Question: Is everything happening in my life pre-arranged by God? Is the future pre-determined? If so, where is my free will? Does God guide my life or am I to be fully responsible for what I do?
This is what you might call a knotty question. And it seems to be a question that is more frequently asked in the context of Western philosophy. For example, Shrii Shrii Anandamurti – the guru of Ananda Marga – only rarely referred to the subject in his many thousands of formal discourses and informal talks.
In a very direct sense, of course we do have free will, i.e. the capacity to decide upon and carry out our own actions. There are certain bodily functions, such as the beating of our heart and the flow of blood in our body, which are not normally under our conscious command, but when it comes to selecting, for example, which clothes we are going to wear, then it is up to us to decide what we are going to do.
All day long we go on making various decisions about what to do and what not to do. So it appears that we do indeed have free will. But when we take a look at our situation from a cosmic perspective then the issue becomes more complicated.
The yogis (and other spiritual and/or religious people) say that God is omniscient. God knows the past, the present and the future. He knows what you are going to do and what will happen to you. If that’s true, then how much free will do we really have?
To find the answer to that question, let’s go back to the simple task of selecting which clothes we are going to wear. Your selection of clothes in the first place depends on your likes and dislikes, which are in turn based on your psychic momentum (known in yoga philosophy as your collection of samskaras, or more loosely put, karma). That is, the various actions that you did in the past, the various experiences that you had in the past, shape and guide what you are going to do today and tomorrow.
If you have ever been in a complicated fix and made a decision which turned out to be “wrong” then you probably wish you had acted differently. Yes, it was up to you to decide what to do and you did have the “free will” to choose an alternative, but you didn’t do it. The reason you did what you did is because of your samskaras (the psychic momentum based on your past actions).
A great mind – the Cosmic Mind – with the power to know your past actions could easily predict what you would do in the pivotal moment of choice. And looking back on that moment, though you might wish you had chosen differently, your experience up to that point guided you to make the only choice you could at the time.
So although in a sense we do indeed have free will, at the same time it is limited, not absolute. It’s like a kite – it can fly wherever it likes, but only within certain limits because the string always restricts its overall movement.
Animals and plants have their own freedom, within the limits of their instinct, which in effect means they are governed by the Cosmic Will because it is the Cosmic Will which determines instinct.
Human beings in turn have their own freedom, within the limits of intellect, and this freedom (that we call free will) also has its boundaries because the intellect and its process of development and operation is also ultimately determined by the Cosmic Will.
To sum up, from our individual perspective we do indeed have free will. But looking at it from the cosmic perspective then we find that that free will is limited – that it only operates within certain boundaries or perimeters.
But that doesn’t mean to say we don’t have to take responsibility for our own actions. We should always try to do the best we can according to our own individual capacity. If we do something which inhibits the physical, mental or spiritual progress of ourselves or others, then we will suffer the consequences. If we do something that enhances the physical, mental or spiritual progress of ourselves or others, then we will enjoy a better future.