Part 3 – Free-will (continued)
Q: I reflected a bit more about the logic I used in my previous email. In one sentence I said: “the person has no free will, because there is no person.” Rephrasing it, the logic goes: There is no person -> therefore, the person has no free will. I looked at it a bit more, and I realized that if the person truly doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t make sense to talk about ANY qualities about something non-existent, not just free will. So I think a more accurate and targeted line of questioning would be: ‘okay so the person is non-existent, but I am very obviously present, aware, and seeing these words right here and right now, so let me investigate the nature of myself.’ So this would lead to some form of self-inquiry. I guess in a way this is the essence of the direct path, to take a stand as awareness, and investigate your beliefs against the data of direct experience (in this case, the belief that I am a separate consciousness).
Nowhere in that line of questioning does free will come up!
I also found these quotations from Rupert Spira and Greg Goode about the topic of free will, maybe you’ll find them interesting:
“The idea that we have the freedom to choose whether or not to become entangled with thoughts and feelings is a concession to the separate self we believe and feel ourself to be. From the separate self’s point of view, it has choice, freedom. If we think we are a separate self, then by definition we feel that we are making choices.
For this reason the teaching says, ‘You have the choice. You have consented to limit yourself. You can choose not to. Choose to disentangle yourself. Make that your first choice in life, to disentangle yourself from the body and the mind and to know yourself as you truly are.’“
Greg Goode’s interpretation:
“Sometimes teachings and exhortations about personal freedom are a beautiful, effective and necessary step for freedom from the idea of being a person. A person who prematurely adopts a ‘no-free-will’ teaching can lapse into depression and antinomian behavior. ‘You have to be someone before you can be no one.’
“The teachings on free will borrow from the freedom that we are. Among the many objects that arise in the mirror of awareness, some objects arise as images of mirrors. These images are taken as representations of their source. Like a mirror appearing in a mirror, Ramana’s teaching serves as a pointer to freedom. Case 2 is not different in this respect from Case 1. As objects, all cases and their characters, and all teachings and all discourse (even this one!) are not themselves free or self-powered, but they arise from freedom and consist in freedom.“
–Greg Goode [https://www.nonduality.com/freew.htm]
Moving on, you said: “Brahman does not have thoughts or desires. So it cannot be true that Brahman ‘wants’ any of this. This is why Advaita also has Ishvara as well as jIva-s.”
That’s very interesting! I’ve seen many direct path teachers just say “Consciousness chooses this or that” but it’s interesting that the traditional path has a different view, I’ll be sure to explore this more.
You say: “Practically speaking, if events in your life (over which you had no free will) led you to think about these matters, chance encounters with others, books etc. would have increasingly led you (again without needing free will) to pursue the teaching.” And later on you added: “But each step of a ‘deliberation’ involves reacting to a thought that arises (outside of our control) using reasoning abilities that have been learned and awareness of prior experiences etc. None of this requires any ‘free will’.”
Those are excellent points! And if I draw from my own experience, the only reason I turned to the direct path and Advaita Vedanta is because all other avenues of life (objects, experiences, relationships) failed to give me lasting happiness. So in a way, there is a certain intelligence behind these decisions. It’s not like I was just happily riding my bike one day, and I randomly thought “hmm I should check out this Advaita thing”. No, the process came out of repeated failures that led to exploring a different path over and over until I found something that gives lasting happiness, or at least something I can intuit is in the right direction of lasting happiness. In a way it is like a self-correcting system that keeps adjusting itself until the right answer (happiness) is found. That reminds me of a quote from Ramana Maharshi that is maybe kinda loosely related: “The karmas carry the seeds of their own destruction in themselves.”
Since reading your reply and the points you bring up it now just kinda clicked, that this conflict over free will (or the lack of it) that keeps arising for me, is very subtly fuelled by a fear I had that I may become ‘stuck’ in ignorance with no way out. That fear is rooted in the false belief I had, that the thoughts I have are just completely random. But I realize now, thanks to you, that they are not random. There is a certain intelligence and reasoning process behind them (whether or not through free will is almost irrelevant), which is the same intelligence that led me to this path in the first place. So I guess my conflict about free will was resolved through our discussion here, so thanks again for that!
A: “The person is non-existent but ‘I’ am here’” is effectively an early stage in traditional teaching. ‘Neti, neti’ negates anything that you can perceive as ‘not you’. Combine this with dṛg-dṛṣya-viveka and you are doing Self-inquiry. Free will is not really an issue in traditional teaching either!
You quote Rupert: “You have the choice. You have consented to limit yourself. You can choose not to. Choose to disentangle yourself.” But who is the ‘you’ who is doing the choosing here?? There is a lot more to be explained here!
Once Greg starts ‘explaining’ things like this, I usually end up getting lost. He is a philosopher and, as such, I fear he falls into the trap of so many of the post-Shankara philosophers – they over-intellectualize and miss the simplicity of the fundamental truth. I am presently studying the topic of ‘ignorance’ and you would not believe how much has been written on this – and a lot of it is virtually incomprehensible! I would have to read Greg’s complete article (to find out what ‘case 1’ and ‘case 2’ are etc. and I have no idea what “they arise from freedom and consist in freedom” means…
As regards the notion of ‘Consciousness choosing’, you cannot formulate a coherent teaching of Non-Duality with such ideas. It is a ‘mixing’ of levels – confusing absolute and empirical reality.
I think it is certainly a dissatisfaction with life that initially drives the ‘search for meaning’. (It was in my own case.) But the end result is not any sort of fuzzy sense of permanent well-being (or however you think of ‘happiness’). At the empirical level, there will always be ‘ups and downs’. This is just the natural way of things, just as it is sometimes sunny and sometimes raining. You can’t have waves without peaks and troughs. The point is that it all simply name and form of a ‘Consciousness’ that is infinite, perfect and complete. And you are That; not the apparent person who is happy or sad.