The Role of Free Will in the Surrender of the Ego

Our mental logic frequently stumbles over the apparent contradictions that lead us to adopt an extreme position over a more nuanced view of things. The debate about the role of free will in the processes of the yoga which involve the surrender of the ego to the action of the divine Force is one such area. Some people believe that surrender involves giving up any aspect of free will, and thus, they enter into a very passive state of fatality about what happens and when. The universal manifestation includes an individual aspect as well as a universal aspect so that it has more flexibility and opportunities through the exercise of individual free will. The free will involved is to purposely and purposefully shift or tune the awareness toward the higher divine Force, and to open up the receptivity to its action. If the individual chooses either not to focus, or not to accept the higher Force, then he remains rooted in the desire-soul of the ego-personality and the Force simply abides the decision and passes the individual by while it acts where it finds receptivity. Of course, as we all exist in an interactive universe we are constantly provided new ideas, emotions, feelings and circumstances, so today’s decision may be overridden tomorrow as we approach our situation from a new stance or circumstance.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “All the play in this world is based on a certain relative free will in the individual being. Even in the sadhana it remains and his consent is necessary at each step — even though it is by surrender to the Divine that he escapes from ignorance and separateness and ego, it must be at every step a free surrender.”

“The Divine Grace and Power can do everything, but with the full assent of the sadhak. To learn to give that full assent is the whole meaning of the sadhana. It may take time either because of ideas in the mind, desires in the vital or inertia in the physical consciousness, but these things have to be and can be removed with the aid or by calling in the action of the Divine Force.”

“Certainly, the main stress should be on the Force but the active assent of the sadhak is needed; in certain things his will also may be needed as an instrument of the Force.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 5 Bases of Yoga, Assent, pp. 105-106

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