Often the Hindu philosophy is wrongly referred to as being fatalistic. We are supposed to be caught in the web of our own past actions or karma from which there is no escape. This in other words is our fate and we are supposed to live with it. In Tamil they say if it is one’s “vidhi” then one should just accept it.
But what people often forget that while we are bound by our karma we are free to choose our response to our past karma or choose our response in the present. We need not just lie down and face all the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. There is nothing stopping us from “taking arms against our sea of troubles and oppose and end them” as Shakespeare would put it. Now the crucial point is what should be our response. It is in this context that we have to look at the dharma of our response. There is always the right action according to Buddhist philosophy. So when we exercise our choice we have to fully understand the context in which are acting and make the correct decision. This is dharma. So if we are faced with evil then we
stand up and fight it. If we encounter failure then we take action to avoid it in future. As Stephen Covey’s states in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” that a fundamental principle about the nature of man is that he/she is free to choose in the space between a stimulus and its response. So according to the Gita the stimulus that we encounter in the present may be the result of our past karma, but our response to it is governed by our free will. The Gita requires that we perform right action and make the right choice. So while we are free to make a choice among a set of alternatives we do not have any control to the consequence of choices we make. While it is known that good action always begets good results and bad acts will always reap evil. Or in others we are bound by the karma of the choice we make. So we have to make the correct choice within the purview of the situation. Like Arjuna who was confronted on the battle field against his kin the Kauravas wanted to shirk away but the dharma of the situation as clarified by Lord Krishna was to fight against the Kauravas. It is a fact that good actions will result in good providence and evil acts will beget evil.
One’s present tense depends on whether one’s past was perfect. The future of course depends on the choices we make in the present with good actions usually resulting in good fruits. To summarize while our present is bound by our past karma, we are free to choose, based on dharma. However the choice we make good or bad will result in either good karma or otherwise.