Karma, Free-Will and Necessity

Due to our mental nature that divides everything into convenient oppositions, we eventually look at even our development of consciousness as an opposition between the Knowledge and the Ignorance. This view of things provides us at least with a more basic cause for what we call “good” and “evil” on a more surface level. We can eventually resolve the concept of ignorance into a partially revealed, partially withheld form of knowledge, caused by the involution of consciousness into Matter and the subsequent step-by-step evolutionary process that it undertakes to manifest the consciousness in the forms.

As we begin to reflect on the nature of the energy that we have called “the law of karma” we see that it is a law of “cause and effect”. The present circumstances are caused by past event, and in turn create future events. The question next arises as to whether this is a predetermined result and what role there is, if any, for “freedom”. We have a more or less “innate” aspiration for freedom and intuitively we believe that we have free-will. While there is no doubt that past impulsion and environmental and social factors make much of what happens more or less inevitable, the essence is whether there is somewhere within our being the capability of extracting ourselves from this driven process and exercising “freedom”.

Sri Aurobindo weighs in on this conundrum: “So much of what we are and do is determined by our environment, so much has been shaped by our education and upbringing,–we are made by life and by the hands of others, are clay for many potters: and, as for what is left, was it not determined, even that which is most ourselves, by our individual, our racial, our human heredity or in the last resort by universal Nature who has shaped man and each man to what he is for her blind or her conscient uses?”

It is easy to become trapped in the logic of predestination based on such a review, when the only factor that is obviously in favor of “free will” is our inner certainty, which implies that “free will” must operate at some level beyond or separate from the mental, vital and physical nature that constitutes our normal human instrument of action.

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section I, Chapter 9, Karma and Freedom, pp. 75-76