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..:: Free Will ::..

By

Alan Schneider

                                                                                                          

             The question of Free Will has always concerned philosophers, theologians, and spiritualists. How free are we as individual, independent agents of consciousness acting in the world environment? This SYNERGY essay addresses that question, although the matter itself is so extensive and convoluted that any analysis will probably be quite incomplete!

             What am I? As nearly as I can determine, I am a more or less discreet biological organism, existing in interdependence with an external environment, physically composed of genetically sculpted protein, carrying a sentient perception of an individual, personal identity, and a higher perception of a sense of meaning and purpose that includes, and also transcends, my immediate self and environment. There are many terms to describe this higher perception, including Soul, Atman, I Am Presence, Jiva, Buddha Mind, and so on. Awareness at this level is so rarefied that attempts at classification become tenuous, but most observers who look into this state of manifestation agree that something is there, beyond physical self-perception, and that something appears to be intelligent and cohesive, albeit on a level well beyond and apart from basic physical sensory awareness. 

            We must begin this inquiry with the physical integration of existence – the body, the senses, and the ego – since these three are the collective focus of individual activity, and, hence, personal Free Will. As we ascend the levels of manifestation from the Physical Plane upward, the condition of Free Will becomes successively more conditional and less literal. The system of classification that I have worked with very effectively in the past regarding such matters is the Hindu Chakra System, and it remains useful in this instance as well. Please follow along...  

            The Chakra concerned with the Physical Plane of perception is Muladhara, the First Chakra. At the level of Muladhara, we are focused on survival and the physical activities associated with life and lifestyle – how well we are coping with the world in terms of meeting our physical, personal, and social needs. One who does not effectively function at this level generally does not effectively function at the succeeding levels, in other words, in the succeeding Chakras. The manifestation of Free Will is most apparent here, as we conduct our daily activities, making the choices that affect our lives on an ongoing basis. On a significant level, these include the choice of keeping and seeking employment, life partners, places of residence, shopping destinations, transportation, worship, and ethical decisions, to name a few of the chooseful activities that we may not notice, but either explicitly or implicitly perform on a daily basis. Even the decision not to decide, and leave the status quo in place, is still a decision. The Marriage Encounter workshops used to say that “Love Is a Daily Decision”, and so is much of the balance of physical existence! On the Physical Plane, Free Will certainly appears to be the operating modality much of the time. However, we must keep in mind here that the deterministic influence of Karma is also operating on the Physical Plane – the circumstances of our birth, education, and life experiences are all influenced by Karmic predisposition based on our activities in this life, and past lives. Some of these factors were examined in the last SYNERGY essay, Alternatives, and will not be extensively reiterated here, but still require mention in the context of our discussion of Free Will.  

            The body is the primary, and perhaps the only, focus of rote physical existence. Certainly in the case of human beings, this body has evolved into a neurological condition that demonstrates extensive personal psychology and, at the very least, limited personal sentience. We perceive ourselves as existing in not only the physical sense, but also the social sense of our involvement with the other human beings around us, with whom we have also evolved to be conditionally interdependent upon for personal survival. The ego, our most clearly defined internal psychological structure, is the result of our cumulative social conditioning – it is a social phenomenon that only appears to be personal. Deepak Chopra has referred to the ego as a “social fiction”, and he is quite correct in that observation. Since the ego is composed of social patterns, it is not surprising that the belief in individual Free Will is variable around the world, depending upon where one received one’s primary socialization. In individualistic cultures – and America is the world’s most salient example here – the concept of personal Free Will and individual initiative is held in the highest esteem as the preferred and appropriate means of creating and distributing ideas and resources. In collectivist cultures, such as Communist China, Free Will is deemphasized in favor of collective decision making, thought, and resource allocation. Much of the so-called Third World is also heavily oriented toward collective acculturation, with the bulk of decisions being collectively implemented by the extended family, clan, and tribe.  

            Now, the ego is predisposed to recognize and positively evaluate indications of the action of Free Will as demonstrated in the example of Western society and culture.  The ego has as its primary mental tasks the survival and augmented advantage of the body. Anything that serves these goals benefits the ego as well, and this benefit is experienced as an enhanced sense of self esteem and well being. The ego is a social difference engine – it functions by comparison of discreet conditions – hot and cold, rich and poor, good and evil, living and dead, and so on. The experience of self esteem is also comparative – if we had no variable levels of well being to refer to, the condition would be meaningless at best, and non-existent at the extreme of assessment. We are social animals, the ego is the ultimate social mechanism, and it loves to feel strong, stable, and secure in its function. Thus, the ego is inherently motivated to esteem and exacerbate the concept of Free Will in the service of its aggrandizement.  

            The preferred methodology of the ego in achieving and maintaining the status of the physical organism is exerting control over internal and external environmental factors. The ego seeks to maximize its control over objects and processes, including those “objects” characterized as other human beings, and those “processes” characterized as the emotional states of those other human beings. The ego can and does attempt to accomplish this control through a plethora of means ranging from outright violence and intimidation to cloying subservience – in a word, through overt and covert social and physical manipulation, and all of this is customarily identified by the ego as enabled by Free Will, not Karmic predisposition. On the exclusively social front, one means the ego does not like to employ to develop control is honest, forthright disclosure, because it places one in the position of equivalence to one’s peers, not a particularly aggrandizing experience! 

            So, in considering Free Will, we must bear in mind that we are dealing with a manifestation that is inherently attractive from the perspective of the human organism, and suspect for that reason. Most of us would love to feel that we are the utter and complete masters of existence, and this constitutes a standing condition of desire to experience and preserve that hypothetical state of mastery. Unfortunately, this places us in direct competition with the approximately 6.7 billion other people on planet Earth, a location that has always been typified by a general scarcity of resources throughout its history.  In fact, only a very privileged, and tiny minority of the human population is really in a social position to be considered “masters” of the planetary resource base, and they know it, and have taken measures that, in some cases, literally span hundreds or thousands of years of history to preserve their status and dominant condition. And all of these considerations are additionally heavily influenced by Karma – the masters are masters because that condition expresses the lessons they must learn about the collective human Soul in this life, lessons that amount to gaining the understanding that no one is the master of anything who has not first become the humble servant of the Logos – a very difficult task for anyone to achieve.  

            If we discount the wishful thinking and self deception that inevitably occurs as a result of the attractive nature of the doctrine of Free Will to the ego, we are left with a conception of limited Free Will active in human affairs. We are free to physically move about and practice non-proscribed personal and social behavior. As we move up the sequence of Chakras, encountering Svadhisthana, Chakra Two, we are free to practice either Left Hand (sexual pleasure and procreation), Right Hand (spiritual growth and development), or mixed, Tantra, in all three cases also mediated by Karmic considerations. At the level of Manipura, Chakra Three, we may be fortunate enough to achieve some measure of the kind of social mastery and control so sought after by the ego, or may otherwise hopefully be empowered enough to participate at some meaningful level in the social matrix.  These first three Chakras are interactive, influencing each other and the Karmic outcomes involved in patterns both subtle and sublime, however, they are all concerned with manipulating the illusory, transitory experience of life on the Physical Plane, a practice that comes to an abrupt halt no matter how successful it was, and no matter how auspiciously disposed our Karma was, with the demise of the body. The hope in this life, apart from the decision to live as a good, well-intended human being, is the possibility that we may have learned the lessons set out for us by Karma, and matured and developed as a Soul thereby. 

            At the level of Anahata, the Fourth, or Heart, Chakra, the conceptual emphasis of living radically shifts, requiring a leap of faith, because it is this level that is the seat of the Soul, and holds forth the possibility of spiritual immortality. The Soul does not need the condition of Free Will to exist – it simply exists forever as the immortal spiritual extension of God. The only requirement affecting the Soul concerns the fact that the recognition of its Divine nature is frequently obscured by the action of the first three Chakras, and that clouded condition needs to be clarified by practicing focused spiritual awareness. In this sense, Free Will possibly has some influence on things, because one must decide to seek the Truth that lies beyond mere sensory gratification – but it is equally possible that this decision is also Karmic in nature, and will manifest inevitably once enough suffering and disillusionment has taken place on the Physical Plane. My life’s experience has inclined me to believe that all of existence manifest on every level and in any way proceeds from the Logos as Pure Love and Light, filtering down through the levels of expression described by the Chakras (and several other conceptual systems, to be sure), finally appearing as the world we perceive in the physical senses as “objective” reality. 

            One important issue remains to be considered in our discussion of Free Will – the question of where mental constructs, i.e. ideas and symbols, originate. As I have indicated in the preceding paragraph, I have come to the conclusion that key developmental concepts are often the result of extra personal transmission from the Higher Planes of manifestation, up to and including the Logoic Plane. Now, it is also true that we build more complex thought constructs from simpler ones in the process of maturation as a consequence of the acculturation process. And we occasionally retrieve elements of repressed memory material from the unconscious. This cannot, however, explain the spontaneous emergence into conscious recognition of entirely novel ideas and concepts that have no apparent predecessors in either memory or culture.  

            “Higher Planes” of manifestation here is understood to include anything beyond the immediate Physical Plane of expression experienced in the physical senses. This includes the personal aura – actually visible to many sensitive individuals, and arguably an extension of sensory perception – and the Lower, Middle, and Upper Astral Planes, primarily attainable through meditation and related trance work, although also visible to those who have been appropriately initiated in a given spiritual tradition. The Astral Planes represent the next stage of perception beyond the Physical Plane, and, particularly in the case of the Lower Astral Plane, are not necessarily populated with positive content. Since the Lower Astral is the mental state most immediately contiguous to physical sensory perception, it is the level most disposed to inadvertently “bleed” into conscious perception in the form of waking fantasies and sleeping dreams, accounting for the frequently disturbing content seen in these events. This is particularly true in dreams, where the hold of the ego on consciousness is relaxed, permitting much negative content to manifest for the psychically uninitiated.  If the individual has not been meditating or reflecting regularly, and bringing a measure of conscious presence into the Astral Plane thereby, it can be an unfamiliar and menacing place. Moreover, if one has had a life characterized by personal trauma, this unfortunate Karmic trend will tend to significantly add to the negativity present on the Lower Astral plane through subconscious repression, driving the personal unconscious contents into Lower Astral expression.  

            It must be stressed here that the Astral Symbols, whether positive or negative, are the building blocks of conscious perception on the Physical Plane, including the creative manifestations of new ideas, plans, and designs, and are very probably reflections of personal Soul Karma ultimately originating from the Logos. The alternative is to suppose that such things simply appear from nowhere for no apparent reason, or as the result of some hypothetical local neurological process not yet clearly identified. At least Divine Transmission affords a cohesive explanation here, even if that transmission occasionally degrades in the Lower Astral region before emerging into conscious perception. Such degradation is by no means inevitable, and many social alternatives, including meditation, reflection, and transpersonal therapy, can positively affect this phenomenon when it does occur.  

            In conclusion, we may ultimately only have the fundamental choice to be proactive, and seek the Truth in all things, or reactive, and live transitory lives subject to illusion and control. In the words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet ”To be, or not to be, that is the question!”

                                          - With Love, Alan -

                                  (CR2008, Alan Schneider)

 

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