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Free Will vs Destiny

Free Will and Destiny are two ideas that I have grappled with since they have always seemed in conflict to me. The idea that the past and the future are already written would by definition mean that we do not have free will. And yet the great masters spoke of the existence of both. To wit, I recently saw the clip (which I have embedded above) from the TV series "Kung Fu" that spoke to this very question so I thought I would share it along with some of my thoughts on the matter.

As a primer I would highly recommend Sam Harris' very short book on this topic, "Free Will," where he updates us on the neuropsychology and philosophy of free will and takes this latest information on what we know about the human mind to articulate what free will looks like to him and what this means for us as individuals and society. In short, on the point relevant for this post, he argues that the facts of neuropsychology indisputably show that free will is an illusion. (You can read a synopsis of the book here.)

You have support for this idea from other quarters as well. Columbia University physicist Brian Greene writes in his book "The Fabric of the Cosmos": “But, as Einstein once said, 'For we convinced physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only an illusion, however persistent.” If you were having a great time at the stroke of midnight on NYE, 1999, you still are, since that is just one immutable location in spacetime. It is tough to accept this description, since our worldview so forcefully distinguishes between past, present, and future. But if we stare intently at this familiar temporal scheme and confront it with the cold hard facts of modern physics, its only place of refuge seems to lie within the human mind.“ If that description of reality is true, it sounds like from a physics point of view as well, free will can't exist.

In keeping with his scientific background, the late spiritual master George Falcon would often say that free will was an illusion. He sometimes would couch it in Christian terms by saying "god is the doer, the only doer," even claiming that when I raised my arm and asked him "Did god do that or did Zeb?", that god did it. Brian Greene and Sam Harris obviously wouldn't put it that way but as I understand them, they are saying something similar to George, just couched in language that is more palatable to the educated and non-religious ear.

Yet, you will hear someone like George Falcon say that the Holy Spirit honors each of our free will. So does he think there is free will or not?! I'm not really sure how to resolve this tension but what I have been thinking over the years is the following.

The first line of argument I would share is that we know that our physical form and sense of self itself is an illusion (e.g. see the fabulous book by Thomas Metzinger, The Ego Tunnel), yet it all seems to work out okay. Indeed, it seems we are on a firm footing when we say that the world of form is illusory. Yet our bodies and the world "out there" sure seem real and when we assume our bodies and the world we "see" are real, that assumption seems to work fine as far as living our lives is concerned (though it depends on what your definition of "fine" is and what level of "fine" you are willing to accept as good enough). Like our provably false understanding of the world around us, maybe free will falls into that same category and we can just assume it is true for the purposes of day to day life and choices?

Second, extending the first point, I wonder if we might say that at the level of the first three chakras, the world of form (and therefore free will) is real to us. The ancient and contemporary masters taught that to truly be free and happy, we need to change our identification from these lower chakras to the higher ones. If we can do that, free will can be seen for what it really is, an illusion. So, as the old man in the Kung Fu clip says, "though they seem opposite, both are true."

Third, you have karma (assuming for the moment there is such a thing). Like gravity or electromagnetism, we could say that karma is just one of those forces of nature that shapes the experience of the physical world. Whether I lift my arm up or decide to marry someone, (my understanding of karma is that) that inclination or choice was shaped and made subtly irresistible in that moment by my actions earlier in this life and in prior ones. And same with the circumstances that arose that caused me to "want" to raise my arm or meet my wife. So karma is a force that allows us to have the illusion of free will while at the same time explaining that we really don't--God is the doer through the force of karma and our bodies express the doing.

As an aside, I will say that it isn't as though there is some old guy with a beard named God who is secretly peering into my brain and exerting His will to make these choices for me (though maybe that is a useful, albeit comical, way to imagine karma working?). Witnessing a magnet move a metal object at a distance, you could say, I guess, that "God did it" since the force of magnetism is a law of nature. Whether you call that law the nature of the universe or God, what does it matter?

Fourth, and maybe this is just an extension of the other points, if we anchor our identity at our higher chakras, perhaps the real free will operates "up" there and trickles down to the lower self. What I mean is that the world is what it is no matter what judgement our tiny little thinking brains bring to it. How we experience it is up to us. That choice is where true free will comes in. So if we can choose to experience any given moment as a lovely wonderful thing or a terrible painful thing, then why not do the former? If we don't, the law of karma and the nature of the world is apparently such that the state we are in not only determines what our now is like but our future nows too. Wanting begets more wanting. If you are in that frequency, you attract that kind of energy and that is the energy that you perceive or filter out from all the energies out there available to you.

Not sure that entirely clears it up but that is my thinking so far.

#freewill #chakra #chakras #destiny #kungfu #neuropsychology #briangreene #samharris #karma #god

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