Manraj Singh wrote an interesting comment to my last post on free will, he writes
“…. the real choices we make that in a way determines our outlook and physical life are the subtle choices, like the snap judgements we make when we see people, or how we react to what is said about us, how we treat others, etc. etc...”
Here's my attempt at jotting down my thoughts on on this topic under neat little headings:
In terms of the physical world we have virtually no control, e.g. the Katrina hurricane. But what about our own thinking and of our view of reality, do we have any control over this? If the answer is yes, then I can see some scope for us having free will - after all there is no action without the seed of thought. If we can change our thinking then perhaps we can change our actions / destiny.
ਕਿਰਪਾ ਕਰੇ ਜਿਸੁ ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਹੋਵੈ ਸਾਧੂ ਸੰਗੁ ॥
The Supreme Lord showers His Mercy, and we find the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy
Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Siree Raag, Ang 71
At the heart of us being able exercise whatever free will we may have, is the ‘sangat’ we choose to keep. If my sangat is watching a lot of tv, going to clubs, partying, etc, then there will be little spiritual progress in my life. But circumstances may not make it possible to have the benefit of good sangat. One may be in an environment where the prevalent culture, peer pressure, etc. disparage the idea of keeping good sangat. Or one’s outlook on life at that time has no scope for the idea of spiritual progress - eat, drink, and be merry is the motto.
I’m a living example of somebody who despite having access to good sangat has not made any significant progress on the spiritual journey. I suspect that change to my mindset is being hindered by factors such as ‘haumai’ (ego). Myabe free will is an illusion and we cannot achieve truth unless we have Guru ji’s kirpa (grace).
ਤਉ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਤੇ ਮਾਰਗੁ ਪਾਈਐ ॥
By Your Grace, we find the Way
Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Raag Gauree, Ang 180
Do we have a choice in the way we act? We really need look at the source of action, our thinking process. So the important question is can we influence/change our mindset? Without thought there is no action. So the question becomes do we have a choice how we think, how we view the world? I’m not sure of the answer.
Also, Gurbani talks of kam, krod, lob, moh, ahankar as obstacles in our quest for the truth. Maybe the real choice is that of recognising these attitudes of thinking / mindsets within us and trying to bring them under control. Perhaps the fundamental point here is (as Manraj has also said), not what choices we make, but “to understand why we made a particular choice”.
ਕਾਮ ਕ੍ਰੋਧ ਮਦਿ ਬਿਆਪਿਆ ਫਿਰਿ ਫਿਰਿ ਜੋਨੀ ਪਾਇ ॥2॥
Engrossed in the intoxication of sexual desire and anger, people wander through reincarnation over and over again ||2||
Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Siree Raag, Ang 50
Above and beyond the issue of free will is that of our past deeds, not just in this life but also in previous incarnations (if you believe in this). Guru Arjan Dev ji writes
ਜੇਹਾ ਬੀਜੈ ਸੋ ਲੁਣੈ ਕਰਮਾ ਸੰਦੜਾ ਖੇਤੁ ॥
As she has planted, so does she harvest; such is the field of karma
Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Raag Maajh, Ang 134
It is interesting to speculate wether there is any way of escaping the consequences of bad karms, just like the child who has misbehaved but shows remorse and through his innocent love ‘get’s away’ with it. Is it possible that God’s kirpa can extend as far as erasing our past sins?
In the final analyses the answer may be to simply submit to God’s will and let Him take care of things.
ਸੋ ਨਿਹਕਰਮੀ ਜੋ ਸਬਦੁ ਬੀਚਾਰੇ ॥
Those who reflect upon the Shabad are beyond karma.
Guru Amar Daas Ji, Raag Maajh, Ang 128
If the gurmukh has given his all to Guru ji, then the Guru himself will take responsibility for his actions.