I had an interesting discussion with a friend on Self Effort and God’s Grace. This is an eternal question of all philosophies and religions that believe in a benign interference of a Higher Power in human life.
A related question is between Free Will and Destiny. This is easier to comprehend. The stance of Indian philosophy that “the theory of cause-and-effect applies to the life of human beings also” solves the problem of destiny. Destiny is defined as the collection of all the previous causes. Any action taken in any situation creates three things: fruit (immediate result of the action), seed (cause for a future situation) and tendency (a subconscious provocation to behave in a certain manner in a similar future situation). These are called Phala, Karma and Samskara in Sanskrit. Any situation in life is created by a past seed (Karma). Two things decide your action in any situation – tendency and free will. Thus, we are the makers of our destiny. The destiny is the result of the manner we have exercised our free will in the past. Thus, the relation between free will and destiny is explained.
Now, coming to the difficult question. What is the relation between self effort and God’s grace? This is a peculiar problem for the believers of God of all religions. There have been several theories and analogies developed from time immemorial.
There are some theories which take this stance: “Just pray and wait for grace.” They argue that self effort is against grace. I feel that this is inviting disaster. Any path that promotes idleness and inaction is a call for stagnation. I have argued with several people against this stance. I can never agree to this.
Most of the philosophies and religions take this stand: “You need to work sincerely to avail grace.” Here are some analogies developed by this group.
The grace of God is a wind that is always blowing. You have to unfurl the sails of your boat to catch the wind. (If you are not prepared for the wind, you cannot avail it.)
If you put one step towards God, God puts a hundred steps towards you. (If you do not put that first step, you are where you are.)
Let God be the helmsman of your boat. You be the oarsman. Let God decide the direction, you put the oars with all your strength. (If you do not work the oars, the boat does not move.)
All these analogies say the same thing: “Let God decide the direction. You put the effort in whatever direction decided by God. But do not demand rights over the fruits. Let God decide success and failure. Offer the fruits to God.”
In whatever situation God places you, do your duty applying fully your heart, head and hand. Do not count on the results. Do not worry about where you are placed.
How successful this stance is, is something to experiment with.
What I have found is that this stance gives a tremendous strength and will to succeed in any undertaking. I do not worry about failing. My duty is to put in sincere effort. My real goal is not the immediate fruit of action, but the character development that happens in me through the exertion. Every action is a learning and helps to improve my understanding of myself. Even if there is a failure of the task, the lesson is learnt. There is no wastage of effort at all.
My reference point is totally in me. I never compete with others or the situation. I always compete with myself. So there is no room for jealousy. There are no short cuts. I have no obligation whatsoever to please or displease or impress anybody. I am my own master. I am my own judge. This gives me a tremendous internal strength, freedom and peace. I merrily go about doing whatever I believe is right. I am open to the logical consequences. Every minute has something to teach me.
Now, does this stance have the pre-requisite of a belief in God? I don’t think so. Going by the usual definition of God, I would be classifed as an atheist. I believe only two things:
1. I am not this bundle of flesh and ideas. And so is no one else also.
2. Aim of life is not pleasure or possessions or fame. It is the internal strength and peace, that comes out of renunciation, that comes out of wisdom, that comes out of introspection based on various experiences in life.
These will not make me a theist by the Semitic religions. But Hinduism does not require its followers to believe in God as the Semitic religions do. Hinduism is based on logically derivable principles and not on doctrines. So Hinduism will accept me as a religious person. However, I can be classified as spiritual because I do not believe in any material aim in life.
So, if you accept the stance – “My real goal is not the immediate fruit of action, but the character development that happens in me through the performance of the action” – then you can try the experiment that I have tried and enjoy the results. Please discuss with me if you face any contrary results. I really like to hear about that.