Free Will versus Fatalism

 

Below is another essay from Atman Nityananda whose earlier essay on sAdhana triggered so much interest. This is preceded by an essay on the same topic from Swami Sivananda.

 

 

Free Will versus Fatalism
by Swami Sivananda

The controversy between free will and fatalism is still going on in the West and no one has come to any definite conclusion. It is a great pity that the doctrine of Karma is mistaken for fatalism. Fatalism is the doctrine that all events are subject to fate and happen by unavoidable necessity.

Fate is otherwise known as luck or fortune. That indefinable mysterious something which brings trials, successes and failures to man, which shapes and moulds him by teaching lessons of various sort, which takes care of him like a mother, which brings various sort of experiences, which brings cloudy days and days of bright sunshine, which raises a beggar to the level of a landlord and hurls down a mighty potentate to the level of a street-beggar, which gives different kinds of fruits and experiences to two people of equal talents and capacities, which made Napoleon at one time a terror in the eyes of the people and at another time a prisoner, and which makes a certain portion of the life of a man quite stormy and another portion quite smooth, is called fate. Fate educates and instructs man. However whimsical the fate may appear to operate, it works in harmony with the law of causation.

Fate is one’s own creation. Man acts and thinks and develops his own character. He creates a web like the spider or a silk-worm and entangles himself in its meshes on account of the three knots, viz., Avidya, Kama and Karma. He himself has enthroned fate to the level of a king and obeys its order owing to his ignorance and its effects.

The doctrine of Karma is diametrically opposed to the doctrine of fatalism.Fatalism causes inertia, lethargy, weakness of will and bondage. Fatalism annihilates faith. It induces terrible fear in the people. It destroys ethics. It checks growth and evolution, whereas the doctrine of Karma is an incentive to action to better one’s condition. It is a source of solace. It gives man an assurance of a broader and happier life. It presupposes freedom of the will.Freedom is the essence of Karma. It gives opportunities for growth and evolution.

The doctrine of Karma affords a most rational and scientific explanation of what is called fate. It gives a positive definite word of assurance that, although the present of which he himself is the creator or the author, is unalterable and irrevocable, he may better his future by changing his thoughts, habits, tendencies and mode of action. Herein lies great comfort, strength, encouragement and consolation to the desperate man. Herein lies a strong impetus for the man to struggle and exert for improving himself. Even a forlorn and helpless man is made cheerful when he understands this doctrine of Karma.

The doctrine of Karma brings hope to the hopeless, help to the helpless, joy to the cheerless and new strength to the weak. It braces up a sunken man. It is an ideal “pick-me-up” for the depressed and gloomy. The doctrine of Karma teaches: “Do not blame anybody when you suffer. Do not accuse God. Blame yourself first. You will have to reap what you have sown in your previous birth.Your present sufferings are due to your own bad Karma in your past life. You are yourself the author of the present state. The present is unchangeable. Do not weep. Do not cry over spilt milk. There is no use. You will not gain anything by so doing. Instead of weeping over the failure of crops during last year, go on ploughing this year. You will get abundant rain this year and rich harvest. Do virtuous actions now. Think rightly. Act rightly. You will have a brilliant and a glorious future.” How beautiful and soul-stirring is this magnanimous doctrine of Karma! The doctrine of Karma develops faith and supports ethics. It says: “If you hurt another man, you hurt yourself.”

Every act produces in the performer a double effect, one in the inner nature in the form of a tendency, good or bad, and the other in the form of fruit, reward or punishment.
The past Karma influences the present life in two ways, first in the form of character or tendency internally and as fate externally. If you do an action, it creates a Samskara or subtle impression in the subconscious mind or Chitta.The Samskara causes a tendency. Tendency develops into a habit by repetition of the actions. The habit manifests as character. Character develops into destiny. This is the order: Samskara, tendency, habit, character, and destiny.

The faculty of choosing is termed will. This will is free by its own nature. Man has a free will by his birthright. It asserts itself at every moment of our lives.

Bear in mind that every small act that you perform is the resultant of triple conjoint forces, viz., freewill, character and fate. The sphere of activity varies according to the nature of your Karma and the character formed by it. If you have done virtuous actions in your previous birth and if you have developed an exemplary character, your will have a wider field of activity and vice versa.

Determinism is the doctrine that all things, including the will, are determined (limited) by causes. This is the converse of free will. It is otherwise known as necessitarianism. Man has power to choose between the alternatives which fate brings before him. In choosing between them he may either follow his tendencies produced by his past actions or struggle against them. The will of a man is ever free. The arguments which are advanced by determinists in saying that human will is determined are not sound and tenable; they fall to the ground.

Dear friends! Man is the master of his destiny. Wake up now from the deep slumber of ignorance. Never become a fatalist. Think rightly. Act rightly. Lead a virtuous life. Never hurt the feelings of others. Mould your character. Purify your mind. Concentrate. Thou art Nitya Mukta Purusha. Tat Tvam Asi-Thou art That.

~Swami Sivananda

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Some Hints  About Free Will
by Atman Nityananda

First. We cannot speak about free will in general. Each individual is in a different level of consciousness. What is valid for one person it is not for another. For example a liberated one (such as Buddha) and a deluded one have an altogether different state of consciousness and a different ability to exercise their free will.

Second. We must have a clear view about free will. In my view, free will is the ability to decide in harmony with our soul which in its turn is in harmony with the universal Soul. Free will is also the ability to decide according to our understanding, discernment and what we feel in our heart that is appropriate to do that very moment and not to act according to the mechanical compulsive egoic patterns, thoughts, desires or emotions.

Third. The fact that the thoughts arise in our mind spontaneously, and we do not know which one will be the next one that will arise in our mind, is not a proof that we have not free will. We (as Buddhi or intelligence) have the ability to decide if the thoughts that appear spontaneously, will remain or not in our mind.

The ability to decide which thoughts will be permitted to stay in our mind, and to make this decision a fact, depends on the purity of our mind, buddhi and heart and the ability to use our mind as an instrument due to long time practice and purification.

Ιn addition we can (if we want so and train our mind) direct our mind to think about things we want to and not let it wander aimlessly. We can program our mind and feed it with certain impressions and sense inputs in order to direct it to ponder on issues that we decide (as the Buddhi or the intelligence we are) and not on those issues or objects that the ego (with its mechanical impulses, habits and patterns) wants. It is up to us to decide what subjects we want our mind to reflect on.

To go a step further, we can even to decide not to think at all. Of course this requires long time practice and steady determination.

Fourth. An individual who is identified with the ego and its manifestations is a slave and a puppet of it. In this state of identification there is no talk about free will. The stronger the identification the stronger the inability to exercise our free will.

On the other hand when we are detached from the body, mind and emotions and we are identified with the consciousness within we can exercise our free will. That means we can choose or decide to do according our deeper intelligence and in harmony with our soul.

Finally I want to point out one more time that free will does not mean that we have an absolute free will to do anything we want independently of our Soul and Universal Soul or God.

The fact that the ordinary people do whatever arises in their minds, considering this as free will, is just ignorance. They are almost always slaves of the compulsive egoic tendencies that occupy their conscious mind and they do what the egoic impulses want, and certainly this is not free will or choice. Deluded by the hypnotic power of the ego they may think that have free choice, that they have the freedom to decide what they want to do, but this is only a delusion. The notion that they are free to decide between two desires or impulses is also false, because in this case it is the stronger desire or emotion the factor that determines what they will do. And these impulses or desires are unconscious tendencies that want to express themselves through the body mind entity.

Free will can be exercised only when we are detached from the egoic mind and we are aligned with our soul and intelligence within. It requires a great ability of Self-awareness, detachment and dispassion from the mind, thoughts emotions and impulses and a great ability of discernment and will power in order not to be deluded by the lower egoic energies. And this is not easy for ordinary people.

25 thoughts on “Free Will versus Fatalism

  1. . “For example a liberated one (such as Buddha) and a deluded one have an altogether different state of consciousness…” Surely, there are waking, dreaming and deep sleep states according to Advaita. What are the ‘different states’ of Buddha and the deluded one?

    . “In my view, free will is the ability to decide in harmony with our soul which in its turn is in harmony with the universal Soul.” But our ‘soul’ is not ‘in harmony with’, it IS the universal soul. There are not two, according to Advaita.

    . “Free will is also the ability to decide according to our understanding, discernment and what we feel in our heart that is appropriate to do that very moment and not to act according to the mechanical compulsive egoic patterns, thoughts, desires or emotions.” The notion of ‘feeling in the heart’ is simply a figurative way of saying that you use emotions to determine action rather than reason. And are not emotions even more ‘mechanical’ than thoughts?

    . “An individual who is identified with the ego…” You could perhaps say ‘an individual who is ruled by the ego’ but identification is surely something that the ego does. I know what you mean but this way of phrasing it could cause lots of confusion.

    . “On the other hand when we are detached from the body, mind and emotions and we are identified with the consciousness within we can exercise our free will.” Who, exactly, is it who has the free will? It seems you are saying there are three things – the ego, the consciousness within, and ‘we’. Then you go on to mention ‘our deeper intelligence’ and ‘our soul’. Does this make 5 things or are some of these equivalent?

    . “free will does not mean that we have an absolute free will” What is the difference exactly? Surely we either have free will or we don’t?

    . “They are almost always slaves of the compulsive egoic tendencies that occupy their conscious mind and they do what the egoic impulses want” Is free will, then, the ability to choose to do what you don’t want to do? Is this possible?

    . “The notion that they are free to decide between two desires or impulses is also false, because in this case it is the stronger desire or emotion the factor that determines what they will do.” But if we “ choose or decide to do according our deeper intelligence and in harmony with our soul”. is this not just going with what is now a stronger impulse after our acquiring of “great ability of discernment and will power”?

    • Dear Dennis,
      before I answer I would like to remind you that words are limited, that each one gives a different meaning or conotation to them and the same words can have a slightly different meaning in different texts. Moreover whe we express something through words this is only an aspect of the wholness and thus we must be carefull how interpret it. I think also that even we knew everything about free will it would be impossible to express it through concepts and words.

      Finally we must go beyond words in order to grasp what the words point out.

      In relation with your objections or questions I must admit that is difficult to answer them in a few lines a least some of them.
      BUt I will try my best.

    • You ask: What are the ‘different states’ of Buddha and the deluded one?

      The difference is the same like the difference between the SUN and the moon.

      The buddhi of a buddha is illuminated; it is free from egoism, desire, fear, anger, like-dislike, atraction-repulsion, attachment and suffering; it is pure sattva and merged in consciousness, experiencing the peace and ananda effortlessly.
      while the buddhi of a deluded is full of rajas and tamas desires fear, anger, likes dislikes, attchments, addictions etc and lives in separation and suffering.

      • This is reasonable – but these are states of buddhi, not states of consciousness. You see why I say that one must be very careful with word usage if the reader is not to be confused.

        • Pure buddhi is consciousness.
          The purified by sadhana buddhi by self-enquiry or deep meditation on OM or on a mahavakya merges in consciousness and becomes identical with consciousness.

          A buddha radiates divine light. He is Brahman itself.

          A Deluded radiates painfull emotional and mental vibrations. He lives in darkness.

    • “In my view, free will is the ability to decide in harmony with our soul which in its turn is in harmony with the universal Soul.” But our ‘soul’ is not ‘in harmony with’, it IS the universal soul. There are not two, according to Advaita.

      I agree Atman = Brahman, Atman is the transcentental reality of each one and beyond manifestation and is identical with Brahman. But here as Soul I am refering in the concept that gives Aurobindo to Soul not to Atman.

    • The notion of ‘feeling in the heart’ is simply a figurative way of saying that you use emotions to determine action rather than reason. And are not emotions even more ‘mechanical’ than thoughts?

      The word Heart according my experience and understanting can be used at least in relations with the four different points.

      Heart is the physical oragan. Heart is the emotional center (chakra) which has two aspects the lower or exterior which is related with egoic negative emotions (fear, anger, desire, depression etc.) and the inner or higher aspect which express the sublime feeling ( I do not call them emotions) of compassion, love, kidness, devotion, empathy, etc,.This inner heart which is interconnected with the higher buddhi guide us with subtle ‘feelings’ when we going to take an action or decide something important.
      Finally we use the word heart when we speak about the center of our existence the Atman.

      • Again, readers will automatically assume the ‘common sense’ or the traditional Advaita interpretation of concepts unless they are defined differently. ‘Heart’ is used either as the physical organ or as the ‘seat’ of the mind in Advaita. I am not aware of any texts that relate heart to emotions or which differentiate ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ emotions. But it is not a problem as long as you explain how you are using the terms.

    • The notion of ‘feeling in the heart’ is simply a figurative way of saying that you use emotions to determine action rather than reason. And are not emotions even more ‘mechanical’ than thoughts?

      Of course emotions are mechanical compulsive and lead us to blind and wrong actions. When I say Feeling in the heart I am not referring to the lower external emotional heart which is the center of expression of negative or passionate emotions. See also the above comment

    • . “An individual who is identified with the ego…” You could perhaps say ‘an individual who is ruled by the ego’ but identification is surely something that the ego does. I know what you mean but this way of phrasing it could cause lots of confusion.

      I agree with what you say here. What you say is more accurate. Sometimes when I use the we or the you I do it only for the sake of communication as a gramatical rule. But of course you are right the way you put it.

    • “free will does not mean that we have an absolute free will” What is the difference exactly? Surely we either have free will or we don’t?

      I think this cannot be answered by yes or no. That means that we as individuals our will is not indepentent to God’s will.

      Jesus said when he was prauing to his father in the mountain a little before arest him. He couldn’t act against the will of his innermost Self.
      “Thy will be done and not mine”

      • These are tricky grounds! As soon as you bring God / Ishvara into the equation, you have to explain a lot more before your meaning becomes clear. On the face of it, we cannot have free will if that will is at least partially God’s will.

    • “They are almost always slaves of the compulsive egoic tendencies that occupy their conscious mind and they do what the egoic impulses want” Is free will, then, the ability to choose to do what you don’t want to do? Is this possible?

      Free will is not something we have or not. We can excersize our free will more or less in the degree we are free from the egoic tendencies and also our state of consciousness we are at every moment.

      I don’t want something can be also something that derives from the ego; so when we do what we don’t want doesn’t mean that we act from our free will.

      • You seem almost to be conceding that we do not have free will, here! Actions (which include ‘choice’) are automatic responses (by the ego if you like) to thoughts, desires, fears etc which arise in the mind beyond ‘our’ control.

    • “The notion that they are free to decide between two desires or impulses is also false, because in this case it is the stronger desire or emotion the factor that determines what they will do.” But if we “ choose or decide to do according our deeper intelligence and in harmony with our soul”. is this not just going with what is now a stronger impulse after our acquiring of “great ability of discernment and will power”?

      No, we don’t follow a stronger impulse. The voice of the soul is sweet and gentle.

      But here we have two different things. The one is will power, viz. our power to put in action what we have decided and the other is free will viz. our freedom to decide what we want.

      WHat is Will power is more easy to be answered; but who or what realy decides in us in every case in each moment it is very difficult to be answered.
      I am still invastigating this matter and until now I haven’t a final conclusion.

      • I don’t know what you mean by ‘voice of the soul’. Presumably these still arise as thoughts in the mind in the same way. (How else could they arise?) In which case, we are just talking about thoughts which are dictated by dispassionate or altruistic motives or the desire to gain moksha? These are all still automatic, given our particular nature at the time.

        • The voice of soul can be a thought or a gentle feeling. This is something to have experience it It is not a matter of intellectual analysis.

          In realitt many things in spiritualitt cannot be explained rationaly. Reason is limited.

          And practically is meaningless to explain everything.

          Constant vichara leads to the end of the ego and its intellectual seeking

    • “On the other hand when we are detached from the body, mind and emotions and we are identified with the consciousness within we can exercise our free will.” Who, exactly, is it who has the free will? It seems you are saying there are three things – the ego, the consciousness within, and ‘we’. Then you go on to mention ‘our deeper intelligence’ and ‘our soul’. Does this make 5 things or are some of these equivalent?

      We are the consciousness the ego and ‘we’ or 5 things, or even more. Intrested question indeed.

      According my point of view this needs a long analysis which is impossible to make here. I mention only some points.

      It is like the body. The body is one, but has many parts and functions.The different functions are interelated between each other and the function of the one system or organ affects the others.

      In analogy a human being is one but has different levels of expression and function. And each level has a variety of functions. And in each human in each level some function prevails more than the others.

      For example some are more emotional and others more rational. Some are more fire types and others more air types according ayurveda, etc.

      The purity of chitta, mind and intellect and the guna that prevail in us also determine how we think, feel, act and make decisions.

      The ego also is not atomic or induividual but is a plurarity. The perception or the sense that we have an singular ego is illusory. Our egoic self is a aggregation of tendencies, desires, emotions, beliefs. Singular is only consciousness.

      Thus finally a human is a multidimentional factory and each one according his maturity, purity, evolution etc. is functioninf with a unique way.

      Finally as I said in a previews commentary I am still invastigating how the free will and the decision mechanism function in us and until now I haven’t a final conclusion.

      It is something that I’d like to invastigate it more profoundly.

      • Sir, as long as that investigation is going on, there will be an attempt to solve an imaginary problem. When finally you see that all this activity of thought is useless to solve an imaginary problem, (thought is the problem) you just stop. And, when you stop, you begin to live in a way which is free of the world of ideas and analysis.

        This debate is for Academics, scholars, and has nothing to do with reality, truth, or anyone’s actual situation. It all takes place in thought, by thought, and for thought. There can never be a conclusion to this. The intelligent ones begin to see the futility of talk like this and don’t indulge in it. Is it not an indulgence? It’s just a mish-mash of ideas colliding together and trying to arrange themselves to make sense. That is all that we are. Apart from that, there is no one there.

        • Dear Anom
          Excellent! I will frame this:
          “Sir, as long as that investigation is going on, there will be an attempt to solve an imaginary problem. When finally you see that all this activity of thought is useless to solve an imaginary problem, (thought is the problem) you just stop. And, when you stop, you begin to live in a way which is free of the world of ideas and analysis.”

  2. I think that Ramana’s vs19 in Ulladu Narpadu is the only logic, rational answer to free will vs fate debate, i.e. when it is clearly know that there is no ego, no separate ‘I’, then who is there to wield free will or suffer fate.

    • That is certainly a very clear and concise way of putting it! I like it.

      Of course, it does still leave open the interpretation that there is someone who has free will when that is not known. But it is all just cause and effect (which also does not exist from the absolute perspective).

  3. Even when it is not known, the ‘someone’, who is wondering about free will or fate, should first enquire into the reality of that which is hypothesised to suffer free will or fate. Why both about secondary questions, when the primary question, the initiating assumption of a separate ego, is unresolved?

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