Free Will and Determinism

We believe that we exercise free will in our actions. We make choices, we determine the direction we want to go and the steps we want to take. We have the sense of freedom in our minds based on this illusion of free choice. It is an illusion because we fail to take into account the larger framework and reality that actually sets up and determines our choices for us, the machinery of the three modes of Nature, and Nature carrying out the Will of the Supreme in all things. Our entire development of personality, values, and our decision-making process is conditioned by these larger and less visible realities. Sri Aurobindo advises that is what is meant when the Gita “…speaks of the Lord within the heart of all existences who turns all creatures as if mounted on a machine by the illusion of Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo describes the machinery: “Partial itself, the mind rides on a part of the machine, unaware of nine-tenths of its motor agencies in Time and environment, unaware of its past preparation and future drift; but because it rides, it thinks that it is directing the machine.”

If the individual ego-personality does not have free will in any real sense, the question then arises as to whether free will exists at all, and if so, who exercises that free will. It is normal for the “either/or” circuit of the human mind to jump from the one extreme of “free will” to the other of “determinism” without trying to solve for the actual truth that upholds both concepts.

For free will does exist. “The only free will in the world is the one divine Will of which Nature is the executrix; for she is the master and creator of all other wills.” and further “There is a secret divine Will, eternal and infinite, omniscient and omnipotent, that expresses itself in the universality and in each particular of all these apparently temporal and finite, inconscient or half-conscient things.”

The human being partakes of this free will because it is in fact not separate from the Eternal: “This divine Will is not an alien Power or Presence; it is intimate to us and we ourselves are part of it: for it is our own highest Self that possesses and supports it.”

“Our highest Self which possesses and supports this universal Power is not our ego-self, not our personal Nature; it is something transcendent and universal of which these smaller things are only foam and flowing surface. If we surrender our conscious will and allow it to be made one with the will of the Eternal, then and then only shall we attain to a true freedom; living in the divine liberty, we shall no longer cling to this shackled so-called free will, a puppet freedom ignorant, illusory, relative, bound to the error of its own inadequate vital motives and mental figures.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 3, Self-Surrender in Works–The Way of the Gita, pp. 89-90

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