Tag Archives: Free Will

Doubt in God’s Existence / Conditioned Free Will

Question: I would really love to believe, know, and experience that god exists. It would make life much easier. Convincing myself about God’s existence does not work. Doubts quickly move in and shake the foundation of my weak reasoning. 

Unhappy life moments far outweigh the happy or neutral ones. Studying, meditation, and chanting does not seem to bring the wanted result—seeing God and/or understanding him (not that I spend much time doing it). The guṇas of material nature seem too complicated to overcome and worldly pleasures bring a quicker calm for the mind (even though temporary). I like to believe that this is more or less what the whole of humanity experiences. Why would God make it so difficult for a human being to know or understand him? Why wouldn’t God simply deliver humanity and give it the capacity to see and understand him? Why did he put a human being in such a situation in the first place? Does he even exist? I would really love to believe so. It looks like a human being has to traverse suffering to be able to get a little bit of wisdom.  I am not sure my questions make any sense, but I suppose knowing the answers would help me bring (more) sense to my life. 

Answer: Why do you want to believe in God? You don’t believe in God, yet you are putting all the blame on God for all of your troubles. Why do you think God will create trouble for you? Can you name the troubles you face that have been created by God? Do you say that you or other beings have no role to play in your troubles? Can you say how God is creating your troubles? Are you not trying to just avoid your problems and throw them on the head of God? Otherwise, how can you even think that the God who may not even exist is busy creating trouble for you? Is it not strange that your mind does not want to believe in God, and it quickly washes away your weak reasoning for His existence, yet it happily blames Him for all its troubles?

I may be wrong, and please forgive me if I am, but my guess is that the problem is not with God, but with your mind. The mind is the real culprit. Śri Kṛṣṇa (the God) says so (Gītā 6.5). He says that this mind is your biggest enemy. It is easy to put the blame on God but that does not solve the problem. You have to deal with the actual problem if you want a solution. So, it is better to study your mind and the saṁskāras that are driving it. All these thoughts are likely rooted in your childhood upbringing. I can answer all of your questions, but your childhood saṁskāras will whitewash my replies and you will revert back to the same thought process. I suggest looking into your own mind and the saṁskāras driving it.

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Question: In Bhagavad Gītā 18.14, it is said that, “the ātma within the body is acting to bring about the results of activity and is therefore known as the doer, kartā.”

That the soul is the knower and the doer is also stated in the Śruti, ea hi draṣṭā sraṣṭā (Praśna Upaniad, 4.9). It is also confirmed in the Vedānta-sūtra by the verses, jño ‘ta eva, (2.3.18) and kartā śāstrārthavattvāt, (2.3.33).

How can we understand the ātma as the kartā in respect to free will, svatantratā? Is this free will an integral part of the ātmā? Or does the kartā choose from various options by means of the intelligence, buddhi?

Answer:  There are three types of agents, or kartā. They are called the independent agent, or svatantra kartā, the impelled agent or prayojya kartā, and impelling agent or prayojaka kartā. Out of these, only the svatantra kartā is free to act and does not depend on anyone else. The impelled agent is not absolutely free to act. If an employer assigns a certain work to his employee, then the employer is the impelling agent, and the employee is the impelled agent. The impelled agent does not have absolute freedom to do that he or she likes. They have to act according to the order given to them. Their freedom or free will is curtailed. Similarly, the ātmā in its conditioned state is not absolutely free to act. The conditioned ātmā is influenced by past karma. Therefore, there is no absolute free will. The ātmā has agency but it cannot act without the body and senses. It has potential but to actualize that potential, it needs the assistance of the body, mind, and senses. The will of the ātmā only becomes manifest through the mind-body complex. 

The body, mind, and senses, however, are inert and limited. Therefore, they condition the ātmā. As a result of this, the agency of the ātmā becomes conditioned. So, depending on the intensity of conditioning, the freedom of the ātmā is curtailed. Therefore, free will cannot be actualized. For all practical purposes, there is no free will. The ātmā’s will is always conditioned in the conditioned state. That is why it is called baddha-jīva—“a bound being.” A bound person is not free; one is always hankering for mukti—liberation or freedom. Nobody likes to be bound. It is for this reason that people do not like prison. Prison means curtailment of freedom. Sometimes famous politicians are put under house arrest. Their house becomes their prison.

People feel the same way during the COVID-19 lockdown. Everyone feels happy to be at home but if one is not allowed to leave the house, then one’s home feels like a prison unless one is an introvert or a devotee who likes to do his bhajana privately.  

Reconciling Conflicting Statements

Question: As you often cite Gītā verse 7.14 to support that only bhakti to Kṛṣṇa delivers one from the material world, what would you say about the following verse from Śiva Purāṇa?

“One who takes refuge with you, has surely taken refuge with me.

The one who thinks that you (Hari) are different from me surely falls into hell.” 10.14||(Rudra Samhitā, Sṛṣti Khaṇda)

Here is Gītā 7.14 for reference: 

“Those who take refuge in Me alone will cross this māyā”.

Also, a couple of preceding verses offer a different creative view on guṇa composition of Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Harā. I am wondering how it can be reconciled with the Bhāgavatam view?

Answer: The first reply is that Śrimad Bhāgavatam (SB) overrides anything that contradicts it. SB is the last word of Vyāsa. What comes later, supersedes.

Śiva and Pārvatī

Secondly, Śiva Purāṇa is one among the tāmasika Purāṇas. This is described in Tattva Sandarbha. Thus it may not give the ultimate truth.

The third reply is that the names Śiva and Parameśvar (as used here in Śiva Purāṇa) originally mean Kṛṣṇa. This is explained in Paramātma Sandarbha. So these types of verses (that speak of Śiva as supreme) are to be taken as spoken by Kṛṣṇa. Viṣṇu is an expansion of Kṛṣṇa and thus there is no conflict.

The fourth reply is that “Those who take refuge in Me alone will cross this māyā.”

Question:  It seems that Śiva Purāṇa applies the same principle that the Bhāgavatam does. The Bhāgavatam accepts Brahman but installs Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme. Likewise, Śiva Purāṇa accepts Hari but installs Śiva as the Ultimate.

Answer: Read the verse carefully. First it speaks of taking refuge in Hari and not Śiva. So a devotee of Hari is naturally devoted to Śiva, who is a Vaiṣṇava. The very third offence against the Name of Kṛṣṇa is to see the difference between Kṛṣṇa and Śiva. This is our principle. Nobody is different from Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is the advaya-tattva–-non-dual Reality. So we have no problem with this verse.

Moreover, the word “Īśvara” is used for Śiva and “Parameśvara” for Kṛṣṇa. So as I have said above, the verse is actually spoken by Parameśvara and not Īśvara.

Free Will

Question:  Viśvanātha Cakravartī writes in his ṭīkā of SB 4.25.25 – avidyā vṛttyā jīvaḥ svam icchayāiva badhnāti na tu tam īśvaras tayā balātkārena badhnāti iti vaktum tayoḥ sambandhasya prakāram āha. Bhanu Swami translates as follows: “The jiva by his free will becomes bound by the working of ignorance. To show that the Lord does not bind the jīva to ignorance by force, how they establish a relationship is explained.” What does free will mean in this context?

Answer: Icchayāiva means by his desire. There is no Sanskrit word for free will. In Viśvanātha Cakravartī’s comment the word used is icchayā eva, which means only by His desire or will. It is a Christian concept. Icchayā (instrumental case singular) is a function of ignorance; in the verse, avidyā vṛttyā modifies it. (avidyā vṛttyā icchayā means by desire which is a state of ignorance).