Divine Will and Free Will - A Dialogue
By Prof. V. Krishnamurthy
Article taken from: http://www.geocities.com/profvk/HNG/FWDW.html
The following is an imaginary no-holds-barred ‘dialogue’ among:
- ‘DFW’, standing for ‘Disciple who holds Free Will is everything’
- ‘DDW’, standing for ‘Disciple who holds Divine Will is everything’
- ‘TD’, standing for a ‘Third Disciple who holds that it is neither this nor that exclusively’.
But as the conversation proceeds, you will find their original convictions gradually change.
DFW: Free will is essential for reward and punishment otherwise anyone would do anything they wish and say "it was God's will, don't blame me!".
DDW: Ah, but that is not quite a correct viewpoint because,you are cheating. God's will has been expressed in the various Shrutis (Gita, Upanishads, Bible and what have you) and if you follow those actions, you can claim to be doing God's will, otherwise you cannot claim to act in God’s way.
DFW: Hold on, even my acting contrary to the scriptures is being done by God, right? So I don't understand you distinguishing some actions from others.
DDW: True, but even the consequences of the actions against Him will have been described in the scriptures. They are available for all to see.
TD: I think you are both taking extreme positions. If man did not have free will to attempt to do his will, Veda statements like ‘satyam vada’ (Speak the truth) and ‘dharmam cara’ (Act according to dharma) would lose all their meaning. So I am not prepared to agree with DDW. But what DDW says that it is finally Divine will that expresses itself is correct.
DDW. Then how can you also agree with DFW?
TD: That is the tricky point. Without the implied choice of action implied in statements like satyam vada and dharmam cara we can go nowhere. Man is free to act in the way his tendencies (VasanAs) take him. Man is also free to resist the bad vAsanAs and act in a way which will purify his mind and rid it of the dirt accumulated therein.
DDW: Then why are the scriptures repeatedly professing that it is all divine will? “mayaivaite nihatAH pUrvameva ..” (‘All these people have been killed by me already ...’) says Krishna in the eleventh chapter of his Gita.
DFW. That quote is exactly what confuses me.
TD: Maybe Krishna is talking to an enlightened person!
DFW: But Arjuna was not enlightened – at least, at that point. But wait. What do you say to such expressions in our shAstras: “Neither Hari (Vishnu) nor Hara (Shiva) can erase what is written on your forehead”? Does it not say that the so-called fate that overrules you is dominant. And is not Fate the same as Divine Will?
DDW: Are you, DFW, arguing for me now?
TD: Both of you are confusing me now! Let us go about it systematically. That Fate you are talking about is the prArabdha-karma. It is the portion of our past karma which has started taking effect in this birth of ours and it is this facet of our life where neither God nor anybody can intervene.
DDW: But that would limit the Almighty’s all-mightiness!
TD: Here I am with you. To limit His own all-mightiness is His own Will!.
DDW: Let us come back now to Free Will and Divine Will. If prArabdha is so dominant again you come only to my view. Nothing can change God’s Will!
DFW: But we have still to answer the question about the choice of action that TD raised.
TD. That is why I said we have to proceed systematically. The choice of action is there so long as you believe ‘I am the doer’. Krishna says “Only the man overpowered by his ego thinks he is the doer” (B.G. 3rd chapter).
DFW: You have now brought in a third belief – namely whether one is the doer or not. But if I am not the doer and God is the doer, then is He not responsible for all my bad thoughts and bad actions?
TD: He is not responsible even for your good thoughts and good actions.
DDW: Wait, wait. You are contradicting my theory of Divine Will totally and I thought you earlier said that you agreed with me.
TD: There are stages of evolution in a man’s life – in fact, several lives. There is a stage when we have to grant free will. That is the stage when you are either a growing child either in the physical plane or in the spiritual plane. You cannot tell a high school student that it is all divine will; then there is no purpose in asking him to make effort at his education.
DFW: But even assuming that at the adult stage of a better spiritual evolution, to believe it is some other Power within us, other than our egoism, that it is the doer and the experiencer, is only fatalism. I would not like to grant that Hinduism or Vedanta is all fatalism.
TD: Your equating the fact that there is another Power within us with Fatalsim is not correct. The recognition of this other Power within us is the first step towards our spiritual evolution.
DDW: What can this other Power within us be except God?
DFW: But that contradicts your earlier statement that God is not responsible for any of our actions either good or bad!
TD: This other Power within us is not God. It is our own individualised PrakRti (SvabhAva – our own nature) for which we are ourselves the architect, by means of the way we thought and lived in all our past lives and also in this life up to the present.
DDW: But I have never heard of this concept of ‘individualised prakRti’ that you are using.
TD: In Gita Ch.3, shloka No.33 the Lord says that even the wise man does work according to his prakRti. Acharya Shankara, in commenting on this, writes: ‘PrakRti is nothing but the accumulated samskAras of our past lives individualised and earmarked for this life of ours’. The sanskrit word ‘prakRta’ (from which ‘prakRti’ is derived) means ‘currently in vogue’.
DDW: But why is God causing people to behave the way they do in these times? How can you account for the fact that the world is in such a mess? Why is everyone now immersed in thinking only of themselves and not the greater good? Why is this play?
DFW: You said it right. It all looks like a deliberate play. In fact, I would say that if the theory of play is right, then God must be a sadist!
TD: No, no. Not that way. It is a play alright, but that is what is termed in the Puranas as God’s LeelA. That requires a lot of faith to go in that direction. Let us pursue the trend of our conversation in the way we started it. First God is not causing people to behave the way they do. It is the people who behave that way. That itself tells you that people have the freewill to do what they want to do. This free will God has granted man.
DFW: At last you are veering to my viewpoint!
TD: Don’t be too assured. Of course God has granted freewill to us both to obey His orders like ‘satyam vada’ and ‘dharmam cara’ and also to disobey them.
DDW: That is what I call the play of the Divine.
DFW: But then God must be foolish to play that dangerous game.
DDW: Your choice of words ‘dangerous game’ reminds me of what Sathya Sai Baba once replied to a devotee. The devotee asked him, while they were walking along the shores of the Arabian Sea, ‘Lord, if you are capable of doing all those miracles for which you are known, why don’t you change this entire sea into a sea of petrol and thus solve the problem of scarcity of oil-fuel in the world?’. Sathya Sai Baba immediately replied: ‘But then I cannot guarantee that no crazy human being like you would not throw a lighted cigarette into that sea!’.
TD: The moral of the story is: Even God cannot guarantee that man will not behave in an animal way. And that proves that Man has free will!
DFW: Oh Good! Daniel come to judgement!
DDW: But then where does all this lead us?
TD: It leads to our starting point. It is not all black and white. It is a spectrum of colours. The answer to the dilemma depends upon three factors. 1. The situation or the action that we are talking about. 2. Level of spiritual evolution of the individual concerned. 3. Degree of willingness to stand apart and surrender the ego.
DDW. I am sure on the third factor the generality of us may be taken to be at the base level.
TD. To simplify the discussion I am willing to assume, for the present, that with respect to the second factor – spiritual evolution also – we are almost at the base level. Once we do that, we come back to the child level of spiritual evolution, which we have already discussed. At this level, it is Free will that is considered to be dominant in the psychology of the individual concerned. But this is only the beginning. But when we start moving up the ladder of spiritual evolution, our factor levels get a gradual relaxation.
DFW. I think this is too much for me today. Why not we continue tomorrow?
DDW and TD: OK.
DFW: Do you mean then that what is dominant is different at different times of the life of an individual?
DDW: If I heard TD right, I thought he said: *in the psychology of the person concerned*
TD: Yes, when we start moving up the spiritual ladder our mental make-up changes.
DDW: Yes, we gradually begin to understand how when a jnAni is acting, actually he is not doing any action because he has no identification with his body, mind and intellect. But such understanding also generates new confusions in one’s mind. The Gita verse which specifically refers to this ‘inaction in action’ also in the same breath refers to ‘action in inaction’. While not acting how can one do action?
DFW: When the train moves, the landscape moves in the opposite direction. The child thinks that it is the landscape that is moving and the train is stationary. Even we adults get this mistaken feeling when two trains are in adjacent platforms ready to move in opposite directions. Suddenly we feel that the other train has already moved, but on examination of the changing landscape between the two trains we understand that it is our train that has started moving and not the other train. This is the understanding of action in apparent inaction. To attribute non-action to the Self which stands still as it were is only to comprehend it relatively. It is the Self which permeates everyhere, it is the substratum of everything and it is the prime mover par excellence. The Self is therefore the chief agent of action, as it were, though it appears to be only a silent witness. Thus the wise man sees action in non-action.
DDW: Hey, DFW, Are you not advocating my cause that it is all God’s will that is taking place?
DFW: Well, TD has said just now that our moods change. Maybe my mood has changed! But shall we get back to the earlier trend of the conversation? TD, you said that as we move up the ladder of spiritual perfection, our factor levels change. Can you continue that thought a little further?
TD: As we move up the ladder of spiritual understanding, for some of us the first shock arises when we begin to realise that, in addition to the limitations of parentage, sex and environment, there are other limitations also. Very often we blame it on our ill-luck if, after all our efforts, we don’t achieve what we want to achieve. Slowly it dawns on us that what and how we will, there is something else that wills it otherwise. If we can find a scapegoat of an earthly person or cause we blame it on them. But when we don’t find such a cause, we are at a dead end for explanations. And then it is that the concept of prArabdha karma seems to make sense. And we realise that prArabdha could also be another name for ill-luck. Why ill luck? Even for good luck also, on which we put so much faith, prArabdha could be the other name!
DFW: But when we reach, as you say, a stage where we look upward for the hand of God to help us out of our problems, do we really believe that God can change things for us?
DDW: What else does it mean to look upward for the hand of God?
TD: I think DFW is asking *Shall we trust God totally? Or shall we take it that He gives just a hand?*
DDW: That is a dilemma that I have never got through.
TD: I think almost all of us go through this dilemma most of our lives vacillating between extremes. The intensity of this vacillation depends on our mood and environment. It is also a function of the company we keep and the amount of pressure from our peers.
DDW: Oh yes. It also depends on what somebody just said to me and walked away. You allow this DFW to be talking to you continuously, your mood will change.
DFW: Hey, DDW, it is the same thing with me when you keep reeling off your quotes from authoirities and scriptures!
TD: Well, it is nobody’s fault. It is in our nature. The company we keep, our kith and kin as well as the attachment we have to all of them influence largely the opinions we have and only magnifies the dilemma about whether to believe in God totally or not.
DFW: In fact, I have a fundamental question in that connection. If you believe in a supernatural interventionist God who comes to your help when you pray to Him, how do you explain the umpteen situations when He does not intervene?
DDW: Oh Boy! That is a deep question. May be we should sit back and think about it.
TD: I suggest we break now and continue tomorrow.
TD: We had just raised the question why the supernatural interventionist God does not always intervene – even in such tragedies like the Tsunami.
DFW. You said it right. Why did He not intervene and stop the tragedy? If He exists but cannot remove our suffering then He is not God. If He exists and would not remove our suffering then He is not kind. If He exists and should not remove our suffering then He is not the boss. If He exists and suffering also has to exist then He is not the only Truth.
DDW. You seem to have analysed it thoroughly!
TD: All these are only rhetorical statements which do not take into account the fact that a God, if He is really God, should not be judged from our human norms of right and wrong, justice and injustice.
DFW. You are only inventing an answer so that you can escape answering the question.
DDW. I feel that these questions themselves have been invented to throw God out.
TD: My answer has a simple reason. No human being has either the database or the holistic view that Divinity must surely have of the universe and its contents.
DFW: I don’t understand you.
DDW: TD says God has an ultimate purpose for everything and we may not know it.
TD: But His purpose could not be removal of human poverty or illness.
DDW: Why not?
DFW: Because if that were so , He should have done it long ago. He did not have to wait for two or three millenia to remove illness and poverty from the world. At least it is clear He has not done it yet.
TD: I think we are going at a tangent. We wanted to understand why it is that we cannot understand that He is not removing our suffering even though by definition of God as Almighty God, He should have been able to do it. And DDW said that God perhaps has a purpose for everything. Shall I tell you a real story why I feel DDW might be right?
DDW and DFW together: Go ahead.
TD. Well it is a long story. But let me be as brief as possible. Two American youngsters living 100 miles south of New York plan to spend a Saturday afternoon in a public park near New York along with some of their friends (living north of New York) who promise to join them at a certain specified time right at the entrance to the park. The plan is made, almost to the minute. But the two, on their way to New York meet, first with a tire burst, then halfway up with a hold-up by no less than the sheriff of the area for speeding – both these incidents taking off two hours from their schedule. And then, after the hold-up, when they start the car, the engine refuses to ignite and this causes a further delay of another two hours because the cause is traced to be battery failure. But since they are only 25 miles from the park they decide to give it a try even after the delay, even though they are sure their friends would have given them up by this time. But soon after, they have to negotiate a long diversion of the route in view of a nasty accident on the highway ahead of them; and this diversion delays them as much as another hour, because they lose their way! Thus there have been five coincidences all working against them and when they finally reach the park it is late evening and in fact the park is closing its gates. Still they enter and look for their friends. The park is deserted since everybody has gone. They are about to curse their fate and return to their car when they hear cries for help from a lake in the park. Rushing there they see two boys almost drowning. They jump in and being first-aid-certificate holders themselves they are able to save the two little boys of ten and twelve from certain drowning and death. They think of the sequence of events that happened to them during the whole trip. A few minutes earlier they had thought that their journey was nothing but futile, their day had been spent in vain, but now it became clear that it was not so; because if they had not arrived at this late hour near that lake, those two boys would have died by drowning! This is a true story. The Almighty has a purpose for everything!
DFW: That is interesting certainly. But we have strayed far from our original quest of deciding between Free will and Divine Will.
DDW: But we have to settle this question of God’s non-intervention. When there is a natural calamity like the Tsunami, we have only to take it that God does not want, by His own Free Will, to interfere with Nature and its workings – though all of it is His own creation.
DFW: Wait a minute. You just said that God has Free Will. Free Will implies multiple options and a freedom to exercise choice. Does He have several options? Why does He choose one of them?
DDW : Because He has a purpose for everything as I already told you.
DFW: Purpose is always for achieving something. Does God want to achieve something? But I have heard it said that God has nothing to obtain which He has not already obtained.
TD: His purpose could only be to bring back every erring human being to His fold.
DDW: But then you are implicitly agreeing to the contention that human beings have the freedom of will to err.
TD. Certainly, that is what I have been saying from the beginning. God gives you the commandment of ‘satyam vada’ and ‘dharmam chara’ and also gives you the free will to disobey them. But He also keeps on telling you to have the willingness to obey them.
DDW: Is not even this Free Will subject to the influence of the Divine?
TD: You have touched a deeper chord. Let us take it next time.
DDW: We were raising the doubt whether the Free Will that is enjoined to obey God’s injunctions through the vedas, is itself under the influence of the Divine Will.
DFW: I was thinking of this problem last night and I have a fundamental doubt before you all proceed further in this discussion. The philosophy of advaita that we all adhere to claims that there is only one absolute brahman and everything else is only an appearance that comes and goes. If that is so, where is the question of a divine will? Does brahman, the attributeless, have a will for Itself?
DDW: Hey! Where do you get all these questions? They cut the ground under my feet!
TD: But it is a legitimate question. I suggest we take it up first.
DFW: I feel if you grant that the attributeless brahman is the only Absolute Truth, then there can be no divine will. If you want to have divine will as an entity, then advaita is contradicted.
DDW. But if you grant free will absolutely, then that means there are choices to choose from. All this means duality and multiplicity, which is against advaita.
TD: May I correct your qualification 'absolutely'? Even if there is one instance of free will, that is enough to imply duality.
DFW: If there is only one Consciousness everywhere and all the time, where is the question of free will? Free will of whom? Free from what?
TD: The problem arises because we are making the standard mistake of mixing up two different levels of our awareness. If we want to stay at the level of the Absolute brahman, then there is nothing else to talk about. Only Silence. Remember Dakshinamurti concept. But the moment we think of God or Ishvara, we have descended to the level of the mAyic world and in this vyAvahArika world, there is God, -- who is now nothing but Saguna brahman, i.e., brahman on whom we have superposed several attributes -- there are creations, there can be talk of free will, divine will etc.
DDW: I see. It is really a subtle point.
TD. This subtlety is usually missed in arguments. Now let us come back to the question of whether free will itself is under the influence of the divine will.
DFW: In fact that is exactly where I have another question. I would like here to come down to the ordinary concept of bhakti or devotion rather than the abstract injunctions of ‘satyam vada’ and ‘dharmam chara’. Now all religion says “Be devoted to God. Pray to Him”. This is bhakti. If God, your saguna brahman, is the Almighty that He is supposed to be, why not He Himself grant me, by a wave of His magic, that bhakti which I find it difficult to cultivate by my free will?
DDW: Good question! I appreciate you, DFW, for the way you articulate your questions. But God does grant you that bhakti. Only you have to receive it. The rain may pour, but if a vessel is upside down no water will collect in it.
TD: Well said. Our minds are free. So by our own free will we have to decide to receive what God gives us. By our own volition we must decide to trust in God and surrender to Him.
DDW: If by supplanting our will, God has to give us what we need, then there need be no creation, no existence of the universe.
TD: That is the mystery of God’s leelA, sport or play of creation. Creation is where God allows beings to have the feeling of separateness from Him and then waits and waits until the beings that have emerged from Him come back to Him. If they don’t want to come back to Him, He allows them to go their own way and take their own time to discover that that is the Want which will rid them of all other wants.
DDW: This is what Sathya Sai Baba calls ‘The agony of God’ in this great cycle of creation. His anguish is that beings do not want to get out of this cycle. So sometimes He gives them all the petty things they want, so that in due time they would want what He wants to give them.
TD: As Sri Ramakrishna said: ‘Breeze of Grace is always blowing, but you have to set your sail to catch that breeze’. In other words He allows us to go our ways and learn by our own experience and come to Him by our own volition.
DFW: Then is this experience ours or is it given by Him?
TD: He does not give us these experiences. Because, we have already programmed it for ourselves by our own past actions.
DDW: The one thing He assures us however, is that once we take even a minor step towards Him He comes forth with both hands to receive us, as would a mother in welcoming a lost child. As Sathya Sai Baba would say: ‘You take one step towards Me; I will take ten steps towards you’!
DFW: Then let us come back to the question of whether Free Will itself is under the influence of Divine Will or not.
TD: I am happy you are recognising the existence of Divine Will to that extent. When we say that everything happens according to the Will of God, are we specifically referring to Nature and Nature’s doings?
DFW: When an event happens to a human being and this is referred to as God’s Will, is this not just another way of saying that it is one’s past karma that has brought about this event?
DDW: But the average psychology is different. When a bad thing happens to somebody we rush to say it is God’s Will. When a good thing happens to us we would rather ascribe it to our own effort.
TD: That is where the teaching of religion is important. Either learn to accept both as God’s Will, or in the alternative, learn to take responsibility for both. Don’t blame only unpleasant things on God.
DFW. That is why I say, we should take responsibility for every one of our actions. It is all our free will.
DDW: You are going back to your old refrain.
TD: We shall now have to go to the next level of spiritual evolution. That, I think, will make matters clearer.
DDW. That means we are breaking now.
DDW: We were discussing the question of DFW whether Free will itself could be under the influence of Divine Will.
TD: Well, it is quite clear here from your own example. This discussion on Divine Will and Free Will is taking place because you raised a question first and started the discussion. You are therefore the ‘nimitta kAraNa’ for this action that is taking place now. But this event of a discussion is itself God’s Will.
DFW. If you go in this strain then every action of everybody becomes an act of God!
DDW. No. Each action of ours is not merely a product of the action or thought that precedes it but it is also the product of a state of moral character , which is what TD calls our individualised prakRti. This prakRti has been brought by us as a chip of imprints from all our previous lives.
DFW: So is it then not God’s action?
DDW But it is He who is the distributor of results of past deeds and thoughts.
TD: Wait. The concept of free will changes (subjectively) as one evolves philosophically. The common man’s understanding that the Almighty intervenes either by way of Grace or otherwise is rather elementary. The real work of the Almighty is deeper. Not a leaf moves without His knowledge or sanction, not a drop flows down by itself. Gravity is His Will. Action and Reaction are His Will.
DFW: Is Divine Will absolute then? Is that what is called Fate? Then why all this talk about Free Will?
DDW: Let us not confuse between Fate and Divine Will. I think they are different.
TD: Yes, first let us dispose of Fate. Then we can discuss Free Will and Divine Will more understandably. Fate and Free will are interwoven just as the threads of a fabric are crossed and interlaced. We cannot rewrite our past or fly like a bird or breathe under water. These are our limitations, inherent in our nature, our fate. Our past is our fate for the future. But it is only our tendencies that are determined by our past (and the so-called fate). Our actions are not determined by our fate. Actions are ours.
DFW: Then why does DDW say that everything is Divine Will?
DDW: Just now we decided to dispose of the concept of Fate before we make the final lap of discussion between divine will and free will. Don’t bring in divine will now. TD is doing alright; please allow him to go his own way.
TD: Only actions are ours. Fate has nothing to do it. Fate, that is, our prArabdha, might have created the circumstances that led to our action, but the action is ours. Fate might have contributed by shaping our tendencies, which led to our action, but the action is still ours. It is our mind that dictates our action. All spiritual teaching pleads for the Will of Man to become stronger than the mind. Everywhere in the upanishads the appeal is to the will . It is not as if man is a helpless creature as a leaf in the storm or a feather in the wind. Man’s will has an element of complete freedom. It is the power which enables him to act in directions opposite even to his spontaneous bad tendency (dur-vAsanA). In this sense he is the architect of his fate. Indeed this is the time when he should not slacken any of his self-effort. Ultimately man’s will must prove stronger than fate, because it is his own past will that created his present fate.
DFW: Wonderful. I have heard Swami Chinmayananda say something like this. I cannot take shelter under ‘Fate’ and refuse to act in a morally elevating manner. I cannot argue, for instance, that ‘I will not go to the help of a suffering man, because it is his karma that makes him suffer; let him suffer!’. Maybe the other person suffers because of his karma but my action or karma of not going to his help is my own decision, out of my own free will.
DDW: And that will be a debit entry in your kArmic accounting, for which you have only yourself to blame.
TD: In fact this cover for inaction will start a chain reaction of vAsanAs in your future conduct and will gradually consume you in its own way. I was saying therefore, that it is by our own will that we must face our fate, that is prArabdha. Of course we cannot rewrite our past. We may not be able to repair our wrong actions, but we can learn lessons from them and act accordingly, by a determined free will, in the future.
DFW: Maybe we can try to avoid repeating them.
TD: Fate is only our prArabdha karma which nobody can escape. It seems even divine intervention cannot change it. Many of our stotras which promise eradication of all sin as the result of recitation of that stotra, are careful to imply only the destruction of sanchita karma and not prArabdha karma. Sometimes it says this explicitly as in “sanchita-pApa vinAshaka lingam” in LingAshhTakaM. PrArabdha karma has to be exhausted only by experiencing it.
DDW: But it is our attitude to the experience that changes according to our trust in God.
TD: That is where our level of spiritual evolution enters the picture. A trust in God and his omnipotence does not mean that we ‘believe’ in Fate. It is wrong to think so. It is the first step for the correct understanding of Hindu philosophy and spirituality.
DFW : Does not the omnipotence of God mean that unless He wills it we cannot become spiritual?
TD: You are raising the right question at the right time. Your question brings home to us another point that is mentioned in our smritis. You know there are four goals of life. These are called ‘purushArthas’ in Sanskrit. They are dharma, artha, kAma and mokSha. – meaning broadly, Duty of Righteousness, material prosperity, satisfaction of sensual desires and release from the samsAra bondage. Of these, the smritis would say, only artha and kAma are obtained as per one’s prArabdha karma. The other two, dharma and mokSha are obtained only by self-effort. That is why ‘satyam vada’ and ‘dharmam chara’ are specific injunctions to us. Self effort is the most essential ingredient for lifting ourselves upward in the ladder of spiritual evolution.
DDW: If the upward path to higher levels of spirituality has to be chalked out only by our effort then where comes the question of divine will? You are confusing me now.
TD: We have to go slow now. Maybe we should break here and continue next time.
TD: We all have to start our lives with the hypothesis of absolute free will. It is the sheet-anchor on which we base all our actions. But as we move forward along the journey of life, we learn lessons from the world and we become wiser to the ways of the world as also to the ways of the Lord.
DFW: Are you saying that our world experience takes us away from belief in free will? I feel it is the contrary. For it is by persistent and continuous self-effort great achievers have achieved what they are known to have achieved.
TD: I don’t deny that. By the same persistent and continuous self-effort one learns that unless we bid farewell to a self-centred life we cannot rise spiritually. So the path to higher levels of spirituality needs a strong free will to strengthen the inner life rather than the outer life. That is why the smritis say the goals dharma and mokSha are sought only by self-effort.
DDW: The common man thinks Faith in God is superstition. Superstition is what holds you when you think negatively. But Faith is some kind of intuition which makes you, through your own free will, reach out and contact the most positive thing in the universe, namely, the Supreme Almighty.
TD: Wonderfully said, DDW. It is that spark of Faith which we have to keep fanning until with the blessing of a Guru it blows up into a Fire of Wisdom (jnAnAgni). That way one develops a God-centred nature.
DFW: Earlier you said that it is world-experience that gradually takes us into the belief in a divine will. Where does that stand in the light of this necessity to fan the so-called Faith?
TD: If we carefully analyse the world-experience of ourselves as well as of others, slowly it would appear that, try what we may, certain happenings which seemed to be totally in our control have slipped away from us and we feel that an invincible but invisible forceis pulling us. This inevitability of events strikes us in the face.
DFW: But as we grow older I think we move from the childhood beliefs of naivete, myth and superstition to the adult days of self-effort and freedom of free will.
TD: You have to move farther to learn the lessons of philosophy. All along we have been thinking that prArabdha karma starts our life with its own prescriptions of initial conditions and limitations on our mind, intellect and environment and that all the rest is our free will. All along we have believed that it is our prakRti which is the result of our prArabdha karma, that does everything and is the cause of all action. But this theory is too mechanical to be ultimate. Even though Lord Krishna says this in the third chapter, later he modifies it. PrakRti is inert and to say that it is the doer and enjoyer is to accept the sentient self to be in the control of the insentient prakRti.
DDW: I see you are referring to the theory of purushha and prakRti in the thirteenth chapter of the Gita.
TD: Yes, we have to bring in the sentient Purushha now. In the innermost recesses of man there is a Consciousness which is Purushha rather than PrakRti. PrakRti is only the force of the Purushha. It is this Purushha that makes the PrakRti work through the lower self.
DDW: The free will that we have been holding on to is not any more free. Our will, though powerful as we thought, has only a limited power.
DFW: Will aims at the end; but Power is the means to attain that end.
DDW: Will without power is helpless to provide the means to attain the end. Power without will is purposeless because it has no end in view.
TD: There cannot be any Power without Consciousness. And there cannot be Consciousness without Power. The will-power we thought was ours comes really from the consciousness within. And that Consciousness is the Purushha.
DDW: The Gita makes a very impassioned appeal for us to surrender to the Purushha within. After showing His cosmic form to Arjuna, Krishna declares: I have already conquered and vanquished all your enemies; be only an instrument of my action. Go and fight.
DFW: You already quoted this in Sanskrit on the first day of our conversation and I said that is what always confuses me.
TD: But now we can understand it. The plea of the Gita is for us to be the instrument of the Will of God, that is, this Purushha. We have to be like the needle in a gramaphone which only traces the channels already chalked out for it by the designer of the record.
DDW: In other words, we only walk over the path already dictated by God for us.
TD: Listen to Him for His voice. Throw the responsibility on Him. Abandon all your dharmas, meaning, abandon the doership attitude of all actions. You are not the doer. He is the doer. This is the greatest renunciation, greatest surrender.
DFW: But still we have not found an answer to the fundamental question I raised earlier. I can now rephrase that question in the light of the theory that the Purushha within is what makes the PrakRti the doer. In that case, then, the same Purushha should be held responsible for all my bad thoughts and actions. Originally I asked whether God is the one who should take responsibility. Now we have come to the conclusion it is the Purushha. But the Purushha is the same as the cosmic Almighty, if I understand advaita right. So then, that brings us back to square one!
TD: Your logic is certainly reasonable. But you are missing one more bit of information from the fifteenth chapter of the Gita. Maybe we should take it up when we meet afresh.
DFW: What is it that I am missing from the fifteenth chapter of the Gita?
TD: It is the fact that there are two purushhas instead of one.
DFW: Both sentient?
TD: Yes, both sentient. By themselves mind and intellect are not sentient. The spark of the Infinite Consciousness that resides in us as the sentient Purushha is the source of this sentience. This spark is the JIva But the JIva cannot express itself in any manner except through the BMI. When it so expresses itself, an identification takes place between jIva on the one side and the BMI on the other side. This identification results in a conscious personality which is what goes by the ordinary name of ‘I’. This is one purushha. It is the perishable purushha (kshara-purushha). If on the other hand jIva disassociates itself from the BMI and remains as the spark of Consciousness that it really is, then it is the imperishable purshha within. It is known as the akshara-purushha. Thus there are two purushhas.
DFW. So who is responsible for my actions, good or bad? Who is the doer?
TD: It is only the perishable purushha. The other one is imperishable, unattached, unaffected, unpolluted, and immutable. It is the real ‘I’. The perishable purushha is the false ‘I’ or the lower self. The real ‘I’ is the higher Self.
DDW: Shall we say then that the real doer of actions is this perishable purushha?
TD: In a sense, yes. Not only he is the doer but suffers the result of his doings. He it is that goes from body to body and suffers all the fruits of actions.
DFW: Then what does the other purushha (the imperishable) do?
TD: He is untouched by anything. All our Upanishads as well as all the great teachers of advaita from Shankara downwards tell us to identify ourselves with the divine within and thus be unaffected by the ups and downs that the kshara purushha goes through.
DFW: I still don’t understand it. What exactly do you mean by ‘identification’. Is it just a posture? How does it translate into action? The discussion has now taken such a turn that we have forgotten why we started the discussion. Where have the Free Will and Divine Will gone now?
DDW: We have not strayed. We are still trying to understand Divine Will. Because it is the purushha within, whose presence in us makes us will, act and feel through our BMI, it is common in Vedanta to say that the outer self has no control and it is the inner self that is the motor behind it.
TD: One of you mentioned earlier the concept of ‘action in inaction’. This is it. The inner Self does nothing but in its presence everything happens. But for its presence nothing would happen.
DDW: This concept of the inner self as the power behind all our actions gets translated for general understanding to say it is all divine will. Common folk understand by this statement that God is sitting there in his throne and dispensing all decisions and actions! The bottomline lesson is that we have to be in harmony with that ‘divine will’ in order to live and die in peace. The identification means that you should be constantly aware that you (the real You) are neither the doer of actions nor the experiencer of the consequences. ‘na ahaM kartA, na aham bhoktA’. Your mind thinks, your hands and feet act; but You are only a witness to all of these.
DFW: I feel this identification business is tricky. I think there is some blurring here.
TD: Let me try to explain. Whenever we act, we think we are the doer of the action. Actually we are thinking of the false ‘I’ here. The 18th chapter of the Gita elaborates four others that have a part in the action. One is called ‘adhiShTAnaM’, the support or base of all action. In other words it is the conglomerate of natural forces that constitute the field of action.
DDW: The next is the toality of the different senses which form the instrument of action. The third is the set of circumstances or the context. The fourth is variously called Fate or Divine Element; actually it is the set of vAsanAs as we know, that have inspired the action.
TD: Thus the false ‘I’ together with these four accessories become the agents of action..
DFW: The difference between this false ‘I’ and the real ‘I’ is only in the attitude. Right?
TD: But the attitude or bhAvanA is everything. This is the crux of the entire philosophy of advaita. The doer or kartA is the individual mental attitude which unifies itself with the external things like body, senses and the mind to the extent that it thinks they are itself. This process of attitudinal unification is what is called identification.
DDW: On the other hand, the real ‘I’, the deeper Self, stands aloof as Witness, sAkShI.
TD: If now our mental attitude is perfectly tuned to identify itself with the sAkShI behind, then the five participants to the action are outside us. We can then clearly say “na ahaM kartA, na ahaM bhoktA” (I am not the doer or the experiencer).
DDW: But all the four agents of action belong to PrakRti or its effects and the fifth namely the kshara purushha, is also an effect of the mAyic spell over us. So it is also right to say that PrakRti is the doer.
DFW: But yesterday or so we concluded that PrakRti, being insentient, cannot be the doer and it is He, the inner self, that is the doer.
TD: It is now clear, after the analysis in the 18th chapter, in what sense we are saying that PrakRti is the doer. It is the false inner self along with the four other agents of action that is the doer. Thus PrakRti together with the sentience of the false self becomes the doer.
DFW: It is all pretty complicated.
DDW: That is why, to the common folk, we simply say, that the spirit within us, which is divine, is the doer. And they further simplify it by saying that it is all divine will. ...
TD: ... which is right after all, since it is the spark of Consciousness that sparks the mAyA that causes our false self to say what it says.
DDW : I feel greatly relieved now. I feel I understand it all.
DFW. Do you, really? Then can you answer the question: Does the ‘divine’ have free will?
DDW: I know you are trying to trap me. To say it does not have free will is absurd because we ourselves have free will in some measure. To say the divine has free will also leads to absurd supplementaries.
DFW: Like what?
DDW: Like what you yourself pointed out earlier. Free will implies options to choose from. Does the divine choose from several options? Why does it choose one of them? In that case is the divine so ignorant of the future to have to choose from its options? What governs its choice? Nature or PrakRti? Is the divine a slave to Nature? It cannot be. What desire makes the divine choose? If the divine is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, why does He have to have options, choices, freedom to choose or not to choose? Why? Why? Does it not all add up to saying that the divine is a bundle of contradictions?
TD: Wonderful. The divine Godhead in Hinduism is difficult to conceive of because it simultaneously possesses ‘contradictory’ qualities. There is no parallel in this finite world of ours. The divine has no desire, yet He has will! He chooses and chooses not! He intervenes and He also never intervenes, only watches! He has options but each option is His own Will! He knows the future, yet He chooses to act! The future is what He makes of the present. Nature or PrakRti is His slave, yet He allows Nature to take its course. He is Personal, but not personal in the ‘worldly’ sense, because He is all-knowing. He is perfect, not in the sense of free from limitations, because limitations don’t exist outside of His will! Yes, He is a bundle of contradictions, if you yourself don’t have Faith in your Self!
DDW: Therefore the plea for us is only this: Be the instrument of the Will of this Self and nothing more.
TD: The so-called free will itself is in the ultimate sense an expression of Grace as MA AnandamayI would say. If one makes the right spiritual effort Divine Power would be with him. Thereafter whatever he does would be nothing but expressions of the divine will. This identification with the divine will and to work in the world simply as an instrument of His will, form the crux of the theory of Surrender to God.
DDW: But we should beware. Such injunctions like ‘Be the instrument of God’s Will’ and associated ideas about the not-so-free free will are only for those who are already a few steps up in the spiritual ladder.
DFW: How does one know that one is up in the ladder?
TD: Ask yourself, whether these injunctions make sense to you. If they do, then you are ready to rise further. If they do not, then your will is still free!