THEOSOPHY, Vol. 38, No. 8, June, 1950
(Pages 357-360; Size: 12K)
(Number 8 of a 24-part series)

[Compiler's Note: All 24 articles have the same name.]

"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS

ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS

IT is, of course, characteristic of the Gita that no systematic treatments are given of any subject, even though the chapter headings may indicate that such is to be the case. In the Gita, as in H. P. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine, we shall see that the points made on any subject of central philosophical importance are scattered throughout the text. (In this case, the simplest explanation is probably the truest and most natural, for the problems of philosophy and psychology do not come up in a systematized fashion in the lives of human beings, but are rather organic to some complicated situation, which itself implicates numerous key matters of doctrine or persuasion.)

So, if we look to the Gita for a dissertation devoted exclusively to "the freedom of the will," we shall not be particularly rewarded, although we may discover in many of the Gita's chapters an impetus to thinking about this over-formalized question. The whole of Chapter Two, in one sense, is an expression of Krishna's conviction that the soul of man, though commonly involved in a network of destiny, may rise to choose, may select an idea or a line of action above and beyond the line of least resistance. In Chapter Three, also, are a few brief statements which merit prolonged pondering. "Devotion," says Krishna, "must be performed through the right performance of action," or, in other words, through choices exercised in situations wherein one's instincts are seen to reveal the highest truth or rightness.

Then Krishna says a very curious thing: "All actions performed other than as sacrifice unto God make the actor bound by action." Reading "the Supreme Spirit of all Selves" for "God" -- as the general Gita context makes clear must be done -- we shall probably conclude that very few human beings devote their actions only to this Spirit, and therefore that nearly all are "bound by action." Being "bound by action," in turn, must mean to be left without alternatives in many situations. On this view, how many are literally without the present capacity or opportunity to exercise any fully free choices! Krishna declares:

All actions are effected by the qualities of nature. The man deluded by ignorance thinks, "I am the actor." But he, O strong-armed one! who is acquainted with the nature of the two distinctions of cause and effect, knowing that the qualities act only in the qualities, and that the Self is distinct from them, is not attached in action....

Throwing every deed on me, and with thy meditation fixed upon the Higher Self, resolve to fight, without expectation, devoid of egotism and free from anguish.

To "resolve" is not to conquer, but only to begin to wish to conquer. Separating oneself from habits based on varied degrees of delusion is no easy matter. "Freedom," then, is only theoretically within reach. In contra-distinction to current scientific opinion and religion, Theosophy and the summation of Krishna's words are an affirmation of Free Will in man. But this is the doctrine of the secret promise of freedom, not the doctrine of its present, unqualified existence. It may even be that the actual free choices made by any given individual in any one life-time are few and far between.

Even Arjuna, the "best of the Bharatas," is with great difficulty sufficiently inspired by a Great Teacher to free himself from allowing his actions to be any more than conditioned reflexes to traditional modes of behavior.

How many real choices do we make in our own lives? Will not the man who has learned to be honest with himself admit that many of his apparent decisions and choices were pre-determined? Do there not almost always seem to be such strong lines of preferences or inclination within us that the debate presumably surrounding a "decision" is mere fanfare? Can we not say that most decisions are determined long before they are announced to the world, and that the interim is apt to be one devoted to finding expedient arguments and phrases to explain a course finally adopted? Perhaps this is what "bound by action" really means, in the terms of psychology.

It is seldom the larger and more spectacular choices which actually do call the power of free will into use. Nearly always, on major issues, there seem to be lines of mental influence so strong that their triumph is inevitable. For instance, men may profess a noble ethic, intellectually believe in its "truth" or its metaphysical rightness, and yet go through an entire life-time without "devoting" a single action towards an alteration of behavior on behalf of the ideal.

The Theosophical argument for the existence of free will in man is simply the expression of the conviction that there are times, in the lives of all, when the old lines of influence from the past and the new lines of influence of the present imbue our psychic and mental natures equally and simultaneously. "Conditioning," then, can move us neither one way nor the other. The irresistible force has met the immovable object, and the Ego does have to choose.

What small and insignificant occasions these must often seem to be! Sometimes men have awakened in later years to a realization of the immense implications of some true decision made earlier in life, concerning, possibly, a thing so subtle as to seem irrelevant to the broad issues of a man's future. Yet selection of a wife and mother of children, the company he shall work for, or the trade or profession he will follow may all in turn have been profoundly modified or "conditioned" by this one free choice in the past. This, perhaps, is why moralists are so repetitive in their insistence that we consider "the small things" to be important. The moralists may not have the philosophical and psychological basis to explain just how small things relate to big things, -- may, in fact, not believe in free choice at all, but only in propitiation of their God -- but there is a distinct recognition even among religionists that we gradually prepare ourselves for great good or great evil by devotion to the small right or wrong. The reason that the large decisions are so seldom free is because they usually involve complex situations rather than simple ones; in such instances the attainment of an even balance of desires is almost impossible. Yet only when that even balance is struck can there be free choice in the full sense.

We may, if we choose, relate the whole question of free will to the religious or moral disciplines of self-restraint. Krishna once asked the rhetorical question, "What will restraint effect," since "all creatures act according to their natures." Restraint, of itself, never can nor will accomplish a transformation of motivation. The "restraint" of all but the most discerning ascetics is apt to give an illusory sense of mastery over "desires" -- desires which will later re-assert themselves in new and less-planned-for situations. For instance, there is really only one identification of Self with objects of sense, but innumerable ways and means of exploiting the senses. Men sometimes feel they have purged themselves of the evil of sensualism after restraining but a single channel of their essential appetites. And in such instances, whatever basis one thinks he is choosing from, choices will still be made on the basis of the predominant impulses of the past, clothed in new form.

The moments of genuine free will must come most frequently to those who face themselves honestly, appraise their actual dominant motivations and try to understand them.

Perhaps it could be thought that the study and profession of philosophy is of subsidiary importance if so few choices will be real choices no matter how much philosophy we study nor how much we might wish the fact to be otherwise. Yet the only alteration of karmic lines comes through Manas. We are able to stand at the crossroads of free choice only when and because the mind has been pioneering the possibilities of new ways of action.


COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:

"THE GUARDIAN OF A LIVING BEING"

Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busybody; the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I, who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and turn away.

The soul does violence to itself when it is overpowered by pleasure or pain.

Let the duty which is in thee be the guardian of a living being. 


--MARCUS AURELIUS

Next article:
"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS
ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
(Part 9 of a 24-part series)

Back to
"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS
ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
series complete list of articles.

Back to the full listing containing all of the
"Additional Categories of Articles".



Main Page | Introductory Brochure | Volume 1--> Setting the Stage
Karma and Reincarnation | Science | Education | Economics | Race Relations
The WISDOM WORLD | World Problems & Solutions | The People*s Voice | Misc.