Are Karma and Freedom Incompatible?

Sri Aurobindo’s approach is consistent in that he always seeks for the larger synthesis that reconciles apparently irreconcilable opposites into complenentary poles or aspects of one continuum. He is able to provide us a clue to the reconciliation of karma and freedom: “Buddhism and Illusionism too do not assert any external or internal predestination, but only a self-imposed bondage. And very insistently they demand of man a choice between the right and the wrong way, between the will to an impermanent existence and the will to Nirvana, between a will to cosmic existence and the will to an absolute spiritual being. Nor do they demand this choice of the Absolute or of the universal Being and Power, who indeed cares nothing for their claim and goes on very tranquilly and securely with his mighty eternal action, but they ask it of the individual, of the soul of man halting perplexed between the oppositions of his mentality. It would seem then that there is something in our individual being which has some real freedom of will, some power of choice of a great consequence and magnitude, and what is it then that thus chooses, and what are the limits, where the beginning or the end of its actual or its possible liberty?”

Once we acknowledge that there is something within the individual being that can exercise free choice, even if we, for the moment, limit that free choice to participation and non-participation in the cosmic action, we are able to escape the bonds of Karma and the impulsion towards a strict predetermined universal unfolding which would otherwise force itself upon us.

We may also go further, of course, and suppose that if we have the freedom to particpate, or not, and are thus able to establish some part of us which is independent of the law of Karma, the chain of cause and effect in action, then it may also be possible to find the standpoint within ourselves where the choice of participation or non-participation itself is no longer restricting our freedom.

In such an instance we would find that “freedom” and “Karma” are actually able to exist side by side, each fulfilling its role and purpose.

Sri Aurobindo,Rebirth and Karma, Section I, Chapter 9, Karma and Freedom, pp. 78-79,