The normal experience we have as human beings leads us to believe that we are exercising our own will and thereby exerting control over our actions and responsible for our destiny. Of course, the normal human experience also holds that the sun rises in the East, rotates around the earth and sets in the West–proving thereby that the normal human perception does not always capture the actual reality of the situation because of the limitations of our standpoint.
When one delves deeper into the question of our exertion of will, one finds that the decisions we take, the actions we engage in are actually part of the elaborate mechanism of Nature working through the three Gunas, or modes, Tamas, Rajas and Sattva. In fact, a close examination shows us that what we believed to be “free will” is very much being determined by the interaction and play of these Modes, and that to find free will one must achieve an independent standpoint outside the action of Nature.
Sri Aurobindo describes the relationship between the predominant Guna and the action of the ego-personality: “It may be a tamasic action, and then we have an inert personality subject to and satisfied with the mechanical round of things, incapable of any strong effort at a freer action and mastery. or it may be the rajasic action, and then we have the restless active personality which throws itself upon Nature and tries to make her serve its needs and desires, but does not see that its apparent mastery is a servitude, since its needs and desires are those of Nature, and while we are subject to them, there can be for us no freedom. Or it may be a sattwic action, and then we have the enlightened personality which tries to live by reason or to realise some preferred ideal of good, truth or beauty; but this reason is still subject to the appearances of Nature and these ideals are only changing phases of our personality in which we find in the end no sure rule or permanent satisfaction. We are still carried on a wheel of mutation, obeying in our circlings through the ego some Power within us and within all this, but not ourselves that Power or in union and communion with it. Still there is no freedom, no real mastery.”
Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 24, The Gist of the Karmayoga, pg. 243