[Advaita-l] Disccussion on Free-will

Ramesh Krishnamurthy rkmurthy at gmail.com
Fri May 22 00:54:42 CDT 2009


The debate between "fate" and "free-will" is an endless one, and
although the Vedantin may have something to say on this (on the basis
of the law of karma), it is not his approach to get caught in this
cycle. Rather, the Vedantin points out that the very premise for the
existence of fate/will, viz., the sense of agency, is illusory.

Actually, fate and free-will are two sides of the same coin, the coin
itself being the sense of agency. As long as I have the bhAva of being
a kartA and a bhoktA (doer/enjoyer), I will see that some of my wants
get fulfilled and others don't. On one occasion, I might decide to go
to Sringeri and do so with ease. Hence my "free-will" has worked. On
another occasion, I really want to go but am unable to because of an
emergency at the office. Hence, "fate" has stalled my plans.

As long as there is a sense of agency, which in a way is the key to
our sense of individuality, both free-will and fate influence our

mokSha involves the understanding that the sense of agency is avidyA.
Hence the mukta does not identify with the causal cycle and is
liberated from both fate and free will.

Interestingly, the illusory/erroneous nature of the sense of agency is
stressed by all the Indian philosophical traditions, though they
explain it in different ways.

The advaitin uses the framework of avidyA which is the attribution of
knowerhood and doerhood to the Atman. The saMkhyan, in a similar way,
says that the puruSha identifies himself as the doer due to a mistaken
identification with the modifications of prakR^iti. Most
bhakti-oriented traditions would attribute doerhood to Ishvara (divine
play etc), with the jIva being only an instrument. The bauddha-s would
say that the doer and the deed arise co-dependently, therefore neither
is inherently real, and so forth.

Hence, if you are a follower of any Indian philosophical tradition,
the riddle of fate and free-will is "transcended" (through the
understanding that the sense of agency is mistaken) instead of being
resolved in favour of either fate or free will. In fact such a
resolution cannot happen because the two are two sides of the same

The vipra-s of the ancient past, while pouring their offerings into
agni, contemplated on their actions and the relationship between the
sacrificer and the sacrifice, the doer and the deed. Hence, 'karma'
and 'yaj~na' took on increasingly philosophical meanings, and spawned
the insightful darshana-s that we have inherited today.

santoṣaḥ paramo lābhaḥ satsaṅgaḥ paramā gatiḥ I
vicāraḥ paramaṁ jñānaṁ śamo hi paramaṁ sukham II
- Yoga Vāsiṣṭha

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