Search & Read
Free Will and the Sense of Doership
Olivier: The original question: Does not being the doer mean that it is impossible to decide anything, to choose another option referring to, e.g. bad habits?
I understand it as far as the doer is being done that the body and mind of the doer belongs to Isvara. If so, I couldn’t decide anything from the viewpoint of the jiva.
Still, there seems to be something in me that can decide, that can choose different options. Who/what is the decider? Is it the jiva or Isvara? (I guess it can’t be the self, because it doesn’t decide anything and I only imagine myself to be the decider.)
A long question, I know, but some clarification of this would be appreciated very much. Let’s leave up to Isvara if this will be an answered question.
~ Much love and gratitude to Ramji and ShiningWorld, Olivier Shaerer
Free Will and the Sense of Doership
Arlindo: Dear Olivier Shaerer,when we say that jiva is not the doer, we only mean to say that from a broader, or more fundamental, point of view jiva owns its ability to think, choose and act to Isvara. The teaching “you are not the doer” is only designed to correct the “arrogant” or ignorant aspect of the jiva, which believes it has full control over its life. But with maturity, jiva eventually realizes that without Isvara, first, and consciousness, second, jiva cannot think, choose and act. But that does not suggest that we should take a fatalistic approach in our lives and say, “I will not do anything, because Isvara is in total control of my destiny and, moreover, I am ‘actionless’ consciousness.”
Let’s look into Isvara first. Isvara is the intelligent cause of Creation (sattva), as well the energetic cause (rajas) and the material cause (tamas). Unlike all other types of creation, Isvara is the material cause and also the intelligent cause. But Isvara is also the manifest universe governed by its laws and rules by which the Lord maintains and recycles/destroys all objects it creates. All is Isvara, and therefore jiva exists within the context of Isvara only. If we remove Isvara, we remove jiva.
The proper understanding of this knowledge regarding the nature of Isvara, jiva and the world, as well their relationship is the “key” for the development of one’s karma yoga knowledge/attitude, which is fundamental for the preparation of the mind for self-inquiry, or jnana yoga.
By following the analyses based on our unexamined ordinary experiences of life as presented by the scriptures of Vedanta, we become aware that there are numerous known and unknown factors influencing and conditioning jiva’s thoughts, decisions, actions and experiences. That is to say Isvara is also all the combined factors in the field determining our experiences. The combination of all known and unknown factors is called “daiva,” a name indicating this other aspect of Isvara.
But the karma yoga knowledge presented to us by Lord Krishna is not meant to disempower the jiva – it is not meant to paralyze the jiva with depression or lethargy regarding the goals he/she wishes to accomplish in life. This knowledge is only meant to educate jiva to the fact that jiva is not alone in this vast universe, that jiva alone is not in control of his/her life, and that there is something called “God,” the Lord who created us, created the world and also the scriptures as a mean of knowledge to help us to live a happy life, a life in which the jiva “sees” God “behind” all names and forms, and devotes his/her thoughts and actions to God with the spirit of gratitude and retribution.
Once the relationship between jiva, Isvara and the field is properly grasped, jiva understands that “nothing” is written in stone, because every known thing in the world is subject to change, and jiva has the power to implement intelligent changes – not only exteriorly, but also inner changes, changes regarding one’s own mental habits and attitudes. Therefore nothing is predetermined, because jiva’s efforts based on its free will is a powerful “contributing factor,” which associated with daiva (all other factors of the field) will produce positive changes and spiritual development.
But first, jiva needs to recognize, claim and own its power to choose, a power gifted by the Lord. Secondly, it needs to get educated by Isvara’s scriptures, and thirdly and most importantly, jiva needs to exercise its free will intelligently. There is no way out; jiva was designed to transact with the world, therefore jiva must act.
In other words, the karma yoga knowledge disclosing the intertwined relationship between jiva, Isvara, jagata is only meant to help jiva to relax, grow wiser, act appropriately and in due time attain self-knowledge and be free. As Ramji often says, this knowledge about jiva, Isvara, jagata is the key to self-knowledge and moksa because it purifies the mind like nothing else. It eventually harmonizes jiva’s thoughts, decisions and actions with the universal laws of nature. That is what we call a fruitful life dedicated to dharma, evolution and self-knowledge rather than to the fulfilment of likes and dislikes and the perpetuation of self-ignorance.
To conclude, whenever Ramji says that self-knowledge neutralizes and dissolves jiva’s sense of doership, he does not mean to say that the jnani (the one with hard and fast self-knowledge) loses its ability to choose and act. No, jnani’s free will remains intact. The only difference is that his/her choices and decisions, almost invariably, are much wiser, dharmic and non-binding. The jivanmukta simply acts in harmony with Isvara’s field of action, its rules and laws. That is what we call “sattvic-dharmic actions,” or intelligent actions. Jivanmukta acts in the world knowing that his/her mind was consecrated to Isvara. His knowledge has “conformed” to Isvara’s knowledge. He/she desires, thinks and acts in conformity with the Lord, and simply acts in harmony with his/her own nature, other beings as well in harmony with the environment. Jivanmukta does not lose the ability to choose, or if we prefer, jivanmukta allows Isvara’s wisdom to illumine his/her intellect and choose for him/her, so to speak. That is the meaning of surrendering to Isvara.
In the very process of our spiritual development, we gradually learn to exercise our free will intelligently as we submit our mind to Isvara’s mind. As we get educated by the scriptures, we also get inspired, encouraged and empowered to confront and control our bad habits, and we do so by replacing the bad habits, or vasanas, with healthy ones; the self-limiting vasanas are replaced with vasanas conducive to purification, contemplation and assimilation of scriptural knowledge. We are creatures of habit, but we must overcome our binding, negative, adharmic vasanas. This is the job jiva has at hand. Our free will allows us to make proper use of our human intelligence – to make sattvic choices and grow in maturity and wisdom.
Olivier: I understand that the doer is being done, that the body and mind of the doer belongs to Isvara. But if that is so, I wouldn’t be able to decide anything, from the viewpoint of the jiva.
Arlindo: That’s correct, the jiva-doer is being done by Isvara on a 24/7 basis. But that does not conflict with jiva’s power and responsibility to choose and act. As I said, jiva must act because it was designed by the Lord to think and act. Refusal to act is a statement of no appreciation for the gift we have received from Isvara; a healthy human body endowed with intelligence.
The Three Sub-Orders of Reality
Mithya, this apparent order of reality in which jivas transact and experience the world of objects, is subdivided into three levels, or dimensions: Isvara, jiva and jagata (the world). Although intertwined, jiva and Isvara belong to “different” sub-orders of mithya. Isvara’s intelligent power pervades jiva, hence jiva does depend on Isvara. Fundamentally, Isvara is pure sattva, the dynamic, highly intelligent system based on pure knowledge. But Isvara is also the “cause-effect” continuous mechanism impacting, affecting, changing, operating and governing all objects in mithya.
It is opportune to mention that with reference to Isvara and awareness, jiva is but an object: the experiencing-enjoyer entity endowed with Isvara’s “borrowed” intelligence and free will. It is also appropriate to note that due to its subtler pervasive nature, Isvara controls and conditions jiva.
But regardless, jiva still remains an integral part of Isvara as the dharma field. What does that mean? It means that by the unavoidable interaction between jiva and Isvara/jagata (the self-conscious intelligent system), jiva, in one way or the other, also affects and influences the Lord (the dharma field).
It is also opportune to remember that in jagat everything affects and changes everything else, i.e. the field affects jiva, but jiva also affects the field. Furthermore, Isvara, although very subtle, still is an “object” – a wondrous, ever-changing object – fundamentally coloured with the finest of all attributes of Maya: pure knowledge and intelligence – but manifestly painted with all attributes of the universe.
The bottom line: Isvara is impacting and conditioning jiva’s experiences, but jiva, to a certain extent, also impacts and conditions Isvara. Jiva has the power to influence Isvara with his/her prayers, and as Ramji often says, the highest possible prayer is our sattvic, dharmic action (appropriate, timely action in harmony with the Lord and for the benefit of the total). On a practical level, we have the power to impact and change our causal body – we have the power to reprogram our vasana load, and in doing so, we develop healthier habits which are conducive to spiritual growth and self-knowledge.
Isvara is not playing alone in samsara; it creates jiva and the world so that it may have something to play with. ☺ Among its many roles, Isvara plays the role of “facilitator” of our karma; with one hand it provides us a vasana load based on universal self-ignorance, and with the other it also provides us with the scriptural knowledge to remove self-ignorance. Isvara keeps presenting us with circumstances and situations which serve the purpose of facilitating our spiritual growth, for everything in Creation evolves and grows.
Olivier: Still, there seems to be something in me that can decide, that can choose different options. Who is the decider? Is it the jiva or Isvara? (I guess it can’t be the self, because it doesn’t decide anything and I only imagine myself to be the decider.)
Arlindo: Jiva is Isvara’s player designed to choose, decide and do things. All decisions are only jiva’s decisions. Whether we like it or not, when we decide, we decide with our whole body-mind equipment – with our three bodies (causal, subtle and physical bodies). We need to own and take responsibility for our causal body, and begin to understand and reprogram it. Isvara is only the system that facilitates our transaction with the field. It is up to us the direction we give to our lives. We do not have the power to micromanage the result of our actions, but we can gradually influence our prarabdha karma. We can give our lives a certain orientation and live the micromanagement to the Lord, especially since he is already doing everything else for us in any case. Let’s have our live’s orientation towards excellence, love, growth, wisdom and freedom.
Olivier: A long question, I know. But some clarifications would be appreciated very much. Let’s leave it to Isvara to decide if it will be an answered question! Thank you, and much love and gratitude to Ramji and ShiningWorld.
Arlindo: There you go, Olivier. I hope it not only clear some of your doubts, but that it also serves the purpose of inspiring you to live a life dedicated to devotion to Isvara and moksa.