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Is there free will?
An ancient prayer says: “Lord! Give me strength to change the things I can change, give me courage to accept the things I cannot change, and grant me wisdom to know the difference”.
What exactly can we influence in our life? Do we possess enough freedom to change our destiny?
Why can’t we naturally obtain this wisdom?
Why, in spite of the fact that our nature is based on laziness and healthy egoism (desire to receive the maximum through minimal effort), unlike animals, do we perform thoughtless and ineffective actions?
Perhaps we act, where everything is pre-programmed, and our role must be a lot more passive?
Perhaps in most cases our life is pre-ordained, while we choose to believe that the course of events depends on us?
Perhaps we should transform our life and stop thinking that we are decision-makers, let it flow and remain passive, acting only when we can really change something?
Small children act unwisely, because their development occurs unconsciously, instinctively. An adult defines a goal, and the will to achieve that goal provides him with energy.
Evidently, we err in determining the limits of our abilities to achieve the goal. In other words, we wish to achieve the impossible or try to change what we can’t.
Nature doesn’t inform us in which of our actions we are really free. It allows us to make mistakes, both as individuals and as mankind. Its aim is to lead us to disillusionment in our own powers to change anything in this life and in ourselves. Nature wants to confuse and disorient us regarding how we should live on? Then we would stop and determine what we can really influence.
The Essence of Freedom
Generally speaking, freedom may be referred to as the law of nature, which runs through all aspects of life. We see how animals suffer in captivity. It testifies to nature’s protest against any form of enslavement. Mankind fought in wars for hundreds of years until it achieved some degree of personal freedom.
In any case, our idea of freedom is extremely vague, and if we delve deeper into it, almost nothing will be left of it. Before we demand personal freedom, we should presume each person aspires to it. First we need to make sure this or that person can exercise his free will.
Our Life is Between Pleasure and Suffering
If we analyze man’s actions, we’ll discover that none of them are free. Both his inner nature and outer circumstances compel him to act according to an algorithm of behavior rooted in him.
Nature placed us between pleasure and suffering, and we are not free to choose suffering or give up pleasure. With regard to animals man has the advantage of being able to see the distant goal, therefore he can agree to a certain amount of sufferings anticipating the future compensation.
In fact, it’s nothing but a calculation, when, seeing the prospective benefit, we consent to suffer for the sake of possible pleasure. We agree to a surgical operation, even pay a lot of money for it; we are ready to work hard to acquire a good well-paying profession. Everything boils down to our reckoning, when we subtract suffering from the expected pleasure and receive a certain positive remainder.
This is the way we are designed. Those, who seem reckless, imprudent, self-sacrificing romantics are actually no more than calculating people, for whom the past manifests as the present so obviously that they are ready to accept anguish unusual for others, which we take as a heroic feat.
But in fact, even in this case our body makes a conscious or subconscious calculation. Psychologists know that each man’s priorities may be changed so that a coward will turn into a hero. The future may be so elevated in man’s eyes that he will agree to any kind of destitution for the sake of it.
From this it follows that there is no difference between man and animals; and if so, free and intelligent choice doesn’t exist.
Who determines our pleasures?
Not only have we hardly any free choice, but the character of pleasure is not our prerogative either. It doesn’t happen according to our free will, but is dictated by other people’s desires. We don’t choose fashion, a way of life, hobbies, leisure, food and so on – all this is imposed on us by the tastes and desires of our surroundings.
We prefer to behave simpler desires without burdening ourselves too much, but our entire life is constrained by manners accepted as the norm in society, which turn into the laws of human behavior and existence. If this is so, where is our free will then? It turns out that none of our actions are rewarded or punished.
Why does everyone perceive himself as an individual? What is so special in each of us? Which of our properties can we independently change? If one does exist, we must by all means bring it to light, distinguish it from the rest of our properties and develop it.
Each created being is determined by four factors:
- The basis is a primary material of a particular being, from which it emerged. The unchanging properties of a basis are the order of its development, i.e. a decaying wheat grain calls forth a new sprout of the same kind. A grain rots – its outer form completely disappears, similar to our body, which disintegrates in the ground. However, the basis remains and gives birth to a new shoot, like our soul that compels a new body to be born so as to dress in it.
- The unchanging properties of the basis. The basis (in our case a wheat grain) will never take the form of other cereals, say, barley, but only the previous form of wheat, which it lost. Depending on the environment (soil, water, fertilizing and the sun), certain quantitative and qualitative changes of the sprout are possible, but the form of wheat (i.e. the original essence) undergoes no changes at all.
- The properties that change under the influence of the outer forces. Affected by external factors the outward form of the essence goes through qualitative changes – a grain remains a grain, but its outer shape gets transformed in accordance with the environmental conditions. Additional external factors joined with the essence and together they generated a new quality under the influence of the environment. This may be the sun, soil, fertilizers or water relative to a grain, or a society, a group, books and a teacher with regard to man.
- Changes in the outer forces. Man needs the surroundings that develop and constantly affect his development. While evolving, man in turn influences his surroundings, compelling it to develop. Thus they develop simultaneously together.
These four factors determine the state of each created being. Even if man spends all his time in research, he will not be able to change or add anything to what the four factors include. Whatever we think or do exists within these four factors. Any addition will be purely quantitative, whereas qualitatively it will remain the same. These factors forcefully determine our character and way of thinking.
- Man cannot change his essence.
- He cannot change the laws according to which his essence gets transformed.
- He cannot change the laws of transformation of his inner properties as a result of the outer influence.
- The surroundings, which man totally depends on, can be changed!
Being able to influence his surroundings now, man determines his future state. The only factors his surroundings can affect are the speed and the quality of man’s advancement. He may either live through pain, fear, anguish and endless bloody conflicts along the way or move forward quietly and comfortably, because man himself aspires to the goal. That is why the Kabbalists urge us to open educational centers so as to form groups – the ideal surroundings for all those, who wish to achieve the purpose of creation.
Regardless of the fact that we can’t determine our basis, who and how to be born, we can influence these first three factors by choosing our surroundings, i.e. friends, books and teachers. However, having chosen the environment, we let it shape our future conditions.
Initially there is an opportunity to freely choose such teachers, books and friends that will inspire good thoughts. Unless man does that, he will naturally find himself in bad surroundings reading useless books (there are plenty of them and they are much more pleasant), and, as a result, will definitely receive a poor education and fail to act correctly in life.
From this it follows that reward or punishment is sent to man not for his bad thoughts or actions, in which he has no free choice, but for not choosing a good environment, since here man undoubtedly has an opportunity to freely choose. Man should be judged and punished so that he would see: he is not judged for his misdeeds, but for choosing the wrong environment.
Hence, the person, who makes an effort and each time to choose a better environment, succeeds – not for his good thoughts, but for his persistence in improving his surroundings that lead to these good thoughts. Such a person is awarded with a better, more advanced state.
The Book of Zohar gives an example about a poor wise man, who was invited to move to a rich man’s house. He refused saying: “On no condition will I settle in a place with no sages around!” – “But you are the greatest sage of the generation!” – exclaimed the rich man. – “Who else will you learn from?” The wise man replied: “Even the greatest sage will turn into ignoramus, if he surrounds himself with stupid people”.
Hence, we should follow the well-known advice: “Make yourself a Teacher, buy yourself a friend”. In other words, we must create our own environment, because only this factor may lead us to success. Having chosen our surroundings, we become totally dependent on it, like clay in a sculptor’s hands.
We are all captives of our egoistic nature. Freeing ourselves means to overstep the limits of our world and enter the upper reality. Since we are entirely in this world’s grip, we can get free only if, in spite of our natural egoistic environment, we artificially surround ourselves with people, who share our views and aspirations, and fall under the power of the environment ruled by the laws of the upper world. Freeing ourselves from the egoistic bonds and revealing the property of bestowal is our realization of free will.
Protection against the Remaining Three Factors
Man automatically acts under the influence of the internal and external factors, just following their commands.
If he wishes to get out of nature’s control, man has to expose himself to the influence of the environment he chose. He should choose a Teacher, a group and books, so that they would dictate him what to do, since he is always a derivation of the four parameters.
Power of mind over body
Upon discovering that man’s mind is a result of life experience, we may conclude that the mind has no power over the body, because it is a reflection of circumstances and events of man’s life; the power to make the body move, direct it to good things and keep it away from harm.
However, man’s imagination uses the mind the way eyes use a microscope. Having discovered tiny harmful organisms with the help of a microscope, man began to distance himself from them. Thus a microscope (not man’s sensations) allows him to avoid harmful influence (microbes, bacteria, viruses), where it isn’t felt.
We see that in cases, when the body can’t detect harm or benefit, the mind becomes relevant and has complete control over the body allowing it to stay away from bad things and stick to good things.
Understanding that the mind is a result of life experience, man is ready to accept somebody else’s mind and wisdom as the law, if he trusts that person.
It resembles a situation, when man asks for the doctor’s advice and, relying on the doctor’s mind and experience, he follows it, despite the fact that he himself knows nothing about medicine. Thus he uses other people’s minds, which helps no less than his own mind.
Two ways of ruling
There are two ways of divine ruling that guarantee man’s success in achieving the purpose of creation:
- The way of suffering.
- The way of Kabbalah.
The way of Kabbalah consists in relying on the minds of those who already attained the ultimate goal, as if it was our own life experience. But how can I be sure that the mind I put my faith in is true? On the other hand, if I don’t use the wise mind the way I follow the physician’s advice, I condemn myself to a long way of suffering, like a sick man, who refuses to follow his doctor’s instructions and starts learning medicine, unaware that he may die long before he has some idea of it.
Such is the way of suffering in comparison with the way of Kabbalah. He, who has no faith in the wisdom of Kabbalah, may try to independently attain this wisdom by going through life troubles, whereas there is experience, which tremendously accelerates the process, allows developing the sensation of realization of evil not by his own choice, but through the efforts made for acquiring a good environment.
Following the majority
Wherever there is a conflict between the majority and an individual, we must take a decision in accordance with the majority’s will. However, this law causes mankind’s regression, since masses are in retrograde, while the most developed are always a minority.
Nevertheless, since nature placed us in a society, we are obliged to observe all social laws, otherwise nature will punish us, regardless of whether we understand its laws or not. Hence, the law of communal living is considered one of nature’s laws and we must observe it with great caution.
This law must develop realization of: self-love as evil and love for others as good, because this is the only way to loving the Creator.
However, the majority has no right to suppress an individual’s opinion in his relations with the Creator, and everyone is free to do what he believes to be right. This is what his personal freedom is all about, i.e. man’s relations with the Creator are regulated by himself, whereas other laws of behavior are dictated by the rule “follow the majority”.
The law of society states: the minority must submit to the majority.
On what grounds, though, did the majority undertake the right to suppress an individual’s personal freedom? On the face of it, it is nothing else but constraint.
Since nature compelled us to live in a society, it goes without saying that each of its members is obliged to serve the society, take care of it and contribute to its prosperity.
This is impossible unless the law of “submission” is observed, i.e. everyone must obey the law accepted in his society.
But it is quite clear that in all the cases, when the society’s material interests are not infringed on, the majority has no right to limit an individual’s freedom in any form. Those who do so are criminals preferring force to justice, because in this case nature does not compel man to submit to the majority’s will.
In any generation individuals are more developed than the masses. If the society that began to develop according to nature’s laws realizes the necessity to be saved from sufferings, it must submit to an individual and follow his instructions.
Thus, whatever refers to the spiritual development, the majority’s right turns into its duty to follow an individual, i.e. a highly-evolved personality. Such advanced and educated people make up an insignificant part of society; hence all achievements and breakthroughs in the spiritual sphere are determined by the minority.
From this it follows that the society must carefully preserve such people’s ideas. The society should be aware of the fact that its salvation is not in the hands of the ruling majority, but rests with the enlightened individuals.
Accumulating experience, mankind gradually comes to conclusion that, in spite of all its efforts to change the course of history and the development of society, life gets its own way, and everything happens according to a scenario that does not depend on us. So are we doomed by fate?
The study of the universe by using the Kabbalistic method reveals that man’s essence consists of three parts:
– the first – animal – part, which is expressed in bodily desires for food, sex, family, home, present in all people regardless of their environment;
– the second – human – part, expressed in desires for wealth, honor (fame, power), knowledge, in which we are dependent on the society;
– the third – spiritual – part, which creates in us an aspiration for the upper world (it appears out of a sensation of death, emptiness in life, ignorance of the source of existence).
Man is born in this world so as to discover the upper realm in the course of his life. Then he exists in both worlds and, after his body dies, feels the spiritual world as much as he could feel it while living in his physical body. If man failed to enter the spiritual world during his lifetime, his soul descends to this world again, incarnates in a new biological body with the same purpose. The soul can reveal the upper world only while being in a physical body.
From this it becomes clear that
– this entire world and our existence in it are designed only to help us discover the upper world;
– the first (animal) and the second (human) parts do not exist in us by themselves, their role is determined by how much they contribute to the realization of the third (spiritual) part, i.e. how they assist us in fulfilling our mission, which consists of the revelation of the spiritual realm while living in this world. Man’s actions are evaluated only to the extent of their connection with spiritual advancement, because it is the spiritual part that has to be transformed.
– the first and second parts in us do not change by themselves. Nor do they depend on our desires. Realization of the third (spiritual) part determines their transformations.
– our actions related to the first and the second parts are not free, they are programmed by nature and make up a rigid frame of our structure. By choosing how to develop spiritually we determine our states in both the first and the second (animal and human) parts, and definitely in the third.
– By declining to perform futile and senseless acts related to our animal and human desires, and concentrating all efforts on the revelation of the upper reality, man acquires the ability to control everything in this world (in both 1st and 2nd parts). In other words, the road to ruling over this world is attainable through the upper world, since all signals; all events descend from above until they take their final form in this world.
This article demonstrates how pre-determined all man’s actions and states in this world are; all but one, which determines everything else – the aspiration to the upper world, to its revelation, to mastering the laws of the Divine Providence.
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