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Free Will or Not
Brian: Dear Sundari, I have just finished reading How to Attain Enlightenment and it has been very helpful. I have a question concerning “free will.” It is mentioned a few times in the book and it is stated that it is part of the subtle body. I can’t understand how anything, other than awareness, can be free. Looking back on my journey, it seems that things just happened. Choices were made, but my desire to discover the truth seemed to override my desire for a quiet, easy life. Is this one vasana being stronger than the other? Or is the desire for liberation not really a personal desire but more akin to drops of rain naturally making their way back to the one ocean?
Any pointers you can give me regarding these two aspects of the teaching will be gratefully received.
~ Sincerely, Brian
Sundari: Hello, Brian.
Most people who are ready (qualified) for self-inquiry have a very strong spiritual vasana that supercedes all others. All vasanas are governed by the gunas and thus originate from Isvara, the field of existence. They do not belong to the jiva although they will condition the mind until they are seen, understood and dissolved in the light of self-knowledge. This is what is meant by rendering the binding vasanas non-binding. Not all vasanas are bad, and you need a strong vasana/desire for self-inquiry. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says: “I am the desire that is not opposed to dharma.”
Your analogy of the jiva’s desires being just drops of rain making their way “back” to the ocean works if you take the ocean to be awareness. It also works if you take the ocean to be Isvara, or the apparent creation, because we refer to samsara (the belief in duality) as an ocean – the ocean of ignorance. Either way, the drops of rain would be seen to belong to Isvara, and not to the jiva or to awareness.
Of course there is no “way back” really, because the jiva is really awareness appearing in form, as a subtle body. As there is nowhere that awareness is not, there is nowhere to go and nothing to gain. Self-inquiry into the true nature of awareness is for the mind indentified with objects to be released from bondage by the removal of ignorance by self-knowledge.
When maya manifests and the creation appears, awareness in the role of Creator (Isvara) appears and knows objects, which it sees as non-different from itself because there is only awareness as the knower and the known. There is one awareness, or consciousness, which is why we call it ordinary. If you have two or more, one could be different from the other, but of course they cannot be. This original awareness does not change and is called bimba chaitanya. The confusion arises because maya creates a subtle body, which reflects awareness onto objects, like sounds, forms, etc. It is called pratibimba chaitanya, or reflected consciousness.
Reflected awareness is the original ordinary awareness reflecting on the subtle body. Being in maya (and owing to the action of the gunas) the subtle body is subject to change and identifies with objects, thinking that awareness is something other than it. The subtle body modifies when sound and light stimuli reflect on it – and therefore awareness seems to change. At the same time that the subtle body is changing, it is known by original ordinary awareness, which does not change. You know that the subtle body is experiencing things (like apparently making choices). Original awareness doesn’t experience. It witnesses. It always remains the same. It is unaffected by what the subtle body experiences.
As James makes clear in How to Attain Enlightenment, there are basically only two orders of reality: (1) the subject, or that which is real – awareness – and (2) the object, that which is only apparently real – the individual – who is not conscious, but appears to be because awareness shines on it. The third “order” of reality is not really an order, as it is the (apparent) “buffer” between the two orders: Isvara – awareness in the role of Creator associated with maya (ignorance). The effects of ignorance bring about the illusion of duality.
The effects change and modify each other, but the effects do not modify the cause. The gross cannot change the subtle, but the subtle changes the gross (these are apparent modifications of course). If jiva is an effect of Isvara then it cannot have an effect on Isvara. Jiva depends upon Isvara but Isvara does not depend upon jiva. Therefore they are never co-creators. As Isvara and jiva are in different orders of the same reality, whatever happens in maya does not affect the cause of maya, i.e. Isvara.
You are correct about free will. If you think you are the doer (the person, or ego) you have limited free will in that you are seemingly free to choose one thing over another, according to your nature or conditioning. The dharma field operates according to certain laws, and if they are understood and followed, it is possible to achieve success from the standpoint of the jiva, or person. If that were not the case, moksa, or freedom from the apparent reality, would never be possible. The apparent reality is not real, so it is possible to “take action,” i.e. self-inquiry, to be free of it. If it were real, no one would ever be free of it. So if one applies this rule and takes the appropriate action at the appropriate time, desired results are usually, but not always, achieved. There are no guarantees in the apparent reality, because Isvara runs the dharma field and takes care of the needs of the total first.
The other side of this is that the choices that people make, although they seem to be volitional and individual, are usually pretty predictable and repetitive. This is because most people, who have no or very limited self-knowledge, behave like automatons although they don’t think that they do. They think that they are doing the choosing, but actually their conditioning (vasanas/gunas) is doing the choosing. Still it does look like one has free will, and in a way, the person does. From this platform free will gives the person the choice to “make the best” of their lives, and relative success is thus possible in the apparent reality.
When ignorance has been removed by self-knowledge and you know that your true nature is whole and complete non-dual awareness, what is there to choose? It is all you, awareness, and it is all good. This means that the doer has been negated and the binding vasanas rendered non-binding. Samsara then no longer exists in “your” mind and you see everything from the perspective of the self, which means that you have non-dual vision and see everything as non-different from you.
You will still function as a jiva, or person, in the “world,” but you will know that the person and the world are only apparently real. As awareness you will know that everything arises out of you and depends on you, but you are always free of everything and depend on nothing. As a liberated jiva, you will have understood that the dharma field (or Isvara wielding maya) is made up of the gunas, and it runs the way it runs whether you are enlightened or not, for the good of the total. Isvara does not care if you are enlightened or not. Isvara sees you as whole and complete, non-dual awareness.
As the self, you are trigunaatita, which means that you are beyond the gunas. Isvara srsti (individual or subjective creation) continues as before, but the gunas no longer condition the subtle body in the same way. The gunas still operate and always will, but as a liberated jiva you will understand what they are, how they play out – what thoughts, feelings and actions predictably arise with all of them. And you will know that it has nothing to do with you, awareness. You will automatically follow dharma because you value peace of mind (sattva) over everything else, so your choices will be in harmony with that.
The dharma field is like a computer game: all the possible moves are programmed into the game before you play it. Although it appears as if you are making independent moves and playing the game to win or lose, but in actual fact it is already predetermined, as you can only make the moves that are already in the programme. Isvara, or the dharma field, is playing the game.
That is why karma yoga is such an important teaching and the only way to negate the doer.It is the most sensible way to live because it relieves the pressure of getting the “right” result or any particular result, for that matter, because you understand that the dharma field is out of your control; only Isvara has knowledge of all objects and controls the field for the good of the total. You get the results that are best for you at any given time. There is no way to step out of the dharma field. And as a jiva you never do, other than through moksa, which is liberation from the person, not for the person.
I hope this helps.
~ Om and prem, Sundari