After years of intensive monastic training, the man who had walked into the centre with gelled hair came out with a shaven head — as Swami Swaroopananda. Today, he is acknowledged as one of the world’s finest speakers on Vedanta philosophy.
Based in Coimbatore as Director of Chinmaya Mission’s international residential school (CIRS), he is also in charge of Chinmaya Mission’s activities in Australia, New Zealand, the Far East, Africa and the United Kingdom. Swami Swaroopananda met Jujhar Singh in New Delhi, during discourses on the Guru Granth Sahib and the Bhagavad Geeta, and answered questions on the twists and turns of fate, destiny and reincarnation.
How is our destiny made?
We make our own destiny. There is a law of nature — which our rishis discovered in ancient times and which Newton discovered later — that for every action there is an equal reaction. You can also therefore say that for every reaction, there has to have been a preceding action. Therefore, all the things happening to us in the present are obviously the reactions or results of our own actions done in the past. You cannot say why is this happening to me. It has to be the result or reaction of your own action done earlier.
What if something really bad or really good is happening to me now, and I feel I have done nothing earlier to deserve it?
Let us say something really bad is happening to you in the present. One of three things could apply. First, you may not remember the relevant wrong action you did in the past. Second, you may remember your relevant past action, but you don’t realise that the action was wrong. The reaction doesn’t just depend on the physical action, but also on the motive and the timing behind the action. For example, you may have sowed sweet pea seeds using all the right manure and with all good intentions — but if you sowed the seeds in May when you should actually have sowed them in October, then obviously you will not get any flowers. An action is thus judged by all three things — the way it is physically done, the motive behind it and the timing of it.
Finally, you may have done the relevant past action in a previous life and it is having its reaction now. All actions have different time frames for fructifying. For example, if you do the action of throwing a glass tumbler on a hard floor, it will have a reaction in less than one second — in the form of broken glass. If you do the action of sowing the seed of a redwood tree, it will have a reaction after 500 years — in the form of a giant redwood tree. Thus, every action has its own time frame for fructifying. You may have done an action in a previous life that is fructifying now. You may also have done actions in previous lives that are yet to fructify.
What is the logical basis for the concept of rebirth or reincarnation?
Let us say that at a particular point in time, two babies are born. One is born healthy and into a very wealthy family. The other is born crippled and into a very impoverished family. Both the babies have been born into widely differing circumstances. What are these differing circumstances the results or reactions of? Every effect has a cause. Since the two newly born babies have obviously done no actions in their present lives to beget their respective circumstances — obviously they must have done something earlier. And those earlier actions can therefore only have taken place in a previous life, and the results of those actions are fructifying now.
You may say that it is just a matter of chance that one baby is born rich and healthy and the other poor and crippled. But are God’s laws that whimsical? The whole universe functions on the basis of certain rational laws. Nothing happens by chance. Everything is subject to the scientific law of action and reaction. Maybe we haven’t discovered what the action behind a particular reaction is. But the fact that there must have been an action cannot be disputed.
You may also say that one baby is born healthy an done crippled because of the way their respective genes are. But again the question would arise that, why was one baby put into a position where it inherited good genes and the other baby put into a position where it inherited bad genes? They must be the reactions of some preceding actions.
Some of our actions done in various earlier lifetimes — which we do not remember — may yield their results in this life. Similarly, some of our actions in this life may only yield results in various future lives. Isn’t this unfair?
Life is a continuum. The present lifetime is just a tiny experience in the continuous journey of the soul. Memories of previous lifetimes are stored within us. But our minds are so clogged with desires and stresses of the present, that we are unable to tap our deep memories of the past. Forget remembering past lives, do you even remember what you had for dinner four days ago?
Those people who have truly calmed their minds can remember their past lives. Many such cases have been documented. Many spiritually evolved people — having made their minds quiet — can dig into their past lives.
I must add that in a way, not remembering our past lives is also a natural blessing. Our minds are so chaotic even with whatever memories we have of this lifetime — imagine our condition if we could remember thousands of past lives as well.
How exactly our future is made?
Past actions are already done, but present actions are totally within out control. Therefore, we have considerable leverage over our future. Swami Chinmayananda used to say: “Leave aside your regrets of the past and anxieties for the future, and focus intelligently on the present.” This is the best way of ensuring a positive future. Plato said: “Take charge of your life. You can do with it what you will. Will it.”