Due to the nature of the mind, which always seeks for “black and white” solutions and answers, it is easy to fall into the idea that everything depends on one’s own efforts, or alternatively, that one’s efforts do not matter as the Divine controls what occurs. In actuality, there is no real opposition between the two extremes — they are complementary concepts. The solution is to appreciate the different standpoints involved and the way that the Divine action takes place through the mechanics of the individual and the universal manifestation.
This issue actually tracks closely to the debate about whether there is “free will” or “determinism” in our existence. Personal effort represents the element of free will. Divine control represents the element of determinism. The solution to both of these debates, effort vs. grace, free will vs. determinism is to recognise that the divine manifestation operates through the action of all the individuals, and the interaction of all elements brings about combinations that result from the choices made by each individual in the collective manifestation, carrying out the overarching intention of the divine in the manifestation in the first place. There is clearly a pressure in a certain direction, but the specific paths, details, events, decisions are subject to individual response and decision.
This is analogous to the idea underlying quantum physics that atoms can be understood as both a particle and a wave, and there is no advance constraint on each atom as to how it will act. At the moment of observation, the choice is made and solidifies. Thus, there is an element of “free will” in that there is no advance determination at the level of each individual atom. Yet at the end of the process, when a large number of atoms have been observed, actual patterns result which carry out the larger intention. The concept known in Buddhism as “dependent origination” shows that each aspect develops within a fixed general frame of its capacities, circumstances and opportunities, so that the exercise of “free will” can operate within that frame without disrupting the larger interdependent whole of the creation.
Probability theory and statistical modeling follow a similar line of understanding that each individual person or event is composed of free choice, and yet, over time, specific identifiable patterns emerge which can be plotted and even predicted on the macro-level, while each individual remains free to make its own choices (within the frame of its own limitations, predispositions and conditioning).
If we turn then to the question of the operation of the Divine Grace in this context, the direction, and the pressure of the Divine intention is always there, but the individual must both be receptive and prepared to accept that intention for it to be fully operative. The individual effort can only take one to the limits of the current framework within which humanity operates. To exceed those limits, something new must be able to intervene and expand the framework.
In his book, The Mother, Sri Aurobindo describes in detail the conditions to receive and benefit from the Divine Grace, as well as the actions of the individual to prepare for this higher intervention.
We see similar things occurring all the time even in the outer material circumstances of the world. Someone is offered an opportunity and can choose either to accept, or not. The opportunity requires an effort and commitment, and some will decide that it is either too risky, not worth the effort, or would require one to give up something else that one is already committed to. Thus, opportunities pass by. Some of these may be representative of a “grace” that would enhance the life, but the individual was not ready to receive them and thus, did not get the experience of this grace in the circumstances of the life in the world. There are others who are inspired to act, to focus the attention in a new area, and who prepare themselves as completely as possible for that direction. If the grace comes to them, they are prepared, ready and receptive and their lives move swiftly forward.
In a similar manner, Divine Grace may find an unready subject or a prepared subject, with the difference leading to potentially dramatically different results. The readiness is not necessarily visible from an outer, mental viewpoint. It has nothing to do with social status, wealth, role, family connections, or business development. Rather, it is an inner psychological preparedness or readiness that is needed. Sometimes someone who has been crushed in the material life of the world may find that a new inner life opens up and blossoms forth, as an opening for what can be later be seen as an intervention of Grace.
Sri Aurobindo writes: “Without the Grace of the Divine nothing can be done, but for the full Grace to manifest the sadhak must make himself ready. If everything depends on the Divine intervention, then man is only a puppet and there is no use of sadhana, and there are no conditions, no law of things — therefore no universe, but only the Divine rolling things about at his pleasure. No doubt in the last resort all can be said to be the Divine cosmic working, but it is through persons, through forces that it works — under the conditions of Nature.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 4 The Divine, The Gods and the Divine Force, The Diviine Grace, pp. 91-94