Our body-mind complex can not and does not have free will. Yet if there is no free will then there will be no way to distinguish between morally good or bad karma. Machines are not capable of doing bad or good karma (acts). Thus the question of free will changes to the question, ‘what is the nature of our “I” which seems to have free will?’
Sri Ramakrishna says, “One ultimately discovers God by trying to know who this ‘I’ is. Is this ‘I’ the flesh, the bones, the blood, or the marrow? Is it the mind or the buddhi? Analyzing this, you realize at last that you are none of these. This is called the process of ‘Neti,neti’, ‘Not this, not this’.
One can neither comprehend nor touch the Atman. It is without qualities or attributes. ‘I’ and ‘mine’ – that is ignorance. By discriminating you will realize that Krishna is Spirit, His abode is Spirit, and everything about Him is Spirit.
What you call ‘I’ is really nothing but Atman. Reason it out. Are you the body or the flesh or something else? At the end you will know that you are none of these. You are free from attributes. Then you will realize that you have never been the doer of any action, that you have been free from virtue and faults alike, that you are beyond righteous and unrighteousness.”
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna
The free will of our ‘I’ is really that of the Atman or Brahman, the Ultimate Reality, that is behind the human body-mind complex.
The Lord surely knows our Agami karma.
This universe, which is the grossest of the gross entities, is the form of the Lord. In this Cosmic Form all the past, the present and the future subsist. Permeating this universal cosmic form, with its seven sheaths – consisting of five elements, egoism, and the universal intelligence – there is the Viratpurusha – the Cosmic Divinity. He is the real object of concentration.
Srimad Bhagavata Purana II.1.24-25
You should remember that Lord Krishna showed Arjuna in the Gita the entire Mahabharata war before a single arrow was fired. If there was free will then such a thing will not be possible.
Only Divine will is free
Brahma said, ‘No embodied being can counteract His will by austerity, meditation, Yogic power, intellectual skill, or worldly power. Neither with the help of others nor by oneself alone can one do so. Man takes on the body given to him by that mysterious Power for the very purpose of undergoing the experiences it subjects him to – birth, death, work, bereavement, grief, infatuation, fear, happiness, misery etc. We all offer our tribute of works as offerings to Him as cattle pulled by their nose strings do to their masters. The Veda consisting of sounds is the cable to which we all are tied with the smaller but stronger strings of the three Gunas of Prakriti and works springing from them. He controls and directs us with this rope, as their owners do their draught animals. O dear one! We are like a blind man, directed entirely by another with eyes. The Lord gives us each a body according to our eligibility through our nature and karma, and with that we undergo the sufferings and enjoyments He awards us.’
Srimad Bhagavata Purana, V.1.12-15
So does a jiva have free will?
Vaidyanath: “Sir, I have a doubt. People speak of free will. They say that a man can do either good or evil according to his will. Is it true? Are we really free to do whatever we like?”
Master [Sri Ramakrishna]: “Everything depends on the will of God. The world is His play. He has created all these different things – great and small, strong and weak, good and bad, virtuous and vicious. This is all His maya. His sport. You must have observed that all the trees in a garden are not of the same kind.
“As long as a man has not realized God, he thinks he is free. It is God Himself who keeps this error in man. Otherwise sin would have multiplied. Man would not have been afraid of sin, and there would have been no punishment for it.
“But do you know the attitude of one who has realized God? He feels: ‘I am the machine, and Thou, O Lord, art the Operator. I am the house and Thou art the Indweller. I am the chariot and Thou art the Driver. I move as thou movest me; I speak as Thou makest me speak.'”
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, April 15, 1883
Sri Ramakrishna: “People who have realized God are aware that free will is a mere appearance. In reality man is the machine and God is the Operator, man is the carriage and God its Driver.“
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, January 5, 1884
The Younger Naren: “Sir, have we any free will?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Just try to find out who this ‘I’ is? While you are searching for ‘I’, ‘He’ comes out. ‘I am the machine and He is the Operator.’ You have heard of a mechanical toy that goes into a store with a letter in its hand. You are like that toy. God alone is the Doer. Do your duties in the world as if you were the doer, but knowing all that time that God alone is the Doer and you are the instrument.”
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, July 14, 1885
More posts by this author:
- Did Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda say that all religions are same?
- Prayer and meditation
- What happens after death?
- What is Karma Yoga and how can it be practiced?
- Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings on Rishis
I did my school, college and parts of my University education in Kolkata. I got my M.Sc degree from Kolkata University. I went to USA in 1979 and got my M.S and Ph.D in Physics from University of Pittsburgh in 1984. I did my Post Doctorate in University of Southern California, Los Angeles and then worked as a Research Scientist in the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Space Sciences Center of University of Southern California. My scientific work includes heavy ion-atom scattering, multiphoton ionization and heliosphere data analysis of Pioneer 10/111 and Voyager 1/2 deep space spacecaft and analysis of solar extreme ultraviolet data obtained from SOHO spacecraft. I have been a National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration (NASA) Principal Investigator from 2002 – 2007. I have been a member of a NASA awards committee to decide allocation of money to different scientists. I have also refereed scientific articles submitted to Journal of Geophysical Research and Astrophysical Journal.