The human mind is conditioned by several factors, some overt and others covert. By and large, there are three major conditioning influences: (1) The Genetic (2) The Environmental and (3) The one due to Past-life Impact. A human being’s mental make up is a complex product of experiential residues influenced by the above three. Let us call this as the Mental Content of a person. Decisions are actually made by this content though the apparent assessment, based on the superficial thought process, is too shallow to recognize this. It is because we sense, knowingly or unknowingly, the Mental Content in others that we are able to predict a person’s reactions after we observe his or her behavior for some time. If that person can function entirely from a free will, uninfluenced by a background, it will be difficult for us to do so. This implies that the past plays a significant role in determining a person’s reactions. One of Jesus’ statements is relevant here: Forgive them for they know not what they are doing.
That brings us to the question: Where does free-will come into all this? The only psychological state that is free and untouched by the past is the simple self-awareness. It is like a non-interfering witness. That is the only thing free from being influenced by the Mental Content of a person. When that aliveness is there, the content’s reaction is modified and one’s response is imbued with compassion rather than be merely controlled by the past. To think that free will implies that one can take any decision one wants, uninfluenced by one’s Mental Content, is to be ignorant of the hidden forces of past residues. Those who have sensed the content’s power know that it is a juggernaut. As J. Krishnamurti says, “It is much too quick for you to control.” Thus, the only thing that can dissolve its power is an action in the present which is the quiet self-awareness that is free of all emotions and, therefore, free of all the past. The joy of self-awareness clears the obstacles for more intense awareness to step in.
The general human tendency is to let the mind rule the roost through its inherited and acquired conditioning. Unknowingly, we all get caught in this momentum and lose our lives in the rut that captures us early in our lives. At some stage, some of us become reflective and realize with a shock the damage done to our psycho-physical system as a result of unknowingly falling a prey to the Mental Content. Can we do something to get out of the rut? The answer lies not in conforming to some systems, religious or anti-religious, but in standing alone, free from all conditioning. That is like shining like a single star in a limpid sky.
In Sanskrit, the phrase ‘Gunas of Prakriti’ is often used. This phrase means ‘characteristics of the flow of cause and effect in nature’. Krishna says in the Bhagawad Gita, “Actions are done in all cases by the Gunas of Prakriti, but he whose mind is deluded by egoism thinks “I am the doer””. We see that this delusion is the same when one thinks “I am the one who is taking decisions.”
There was an interesting neurobiology article by Christof Koch in the Scientific American/Mind (May/June 2012) entitled ‘Finding Free Will”. It establishes the myth behind the conventional ideas of free will. The following lines occur at the start of the article:
“In a remote corner of the universe, on a small blue planet gravitating around a humdrum sun in the outer districts of the Milky Way, organisms arose from the primordial mud and ooze in an epic struggle for survival that spanned aeons. Despite all evidence to the contrary, these bipedal creatures thought of themselves as extraordinarily privileged, occupying a unique place in a cosmos of a trillion trillion stars. Conceited as they were, they believed that they, and only they, could escape the iron law of cause and effect that govern everything.”
When we see all these, we move into a region of deeper perspectives in our lives.