A week or so ago I heard a lecture by one of our most respectable devotees and during the Q&A part he gave an answer that deserves careful consideration. Normally I’d disagree with it but it would be inappropriate to express such disagreement publicly and so I won’t give a name and instead try to reconcile his position with what I have learned myself.
It was an answer to a specific question from a specific individual, not a comprehensive, encyclopedia level statement. Hypothetically, if I were to present counter-arguments the answer could have been modified, we’ll never know, and this is what I’m going to speculate about today.
It’s that bothersome free will. Again.
I don’t remember the question exactly, it was something about Krishna knowing everything – past, present, and future, and our free will and independence.
The answer went like this: “Yes, Krishna knows everything but it means that if you want to worship demigods He knows what will happen to you. If you want to return to Him, He knows when and how you will reach Him. If you want to live your life in sin, He knows where you will be sent after death, too. Decisions are yours, they are independent, but Krishna knows what happens next, and it’s not magic – He simply knows the laws of universe.”
Does it mean we have some sort of free will here?
Let’s look at fundamentals first – “free” in free will means we make our own decisions and “will” means the universe follows our desires – we have the power to affect change. It doesn’t really matter who the actual agent of change is – Supersoul or our own powers, as long as the world bends to our will we can proudly talk about possessing this elusive “free will”.
Now let’s look how the answer above fits into this scheme. We obviously possess some degree of independence. I was told that it’s really minute – we can decide to surrender to the Lord or enjoy the illusion. Here, however, we’re apparently given independence to decide where our next life will be. We are free to choose whether to worship demigods, demons, or Krishna.
I find it hard to accept – we might want to worship demigods but how are you going to put it into practice if you were born in a Christian country where there are only churches and Jesus? In the US, for example, observers have noticed a serious lack of social mobility for some condemned sectors of society. They can’t even change their school district, what to speak of starting a demigod worship, a real move upwards from the dump you might have been born in. And in Muslim countries they’d throw you in jail for this idolatry.
It’s not as easy as just making a decision and then things magically happening. It looks like it might take you several lifetimes to be put in a position where you can really serve your preferred devata, probably in the next maha-yuga, too, or in a different universe. All along the way you’ll be seeing other attractions and might modify your original desire or even forget it altogether and go into yoga, or maybe find a way to worship top-notch asuras instead.
Looking at the circumstances of your birth and you association one can predict your aspirations with great accuracy, you don’t even need to be Krishna for that.
But let’s say there’s some independence involved – this would explain our discrete births in discrete bodies. Within one lifetime we transform from one bodily shape to another in an analog kind of way – like photos on film or music on vinyl. Birth and death, however, are like their digital equivalents – a series of separate, discrete data points, like pixels in a digital picture or bars making a sound wave in an mp3 file.
So here’s an idea – what if our bodies indeed follow the well determined trajectory and so if, by nature, your lifestyle will lead you to a birth as a pig then that’s what the next body after your body will follow, but as a soul you might get separated and inserted somewhere else, fulfilling some other body’s destiny that you, personally, didn’t make, didn’t live through, and didn’t determine.
What if we use this analogy – as a soul you are a spectator in a movie theater and let’s say it’s a “Star Wars” marathon there. After watching Episode IV there will be Episode V, but then, between showings, you changed your mind and went to the next theater where they are showing Batman. Star Wars have their storyline that follows form one movie to the next, and so does Batman, and that’s how we are supposed to get our new bodies, too, but if you suddenly change your mind and think of a different movie at the moment of death then Krishna will place you in a different theater or in different living conditions – that’s why our incarnations are so discrete – we have a chance to make major changes in our experience of the material world.
It’s an interesting idea but it has its own weaknesses. What happens to our karma, for example – if we go to a Batman movie and he gets a beating there – did we deserve this suffering? Batman did, but we weren’t there when he planted seeds of his future karma. Is it fair to us?
Actually, this is how we perceive our fate here – most of it doesn’t seem to have reasons that we can remember, as if we just came in from a different show.
Another weakness – how do we even know that there’s a Batman movie next door? In order to make this choice we must have information available to us that is not part of our present experience. Even if we heard of demigods we have no idea what exactly we are looking for there – executive powers of Indra or superior enjoyment of Indra’s children and associates.
The only way we might get extraneous information is if Krishna inserts Himself and tells us Bhagavad Gita while we are watching some historical war drama about ancient Indians. He won’t be telling us about Batman, though, He’d tell us to get out of the movies and get a real life instead.
Only He can make such an unscheduled appearance. And also there could be some subversive elements distributing literature about that “real life” while the theater attendants are not watching. That’s sankirtana for you.
Anyway, I was hoping this round of speculations would have come to some sort of conclusion but it didn’t happen. The “free will” model proposed by that devotee doesn’t really make sense, so I’ll leave it at that.