Does Hinduism support free will?

Hinduism does not give a single answer that fits every one; depending on whether the spiritual seeker believes in a non-dualistic or dualistic philosophy, the person’s stand on free will may be different.

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From the non-dualist’s perspective

The Advaitin or non-dualist believes that events of the physical universe are like waves rising from an ocean, symbolizing God. This viewpoint supports no free will. All human actions, in reality, find their source in God. If an egoistic feeling of free will is present, it is due to illusion or due to the absence of God-realization. For the God-realized saint who has experienced the oneness of the self and God, the question eventually becomes redundant.

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From the dualist’s perspective

Many believers of dualism support the existence of free will, even if they are not aware of this. It is even possible that free will was granted to human beings by God. The existence of free will does find some support in the early chapters of the Bhagavad Gita, depending upon which translation/interpretation is used. The scripture holds that karma of the past are responsible for our circumstances in the present moment. Supporting free will puts the blame of a human’s present circumstances (and of distress in the world) on the human being rather than on God. For most people, having some free will is a better answer for many purposes, even if it is not true. In spite of being an Advaitin, Sri Aurobindo (b. 1872), a famous Hindu philosopher, has stated, “The sense of free will, illusion or not, is a necessary machinery of the action of Nature, necessary for man during his progress, and it would be disastrous for him to lose it before he is ready for a higher truth [1].”

As for God-realized devotional saints (bhakti saints), their answer may not differ from that of the Advaitin. People in the refuge of God act in accordance with God’s wish, for they become God-inspired. Because most classical books on Hindu spirituality have been written by God-realized people, books generally discourage free will in Hinduism. The devotional, even if dualistic, generally discourage free will as they find it egoistical, in relation to God.

Reality may be perceived differently by a commoner in comparison to a saint; it is possible that reality is dynamic, and it changes for the spiritual seeker as he or she evolves spiritually. Even if free will is initially present and has been granted by God (while creating the universe), it may get renounced on our path towards God.

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Free will and predeterminism

If a group of 50 people are requested to select between vanilla ice cream and chocolate ice cream, would God know the outcome beforehand? Would he know how many people would choose vanilla and how many would choose chocolate? Yes, he should; every choice will depend on one’s disposition, which, in turn, depends upon samskaras or karmic impressions. Choices made within the karmic field, if present, are in accordance with the laws of nature [2], defined by God. This does not mean that free will is not present; God can still figure out the future and stop an act if He wants to.

God may have hidden some answers from us while creating the universe; the existence of free will may be one of them. But devotional spirituality aims at recognizing the God-centricity of the universe, working in accordance with God’s wish, and aspiring to eventually reach God.

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[1] Essays on the Gita by Sri Aurobindo

[2] According to Hindu philosophy, Nature binds all eternal souls to the material world through her three modes – goodness, passion, and darkness. Please check out this article for an introduction to these modes of nature.

Do Hindu scriptures say that Rama is the Supreme God?

I would like to share my answer to a Quora question. The answer tries to reject some of the misconceptions people have about Lord Rama. Though Rama has been established as the Supreme God in most Hindu scriptures, some individuals continue to propagate the false viewpoint that he is not divine.

If a human being does not want to believe that Lord Rama is Purna-Brahman — and all-knowing, — no literature support for this fact will be sufficient for him or her. On the other hand, if someone has developed faith, he or she will unambiguously recognize Rama’s divinity in all authentic versions of the Ramayana — including those written by Maharishi Valmiki, Maharishi Ved Vyas, and Goswami Tulasidasa — and in other devotional Hindu scriptures. So in the end, it is Rama (God) himself — the Real Doer — who decides if Rama will be perceived as the Divine by an individual soul (jiva) or as a mere human being or as an allegory. This is where faith and trust on Rama become important.

Unfortunately, today we do not have access to many scriptures in their original forms [1]; many scriptures appear to have later additions in them with internal logical inconsistencies or errors. Because we did not have a printing press in earlier times, it came down do hand-written manuscripts being transferred from generation to generation and memorization by later scholars. This is where unnecessary words may have been inserted, in spite of good intentions.

What can be a solution to deal with this situation? Rather than developing a My favourite scripture is perfect or My favourite scripture is better than your scripture kind of paradigm, we should learn to absorb what is useful in any scripture and skip what is not relevant for us. Moreover, equally importantly, we can also request Rama to directly guide us towards himself. In Hinduism, Rama’s being the Supreme God is not solely a scripture-dependent concept; it is more dependent on the personal experiences of devotional saints who have met him in person [2] and the experiences of commoners, some of which have also been documented in scriptures.

[1] Some relatively newer scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita may have had a higher chance of reaching us in their original state or with minimal modifications. In North India, the Ramacharitamanasa was more recently written and may have reached us in its original state.

[2] For many exclusive devotees of Rama like Sri Ramananda, Goswami Tulasidasa, Saint Thyagaraja, and Samarth Guru Ramdas, Lord Rama happens to be the source of Lord Vishnu and all incarnations. For many Vaishnava saints like Mirabai and Surdas, Rama is an equal of Krishna; for some, he is an incarnation of Vishnu. In spite of the superficial differences, Rama has been considered divine by all Vaishnava saints.

Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolence: Agreement with the Bhagavad Gita

I would like to share my answer to a Quora question. The answer focuses on how Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolence was in full agreement with the instruction given by Lord Krishna (to Arjuna) in the Bhagavad Gita. The full answer can be read on this page.

The Bhagavad Gita does not support violence but teaches human beings about (1) goodness as opposed to ignorance, (2) following dharma (this includes responsibilities and righteousness), and (3) the significance of surrendering to God with love. The Gita fully supports a comprehensive definition of ahimsa.

Mahatma Gandhi, a devotee of Lord Rama who had learned to surrender to Lord Rama (God), did what was inspired by God. For his circumstances (desh-kala-paristhiti; location-time-situation), God inspired him to follow a version of ahimsa that did not include war. Earlier, the same Lord, during his appearance on Earth as Lord Krishna, had instructed Arjuna to follow a version of ahimsa that included engagement in battle. Participation in a war, when it became inevitable (read about Krishna’s peace proposal here), was in line with Arjuna’s dharma.

While Arjuna had chosen to be a warrior by profession, Gandhi never made that choice. Gandhi’s dharma considerably differed from that of Arjuna. A single solution does not fit every situation. We should be happy that Gandhi’s path, which was highly spiritually advanced, worked, and Lord Rama blessed India with the results that they were looking for.

Happy Gandhi Jayanti!

[1] The Hindi verse shown in the image is from the Dohavali by Goswami Tulasidasa (published by Gita Press.) My English translation: “Lord Rama (God) is beyond knowledge and the senses; he is indescribable. He is unborn and transcends the mind, illusion, and nature. The Lord, whose attributes include Truth, Consciousness, and Bliss, has performed illustrious divine plays on Earth as a human being.” This translation was originally published at this site.

[2] Readers can also read about Gandhi’s karma yoga in this blog post. If you are new to Hindu spirituality, you can check out this blog post for an introduction to Lord Rama.

Devotional Spirituality: Our feelings matter to God

How are our feelings related to how we see God? Do we have a full choice in deciding how we approach God? To find out, please read my new article from the Deccan Herald titled “Our feelings matter to God” (Panorama Page; Sept 25, 2019).

You can right click on the image below and select “View Image” to read the article.

Workplace spirituality: Following our passion

Most human beings would like to select a career that fulfils their passion and also pays well. But what if you have a dream that does not align with big earnings? What if your aspiration for being an artist or a writer has a lower professional success rate? Should you still follow your dreams? Or should you select the job that pays more? This question has been answered by many professionals, including counsellors and spiritual gurus, and is not easy to answer. A single answer may not fit everyone.

For many individuals, circumstances may not provide the freedom to choose a career of their choice. They may need to maximize their earnings to pay their bills and postpone their dreams for later. For individuals who have a choice in selecting a career, following their dreams may be the way to go. Let us take a look at this dilemma in the background of Hindu spirituality.

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The more righteous option

Following our dreams may be more in line with dharma. Simply having a dream or aspiration in life implies that we have spent time thinking about what we want to do in life (besides earning money) and is a spiritual achievement. Because having a passion or dream is more selfless, it may be more righteous. Accordingly, it may be well supported by God.

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What does Nature want?

By choosing a career that is righteous and tunes well with our aptitude, we may be developing a more harmonious relationship with nature. If God has a plan for us and he wants someone to follow his or her dream, not following it will simply waste time. Just like it is difficult to own a dream, it is difficult to let go of a dream if we possess one.

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Finding Happiness

Even if our passion has unveiled itself late in life, if our responsibilities do not allow us to follow our dreams full time, or if our affinity to profits is very strong, we can begin by spending a few moments from our lucrative job towards our passion. Because dreams in life are guided by our true nature, following them triggers a simultaneous search for happiness, which is a permanent attribute of our inner nature. On the other hand, if we do not feel delighted in following our dreams, we probably have not connected to a dream.

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The Perishability Principle

Contribution to the world is a vague concept in the context of spirituality. While exertion in selected professions may be labeled more significant by the onlooker depending upon one’s preferences, all results, including all commercial products and most discoveries, are equally perishable in time.

Alternatively, after nurturing some happiness within by following our dreams, we can opt to transfer the energy of optimism from our heart to others. This propagation of positive vibrations through the universe may be as good as material achievements. At the same time, if someone is less interested in Science and Technology but participates in these areas to take society forward, their efforts may categorize as being selfless; God may reward selflessness with permanent happiness.

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Connecting to God

While God is the real doer, we take too long to understand this. Because following our inner voice teaches us to place aptitude above profits, following our passion can better our chances of spiritual connectivity to God. By being true to our self, we can allow our inner inspirations to guide us to the stage where all karma, including profession, are no longer significant — it may create ways for gaining permanent proximity to God.

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