Destiny is like the river that is flowing and my free will is like the boat.
Answers by Swami Viditatmananda of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam
Question: Does prayer always go along with devotion?
Answer: When I pray to the Lord, I accept in my mind that the Lord is all-powerful and merciful. He can give me what I need and is kind enough to give it to me. I cannot pray if I don’t have this kind of trust. I cannot perform a prayer unless I am convinced that my prayer is going to be answered, or at least going to be heard, with a sympathetic ear. I do not want to say something to deaf ears! If God does not listen to me at all, then I do not want to pray to him. So when I perform the prayer, I know that He listens and cares. There is at least that understanding or acceptance on my part! This is devotion. This kind of śraddha or trust is involved in prayer.
Question: How does prayer influence destiny?
Answer: Prayer is an expression of free will. The human being has been given free will and, therefore, the capacity to perform a deliberate action, which is what we call purushārtha. Purushartha means a deliberate action that is performed, using free will. Then there is destiny, prārabdha. There are many forces in life, which are not in my control. My own action, however, is in my control. In every situation, there are two factors, prārabdha and purushārtha or destiny and free will.
In explaining this, a certain example is sometimes given. Let us say that I have a boat and it is floating in the river. Destiny is like the river that is flowing and my free will is like the boat. I have a certain freedom with reference to my own sail with which I can guide my boat whichever way I wish, even as the river is flowing. Similarly, there is a flow of destiny in life, but I do have a limited amount of freedom to navigate my boat to my destination. In life, there are many things and situations that are not under our control. How we respond to each situation is something that is within our control. This is where free will, purushārtha or self-effort, comes in.
Prayer is an expression of my free will. Although there is destiny, with the help of my prayer, I can bring about some change in my destiny. If my destiny is very strong, I may not be able to change it significantly, but if my destiny is weak, I can change it. So prayer can definitely influence destiny. In praying, we are performing a deliberate action that we call puNya, meaning that we are worshiping the Lord and thus creating a positive influence. The positive influence created by prayer can counteract any negative influence that may be in my destiny. In that sense, I can bring about some change in the effect of destiny. How much change, however, will depend upon how powerful my destiny is and how powerful my prayers are. But any positive thing that I do will definitely counteract something negative, which may be there in my destiny.
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