Omar Khayyam’s stance on fate is summed up in these lines, ‘The moving finger writes and having writ moves on. Neither your deity nor your piety can cancel a single line of it’.
Since our consciousness is designed to forget the events of our past lives, when we suffer in the hands of fate in our present lifetime, it seems rather unfair. This is especially true of children. Their suffering seems completely unmerited. Their suffering may be a part of the cosmic design, the outcome of their past deeds (karma phal) as we know it, but it still makes one feel very helpless. And it’s not just the children, even the suffering of people who lead a righteous life, makes us wonder, if our loving God is unjust.
We live in a constant state of fear at the unpredictability of what our prarabhadha (fixed past karmas-fated/predestined) might have in store for us. This mistrust in our future leads to anxiety and despair. And we look for some source of comfort, of reprieve, from someone who could mitigate the effect of our past life actions, which were done in ignorance. We invoke the benign God to come to our rescue.
According to Shankara, an Indian medieval philosopher, there is no such thing as unmerited suffering; this perception is a problem of ignorance. We merely reap the result of our past life actions (karmas). Once the deed is done, the consequence is inevitable. Even the Gods cannot interfere. In fact, according to him, God does not want to come in the way of cosmic justice. Shankara does not think of God as unjust. Khayyam’s stance is similar to Shankara’s and in keeping with the myth of Yama’s (the god of order) philosophy of dispassionate judgment.
Shankara’s contemporary, Ramanuja, another Indian medieval philosopher, propounded the ‘Devotionalism (bhakti) philosophy’, which is contradictory to Shankara’s take on God’s role. According to the devotees of the Bhakti movement, God (Lord Krishna) can override karma. This philosophy came into being, keeping the psychological need of people, who felt there was no escape from their past karmas and they were at its mercy. And indeed, this movement gained a lot of popularity, and it helped people ride out their rough patch without much damage to their psyche.
In fact, Sri Aurobindo, a spiritual reformer, clearly states, “In Indian Astrology, which considers all life circumstances to be karma, mostly pre-determined or indicated in the graph of the stars, there is still provision made for the energy and force of the being which can change or cancel part or much of what is so written or even all but the most imperative and powerful bindings of karma.”
Once we have acquired the knowledge, that our actions (karmas) dictate our fate and dedicate our present life solely to doing good deeds, God can, and does, mitigate the effects of our prarabha karmas. After all, the cosmic energy (planets) is nothing but the play (leela) of the Divine Energy (God).