Free will is one of those regular topics that comes round and round, never seems to be enough. Do we have any? Is it all just an illusion? What does śāstra say? What does it mean when śāstra says this or that? What did Kṛṣṇa say? What did our ācāryas say? What did they mean? In what context?
I know my position on this – there’s no free will, it’s an illusion, we have absolutely no influence over anything happening in this world. We are only free to surrender to the Lord and that’s the extent of it. His energies carry out the rest. Up in the spiritual world it might be different but down here we, as spirit souls, can’t express ourselves in any other way.
I’m also aware that our ācāryas always leave us some room for our own decisions, their orders are not cast in stone, for example, we can act on them or we can ignore them, it’s supposed to teach s the value of following guru. The free will appears to be there but I still think it’s just an illusion because all of that is still carried out by Lord’s energies – we don’t see neither ourselves nor our ācāryas nor our guru as spirit souls, we only see interactions of material elements that appear as saintly persons.
This can be discussed forever but today that’s not what interests, me. Turns out free will has been questioned by materialists themselves.
So far they don’t question the concept itself having no proper background knowledge about existence of spirit. I guess they could look at it philosophically and question the existence of living beings that are expected to have that free will but that’s a topic they’ll be avoiding for a long time.
Really, just think about it – it all comes down to “life comes from life” principle introduced to us by Śrila Prabhupāda. Without spirit souls or God as sources of life they have nothing to separate life from matter at all. They can’t pin life down to their chemicals. They have never seen it spring out of a bunch of stuff on its own, yet they know life exists. When does it start having free will then?
They promote their evolution through natural selection but that makes our choices only more mechanical. There’s no space for free will in evolution – some choices/mutations will persist no matter what just because physical laws make them more beneficial for survival while others will lead to extinction – like suicides or self-mutilation, I guess.
More importantly – until we come to humans free will doesn’t come into play at all – we don’t talk about free will in lower forms of life. So, it’s not just a jump from life to matter that cannot be explained through physics, it’s also the jump from apes to humans that is supposed to introduce free will. Then they say chimpanzees have consciousness of a four year old child. Do they have free will? Do children have free will?
What is free will anyway? We all need to agree on what it means first, both as devotees and as members of human species, the only carriers of intelligent life.
Anyway, those are tough questions, and some scientists started with baby steps, probed people’s opinions about free will, and tried to find correlations to other external factors. They were surprised.
There have been several studies on this subject with different groups of people using different setups but they all point to the same thing – what Nietzsche said over a hundred years ago. I must say he was one of my favorite authors before I turned to Śrila Prabhupada’s books. I don’t remember reading Twilight of the Idols but the attitude is certainly familiar: people want free will because they want to inflict punishment on others. Wherever there’s a call for responsibility there’s a desire to make someone suffer.
The typical setup for studies like that is this – they take a large group of students, break it into three groups, tell one group that someone had cheated and was punished, tell another group that someone had cheated but no one was caught yet, and tell the third group nothing. Then they asked everyone to grade their opinions on the free will.
That’s how they proved Nietzsche right – people want free will when they want blood, and not their own.
There’s also a worldwide survey that asks people to grade their perception of free will, it has a lot of data from over seventy countries, and while it’s too late to fine tune the questions to suit this particular research, it is possible to find correlation between degree of free will and other statistics.
In countries with high crime and homicide rates people think they have more free will, which again proves Nietzsche right – we want free will to punish other people.
As devotees, it shouldn’t surprise us at all – we want free will to imitate God and so the more free will we claim for ourselves, the more God like powers we want to project. In this case – we want to judge others and decide their fate. It’s a natural next step from trying to control our own lives an our own circumstances.
Now, as I said, on itself it doesn’t decide the debate of free will one way or another but it surely shows us how abuse of free will works. We want more of it to be more like God.
I guess we can take to the opposite end and say that as perfect servants we wouldn’t want any free will at all, seeing the Lord as the only doer and us only as objects of His enjoyment, but that runs into problems of independence we observe in the spiritual dealings between Kṛṣṇa and His perfect devotees. If free will exists there then there’s no absolute minimum to it at all.
I guess this can be resolved in a number of ways but my own view, just as I expressed it above, is that from absolute illusion with absolute confidence in existence of free will we go down to zero, the point where we realize that we have absolutely no control over our lives in this world, and then it continues to increase in negative values – the degrees of freedom we have as we progress spiritually.
Maybe the other way makes more sense, though. Let’s say the degree of our free will can be expressed as a number. In the spiritual world, as there’s no limit on our surrender and service to the Lord, this number is infinity. As we distance ourselves from the Lord that number gradually decreases – as there are limits on what devotees in lower rasas can do in their service.
In the state of impersonal liberation degree of free will is exactly zero. From that moment on it goes into a negative territory as we become conditioned by material illusion. As we go deeper and deeper into that illusion our number approaches negative infinity.
As an absolute value (ABS(-5) = 5 and is higher than ABS(-3)=3) it grows but it grows into a different direction so we think that we have more free will but its actual value is negative and is nothing like freedom of service we have in the spiritual world.
Hmm, I really like this scale. More illusion equals more free will but it’s useless, less illusion means less free will until we reach impersonal liberation where there’s nothing to ascribe free will to so it’s zero, and as we learn to serve the Lord in increasingly more intimate ways our freedom to do so increases, too.
Here’s the source I based this post on.