The Conceptual Basis For Reconciling Free Will and Determinism

Consciousness is One. Yet we see apparent differences or contradictions in the world of manifestation. One of these contradictions is the dispute between free will and determinism, but it is not the only one. It is more or less a “symptom” of the larger oppositions that we recognize. Sri Aurobindo discusses the reasons for this, as well as the solution the Gita has proposed to reconcile these differences. He provides an example of scientific evidence showing that metals, plants, animals and humans all exhibit “vital reaction” to stimuli. The specifics of that reaction, and the interpretation of it varies as to whether the form is primarily Matter, Life or Mind responding to the stimulus. He extends this line to the next level of the divine consciousness which is beyond the mental level, and which sees things, not fragmented as the mental awareness does, but in a complete and integrated view.

The reconciling concepts are found in the Gita’s adoption of several basic premises: “We have always to keep in mind the two great doctrines which stand behind all the Gita’s teachings with regard to the soul and Nature,–the Sankhya truth of the Purusha and Prakriti corrected and completed by the Vedantic truth of the three-fold Purusha and the double Prakriti of which the lower form is the Maya of the three Gunas and the higher is the divine nature and the true soul-nature.”

This provides the basis for the reconciliation of free will and determinism. “What we now call in our ordinary mentality our free will and have a certain limited justification for so calling it, yet appears to the Yogin who has climbed beyond and to whom our night is day and our day night, not free will at all, but a subjection to the modes of Nature. He regards the same facts, but from the higher outlook of the whole-knower…, while we view it altogether from the more limited mentality of our partial knowledge, … which is an ignorance. What we vaunt as our freedom is to him bondage.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 21, The Determinism of Nature, pp. 203-204