Niti-sataka 6 :: The role of Fate and Karma

After all the talk about character, now comes the last section about Fate and Karma. Bhartrihari does not let you off the hook, even though he admits the omnipotence of destiny. For instance, after declaring Fate to determine our fortunes, in the next verse he immediately tells us that sloth is our greatest enemy. One still has to act and think (v. 90); for Destiny is nothing other than the unseen consequences of previous acts. This is an apparent contradiction that cannot be escaped. The point is that one has to act without attachment to the results because those are not fully under our control.

So, this is the last of the Niti-sataka. Links to the other instalments:

Niti-sataka 5 :: The qualities of the virtuous and resolute



bhagnāśasya karaṇḍa-piṇḍita-tanor mlānendriyasya kṣudhā
kṛtvākhur vivaraṁ svayaṁ nipatito naktaṁ mukhe bhoginaḥ |
tṛptas tat-piśitena satvaram asau tenaiva yātaḥ yathā
lokāḥ paśyata daivam eva hi nṛṇāṁ vṛddhau kṣaye kāraṇam ||85||

There was once a snake locked in a box,
hungry and miserable, he was thin and hopeless.
A mouse, also looking for food, made a hole in the box
and fell into the mouth of the snake,
which then escaped through the hole the mouse had made.
Just see, my friends, how fate determines
both our good and bad fortune.

ālasyaṁ hi manuṣyāṇāṁ
śarīrastho mahān ripuḥ |
nāsty udyama-samo bandhuḥ
kurvāṇo nāvasīdati ||86||

Sloth is the great enemy of man,
residing with his own body.
On the other hand, there is no friend
equal to strenuous and continuous effort;
one who works thus never knows distress.

chinno'pi rohati taruḥ kṣīṇo'py upacīyate punaś candraḥ |
iti vimṛśantaḥ santaḥ santapyante na duḥkheṣu ||87||

A tree that has been cut down grows again;
the dark moon will become full again.
Remembering this, the saintly
never suffer in times of distress.

netā yasya bṛhaspatiḥ praharaṇaṁ vajraṁ surāḥ sainikāḥ
svargo durgam anugrahaḥ kila harer airāvato vāraṇaḥ |
ity aiśvarya-balānvito'pi balabhid bhagnaḥ paraiḥ saṅgare
tad vyaktaṁ nanu daivam eva śaraṇaṁ dhig dhig vṛthā pauruṣam ||88||

Indra's advisor was Brihaspati, his weapon the thunderbolt,
the gods formed his army; heaven itself was his fortress,
his vehicle was Airavata, and most of all, he had received the grace of Vishnu.
Not only that, but he possessed unlimited power and wealth.
Even so, he was defeated in battle by the demons.
It is thus clear that Fate is our only shelter --
fie, fie on all our efforts.

karmāyattaṁ phalaṁ puṁsāṁ
buddhiḥ karmānusāriṇī |
tathāpi sudhiyā bhāvyaṁ
suvicāryaiva kurvatā ||89||

The results of our actions are determined
by our previous deeds.
Our intelligence is also a result of previous deeds.
Even so, an intelligent person should act
only after careful judgment.


khalvāṭo divaseśvarasya kiraṇaiḥ santāḍito mastake
vāńchan deśam anātapaṁ vidhi-vaśāt tālasya mūlaṁ gataḥ |
tatrāpy asya mahāphalena patatā bhagnaṁ saśabdaṁ śiraḥ
prāyo gacchati yatra bhāgya-rahitas tatraiva yānty āpadaḥ ||90||

A bald guy was out suffering in the hot sun
and so he went to take shelter under a shady tree.
But when there, a big tal fruit fell on his head,
noisily cracking his skull.
An unfortunate man will meet misfortune
wherever he goes.

ravi-niśākarayor graha-pīḍanaṁ
gaja-bhujaṅgamayor api bandhanam |
matimatāṁ ca vilokya daridratāṁ
vidhir aho balavān iti me matiḥ ||91||

When I see that Rahu causes distress
to both the sun and the moon;
when I see that even elephants and cobras
are caught and imprisoned;
and when I see that even wise and learned persons
suffer from poverty,
I think, Fate is indeed all-powerful.

sṛjati tāvad aśeṣa-guṇākaraṁ
puruṣa-ratnam alaṅkaraṇaṁ bhuvaḥ |
tad api tat-kṣaṇa-bhaṅgīkaroti
ced ahaha kaṣṭam apaṇḍitatā vidheḥ ||92||

God creates a man who possesses all good qualities
a jewel that is an ornament to the world.
Then, in just a moment he destroys him–
I suffer to such a lack of wisdom in the Creator.

patraṁ naiva yadā karīra-viṭape doṣo vasantasya kim
nolūko'py avalokyate yadi divā sūryasya kiṁ dūṣaṇam |
dhārā naiva patanti cātaka-mukhe meghasya kiṁ dūṣaṇam
yat pūrvaṁ vidhinā lalāṭa-likhitaṁ tan mārjituṁ kaḥ kṣamaḥ ||93||

If there are no leaves on the bamboo plant,
is that the fault of the spring?
And if there are no owls outside during the day,
is that the fault of the sun?
And if the torrents of rain do not fall
into the chataka's open mouth,
is that the fault of the cloud?
Who can wipe away that which has been written
on our foreheads by Fate?

The idea of lalāṭa-likhitam, not to speak of the ravages of Fate, can be found almost everywhere, even in the Bhagavatam. For instance 10.39.19-20. MMW gives two alternatives for karīra, either bamboo or a kind of cactus.

namasyāmo devān nanu hatavidhes te'pi vaśagā
vidhir vandyaḥ so'pi pratiniyata-karmaika-phaladaḥ |
phalaṁ karmāyattaṁ yadi kim amaraiḥ kiṁ ca vidhinā
namas tat-karmabhyo vidhir api na yebhyaḥ prabhavati ||94||

We pay our obeisances to the gods,
but are they not under the thrall of Fate?
And we worship Fate, but he must award
the fruits of our actions without exception.
The awards we win are based on our work,
so what need have we of the gods or of Fate?
I bow down to works, over which
Brahma himself has no control.

A classical expression of the Karma-mimamsa philosophy. ṭhus the definition of God has to be "He who is outside the governance of karma." And thus we have the concept of "causeless mercy." And if God is compassionate, can we too not forgive? Everyone must reap as they sow.

brahmā yena kulālavan niyamito brahmāṇḍa-bhāṇḍodare
viṣṇur yena daśāvatāra-gahane kṣipto mahā-saṅkaṭe |
rudro yena kapāla-pāṇi-puṭake bhikṣāṭanaṁ kāritaḥ
sūryo bhrāmyati nityam eva gagane tasmai namaḥ karmaṇe ||95||

I offer my obeisances to works,
by which Brahma is made to turn like a potter's wheel
within this universal sphere;
by which Vishnu himself is thrown into great troubles
in his various incarnations;
because of which Rudra carries a skull in his hands
and wanders from door to door, begging;
and by whose power, the Sun god wanders through the sky.

naivākṛtiḥ phalati naivaṁ kulaṁ na śīlaṁ
vidyāpi naiva na ca yatna-kṛtāpi sevā |
bhāgyāni pūrva-tapasā khalu sańcitāni
kāle phalanti puruṣasya yathaiva vṛkṣāḥ ||96||

Nothing bears fruit, not beauty, family nor character,
not learning, not evening service performed with great care.
All our good fortune is the result of the penances
performed in previous lives.
When the time comes, they bear fruit, like a tree.

vane raṇe śatru-jalāgni-madhye
mahārṇave parvata-mastake vā |
suptaṁ pramattaṁ viṣama-sthitaṁ vā
rakṣanti puṇyāni purākṛtāni ||97||

Whether asleep, intoxicated or in danger,
wherever we are: in the woods, on the battlefield,
in water, fire or the ocean, or on a mountaintop,
our previous good deeds are always there to protect us.

yā sādhūṁś ca khalān karoti viduṣo mūrkhān hitān dveṣiṇaḥ
pratyakṣaṁ kurute parokṣam amṛtaṁ hālāhalaṁ tat-kṣaṇāt |
tām ārādhaya sat-kriyāṁ bhagavatīṁ bhoktuṁ phalaṁ vāńchitaṁ
he sādho vyasanair guṇeṣu vipuleṣv āsthāṁ vṛthā mā kṛthāḥ ||98||

It makes rascals into saintly people, fools into scholars,
it turns one's enemies into friends;
it makes the obscure obvious and turns poison into ambrosia.
O sadhus! Worship the god of good deeds
if you wish to attain the desired goals of life,
and don't place undue faith in other qualities,
which simply increase your troubles.

guṇavad aguṇavad vā kurvatā kārya-jātaṁ
pariṇatir avadhāryā yatnataḥ paṇḍitena |
atirabhasa-kṛtānāṁ karmaṇām āvipatter
bhavati hṛdaya-dāhī śalya-tulyo vipākaḥ ||99||

An intelligent person should carefully consider
the effects of all his actions, whether well-performed or not.
ṭhings done in haste cause the heart to be pierced with doubts
as if by a spear, until their consequences become manifest.

sthālyāṁ vaidūryamayyāṁ pacati tila-kaṇāṁś candanair indhanaughaiḥ
sauvarṇair lāṅgalāgrair vilikhati vasudhām arka-mūlasya hetoḥ |
kṛtvā karpūra-khaṇḍān vṛttim iha kurute kodravāṇāṁ samantāt
prāpyemāṁ karm-bhūmiṁ na carati manujo yas tapo manda-bhāgyaḥ ||100||

The unfortunate person
who after being born in the human form of life
does not take up the practice of austerities
is like someone who uses sandalwood to burn sesame seeds
in a bowl made of lapis lazuli,
or like a farmer who uses a plough made of gold
in order to plant mustard seed,
or like one who plants crumbs of camphor
in the hope of getting a crop of rice.

I think that we should revise our understanding of the term tapas. Facing up to any challenge is a tapas of sorts. The last line of the verse specified the relation to karma-bhūmi: the field of action (very much like the dharma-kṣetra). But on the whole I think that this verse will suit the spirit of many devotees.

majjatv ambhasi yātu meru-śikharaṁ śatruṁ jayatv āhave
vāṇijyaṁ kṛṣi-sevane ca sakalā vidyāḥ kalāḥ śikṣatām |
ākāśaṁ vipulaṁ prayātu khagavat kṛtvā prayatnaṁ paraṁ
nābhāvyaṁ bhavatīha karma-vaśato bhāvyasya nāśaḥ kutaḥ ||101||

One may cross the sea, or climb to the peak of Mount Meru,
one may conquer his enemies, or engage in business, farming or study;
one may fly in the wide skies like a bird,
but whatever efforts one makes,
because of previous pious or impious acts,
that which is not to be can never be,
so how can that which is to be ever be destroyed?

ṭīkā: yad bhāvi tad bhavaty eva yad abhāvi na tad bhavet
bhavitavyaṁ bhavaty eva nārikela-phalāmbuvat
gantavyaṁ gacchati sadā gaja-bhukta-kapitthavat

That which is to be will be, and that which is not to be would never be. That which is to be like the water in a coconut (i.e., it will be there). "It will go where it must go" like the figs eaten by an elephant (the seeds will drop in its stools wherever the elephant passes them).

bhīmaṁ vanaṁ bhavati tasya puraṁ pradhānaṁ
sarvo janaḥ svajanatām upayāti tasya |
kṛtsnā ca bhūr bhavati sannidhi-ratna-pūrṇā
yasyāsti pūrva-sukṛtaṁ vipulaṁ narasya ||102||

For someone who has accumulated many pious deeds,
the most dangerous forest is like his own capital city,
everyone becomes his friend and ally,
and the entire world is full of jewels for the taking.

Concluding summary

The last verses resume many of the themes seen earlier.

ko lābho guṇisaṅgamaḥ kim asukhaṁ prājñetaraiḥ saṅgatiḥ
kā hāniḥ samaya-cyutir nipuṇatā kā dharma-tattve ratiḥ |
kaḥ śūro vijitendriyaḥ priyatamā kā'nuvratā kiṁ dhanaṁ
vidyā kiṁ sukham apravāsa-gamanaṁ rājyaṁ kim ājñā-phalam ||103||

What is gain? The company of the virtuous.
What is illness? The company of people who have no insight.
What is loss? The wasting of time.
What is expertise? An affection for establishing the truth of duty.
Who is a hero? One who has conquered his senses.
Who is the most dear wife? One who follows faithfully.
What is wealth? Knowledge.
What is happiness? Never being forced to leave one's home.
What is a kingdom? It is having one's orders obeyed.

This verse immediately reminds one of the concluding portion of Ramananda's conversation with Mahaprabhu. The Bengali verses in the Chaitanya Charitamrita are based on a Sanskrit verse similar to this one in Kavi Karnapura's Caitanya-candrodaya-nāṭaka (7.10).


kiṁ geyaṁ ? vraja-keli-karma kim iha śreyaḥ ? satāṁ saṅgatiḥ
kiṁ smartavyam ? aghāri-nāma kim anudhyeyaṁ ? murāreḥ padam |
kva stheyam ? vraja eva kiṁ śravaṇayor ānandi ? vṛndāvana-
krīḍaikā kim upāsyam ? atra mahasī śrī-kṛṣṇa-rādhābhidhe ||10||
What is to be sung? The playful deeds in Vraja. What is most auspicious in this world? The company of the virtuous. What should be remembered? The holy names of the enemy of sin. What should be constantly meditated upon? The lotus feet of Murari. Where should one dwell? In Braja Dham only. What brings joy to the ears? The pastimes of Vrindavan. What is to be worshiped? The dual effulgences named Radha and Krishna.
apriya-vacana-daridraiḥ priya-vacana-dhanāḍhyaiḥ sva-dāra-parituṣṭaiḥ |
para-parivāda-nivṛttaiḥ kvacit kvacin maṇḍitā vasudhā ||104||

This world is sometimes graced with the presence
of those who are poor in speaking displeasing words,
people who are rich in praise for others,
who are satisfied with their own wives
and abstain from wanton criticism of others.

kadarthitasyāpi hi dhairya-vṛtter
na śakyate dhairya-guṇaḥ pramārṣṭum |
adhomukhasyāpi kṛtasya vahner
nādhaḥ śikhā yāti kadācid eva ||105||

Even when insulted and challenged
someone who has the qualities of patience and tolerance
is never moved to lose them.
Just as a flame always points upward,
even when the candle is held facing down.

The qualities of a dhīra again. The more I read of this, the more it seems to me that the concept of the dhīra is the Hindu "perfect man." I translated dhīra as "resolute" in verses 81-82.

kāntā-kaṭākṣa-viśikhā na lunanti yasya
cittaṁ na nirdahati kopa-kṛśānutāpaḥ |
karṣanti bhūri-viṣayāś ca na lobha-pāśair
loka-trayaṁ jayati kṛtsnam idaṁ sa dhīraḥ ||106||

One whose mind has not been looted
by the arrows of his mistress's glances,
nor burned by the fire of anger and regret,
nor tempted by the unlimited sense objects,
conquers the three worlds: he is a dhīra.

ekenāpi hi śūreṇa
pādākrāntaṁ mahītalam |
kriyate bhāskareṇaiva
sphāra-sphurita-tejasā ||107||

By his bright, fierce effulgence,
a single hero dominates the world,
like the sun.

vahnis tasya jalāyate jala-nidhiḥ kulyāyate tat-kṣaṇān
meruḥ svalpa-śilāyate mṛgapatiḥ sadyaḥ kuraṅgāyate |
vyālo mālya-guṇāyate viṣa-rasaḥ pīyūṣa-varṣāyate
yasyāṅge'khila-loka-vallabhatamaṁ śīlaṁ samunmīlati ||108||

For one in whom has developed the character
that is most dear to the unlimited worlds,
fire immediately turns to water,
the ocean into a puddle, the great ṁount Meru into a hillock,
a lion into a deer; a snake into a flower garland,
and poison into ambrosia.

The "character" spoken of must be the sum total of all those virtues previously described, summarizing as we near the end of the book. This verse has obvious parallels with a verse by Prabodhananda:Saraswati:

kaivalyaṁ narakāyate tri-daśa-pūr ākāśa-puṣpāyate
durdāntendriya-kāla-sarpa-paṭalī protkhāta-daṁṣṭrāyate
viśvaṁ pūrṇa-sukhāyate vidhi-mahendrādiś ca kīẏāyate
yat kāruṇya-kaṭākṣa-vaibhavavatāṁ taṁ gauram eva stumaḥ

To one who has received the power of Gaura's merciful glance, liberation appears like hell, the heavenly worlds like so many pies in the sky; the unconquerable senses become like snakes with the fangs removed, the universe is filled with joy everywhere, while gods like Vidhi and Mahendra are seen as of no more significance than insects. I praise that Gauranga Mahaprabhu. (Caitanya-candrāmṛta 95)

lajjā-guṇaugha-jananīṁ jananīm iva svām
atyanta-śuddha-hṛdayām anuvartamānām |
tejasvinaḥ sukham asūn api santyajanti
satya-vrata-vyasanino na punaḥ pratijñām ||109||

Those who have taken an unbreakable vow to tell the truth
would readily give up their lives
rather than renege on their promise,
which is the cause of modesty and numerous other virtues 
which is extremely pure in heart and follows one everywhere
any more than they would abandon their own mother.

Here all the adjectives describing promise mother can also be applied to mother, perhaps more easily. At any rate, promises are given by a truth teller from a place of purity of heart, and the keeping of them is a road to virtue and character. They follow one everywhere, because one's word will never be forgotten by those to whom it was given, whether it is kept or not kept. This final word -- whether truly the final word of the author or compiler -- nevertheless fittingly summarizes the connection of character development to the keeping of one's word.

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