Do We Have Free Will?

One of the vexing questions I've faced on the journey is this one: "Do we have free will?" 

In practical living, we all set goals, create intentions, formulate plans, and do a lot of things all the time to try to achieve those goals, intentions, and desires. What we also experience is that some of these materialize, some of these materialize but are late in coming compared to when we want them or show up in a different shape than what we desired, some flat out don't show up in our experience. Depending on our beliefs, we may navigate all this in our own unique ways, but not without some confusion, some consternation, and also some level of recognizing that we truly don't know what governs these outcomes.

To simple, practical eyes, it does appear that we have the free will to think and say and do what we please in any given situation. That is what makes it possible to set all those goals, intentions, plans and actions in motion at any time in our lives. When things work out, or at least sort of work out, according to our plans, we glide right along through life. But when things don't work out, our inner experience is entirely different. I for one, when faced, with business struggles, or lack of desired healing outcomes for dear ones, or untimely loss of friends or family, have always wondered about the point of my intentions, my prayers, my healing work, my actions, when they did not matter one darned bit in those situations.

Whether it emerges from our social conditioning, or firmly held beliefs, or through personal experiences, a vast number of us believe that there is a higher power behind all of existence, and that it has a role in our unfolding life experiences. The very act of prayer is often an appeal to such higher power to intercede in a life situation we may be facing. In my experience, prayers, like our own goals, intentions, and plans, works sometimes, and doesn't materialize my wish at other times. Most people, like I often do in these situations where prayer didn't work according to my expectations, find themselves with thoughts along these lines: "Maybe, I didn't deserve it", "I am probably not good enough, that is why my prayer was rejected". Some of us, at least some of the time, feel that "Maybe it is God's Will that this didn't happen".

So, is everything flowing in life, pre-ordained? i.e. Flowing in accordance with the will of the higher power? Certainly religions and scriptures point in that direction.

But the ability to exercise free will is so palpable, so viscerally real in our practical experience of living.

How do these interplay? Why do we experience outright miracles in our practice of Reiki sometimes, but face disappointing situations where our prayers and intentions aren't doing anything along the lines of our expectations?

In an earlier series of articles, "The Secret of Many Blessings", I tried to probe into the experience of miracles, and why, in my experience, the system of Reiki seems to help engender that. In those articles, I surmise how the Reiki precepts were pointers to help move Grace through our lives, which results in miracles.

Recently, I wrote in the article "Dawn of the Witness", how I added the practice of self-inquiry, centered around the question "Who am I?". In the days following this practice, came an epiphany to me, but what might be obvious to some of you, about the idea of free will.

Do we have free will?

The question arises, "Who has the free will?"

The answer to that is obvious. It is the "I" that has beliefs, thoughts, actions, desires, attachments, and such. And it that "I" that creates goals, intentions, plans, and formulates prayers to manifest those. This "I" lives in the space where anger, fear, resentments, grudges, dishonesty, pride and such are very likely. This is the "I" that Usui san is addressing through the precepts to not bear anger, to let go of fear, to live honestly, with humility, and compassion to oneself and all.

This "I" lives in the world of opposites, the world of duality. Usui san's precepts are a map to loosen this grip of the "I", and pointing us to our true nature instead.

Free will is an artifact, a condition that the "I" experiences, and uses as a tool. i.e.Free will exists only in duality.

In the non-dual space of the True Self, our true nature, there is only One. One continuous, unbroken, intelligence. There is no "I" here in this space. That which we may call "God's will", or "Divine will", is just the innate flow of what is.

To put it in simpler terms, if we mainly exist in the space of duality, and most of us do, most of the time, then free will exists, and it merely helps to propagate the wishes of the "I", which end up, often, keeping us bound in attachment to the "I", and keep us trapped in duality. When we learn to let go of the identification with the "I", the false self, and step into recognizing our true nature, there is only the "Divine will", or the innate flow of what is.

What does this knowing advise me on how to navigate life?

Let's see. On the one hand, the use of free will tantalizes "me" into shaping "my outcomes", and controlling "my experiences", but doesn't work always, and only serves to keep me attached to "my story". On the other hand, through my practice, I surrender, let go of this identification with the "I" and attachment to "my story", and I experience a spate of miracles. There's not much of a contest there! I should use "my free will" and strengthen and deepen my practice so I can BE in the moment, as an instrument of and witnessing the innate flow of what is. In practical terms, it means that in a healing session, I surrender my need to seek specific outcomes. In a teaching / sharing session, it means that after my well prepared detailed plans are in place, I surrender that to the innate flow of what is, and trust that what flows will be just right for each student / practitioner present. At work, it means that I surrender my fears, my yearnings, my desires, all in favor of BEing in the moment, witnessing the flow as an instrument of the innate flow of what is.

To be sure, I'm not saying that this is easy. But this is the impact of the only logical choice we can make as spiritual aspirants, as Reiki practitioners, to let go of the "I" and the concomitant use of free will to entrench that attachment to the"I", so that the identification may shift to our True Self, and towards realizing our true nature as Reiki.

Sundar Kadayam is a Shinpiden graduate of the International House of Reiki.


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  1. by Elly on September 16, 2014 at 04:57 pm

    Hi Sundar! Another great post. “Free will exists only in duality” is extremely profound, and requires much contemplation. As you imply, the mere word “will” implies an “I” who has a will, an “I” who can use that will for good, for self-interest, or for ill in every decision. But without the “I,” there is no will. That doesn’t mean that we’re slaves to outcomes dictated by someone or something else, or that we can just let go, drink 50 margaritas a day, and lie around in our beachwear: It frees us to follow the Reiki Precepts and do our best every day, just as you say, without clinging to outcomes. The hope of a specific outcome hones the will. Doing, then letting what we’ve done go where it will, connects us to the All.

  2. by Frans Stiene on September 17, 2014 at 04:01 am

    Hi Sundar,
    Wonderful article as always!!!

  3. by Seema on September 17, 2014 at 08:10 am

    Hi Sundar ,
    it is not easy as you say. Your article speaks to me !

    I think it is metamorphosis. We create this pseudo personality where we want to be accepted and respected by others led by society and cultural norms some times and create a false sense of ourselves.

    Path of love and compassion is very narrow and we cannot fit everything in it , “I” has to go to make space and that leaves a “space” inside our very hearts so to speak.

    Yes , not easy not easy at all !!

  4. by Susan on September 24, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Hi, Sundar,
    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!
    Thank you for this latest post.  I appreciate your comment about ‘free will’ existing in the space of duality. I never thought of it in that way.  Your practice is bringing all of us along.
    Susan

  5. by Sundar on September 24, 2014 at 01:17 pm

    Elly, Frans, Seema, Susan, thank you all for those kind words and comments. This understanding that free will exists only in duality is still sinking in for me. And slowly it is dawning on me, that the exercise of that “free will” can either generate more bondage and suffering in duality, or if applied in right diligent practice of Usui san’s teachings, can set us on the path to freedom and awakening to who we are. That choice exists in the moment for us, and that is how I’m understanding it now.

  6. by seema sahoo on September 27, 2014 at 08:35 am

    Hi Sundar,

    I reread your article today again as I was trying to co relate with my own journey so far.

    I think when we let go of “free will” which is a web knitted by “I” we can start to find our ” Authentic self” , because than we longer are trying to ” perfect” our imperfections.

    For most part we do place those “intentions” because we are trying to achieve some sort of “perfections” in our lives.

    I think practice is a multifaceted and a action packed thriller movie :). Because first we are not “aware” , than we start to become “aware” of all those imperfections and oh now we want to “change” ourselves because damm it how this could be me?

    Isn’t with practice we can achieve anything? so now I am going to be 2x ,2Y and 2Z instead of “just x, y and Z !. what a joke that plays on us.

    In reality it is about self awareness to accept our strength and weakness and be connected to them and stop trying to be some thing else.

    Seems to me that’s when we start to receive the “tangible” benefits of our practice on its own because now we are starting to be just BE .

    Not easy as you say… well , forgot about easy it is like dying a million death some times :-).
    EGO doesn’t want to feel defeated and keep creating the negative thoughts and we just keep clinging .....

     

    We are no longer trying to reach any distination

  7. by Zeynep on October 01, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Beiautiful article Sundar! Ramesh Balsekar would be very proud (if he had ego)!

  8. by Sachin on October 01, 2014 at 04:32 pm

    ​Hello Sundar, Great post ! The answer is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ & not ‘partly’.

    First of all, we need to ask, who is asking this question ? The answer is obviously, ‘I’, mind, the ego.

    From the perspective of our senses, our mind the answer may seem ‘yes’. But that is not the case. From a higher perspective, there is ‘no’ free will. As Sundar has mentioned, free will only exists in the space of duality. Free will only holds in association with individuality. As long as individuality, ‘I’, the ego, mind, lasts free will lasts.

    Only ego is bound by free will and not ‘Reiki’, The Great Bright Light. The real ‘I’ never imagines that it is thinking or doing anything; the ‘I’ that imagines all this is but a mirage, an illusion !

    Complete effacement of ego is necessary to conquer free will or destiny. One simple word for that is ‘Surrender’ !

    If somebody has doubt (about this or anything for that matter) ask ‘who has this doubt?’ Just ask to whom does the free will matters? Find out and be at peace.

    Love,

    Sachin.

  9. by Sundar on October 02, 2014 at 02:07 pm

    Seema, the grip of the “I” is often very strong, made stickier by our continued identification with it.  It can be really frustrating to practice diligently, only to find ourselves ensnared in the trap of the “I”.  What can we do but to remember the precepts of Usui san, and be compassionate to ourselves, get up from wherever we’ve fallen, dust ourselves up, and recommit to being true to our way and being!  This, in my view, is a good application of our “free will” while we are still caught in duality.

    Zeynep, thank you. In India, when fluorescent tube lights were introduced back in the 1970s, when we turn one on, it would keep flickering on and off for a long time, before stabilizing into a steady bright light.  What can I say, but that I feel very much like the tube light :-). Going on and off.  Painful :-)

    Sachin, thanks for your kind words, and that very clear message.  As you say, “surrender” is the solution, the only way out of the illusory world of the “I” and it’s “free will”.  Which returns, as always to the need for diligent, consistent, mindful practice.

    Practice. Patience. Perseverance. As Frans often reminds us.

  10. by Seema on July 13, 2015 at 03:15 am

    I wrote a note today and thought of this article and now I see how my “ideas” and understanding about “free will” have changed.

    Posting it here too , bit long for a reply :-).
    here it goes-

    Does anyone has free will and what kind. It seems to me that we collect beliefs, ideas etc. from our childhood and so forth from our parents, upbringing, religion etc. and then make our own, this is not free will? Than may be as adults we try to get rid of those ideas, there is no free will there, as we are reacting to them. Reaction is “fear ’ based” coming from our past. There is no free will there either.

    We don’t even have freedom to stop “thinking” negative thoughts, we try but still we do get them. We have freedom to tell the truth but we don’t
    always because we don’t want to pay the price for it.
    Our emotions are also not at free will at all. What we think bring emotions, how we react brings emotions. So there is no free will and “control “over emotions either.

    If we look around in our society, constantly we are pushed around by everyone to use “mind control” so our “perception” changes towards the “truth”. Does truth really matters?

    Most of all we, we are the ones who keep “criticizing” ourselves, we don’t have free will to end that either.

    Free will requires lot of discipline and I used to think that it requires “mind control” but actually that’s not it. By controlling mind “actively and aggressively” we create the opposite of that.

    It requires that we are aware of every moment, being present. Aware of thoughts, be an observer of our thoughts but not try to get rid of them. Once we do that our thoughts and thinking become free and we can see life in an open way, more receptive, flexible to changes and not resist it.

    But does this free will belong to “me” as identity? Can I touch this “free will” or was it always there but we were not able to see it or reach it?

    Free will and will of self/I are different. We have to ask ourselves than if we have chosen our path out of our free will or will of I? I think free will is living free of the will of I!

    so free will is surrender , surrender not to ” me and self” but surrender to my inner self which we do by surrendering to freedom of will and for that we have to get past our conditioned thinking , past , future , worry, fear , which is living in the moment.

    Is it easy, heck not. by practicing not just by sitting on the cushion but by applying that in your life and letting go , experiencing everything as it is , fully aware is what seems to me is surrender and “free will”.

    I am bashing this “free will” here because it seems like a nice concept not easy to “live it”.

    What requires having a free will?

    It requires that we are fully aware of the moment. Do we live like that? No, we don’t. When we are not aware and conscious, how can we have free will?

    So, when we follow our spiritual path are we practicing free will”? Or is it our ego?

    Free thinking is not what we have been taught all along, it is not about thinking from our “intellectual brain, because than it comes from our preconceived idea, worries fears anger etc.

  11. by Gina Gamba on July 31, 2017 at 08:36 am

    Free Will is, as I see it, the ability to make responsible and informed choices for oneself without undue interference.  I, the person writing and composing this comment, am Gina. Gina is a very complex person, with lots of interests, talents, passions, intelligence, and experience from which I make choices. Those choices sometimes have unfavorable consequences, but at least then I know I was the one choosing what I thought was best at the time. It’s the Freedom to be my authentic human self with all the good and not so good that goes with it.
    At any given moment I do have the power to recognize when I’m being excessively critical towards myself and in that moment, whenever I notice it, I also have the power to redirect my thoughts. In fact I am the only person who has any power at all to change me. It’s that one of the Four Noble Truths: that we can end our own suffering?

    Here is a good article that clarified definitions of Self, True Self, and Authenticity:
    https://www.lionsroar.com/does-my-transgender-identity-conflict-with-the-teachings-on-no-self/?utm_content=buffer2e001&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

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