The question of free will versus determination is huge. In the one reality, every pair of opposites is ultimately an illusion. We’ve already blurred the division between good and evil and life and death. Is free will going to turn out to be the same as determinism? A lot seems to ride on the answer.
Free Will = Independence, Self-determination, Choice, Control over events, Future is open.
Determinism = Dependence on an outside will, Self determined by fate, No control over events, Choices made for you, Future is closed.
These phrases sketch in the common understanding of what’s at stake. Everything in the free-will column sounds attractive. We all want to be independent; we want to make our own decisions; we want to wake up with hope that the future is open and full of endless possibilities.
On the other hand, nothing seems attractive in the determination column. If your choices have been made for you, if your self is tied to a plan written before you were born, then the future cannot be open. Emotionally at least, the prospect of free will has already won the argument.
And at a certain level nobody has to delve any deeper. If you and I are marionettes operated by an invisible puppeteer – call him God, fate, or karma – then the strings he’s pulling are also invisible. We have no proof that we aren’t making free choices.
There is a reason to delve deeper, however, and it centers on the word Vasana. In Sanskrit, a Vasana is an unconscious cause. It’s the software of the psyche, the driving force that makes you do something when you think you’re doing it spontaneously. As such, Vasana is very disturbing.
Vasana is determinism that feels like free will. If unconscious tendencies kept working in the dark, they wouldn’t be a problem. But human beings, unique among all living creatures, want to break down Vasana. We crave the assurance of absolute freedom and its result – a totally open future.
Is this reasonable? Is it even possible?
Adapted from The Book of Secrets, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books, 2004).