the next chapter, we’ll talk about the law of cause and effect in relation to our lives, as preached by Shakyamuni Buddha.