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Free Will or Preordained?
Samantha: How it is with free will and choices that my jiva makes? Is everything planned by Isvara regardless of what my jiva decides to do on the everyday basis? I’ve read one of James’ satsangs in which he wrote that Isvara planned the whole universe with all the interactions at one spot and now it only watches how it all play according to its plan. And that the best solution is “let go and let God.” Does it mean that regardless of what I do, all is taken care of? And as well, regardless what I do, I do good because I act according to the program that was written for my jiva? Is it how the karma yoga could be understood?
Sundari: Yes, indeed, let go and let God is the best attitude to have if you want a good life! Isvara knows best and is going to do your life anyway, so why resist? When we insist on following our likes and dislikes disregarding what the Field is presenting to us, we almost invariably suffer the consequences. Karma yoga is taking appropriate and timely action, which means being in tune with what Isvara wants.
Samantha: I know the karma yoga rule – the results are up to Isvara. But does it mean I can trust that whatever happens it will be good for me? I feel lost sometimes in this. I try to understand how dharma field works, and my svadharma as well, to respond to it correctly, and I sometimes feel that I’m missing something.
Sundari: If you truly follow your svadharma and trust Isvara, everything always works out for the best. It might not always be what you want, but it will be for the best. James lives like this 100% of the time. He never allows fear or doubt to enter his mind, ever. He just says no to it. So just banish the negative fear-thoughts – they are only thoughts, not truth. If you move with Isvara, magic happens.
Samantha: These are rudimentary things, I guess, but I stumble on them. I would be grateful if you could explain them to me. Forgive me if you need to repeat something you’ve already written, but I have difficulties with that part.
Sundari: Your question is an important one, we get asked it often. Here is the answer:
Free Will or Preordained?
The dharma field is like a computer game: all the possible moves are programmed into the game before you play it. The question to ask, always, is: Are you the self or the jiva? If you are the self, you don’t choose anything or make any moves, because you are everything. As a jiva, although it appears as if you choose, making independent moves and playing the game to win or lose, 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, which 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 as a jiva other than through self-knowledge, moksa, which is liberation from the person, not for the person.
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. 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 problem is that although most people’s choices seem to be volitional and individual, they are usually predictable and repetitive. This is because most people, who have no or very limited self-knowledge, behave like automatons, although they don’t think 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. We do have free will to respond to what Isvara dishes out, and how we respond either creates unpleasant or pleasant circumstances/karma. If our vasanas are doing the responding (which is most often the case) we tend to get more of the same back, unless we are mature people with good values and always follow dharma. If we are not, “free will” is not free at all. We are just programmes responding to our unconscious programmes creating more karma, which will either manifest quickly or “down the line.” But it will fructify, just as a bullet fired from a gun will hit something, even if not necessarily the target.
Isvara as the self operating Maya is triguna-atita, not conditioned by and not managing the gunas, although it seems like it is. The gunas are impersonal forces responsible for experience. When self-knowledge has removed ignorance and you know that your true nature is whole and complete, non-dual awareness, there is no karma for you. This means that the doer has been negated and the binding vasanas rendered non-binding; as a jiva you unfailingly follow dharma, so never create unpleasant circumstances. Samsara 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. What is there to choose? It is all you, the self, and it is all good. You take everything as prasad, even if unpleasant circumstances present themselves. You see it all as the movie it is – and it does not touch you, even though self-knowledge is not a magic bullet for the ego. It must still must transact with this world, suffering its ups and downs.
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 the self, you will know that everything arises out of you in the form of Isvara, the Creator, and depends on you, but you are always free of everything and depend on nothing. As a liberated jiva, you understand that the dharma field (Isvara wielding maya) is made up of the gunas and it runs the way it runs whether you are enlightened or not. Isvara does not care if you are enlightened or not. Isvara sees you as whole and complete, non-dual awareness.
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, the self. You will automatically manage the gunas for peace of mind and follow dharma because you value sattva over everything else. Your choices will be in harmony with that.
There is another layer to the teaching on free will. To understand free will from the point of view of the self, we first must understand something very important about the gunas, vasanas and karma. The gunas, vasanas and karma are three ways of saying the same thing because nothing in mithya can be separated from the gunas. Everything that happens does so by virtue of the gunas. The gunas give rise to the jiva, the vasanas and their results (karma). Everything that happens is a vasana, and everything that happens is karma. Just like the gunas, all vasanas/karma are eternal and exist as principles in the causal body. In fact they are the causal body, the repository of all vasanas. The vasanas arise from the three gunas, namely sattva, rajas and tamas, which are what make up Maya – the dharma field, or creation. Isvara, Maya, the causal body and the gunas are, in essence, different terms for the same thing. We make distinctions for teaching purposes because Isvara, being the self, is beyond the gunas and unaffected by them, although in the role of Creator, Isvara wields Maya.
Vasanas just explain karma. As you know, a vasana is a guna-generated tendency or program that we keep repeating and which binds us to an incorrect idea about ourselves, our karma and life in general. A samskara is a conglomeration of vasanas, all interconnected, like mycorrhizal fungi “underground.” The mushrooms, like vasanas, will pop up here and there and seem to be discrete and independent entities, but all vasanas are interconnected in a vast network of vasanas in the underground of the causal body, or the macrocosmic unconscious. The causal body is thus the cause of everything.
Vasanas are not inherently good or bad. They are the seeds – the knowledge – that drive Creation. Isvara invented them. Nothing stirs in the Creation, or apparent reality, without a vasana driving it, whether it is a one-off thing or an often-repeated pattern of behaviour. A vasana becomes a good one when it drives you into pleasant circumstances/karma, and it becomes a bad one when it drives you into an unpleasant situation. Drinking alcohol is a very nice vasana for certain people. It is a very painful vasana for others. As stated, a vasana is the momentum from a past action, the tendency to repeat it. It is purely a technical term. But vasanas can also sprout without any previously known tendency or desire because the seeds for all vasanas are Isvara = causal body, and therefore exist as potential in everyone.
It may seem like “our” vasanas are personal and original, but they are not. All vasanas are eternal because they originate in the causal body, which is eternal. Isvara churns them out over and over because there is really only one eternal Jiva, or subtle body, appearing as many seemingly unique individuals with seemingly unique “issues.” They are not unique (although the ego likes to think they are) but generic and timeless – they are beginningless ignorance. It is impossible to put a timeline to this logic because as principles the gunas, the Jiva and the vasanas cannot be separated, as they exist “out of time,” in infinite potential within the causal body, which is infinite because it exists in consciousness.
People often ask us: Is free will the cause of karma or is it the gunas? Well, it’s a both/and not either/or. As stated, gunas govern and colour vasanas, which create karma and vasanas/karma reinforce the gunas. It works both ways. Remember the most important thing regarding life in the world for the jiva: moksa is for the jiva; therefore mind/guna management is so important. If we don’t manage the gunas, they manage us. Isvara does not mind how we live – and if we choose to live adharmically, Isvara assumes that’s how we like it and delivers the appropriate karma to us. The whole game of life is impersonal and inescapable. It must run this way or the game would be over.
Remember this important answer to the “why” question: the gunas must have the option to express from one end of the spectrum to the other or they cannot do their “job” of creating the apparent reality.
Looked at from the perspective of the jiva, the way things play out in mithya often seems bone-chillingly cruel to us. So much suffering! Why does Isvara not stop terrible things from happening? Answer: Isvara is not a person, and none of it is real. As much as we hurt and suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, our hearts breaking with the suffering we see and experience, there is nothing that can be done to change the way the game plays out. Because of this, the gunas also produce incredible beauty, love, compassion and truth – as well as everything in between. If we want a game called Life, this is how it is. And within the game, consciousness has given us Vedanta – the only way out of the game. The only solution is knowing that there is no real death or suffering for you or anyone else, as the self.
Isvara is karma phala datta – the one who facilitates and delivers our karma as jivas. Fate is just that: Isvara delivering karma to the jiva, not some kind of system of retribution. Prarabdha karma is the momentum of past actions, but we do have a choice how to respond to it. As the self, you are and always have been free. Free will is an object known to you, as is all experience. The whole point of self-inquiry is to live free of the conditioning that runs the jiva. To do so, you must have knowledge of the gunas and live dharmically, which requires that you make the right dharmic choices for you.
If you take the stance of the ego and say, “Well, what does it matter what I do since it’s all preprogrammed by Isvara?!” – you will still suffer the consequences of adharmic, or ignorant, choices. For self-knowledge to obtain, it requires a pure and peaceful mind, one whose lifestyle conforms to dharma.
~ Much love, Sundari