Screeching Squirrels

Charles Wikner WIKNER at NACDH4.NAC.AC.ZA
Mon Mar 30 04:00:43 CST 1998

On Wed, 25 Mar 1998, Jonathan Bricklin wrote:

> The experience of free will can only be swept away by grace.

True.  Until then, the experience itself can be understood and
weakened, in order to avail oneself of that everpresent grace.

> When I say I don't believe in free will

This is where the confusion arises: terminology and semantics.

> I am saying something akin to "I believe in
> God."  This is not the same as saying I am experiencing a union with God.

No problem with that.

> On the other hand, to assert a belief in free will is to deny God's
> reality, as Ramakrishna was getting at in what I quoted.

The problem is seeing them as contradictory (and contrasting apples
with oranges doesn't help: *belief* in free will vs. *reality* of God).
Religions see no problem: you are free to love God (or go to hell),
because compulsory love (or surrender) is a contradiction in terms.

To acknowledge the experience of free will in no way denies God's
reality: to affirm the apparent reality of free will is not to
assert its absolute reality; similarly, to affirm the apparent
reality of Jonathan is not to assert his absolute reality.

> As for the perils of disbelief in free will, I think I am handicapped
> in my understanding by being an American.

Free will implies choice: that which claims to be the chooser is the ego.
Therefore denial of (apparent) free will is denial of the (experiential)
existence of the ego: what is the agent of that denial?  The ego denying
itself leads to confusion.

> We have an excess of belief in free
> will here, and all the excesses of belief in self that go with it.

Americans are indeed presented with very wide range of choice: so
the chooser does get rather a lot of practice!  You can appreciate
why so many want to migrate to America -- it is heaven on earth for
the ego.  But there is a positive side: when you realise that heaven
is actually hell (chains of gold are as much chains as those of iron),
then there is motivation to seek a way out of the prison.

> A weaker "I" sounds like a good start.

Yes, indeed.  Then the question arises: how is it weakened?
Will mere denial do it, or is some other method necessary?

Some thoughts on free will:

Let's say that I am offered a cup of coffee: I have the choice
to accept it or not.  (I could ask for a glass of water, or snap
"Don't interrupt me!" but let's keep it simple.)  Assume that
the circumstances are not of my making, in other words the offer
of refreshment -- in fact the opportunity to choose -- is simply
presented.  The act of choosing is generally experienced as an
act of free will.

The choice is in fact quite mechanical (i.e. from habit), but
nonetheless the ego feels that it has been consulted and labels
this mechanical action as its free will.  How this arises is
straightforward: the ego identifies with the habit ("I am a
coffee-drinker") and experiences the act of choosing as an
opportunity to exercise it will (as the chooser) which reinforces
the habit (with which it identifies).

At a later stage I come under the direction of a teacher (or
doctor's orders for that matter) and the discipline given is to
drink only water.  That changes the equation somewhat: ego=habit
becomes ego=disciple (one under discipline) where the choice is
to follow the discipline or not.  This does take some effort,
but is eased by faith in the teacher (or doctor) and an
intellectual understanding of the health benefits of drinking
water and the dire consequences of drinking coffee.  So there is
still choice, and the ego still identifies itself with the act of
choosing, and so this is also perceived as an act of free will.

After some time under this discipline, the craving for coffee
weakens and eventually dies, so that drinking water is no longer
a discipline  but simply natural.  When the knowledge arises that
the body is thirsty, there is the choice to follow that knowledge
or not.  So there is still free will.

If the choice is to ignore that knowledge (which is how ignorance
is maintained), then there is the choice to follow discipline; and
if that is refused, then there is the choice to follow desire.  The
choice runs down to the lowest level, but the body will get the
water that it needs -- but may also get the poison (caffeine) which
it does not need and which merely indulges the senses.

In the main, spiritual disciplines are directed to freeing the
individual from his own habits -- which are second nature -- so
that he may live according to his original nature.  In other words,
the behaviour is no longer governed by the laws of the creature,
but by those of the Creator, so that it is in harmony with the rest
of creation.  This seems to be the basic common denominator of all
spiritual teachings.

In circumstances where the ego has usurped the power of the buddhi,
it seems that free will has three components:
  (a) circumstance presents an opportunity to choose,
  (b) the choice is based on some value, and
  (c) the value depends on the identity of the chooser
      at that instant.

At first spiritual disciplines are performed in an egocentric way;
later the fruits are surrendered, and then the will.  So long as
the ego is perceived as real, there is free will; when the ego is
perceived as unreal (albeit still experienced), then free will is
not an issue.  The denial of free will is confusing to the former,
and irrelevant to the latter.

I fail to see any utility in the bald denial of free will (it is
then just an idea to which one is attached), but instead see it as
harmful to the vast bulk of humanity for whom the ego is very real,
and who could do with a healthy dose of discipline.

That said, discussion of *apparent* free will, understanding the
nature of it, would effectively negate its reality and contribute
to weakening its grip on the individual.

Regards, Charles.

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