We take for granted that we have the free will to make conscious decisions to choose between different possible courses of action. However, recently conducted experiments in the Max Planck Institute in Germany on the functioning of the human brain, have put that presumption into doubt. The researchers have concluded that free will could, in fact, be “little more than an illusion”.
The experiments indicated that our subconscious mind decides on and dictates our actions, long before our conscious mind actually realizes it. If human beings are not able to act independently, then that makes them, in the words of one of the researchers, “...little more than automatons, mere machines, pieces of biological clock-work that have no more free will than a Swiss watch”.
Do the experiments suggest that an unseen power thinks for us, decides and tells us how we must act? Are not actions in our control? Lets see what was mentioned in the ancient scriptures of the holy Bhagvad Gita.
The Bhagvat Gita Interpretation
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna, “The Supreme dwells in the heart of all beings revolving them all by His mysterious power, Maya.” The Supreme, however, does not control living entities as a puppeteer controls puppets. The control is through a subtle mechanism that works under material nature (prakriti). The Gita says, “Everywhere, in all the material universes, the dispositions of nature — gunas of prakriti — perform all works. But deluded by egoism,man thinks,‘i am the doer’.”
Man is born with samskaras, or tendencies, that he acquires commensurate with his activities — karma — in previous lives. These samskaras are made up of the three gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas. The proportion of each guna in an individual is what makes his character. All his thoughts and actions are then dictated by his samskaras because nature compels him to act according to his character. The Gita says, “Not even for a moment can man remain without performing any action. Everyone is forced to act according to the qualities he has acquired from the modes of material nature or gunas.”
The Padma Purana says that the fate of five things in one’s life is already decided at the time of one’s conception in the womb — the aggregate wealth one will acquire, one’s occupation, education, lifespan, and when, where and how one will die. Happenings associated with these five are preordained and will come to pass, no matter what, and can be termed one’s destiny. One’s character, moulded by one’s samskaras, will then make one act in such a manner that events play out as destined.
Are we mere cogs on a machine operated by the Supreme, or do we have free will at all to act independently? Krishna tells Arjuna, “Thus I have imparted to you wisdom that is more secret (profound) than all that is secret. Reflecting over the whole teaching, do as you think fit.” Here He clearly states that man does have free will to think and act independently. Moreover, the Law of Karma, which is based on the concept of cause and effect makes us the architects of our own destiny. To be able to shape our own destiny, free will becomes a prerequisite. Without free will, the Law of Karma becomes inoperative. We could use the limited free will that we have, to pursue purely material pleasures that might degrade our future samskaras, or we could perform noble deeds which would generate sattvic samskaras and help us evolve spiritually and ultimately take us to the goal of human life, that is, moksha.
Thanks to my friend, Amit for sending this interesting article from The Times Of India, an Indian publication.
What do you think? Is the human mind merely a machine obeying orders of the sub conscious mind?