Quite frequently during question and answer sessions, Baba Ji is asked whether we have free will. He often answers that we have only limited free will. In fact, like Maharaj Charan Singh who is quoted below, he sometimes confirms that we have no free will at all. The belief that we have ‘free’ will arises because we are looking at things only from our human perspective. That perspective changes as we develop spiritually and a wider picture emerges.
Our own perspective tells us that we have free will because every day we are faced with situations that present several options, and we appear to have a free choice in the course we decide on. We have been brought up to believe that we have the freedom to do what we choose, not recognizing that we have been channeled to a certain position like a lamb driven into a particular field. Maharaj Charan Singh explains in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. 1:
Mentally we are not prepared to think that we have no free will at all. We have developed this instinct of possession so much that intellectually it is very difficult for us to grasp that we have no free will at all. And that is why we are not willing to lose our idea and concept of free will – because we are so attached to it. Actually, we have no free will at all, from the higher source. But from a limited source we do have free will.
When we look back on our decisions, we forget to consider the extensive influence from the past which has placed us in a particular situation. Whatever we are today is the result of what we thought and did previously. By the same rule of cause and effect, what we are to become in the future will be determined by what we think and do right now. If we make wise choices today, then it will be a lot easier to make positive choices tomorrow. Hazur Maharaj Ji explains the example of chess:
When you start playing chess, the first move is in your hand, but all the other moves are conditioned by the first move. You have done certain karmas in the past life – good karmas and bad karmas. Now you have no free will but must reap the results of those karmas.
In reality, whatever comes to us has been our choice in the past birth, and that limits our choices for the future, just as each move on the chess board limits our next move. So our sense of freedom of choice or free will is just an illusion. Hannah Critchlow, a neuroscientist from Cambridge University, wrote about free will in the Guardian newspaper:
There’s quite a lot of evidence to show that it (free will) is largely an illusion. There’s a huge amount that seems to be hardwired into us and pre- determined. You are born with a particular brain and that shapes your perception, shapes what you are hardwired to find rewarding. You are brought up in a particular environment and that reinforces what you are born with. If your perception of the world is based on prior experiences and hardwiring, then that shapes your reality, which goes on to affect your decision-making.
Baba Ji sometimes explains that our education, environment, parents, friends, school, society and so forth, which are all based on our karmic conditions, have a profound effect on the way we react to the situations in our lives However, what we do have is the freedom to adopt a positive attitude. In the book Concepts and Illusions, the author writes:
We may believe that our acceptance or rejection of a situation will change the course of our lives, but that is wrong thinking. We will head towards a situation as destiny wills, no matter what our attitude or emotion. However, the attitude that we adopt can help us deal with the situation, with either depression or equanimity.
Destiny creates the circumstances for karmas to manifest, enabling the karmas to be paid off. We can’t run away from destiny – debts have to be cleared. Destiny deals out the situations in our life and cannot be changed. But we have more freedom with the way we feel and what we think. Our attitude and emotions belong to the mental realms, and we have a freedom to choose how we react to life. We can choose to be happy and positive when we are going through rough patches and we can put trust in our Master, acknowledging that whatever is to happen is the right thing for us, and he will help us through. Alternatively, we can be sad or negative and increase our stress. We have the freedom to choose our attitude.
As we continue to follow the path sincerely, the grace of the Master shines on our actions, and we begin to mould our lives according to the Master’s guidance. Although the change is gradual, the balance of our lives starts to shift towards the good, and over a period of time we realize that we ourselves are more balanced and have a new-found equanimity.
Meditation helps us to accept the ever-changing nature of human life. The practice of meditation and our companionship with a true Master wakes us up from this dream-like existence. Whilst immersed in this changeable creation, the Masters give us a method so that we can experience the changeless and non- perishable part of us – our true self, which is the Shabd. Once we tune in to the Shabd, which is resounding within us all the time, then we become detached. We realize that we are not this ever-changing identity but are the essence of the divine.
Ultimately it is the grace and mercy of the Master that helps us to tread the path so that we can finish our karma and keep travelling on our journey home. The Master is with us every second of our lives and will fulfil his promise, but it is our responsibility to contribute whatever we can to make the journey easier for ourselves. Baba Jaimal Singh points out in Spiritual Letters:
Whatever is to be done has already been done, and that is what will happen – man does not do anything by himself … man does nothing – only the means for doing appears to come through him.… Whatever is to happen has already happened.
For us, our spiritual life should define our core, our foundation, our purpose, our identity and our reason for living. It should permeate all that we think, say and do. We must remember that we are one tiny piece of something much larger than ourselves and so we should prioritize making the divine Shabd and our beloved Master the focus of our lives, learning to live in his will. Maharaj Charan Singh sums it up when he advises:
We are just like puppets who are dancing, and the strings are being pulled by him according to our karmas. The realized souls and the unrealized souls are all dancing in the same way. The only difference is that the realized souls know that he is pulling the strings and the unrealized souls think that they are dancing by their own effort. So we have to act in this world with detachment from our role in life, knowing that he is pulling the strings and whatever is to happen will happen, but all the same doing our best under all circumstances. Thus we make ourselves receptive and become good puppets in his hand.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. 1