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Niyativada – Belief In Providence

According to Niyativada, providence is supreme. Niyativada is against the theory of actions and their results. It does not believe that if you sow bad seeds, you will get unpalatable fruits. Only whatever is dictated by providence, and nothing else, will occur, according to Niyativada, which does not accept the notion that we can change our fate by perseverance and efforts.

A person may do everything to earn money, yet may not enjoy prosperity. Without any reason, a person may lose his money if that money is not meant for him, because of his destiny. Niyativada does not have faith in any reason.

The fatalism of the believer in Niyativada is different from the surrender of the bhakta (devotee). For the latter, whatever happens is according to God’s will. But there is a difference between a devotee’s faith and a fatalist’s belief. When a devotee faces hardships, he accepts them as his God’s will, but one who has no faith in God experiences only despair. All are bound to face the play of destiny, but a Niyativadi blames niyati (fate).

Niyativada in India has a long history. Shvetashvatara Upanishad mentions people who believed that the world is run by predestination of some unknown power, that everything is preordained and there is not much a human being could do. There was a strong school of Nityativadins called Ajivikas during the time of Buddha, with Gosala Makkhali as their great master and exponent of this philosophy. Buddha – before trying to attain enlightenment on his own – had spent quite some time with him, listening to his teachings, but was not convinced of his views and soon left him.

There are many stories in Puranas which declare that destiny is all-powerful. In the Mahabharata we have the story of Sage Manki who lost all his wealth and purchased two male calves with the little money he had. When he went out of the village with those calves, both of them ran away with the yoke. A camel happened to be there and the yoke got stuck in the came’s neck and it too ran away, carrying the calves with it. Manki ultimately came to the conclusion that if he was not destined to get something, he would never get it by any of his efforts. The story, however, does not end here, nor does it endorse a life of indolence. For, becoming free from all struggles and observing the play of destiny in human life, Manki became a realize soul.

There are two aspects of Niyativada. In it one finds solace in times of sorrow with this thought that destiny is most powerful. But the other aspect may lead a person to believe that every happening is decided by some unknown power and thus make him abdicate his responsibilities.

Our scriptures, however, always urge us to do our duties. The Bhagavad Gita lays stress on karma yoga – doing deeds without aspiring for their fruits. Adi Shankaracharya says that prarabdha (acquired destiny) will look after your body; you must put in your efforts to remove the misconception that the body is the self, and experience your real self (Vivekachudamani 279). Yoga Vasistha states that only they who have no knowledge and have low intellect believe in prarabdha.