To borrow some concepts from Heidegger, the existentialist philosopher, destiny and destination are both an integral part of our being, and it is our capacity to distinguish them through our lives that contributes to our existence, a unique challenge that faces the humans.
We do not need, however, to depend upon Heidegger to perceive the distinction. Jawaharlal Nehru, in his own way, called our attention to it when he defined the characteristic Hindu concept of Karma. In his Glimpses of World History, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru refuses to identify karma with destiny, understood as fatalism by most westerners.
Nehru provides the metaphor of the game of cards, wherein the final victory is not necessarily dependent upon the cards distributed to a player. An intelligent player can work miracles with his cards, while a dumb player can lose with best of cards. That is what happens with our lives. We can contribute to our destination, and through it to the collective human destiny.
We do not need Nehru to know that none of us chose to be born, or chose our parents and our country. These factors determine significantly our lives. In addition to the material means dependent on them, they define our cultural setting. Culture is like water to the fish. The fish cannot survive outside water, just as we cannot survive outside culture. I have yet to understand better what multiculturalism really means. How much creative energy is frittered in surviving and flourishing in a culture different from one’s own?
What about death? It is a natural destiny of all living beings. But it is not the ultimate destination for the humans, who are the only species that has succeed in taking charge of its own survival, through culture. The human species has overcome the Darwinian law of the survival of the fittest. Through culture the humans provide care for its offspring and adults, who can hope to outgrow the deficiencies of birth or those acquired later. By the law of Darwin they would be doomed.
Human existence, including our individual existence, is bound up in solidarity through culture. It neither begins with birth nor ends with death. I would choose the metaphor of a relay race as best suited to understand the phenomenon. Each one takes at birth what his or her cultural heritage provides and during the life-time works on the project (Heidegger’s terminology) of delivering back to the culture at the moment of death a personalized contribution to its change, and hopefully, growth.
It is not necessarily through medals or prizes of public recognition of individual contribution to culture that our life-after-death is guaranteed. Many life examples that may hardly reach outside the home or village go into feeding the cultural stream that becomes our common heritage and enrich our human destiny. Unfortunately, the contrary is also true, when an individual moves against the path of human destiny traced by nature and evolution. To use, Christian terminology of sin, all sin is a grave or light transgression in the path of evolution.
To conclude, here is a caveat in the context of my eulogy of cultures. A culture is not necessarily and always the right path of evolution. Cultures also face cesspools and crises when they close upon themselves and fail to respond to changing social needs. It is in such moments that the warnings of a prophet of a counter-culture have a role to play in checking the cultural abuses.
In the era of globalization these warnings can come from far beyond one’s own culture and nation. The Indian Nobel winner Amartya Sen has described it as the right of anyone from anywhere to defend “human values”, which are not limited by any national citizenship.