The Value of the Illusion of Free Will in the Human Being

The Gita’s analysis has shown that human actions, including those that are based predominantly on the action of sattva, are operations of the Gunas of Nature and thus, do not constitute the action of free will. Nevertheless, our internal experience continues to contradict this knowledge and leads us to assert that we are exercising free will. Some philosophies or religions attribute this purely to the action of Maya, the cosmic Illusion, and they point to this sense as being evidence of the extent of our delusion.

Sri Aurobindo does not, however, casually dismiss even this illusory sense of free will in man. “And error or not, illusion or not, this idea of our will, of our action is not a thing of no consequence, of no utility; everything in Nature has a consequence and a utility. it is rather that process of our conscious being by which Nature in us becomes more and more aware of and responsive to the presence of the secret Purusha within her and opens by that increase of knowledge to a greater possibility of action; it is by aid of the ego-idea and the personal will that she raises herself to her own higher possibilities, rises out of the sheer or else the predominant passivity of the tamasic nature into the passion and the struggle of the rajasic nature and from the passion and struggle of the rajasic nature to the greater light, happiness and purity of the sattwic nature.”

“The sense of free will, illusion or not, is a necessary machinery of the action of Nature, necessary for man during his progress, and it would be disastrous for him to lose it before he is ready for a higher truth. If it be said, as it has been said, that Nature deludes man to fulfil her behests and that the idea of a free individual will is the most powerful of these delusions, then it must also be said that the delusion is for his good and without it he could not rise to his full possibilities.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 22, Beyond the Modes of Nature, pp. 214-215