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10.1 A Dialogue on Free Will vs. Divine Will


The following is an imaginary no-holds-barred ‘dialogue’ among 

‘DFW’, standing for ‘Disciple who holds Free Will is everything’,  

‘DDW’, standing for ‘Disciple who holds Divine Will is everything’ and 

‘TD’, standing for a ‘Third Disciple who holds that it is neither this nor that exclusively’.

But as the conversation proceeds, one will find their original convictions gradually change.

DFW: Free will is essential for reward and punishment; otherwise anyone would do anything they wish and say "it was God's will, don't blame me!"

DDW: Ah, but that is not quite a correct viewpoint because, you are cheating. God's will has been expressed in the various Shrutis, Gita, Upanishads, Bible and what have you, and if you follow those actions, you can claim to be doing God's will, otherwise you cannot claim to act in God’s way.

DFW: Hold on, even my acting contrary to the scriptures is being done by God, right? So I don't understand you distinguishing some actions from others.

DDW: True, but even the consequences of the actions against Him will have been described in the scriptures. They are available for all to see.

TD: I think you are both taking extreme positions. If man did not have free will to attempt to do his will, Veda statements like ‘satyam vada’ (Speak the truth) and ‘dharmam cara’ (Act according to dharma) would lose all their meaning. So I am not prepared to agree with DDW. But what DDW says that it is finally Divine will that expresses itself is correct.

DDW. Then how can you also agree with DFW?

TD: That is the tricky point. Without the implied choice of action implied in statements like satyam vada and dharmam cara we can go nowhere. Man is free to act in the way his tendencies (vAsanAs) take him. Man is also free to resist the bad vAsanAs and act in a way which will purify his mind and rid it of the dirt accumulated therein.

DDW: Then why are the scriptures repeatedly professing that it is all divine will? “mayaivaite nihatAH pUrvameva ..” (‘All these people have been killed by me already ...’) says Krishna in the eleventh chapter of his Gita.

DFW. That quote is exactly what confuses me.

TD: Maybe Krishna is talking to an enlightened person!

DFW: But Arjuna was not enlightened – at least, at that point. But wait. What do you say to such expressions in our shAstras: “Neither Hari (Vishnu) nor Hara (Shiva) can erase what is written on your forehead”? Does it not say that the so-called fate that overrules you is dominant. And is not Fate the same as Divine Will?

DDW: Are you, DFW, arguing for me now?

TD: Both of you are confusing me now! Let us go about it systematically. That Fate you are talking about is the prArabdha karma. It is the portion of our past karma which has started taking effect in this birth of ours and it is this facet of our life where neither God nor anybody can intervene.

DDW: But that would limit the Almighty’s all-mightiness!

TD: Here I am with you. To limit His own all-mightiness is His own Will!.

DDW: Let us come back now to Free Will and Divine Will. If prArabdha is so dominant again you come only to my view. Nothing can change God’s Will!

DFW: But we have still to answer the question about the choice of action that TD raised.

TD. That is why I said we have to proceed systematically. The choice of action is there so long as you believe ‘I am the doer’. Krishna says “Only the man overpowered by his ego thinks he is the doer” (B.G. 3rd chapter).

DFW: You have now brought in a third belief – namely whether one is the doer or not. But if I am not the doer and God is the doer, then is He not responsible for all my bad thoughts and bad actions?

TD: He is not responsible even for your good thoughts and good actions.

DDW: Wait, wait. You are contradicting my theory of Divine Will totally and I thought you earlier said that you agreed with me.

TD: There are stages of evolution in a man’s life – in fact, several lives. There is a stage when we have to grant free will. That is the stage when you are either a growing child either in the physical plane or in the spiritual plane. You cannot tell a high school student that it is all divine will; then there is no purpose in asking him to make effort at his education.

DFW: But even assuming that at the adult stage of a better spiritual evolution, to believe it is some other Power within us, other than our egoism, that it is the doer and the experiencer, is only fatalism. I would not like to grant that Hinduism or Vedanta is all fatalism.

TD: Your equating the fact that there is another Power within us with Fatalsim is not correct. The recognition of this other Power within us is the first step towards our spiritual evolution.

DDW: What can this other Power within us be except God?

DFW: But that contradicts your earlier statement that God is not responsible for any of our actions either good or bad!

TD: This other Power within us is not God. It is our own individualised PrakRti (SvabhAva – our own nature) for which we are ourselves the architect, by means of the way we thought and lived in all our past lives and also in this life up to the present. [ See also 11.6 ESSAY ON PRAKRITI]

DDW: But I have never heard of this concept of ‘individualised prakRti’ that you are using.

TD: In Gita Ch.3, shloka No.33 the Lord says that even the wise man does work according to his prakRti. Acharya Shankara, in commenting on this, writes: ‘PrakRti is nothing but the accumulated samskAras of our past lives individualised and earmarked for this life of ours’. The sanskrit word ‘prakRta’ (from which ‘prakRti’ is derived) means ‘currently in vogue’.

DDW: But why is God causing people to behave the way they do in these times? How can you account for the fact that the world is in such a mess? Why is everyone now immersed in thinking only of themselves and not the greater good? Why is this play?

DFW: You said it right. It all looks like a deliberate play. In fact, I would say that if the theory of play is right, then God must be a sadist!

TD: No, no. Not that way. It is a play alright, but that is what is termed in the PurANas as God’s LeelA. That requires a lot of faith to go in that direction. Let us pursue the trend of our conversation in the way we started it. First God is not causing people to behave the way they do. It is the people who behave that way. That itself tells you that people have the freewill to do what they want to do. This free will God has granted man.

DFW: At last you are veering to my viewpoint!

TD: Don’t be too assured. Of course God has granted freewill to us both to obey His orders like ‘satyam vada’ and ‘dharmam cara’ and also to disobey them.

DDW: That is what I call the play of the Divine.

DFW: But then God must be foolish to play that dangerous game.

DDW: Your choice of words ‘dangerous game’ reminds me of what Sathya Sai Baba once replied to a devotee. The devotee asked him, while they were walking along the shores of the Arabian Sea, ‘Lord, if you are capable of doing all those miracles for which you are known, why don’t you change this entire sea into a sea of petrol and thus solve the problem of scarcity of oil-fuel in the world?’. Sathya Sai Baba immediately replied: ‘But then I cannot guarantee that no crazy human being like you would not throw a lighted cigarette into that sea!’.

TD: The moral of the story is: Even God cannot guarantee that man will not behave in an animal way. And that proves that Man has free will!

DFW: Oh Good! Daniel come to judgement!

DDW: But then where does all this lead us?

TD: It leads to our starting point. It is not all black and white. It is a spectrum of colours. The answer to the dilemma depends upon three factors. 1. The situation or the action that we are talking about. 2. Level of spiritual evolution of the individual concerned. 3. Degree of willingness to stand apart and surrender the ego.

DDW. I am sure on the third factor the generality of us may be taken to be at the base level.

TD. To simplify the discussion I am willing to assume, for the present, that with respect to the second factor – spiritual evolution also – we are almost at the base level. Once we do that, we come back to the child level of spiritual evolution, which we have already discussed. At this level, it is Free will that is considered to be dominant in the psychology of the individual concerned. But this is only the beginning. But when we start moving up the ladder of spiritual evolution, our factor levels get a gradual relaxation.

DFW: Do you mean then that what is dominant is different at different times of the life of an individual?

DDW: If I heard TD right, I thought he said: ‘in the psychology of the person concerned’.

TD: Yes, when we start moving up the spiritual ladder our mental make-up changes.


                                                                       CONTINUED IN 10.2

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