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Where to Find Free Will?
Arlindo: A jiva is a living creature with three bodies and five physiological systems functioning 24/7 to keep the body well and alive. As we all know, the three bodies and the pranas are matter, energies – physical, subtle and causal matter. All matter is in the category of “objects,” and all objects are insentient, not conscious. What happens then with the human subtle body that somehow produces the thought “I am a conscious being”?
What happens could be described as the effect of a “magic dance” between satya and mithya – between awareness and a highly sattvic object called the subtle body. For all jivas, the human subtle body possesses enough reflectivity to bounce off consciousness to produce what is called specular reflection. It reflects consciousness just like a mirror, and it not only reflects and illumines the world of thoughts/objects but it also intelligently examines, discerns and interprets the contacted objects with reference to the other objects in the field. This intelligent self-conscious reflectivity gives rise to a sense of individual existence we commonly refer to as the individual, a human conscious being.
As we analyze the nature of human consciousness, we could say that the human jiva is only RC (reflected consciousness), and that RC is not OC (original consciousness), the same way an object reflected in the mirror is not the object itself. But consciousness is not an object, and therefore we need to take into this analysis the fact that a light ray is the same light ray before and after it bounces off an object with a smooth and shiny surface. The properties of the reflected ray of light may vary according to the characteristics of the RA (reflecting apparatus), but its essential nature remains the same light ray.
If we assume our nature to be LC (“light” of consciousness), consequently we must acknowledge that our true identity is awareness, or OC. On the other hand, if we take ourselves to be the mirror RA (reflecting apparatus), commonly known as the subtle body, we will be defined as a jiva limited by its qualities/capacity to bounce off LC (light of consciousness). A well-polished and purified RA (jiva’s subtle body) will reflect LC with less distortion, self-absorption and consequently minimum loss of integrity of its pure light.
But if we accept the logic that a ray of light is essentially the same, even after it bounces off the RA (human subtle body), we will find ourselves in a different condition from the previous two. On first analysis we considered ourselves to be OC, or the original light of consciousness, before any possible reflection could take place. The second and most common condition is the identification with the RA, or the subtle body. In this case we must engage with concepts such as purification, betterment or, in more technical terms, with the development of more sattva guna in the subtle body.
But once we have accepted that a ray of light maintains its essential nature even after it reflects on the RA (subtle body), we have come to the clear understanding that my nature is LC (light of consciousness) and LC = OC. Most importantly, we come to the recognition that RC is of same nature as OC (RC = OC). Hence what is relevant in this third condition is that RC, in its essence, is equal to OC, regardless of how much absorption or reflecting distortions an unpurified apparatus may cause. No wonder we always come to the same non-dualistic conclusion. ☺
Now, where does the free will fit in all of this? Jiva’s apparent free will does not belong to the mirror-like RA (reflecting apparatus) we call the subtle body. The apparatus is inert, made of matter, not conscious, and therefore only an instrument programmed and operated by Isvara for the purpose of creation, maintenance and destruction of creation. Jiva’s apparent free will is also not found in OC, because OC is free of attributes; it does not think, discern or develop free will.
Where to find free will then? It must belong to the ray of light after it bounces off and reflects on the subtle body to become (RC). By the power of maya, this reflected consciousness (RC), although sharing the same actionless and atributless nature of original consciousness (OC), somehow in association with the RA (reflecting apparatus) apparently borrows and develops attributes and qualities inherent in the mirror (RA). This apparent association gives rise to the phenomenon known as personified consciousness. Only then consciousness has the necessary attributes and qualities to contact and transact in the apparent world of duality. As a result, RC (reflected consciousness) develops the apparent free will, which will account for the karmic laws which all jivas are subjected to.
Diana: But on a more practical level… sometimes I hear you saying that there is free will. Some other times I hear you saying that there isn’t?!
Arlindo: There is only apparent free will, Diana. From the perspective of jiva’s subtle body, there is an apparent choice between eating a banana or an apple. But those are only vasana-driven choices. But from the perspective of Isvara, we could also say that free will is a thought Isvara plants in the mind of the jiva that says “I want to understand and know my true nature and no longer to be pushed around by the system.”
But why consider such thought a “free conscious thought”? Because this apparent “free will” or desire for liberation does not seem to come as a “default program” for the jiva, simply because everyone, with maybe rare exceptions, is born in ignorance. All default vasanas are directed towards objects to restore jiva’s sense of limitlessness, completion and satisfaction.
This apparent “free will” (the desire for liberation) instead will question and challenge the self-perpetuating mechanism which binds the jiva to the world of objects – it is the desire to understand and know oneself independently of all objects as the only subject there is: free, actionless, pure awareness. It marks a radical turn of tendency from being totally operated by ignorance to saying “no more” to Isvara’s continuous system.
But since both ignorance and knowledge exist in mithya, and since in mithya nothing really escapes Isvara, this apparent “free will” or desire for liberation will rapidly develop to become a new “knowledge-based” samskara, which will then begin operating the jiva (no more in search for objects) but in search of the firm understanding of his true nature as the subject, i.e. awareness. Is Isvara messing with us?
It is all Isvara in operation who, by the way, may at times appear to be a “control freak.” And that explains why even great mahatmas still have bhakti for the Lord. But there is a great deal of difference between an ignorance-based vasana and a knowledge-based one. The ignorance-based will produce fleeting experiences due to the constant contact with thoughts and objects, and the knowledge-based will produce self-knowledge.
Self-knowledge will put an end to the compulsion to control one’s experience, and jiva will live a happy life. Let’s kick back, let the Lord control, and pray for a sattvic mind. And the best prayer is an appropriate action! It never ceases to amaze me, this relationship between Isvara, jiva and the world.
Is it acceptable to call it free will? And if so, where does it come from? From OC? From Isvara? From the inert apparatus called jiva’s subtle body? From RC?