Now that I don’t know who I am I’m also mighty confused about the free will.
It has always been confusing to me no matter what identity I was wearing.
When I was young I thought I could choose my own future and built it just the way I wanted. Didn’t take me long to realize the world doesn’t work that way at all, maybe ten years of trying or so and I was extremely skeptical about the existence of choice.
When I was a brahmachari I believed I had the will to get up for mangala arati or push myself out on the streets. All I needed was to wish for it really really hard and Krishna would arrange everything.
This was the prevailing attitude in those days. Everything senior devotees would say was bound to happen, what to speak of gurus and sannyasis.
It took me a little less time to realize that’s not how the world works either.
I was still convinced that I had the will to do anything, it just had to be strong enough. Basically that’s what Krishna explained in the Bhagavat Gita, He fulfills our desires, but where the initial will is coming from? Whose desires are those?
On one hand we have a standard answer – the only choice for us is to be with Krishna or not, everything else is out of our hands. I totally agree, btw, for now.
On the other hand we have things like astrology that struggle to reconcile our free will with predictability of our lives. They also offer remedies and corrections so that we can manipulate our destiny. I’m totally lost there.
As far as I know astrology, we can’t change anything. Our entire lives have been cast from the moment of our birth. With a bit of an insight you can predict the exact date of death, the number of children, wives, lovers, and, more importantly, one’s ability to believe in these predictions, too.
Where do the corrections and remedies fit in all this? Is it just a marketing talk to get people pay for them? Astrology wouldn’t enjoy the same popularity if it offered only the finality without any hope.
Even if the remedies do exist, wouldn’t their existence or availability depend on the destiny itself? A million things outside your control must converge together so that a person suddenly starts chanting mantras or buys an expensive prescription gemstone. You need extensive and favorable background knowledge, you need mining companies and the entire gemstone industry, you need a suitable astrologer who just has the stone for you, you need money, you need friends to give you a push and so on.
An honest astrologer should be able to predict the entire transaction and its subsequent effects years before it takes place. It would take a lot of knowledge and a lot of insight but, technicalities aside, it’s no different from predicting a birth of a child or a failed marriage.
With an attitude like this I consider myself a determinist, though I don’t go around and declare myself as such in public.
As far as this universe goes, there’s no free will. Making a choice between Coke or Pepsi is not a free will at all, the choice is dependent on the lot of things, like the third installment in Superbrands series on BBC. It changed my perception of Coke and will influence my choices from now on.
Anyway, so the universe is deterministic, but what about devotees? Krishna promises to take care of them, Krishna has the ability to break the laws of nature, He can alter the course of one’s life forever and no one would ever notice, it won’t be a sloppy hack job like in time machine movies where people are tripping on the loose ends everywhere.
Maybe He does that, I wouldn’t know. It’s nice to believe in that but, on one hand, it would make absolutely no changes to determinism theory because everything would still look logical and predictable after the intervention, on the other hand we should consider the reason for Krishna’s intervention, too.
Is it because I want mango lassi and I have been chanting? Is Krishna going to fix the mangoes for my material enjoyment? I seriously doubt it.
Sometimes I think that giving me mangoes would increase my devotion because I could offer them and honor the prasadam, assuming that it would be a more persuasive argument. Well, Krishna is not going to be fooled by this.
Seriously, though, if I admit that some of my requests for service are at least mixed with material desires, what stops me from extrapolating that ALL my requests are just the same.
But what does “mixed” mean? If all our freedom is to choose between Krishna and material world, everything is black and white, there’s no place for “mixed”. What exactly are we choosing here?
How am I to choose between Krishna and maya? I don’t see any difference. I’m offering mangoes because I want them, the process works, I get purified, gradually, but I don’t know where offering to Krishna ends and anticipation of my own enjoyment begins.
“Gradually purified” means there’s a mix, mix does not mean a clear choice.
If I consider the whole offering process from start to beginning I don’t see any space that could be filled by free will. I want mangoes because of my previous experience, I can choose mangoes only from a limited choice of fruit on offer, I remind myself to offer mangoes to Krishna because I’ve been taught this way. Sometimes I might consider not offering them, because I’ve heard even Prabhupada occasionally ate fruit in the hotels. So it’s a battle between my upbringing that has arguments for both choices, and my hunger. Where is free will in that?
Imagine how much preparations have to be put in place to organize, say, Ratha Yatra festival. How would you even know you can do such a thing? It didn’t just popped in inside your head, you might even carry the concept from the previous life. Where’s free will?
Or what about numerous statements that one who has heard the Holy Name even once achieves liberation? We know that most people don’t achieve liberation at once but eventually. I suppose I’m in the beginning of this “eventually” stage myself. Everything I do, everything that is happening to me can be easily traced to the moment I heard someone telling me about Krishna, possibly many lifetimes ago.
I don’t think I have exercised my free will ever since. I’m just guided through a series of Krishna’s arrangements to gradually purify my heart and make me eligible to see my true nature. When I see myself as a spirit soul and I see both the material and spiritual worlds, then I can start talking about exercising my free will. I don’t think I’ll be concerned with these logical arguments, though.
Maybe the choice will be – serve Krishna, don’t serve Krishna, not go here or go there.
So my current conclusion is that it’s Krishna who is doing everything I normally consider my service, which is fine, what I don’t know is how I can help. I know how I can help if I identify myself with my body but that’s not me, not my decisions, not my choices, not even my head where all these choices are made.
Maybe I shouldn’t concern myself so much, the fact is that identifying with my body and engaging in service works, what more do I want at this point? And even liberated souls should continue chanting, so what’s the question?
The existence and the exact nature of free will is just a red herring, it is irrelevant to what I have to do now and it will be irrelevant for a long, long time to come.
Once we’ve heard the name Krishna, especially from vaishnavas, there’s no turning back, there will be ups and downs and we’ll make plenty of stupid choices along the way but we all somehow or other end up at His lotus feet, it’s only a question of time.