This article continues the previous post on the Illusion of Free will. Free will, as we commonly understand it, is an illusion because the personality which drives our will is fixed and makes predictable decisions. Furthermore, we are unaware of the invisible Forces of Nature (Prakriti) which impinge on our consciousness and compel us to act in pre-determined fashion. It is only when we expand in consciousness and gradually unite with the Divine through Yoga that we begin to experience the true nature of free will, for then our will becomes aligned with the will of the Supreme. True freedom comes with True Knowledge.
Karma is nothing but the will of the Spirit in action, consequence nothing but the creation of will. What is in the will-power of being, expresses itself in karma and consequence. When the will is limited in mind, karma appears as a bondage and a limitation, consequence as a reaction or an imposition. But when the will of the being is infinite in the spirit, karma and consequence become instead the joy of the creative spirit, the construction of the eternal mechanist, the word and drama of the eternal poet, the harmony of the eternal musician, the play of the eternal child.
-Sri Aurobindo. The Supramental Manifestation, Karma Will and Consequence
Man’s future is always in formation
Modern science has shown us that the weather few days from today can be known because there are satellites which provide images of cloud formations over the horizon. In the same way, man’s future is always in formation and is visible to the awakened occult eye in the higher planes of consciousness. The Universe is not inanimate but conscious; it records our actions and provides feedback to us for our psychic growth through the mechanism of Karma. This Karma gets recorded in the form of inchoate formations in the higher mental worlds. These formations get fleshed out as they descend through the various planes of consciousness until they materialize at the appropriate time as events in the physical world. The picture below shows a man (represented by a smiley face) first setting up some future Karma in the mental world due to his actions. It shows how, as the Karma descends through the vital and subtle-physical worlds, it gets fleshed out and altered as a result of his further actions.
(For more on these higher planes of consciousness, see Cosmology)
Karma can be changed!
In the previous centuries, seers in India had the ability to predict the future but unfortunately, this made the proletariat fatalistic and prone to inertia (“It is God’s will!“) because somebody forgot to mention that everything in the future is not always completely formed but can be changed. How can Karma be changed? It can be changed in three ways
- In our ordinary consciousness, this can occur due to the action of our will. The thoughts we bear and the actions that we undertake every day get registered in the higher mental and vital worlds. This gives us the capacity to counteract and alter the future. A sincere repentance, a firm action of will or a renunciation of a bad habit can alter the course of our life.
- There is also the action of Divine Grace, either directly or through the action of a Guru, which can annul future Karma.
- A Yogi who has expanded his/her consciousness into the higher planes is capable of countermanding Karma by consciously battling the Karmic formations in those worlds. This is what Sri Aurobindo & The Mother termed the determinisms of the higher planes. This aspect is discussed further in the passages below.
The Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram (Mirra Alfassa) discusses below the first and second modes of changing Karma:
When one does not repeat one’s past mistakes, the divine power, the power of the divine Grace, abolishes their consequences – their karma – in the being. But as long as mistakes are repeated nothing can be abolished, because one re-creates them at every minute. When a person has made a serious error, say, a serious mistake (it can be serious or not, but we are concerned primarily with the serious ones), such mistakes have their consequences in life, a karma which has to be exhausted. The divine Grace, if you call upon it, has the power to abolish that karma, to cut short the consequences – but the Grace can only do this when you, within yourself, don’t begin all over again, when the mistake committed is not renewed. The past can be completely purified and abolished, on condition that one does not keep making it into a perpetual present. The past can be cleansed to the point where it has no effect of any kind on the future, but only on condition that you stop the wrong vibration in yourself, that you don’t reproduce the same vibration indefinitely.
(Mother’s Agenda, June 2 1961)
In this passage from the book Adventures of Consciousness, Satprem explains the effect of the determinisms of the higher planes
A great deal has been written about determinism versus individual freedom, but the problem is too often seen from the wrong perspective. It is not a question of freedom versus determinism, but of freedom and many determinisms. We are subject, Sri Aurobindo says, to a series of superimposed determinisms–physical, vital, mental and higher–and the determinism of each plane can change or cancel the determinism of the plane immediately below it. For instance, good health and a given life-span in a person can be modified by the vital determinism of his passions or various psychological disorders, which in turn can be modified by the mental determinism of his willpower and his ideal, which can then be modified by the greater law of the psychic, and so on. Freedom means to move to a higher plane. And the same applies to the earth, because the very same forces drive the individual and the collective. As individual meeting points of all these determinisms in matter, if we are capable of rising to a higher plane, we automatically help change all the lower determinisms and give the earth access to a greater freedom, until the day when, with the help of the pioneers of evolution, we can lift ourselves to a supramental plane, which will change the present destiny of the world as the Mind once changed its destiny around the Tertiary Era. And in the end–if there is an end–perhaps the earth will attain the supreme Determinism, which is supreme Freedom and perfect accomplishment. Through our work on consciousness, each of us contributes to resisting the fatalities that assail our world, and acts as a leavening agent for the earth’s freedom and divinization. Indeed, the evolution of consciousness has a supreme meaning for the earth.
(Satprem, Adventures of Consciousness, Chapter 9)
This is a more expansive answer by the Mother on this paradox of Karma versus free-will.
Question : Is there then no real freedom? Is everything absolutely determined, even your freedom, and is fatalism the highest secret?
Mother: Freedom and fatality, liberty and determinism are truths that obtain on different levels of consciousness. It is ignorance that makes the mind put the two on the same level and pit one against the other.
Consciousness is not a single uniform reality, it is complex; it is not something like a flat plain, it is multidimensional. On the highest height is the Supreme and in the lowest depth is matter; and there is an infinite gradation of levels of consciousness between this lowest depth and the highest height. In the plane of matter and on the level of the ordinary consciousness you are bound hand and foot. A slave to the mechanism of Nature, you are tied to the chain of Karma, and there, in that chain, whatever happens is rigorously the consequence of what has been done before. There is an illusion of independent movement, but in fact you repeat what all others do, you echo Nature’s world-movements, you revolve helplessly on the crushing wheel of her cosmic machine. But it need not be so. You can shift your place if you will; instead of being below, crushed in the machinery or moved like a puppet, you can rise and look from above and by changing your consciousness you can even get hold of some handle to move apparently inevitable circumstances and change fixed conditions. Once you draw yourself up out of the whirlpool and stand high above, you see you are free. Free from all compulsions, not only you are no longer a passive instrument, but you become an active agent. You are not only not bound by the consequences of your action, but you can even change the consequences. Once you see the play of forces, once you raise yourself to a plane of consciousness where lie the origins of forces and identify yourself with these dynamic sources, you belong no longer to what is moved but to that which moves. This precisely is the aim of Yoga, – to get out of the cycle of Karma into a Divine movement. By Yoga you leave the mechanical round of Nature in which you are an ignorant slave, a helpless and miserable tool, and rise into another plane where you become a conscious participant and a dynamic agent in the working out of a Higher Destiny.
This movement of the consciousness follows a double line. First of all there is an ascension; you raise yourself out of the level of material consciousness into superior ranges. But this ascension of the lower into the higher calls a descent of the higher into the lower. When you rise above the earth, you bring down too upon earth something of the above, – some light, some power that transforms or tends to transform its old nature. And then these things that were distinct, disconnected and disparate from each other – the higher in you and the lower, the inner and the outer strata of your being and consciousness meet and are slowly joined together and gradually they fuse into one truth, one harmony. It is in this way that what are called miracles happen. The world is made up of innumerable planes of consciousness and each has its own distinct laws; the laws of one plane do not hold good for another. A miracle is nothing but a sudden descent, a bursting forth of another consciousness and its powers – most often it is the powers of the vital – into this plane of matter. There is a precipitation, upon the material mechanism, of the mechanism of a higher plane. It is as though a lightning flash tore through the cloud of our ordinary consciousness and poured into it other forces, other movements and sequences. The result we call a miracle, because we see a sudden alteration, an abrupt interference with the natural laws of our own ordinary range, but the reason and order of it we do not know or see, because the source of the miracle lies in another plane. Such incursions of the worlds beyond into our world of matter are not very uncommon, they are even a constant phenomenon, and if we have eyes and know how to observe we can see miracles in abundance. Especially must they be constant among those who are endeavouring to bring down the higher reaches into the earth-consciousness below.
(Collected Works of the Mother Vol 3, Question and Answers, 28 April 1929)