Do We Have Free Will?

Mahanidhi Madan Gopal Das

Do we have free will? We have the innate ability to desire, but not the free will to carry out or fulfill that desire. Nor do we have the free will to choose what path we walk in life, or anything else that we do or experience. People take birth after birth deluded by avidyāand ahankāra, ignorance and pride, until their desire and ego is purified by the causeless mercy of Bhagavan Sri Krishna.

It’s not our free will, but it’s our desires that shape our actions. Everything we do or try to do is going on by the control of the Antaryami, who is the form of Bhagavan within you deciding what you need to experience to become free from aversion to Bhagavan’s control. Often karma is seen as a simple action-reaction—your good deeds bring good results and your bad deeds bring punishment.

The reality is that the law of karma is designed by Bhagavan Sri Krishna to purify the desire of the jīva. Karma is meant to bring one to the point of accepting Bhagavan’s ultimate control in everything one does.

So what is free will? It’s the idea that one is free to act or choose independently of any other controlling factor. However, the sastra clearly state that the idea of free will is an illusion.

Only Bhagavan Sri Krishna has the free will to act in any way He likes. Our actions, however, which bring us happiness or misery, are prompted by the Antaryami, not by our independent free choice.

ajno jantur anīśo‘yam ātmanaḥsukha-duḥkhayoḥ
īśvara-prerito gacchet svargaṁvāśv abhram eva ca

“The ignorant living entity is not Bhagavan. One’s happiness and distress is prompted or initiated by the Supreme Controller who is making one go to either heaven or hell.” (Mahābhārata 3.31.27)

eṣa eva sādhu-karma kārayati taṁyamebhyo lokebhya unninīṣate.
eṣa evāsādhu karma kārayati taṁyam adho ninīyate

“Bhagavan Sri Krishna makes whomsoever He wishes to liberate from this world of birth and death do good deeds, and whomever Bhagavan wishes to send to hell to do bad deeds.”(Kauśitaki Upaniṣad 3.8)

The fact is that we have no free will because our destiny is set already and cannot be altered. Of course, it’s not easy to accept the reality of having no control, and that there is a supreme controller over everything you and everyone else does and thinks.

When one is ready to accept, then the truth of Bhagavan’s omnipresence and full control in one’s life is gradually revealed through books like the Bhagavad-gita and Upanisads. In Bhagavad-Gītā 9.10, Sri Krishna says: mayādhyakṣena prakṛtiḥ, sūyate sa-carācaram… “Prakṛti (the material world) works under my supervision, O son of Kunti.”

prakṛtyaiva ca karmāṇi,  kriyamānāni sarvaśaḥ
yah paśyati tathātmānam,  akartāraṁsa paśyati

Sri Krishna said, “In all respects, all the activities that one does are being performed by material nature. He who sees that the ātmāis not the doer actually sees.” (Bhagavad Gītā 13.30)

na kartṛtvaṁna karmāni, lokasya sṛjati prabhuḥ
na karma-phala-saṁyogam, svabhāvas tu pravartate

“The jīva is not the doer nor the cause of his actions. Nor is he connected to the reactions of his actions. Everything is taking place because of the nature (svabhava: guna & karma) of the jīva.”(Bhagavad-Gītā 5.14)

Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravarti comments on this verse: “Bhagavan Sri Krishna does not make the jīva do activities, nor does He give the jīva the results of his activities. Rather the nature of the jīva in the form of his beginning less ignorance alone produces this. That ignorance makes the jīva assume the false identification as the doer.”

In Bhagavad-Gītā (3.27), Sri Krishna says,

prakrteh kriyamanani, gunaih karmani sarvasah
ahankara-vimudhatma, kartaham iti manyate,

“The three modes of nature perform all activities, but due to pride and false ego, one foolishly thinks “I am the doer!”

Some try to prove free will exists by citing the Bhagavad-Gītā (18.63) statement “yathecchasi tathākuru”(“Whatever you like, you can do”). However, here Krishna is just jesting with Arjuna. This verse does not at all prove or indicate free will. Just a few verses earlier (18.60) Bhagavan Sri Krishna tells Arjuna that he will be “forced” to act according to his adhikāra and svabhāva (his inherited karmic qualities and nature).

Therefore, the statement means that Arjuna must understand his adhikāra and act accordingly because he actually has no real “choice” in the matter.

svabhāva-jena kaunteya, nibaddhah svena karmana
kartuṁnecchasi yan mohāt,  kariṣyasy avaśo‘pi tat

“Out of illusion you do not wish to act, but due to your nature which binds you to your actions you will forced to act anyway.”  (18.60)

Further Sri Krishna emphasizes that all jivas are being moved and controlled by the supreme controller in the heart, Bhagavan Antaryami.

Īśvaraḥsarva-bhūtanam, hṛd-dese‘rjuna tiṣṭhati
bhrāmayan sarva-bhūtāni, yantrārūḍhāni māyayā

“The supreme controller is in the heart of all beings, Arjuna, prompting and causing the movements of all living beings, who are sitting in a machine (i.e. material body) made of His maya.” (Bhagavad-Gītā 18.61)

In recent times, for various purposes some teachers have inserted the concept of free will, which originates from the Christians and western rationalists, into the Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy. But the Vedas say karma is beginning less, anādi karma (Vedānta-sūtra 2.1.35), so where is the question of free will? Thus all the actions we perform are all being prompted by and initiated by Bhagavan Sri Krishna.

The jīvātma has the power to act, but that power is granted by Bhagavan only. In other words, “man proposes, God disposes”, or “Bhagavan iccha” as they say in India. Bhagavān from within the heart as Antaryami prompts the jīva to act good or bad according to his individual svabhāva, karma, saṁskāras etc. The jīva always has the capacity to will, feel and act, but what he wills, feels and does is restricted by and controlled by his own karma, svabhāva and Bhagavan Sri Krishna’s sanction.

The only way one can get free from the control of ignorance and maya is by surrendering to Krishna. In Bhagavad-Gītā (7.14), Krishna says:

daivī hy-eṣā guṇa-mayī mama māyā duratyayā 
mām-eva ye prapadyante māyām-etāṁ taranti te

“The material nature consisting of the three modes of material nature is very difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.” But then again surrendering to Krishna is not within our control; we don’t have the “free will” to choose but we may be chosen by Bhagavan.

To surrender to Krishna and start practicing bhakti is not due to one’s free will, it’s just the FREE WILL AND MERCY of Bhagavan Sri Krishna upon someone He chooses. The evidence that there is no free will regarding the principle of surrender is in Caitanya Caritamrta (2.19.151): brahmanda bhramite kon, bhagyavan jiva, Guru krsna prasade pay, bhakti lata bija, “Some fortunate soul who is wandering through the universe will get the seed of the creeper of devotion by the grace of Guru and Krishna.”

The phrase kon bhāgyavan jīva means some fortunate soul—Not everyone. Bhakti is very very rare as the Srimad Bhagavatam (6.14.5) says, “Among millions of liberated souls, one may be a devotee of Lord Nārāyana, or Krishna. The Katha Upanishad (1.2.23) says, yam evaiṣa vṛṇute tenaiva labhya, “Bhagavan Sri Krishna is only attained by one who is chosen by Him (Bhagavan Sri Krishna).”

InBhagavad-Gītā (14.26), Sri Krishna says,

māṁca yo ’vyabhicāreṇa, bhakti-yogena sevate,
sa guṇān samatītyaitān, brahma-bhūyāya kalpate

“One who serves Me alone in unswerving bhakti surpasses the guṇas, and becomes endowed with his own eternal spiritual nature.”

Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana comments, “This verse answers the question ‘How can one surpass the guṇas?’ Krishna is saying that one who takes exclusive shelter of Him by performing bhakti-yoga surpasses the guṇas which are hard to surpass, and attains (kalpate) his own inherent nature (brahma-bhuyāya), which means the eight qualities of ātmā(no—sin, death, old age, hunger, thirst, lamentation—and one is truthful and fully satisfied devoid of all material desires).

All conditioned souls are driven and made to act by their individual svabhāva (guna & karma), and the will of Bhagavan—not by free will. Bhakti or the desire to serve and please Krishna, and the ultimate perfection of Krishna prema are both gifts of Krishna.

The fact and Vedic truth that we don’t have free will is a deep philosophical point of reality. One must accept the ultimate authority of sastra which is adbhuta and apauruṣeya, amazing and transcendental, because it is spoken by Bhagavan Sri Krishna. Sastra is not man-made.

In matters that are so grave and inconceivable such as this, we cannot follow or trust our minds, our powers of logic and reason or our sentiments. By one’s mind and intellect it is impossible to understand and accept the reality that “we have no free will”.

Bhāgavata Purāna (3.7.9) says: “Although by nature the jīva is superior to matter and liberated, by Krishna’s maya potency, which cannot be understood by logic, the jīva is eternally bound in ignorance.”

Jīva (ātmā) is superior to prakrti or māyābecause the soul is sentient and matter is inert. Ātmāhas the capacity to realize its own transcendental state, which is blissful and beyond the touch of maya. However, because of beginning less ignorance the jivatma is now bound by ignorance, which is a feature of māyā. Māyāis a potency of Krishna with the power to act in inconceivable ways.

Bhāgavata Purāna repeatedly points to māyāas the cause of the bondage of a jīva. ŚrīKṛṣṇa says this to Uddhava (Srimad Bhagavatam 11.11.1-2):

“The state of the jīva as bound or liberated is because of its being influenced or uninfluenced by the guṇas of prakriti controlled by Me. These states are not related to the essential nature of the jīva. In the next verse (Srimad Bhagavatam 11.11.3), ŚrīKṛṣṇa states that the ignorance of the jīva about himself is beginning less.

If Krishna favors a jiva, He will give intelligence, knowledge, and memory power so one can do bhakti bhajan and get free from maya. Otherwise, one will remain forever bound in beginning less ignorance, maya and samsara. In Bhagavad-Gītā (15.15), Bhagavan Sri Krishna says that memory, knowledge and forgetfulness come from Him. Bhagavan Sri Krishna is the source of everything (Bhagavad-Gītā. 10.8), and the director of all beings (Bhagavad-Gītā.18.61).

Krishna saranagati ki jai! Jai Jai Sri Radhe!

post concept Sri Advaita Dasji

2 replies
  1. Dayal gopa nitai das
    Dayal gopa nitai das says:

    If we have no free will then why it is said in scriptures why it is said ,do this ,don’t do this,this is good ,this is bad,eat fruits, don’t eat meat ? Why this if we have not free will ?


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