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Free will, an illusion

Posted by Muthu on November 16, 2015

It’s some time in 2010.

I went through months of serious introspection and stumbled upon a conclusion that there is no free will. Everything is determined. Call it destiny, god’s will or randomness; things happen on their own. If you ask me to prove my conclusion, I would not be able to do it. But I’ve strongly internalised this concept.

It is not that I’ve not felt this way before 2010. Even in mid nineties, when I used to regularly visit Ramanasramam, similar thoughts strongly used to occur and then fade away.

From 2010, it slowly and steadily started becoming a regular occurrence.

It has made my everyday life much better. To quote Sam Harris “Losing a belief in free will has not made me fatalistic—in fact, it has increased my feelings of freedom. My hopes, fears, and neuroses seem less personal and indelible. “

Though by design, I’m a believer in God; I started reading Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens after this change.

If you’re interested, please read ‘Free Will’ by Sam Harris. It’s a small, 83 pages and insightful book.

This faith in lack of free will has made me less religious and less ritualistic. It has also brought more compassion and depth.

In everyday life, I act as if both I and others have free will. My faith in lack of freewill and actions with a strong sense of free will may look contradictory to others. That is what I’m comfortable with. And it works well for me.

To quote Ramesh Balsekar:

“The human being lives on fictions. For example, the human being knows that the sun is stationery and that it is earth that is in movement but nonetheless in his daily life he accepts the fiction that sun rises and sets. So the understanding is that all this is an illusion and that you do not have free will, but in life you must act as if you have free will.”

I’ve shared with you in the past some quotes I like on this subject. I feel like sharing the same with you again.

1) “Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.”- Albert Einstein

2) “Once you realize that all happens by itself, call it destiny, or the will of God, or mere accident, you remain as witness only, understanding and enjoying, but not perturbed. You are only responsible for what you can change. All you can change is only your attitude. There lies your responsibility.”- Nisargadatta

3)  “Whatever this body is to do and whatever experiences it is to pass through was already decided when it came into existence. This is not to be taught to all. Even if we tell them, it will lead to endless discussion.”- Ramana

4)   “If the moon, in the act of completing its eternal way around the earth, were gifted with self-consciousness, it would feel thoroughly convinced that it was traveling its way of its own accord on the strength of a resolution taken once and for all.  So would a Being, endowed with higher insight and more perfect intelligence, watching man and his doings, smile about man’s illusion that he was acting according to his own free will.”- Albert Einstein

5) “Whatever is happening is bound to happen. There is a series of events; a scenario is written down. So according to the scenario, things happen. There is no volition as far as an individual is concerned; things happen on their own. When that is seen, there is already a certain peace of mind.”- Nisargadatta

6)  “Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, try as you may. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to prevent it. This is certain. The best course therefore is to remain silent.”- Ramana

7)  “I do not believe in freedom of will. Schopenhauer’s words, ‘Man can indeed do what he wants, but he cannot want what he wants’, accompany me in all life situations and console me in my dealings with people, even those that are really painful to me. This recognition of the unfreedom of the will protects me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and judging individuals and losing good humour.” – Albert Einstein

8)  “In reality things are done to you, not by you. Your desire just happens to you along with its fulfillment or non-fulfillment. You can change neither. You may believe that you exert yourself, strive and struggle. Again, it all merely happens, including the fruits of the work. Neither is by you and for you.”- Nisargadatta

9) “You can do what you decide to do—but you cannot decide what you will decide to do.” – Sam Harris

3 Responses to “Free will, an illusion”

  1. kk said

    I wish I read this 25 years ago, could have gotten a big change in my life :). Again a great share Muthu…really appreciate!

  2. Harish said

    So if SIP was destined to be done by a man he will do it. Else, he won’t. Preach what anyone may. If a man is destined not to exercise, he will not. So no point trying.
    What is your answer to this?

  3. Mahesh Mirpuri said

    IMHO some reading should be on the law of karma. Destiny is our past actions ( several precious births) coming to fruition. It is very very powerful . However, humans do have a free will. You exercise it when you write, buy a house etc.. You do have a choice and will to choose and act. Our present actions done out of free will is future destiny.
    Great reading your blogs

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