Breaking Free Of the Enslavement to Nature

There has long been a philosophical debate about whether human beings act according to “free will” or “determinism”. Given the experience of deciding and acting, most people naturally and simply accept the idea that they have free will and that they have the ability to determine their own future. The Gita explores this issue and in entering into this exploration we find that the answer is not as simple as we like to make it seem. Essentially, as long as we are subject to the action of the Gunas of Nature, we are essentially driven within a framework and thereby our actions are determined; freedom is there, but it comes with the shifting of the standpoint to the divine consciousness which is beyond and free of the action of the Gunas.

Sri Aurobindo discusses this issue: “The soul ignorant in Nature…is enslaved by that ignorance to her modes, because it is identified there, not felicitously with its true self, not with the Divine who is seated above her, but stupidly and unhappily with the ego-mind which is a subordinate factor in her operations in spite of the exaggerated figure it makes, a mere mental knot and point of reference for the play of the natural workings. To break this knot, no longer to make the ego the centre and beneficiary of our works, but to derive all from and refer all to the divine Supersoul is the way to become superior to all the restless trouble of Nature’s modes.”

The solution: “When we can live in the higher Self by the unity of works and self-knowledge, we become superior to the method of the lower workings of Prakriti. We are no longer enslaved to Nature and her Gunas, but, one with the Ishwara, the master of our nature, we are able to use her without subjection to the chain of Karma, for the purposes of the Divine Will in us; for that is what the greater Self in us is, he is the Lord of her works and unaffected by the troubled stress of her reactions.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 21, The Determinism of Nature, pg. 202