Location: Lincoln, NM
Dear Francis, Since the beginning of my spiritual quandaries several years ago (I have mainly followed the teachings of Ramana Maharshi), I have noticed some gradual though powerful changes in my life. My question for you involves predestiny, or as Maharshi puts it, prarabdha karma. (My practices have been contemplating the sense of “I” daily, enquiring “who am I,” and choosing to surrender the outcomes of my actions. I do these whenever I can, and am not overly strict about it. I am a young person, newly graduated college, and am embarking on a career in publishing.) My question is, is my body’s every action preordained according to my past karma? Is this so for everyone? I ask this question because it seems that once one engages in spiritual practices, one’s life circumstances change (gradually or suddenly), thus implying that we as the individual “I” have the power to alter our destinies. I know for a fact that I behave differently now than I did before I began my spiritual enquiries, and as a result my life has changed for the better. These changes are subtle yet apparent in my relationships with others, with myself, etc. Had I not chosen to enquire spiritually some time back, I feel my life would have turned out quite differently than it has. Therefore I feel that I bear the responsibility to engage in these practices and to ensure that my life continues improving. But I am confused, because if what Maharshi and others have said is true–that everything is predetermined–then “I” never chose any of these practices. Indeed, I was already predestined to choose them. And I don’t need to do anything now, because everything will happen as it must and “I” have no say in it. So what then is the role of my sense of free-will, and of my ability to put effort into what I choose? (I intellectually understand that the sense of “I” is an illusion and that therefore I “have” no life to fix or improve, for there is only life, and no individual entities. But concepts of this stuff do not assuage my doubts, quandaries, fears, etc.) If this is simply a matter that results from too much thinking and will resolve itself with further spiritual practice, then I need no substantive answer. I find myself dwelling on this alot. With deep gratitude, John
It is true that you as a separate individual never choose anything for the simple reason that you as a separate individual don’t exist. Of course you exist, and you choose, and you have freedom, but not as the separate entity you believe to be and have never been. Therefore it is you, the real you who chose those practices, the same you who had chosen ignorance, the same you who feels he has free will, the same you who is the consciousness aware of my words in this very moment.
It is also true that Ramana, Jean Klein and other sages have said that everything is predetermined, but the same sages have also said that time is an illusion. The illusory nature of time is incompatible with predestination envisioned as some kind of a blue print for the sequence of events of a human life, as a plan both designed by God in His eternal abode and inflexibly actualized by Him in time, because such a predestination would be as illusory as the timeline in which it unfolds.
Therefore, either these sages were inconsistent, or they meant that predestination is an illusion, or they meant some different kind of predestination, a timeless form of predestination in which everything is re-created in, by, and out of the timeless Presence from eternal moment to eternal moment. In their experience there is no time, each moment, and its creation, is a moment of eternity, eternally new, eternally free. There is no real succession of moments, they co-exist in timeless potentiality. The succession of moments is an illusion created by memory. Karma is linear or mediated causation, conditioned by time: event A causes event B, which in turn causes event C, and so on. Linear causation is as illusory as the time on which it depends. There is only non-linear immediate causation: one single Presence, itself a non-event, which is the Ultimate Reality of all things and beings and the cause of itself, is the single cause of all events/moments: Presence causes Presence, Presence causes event A, Presence causes event B, Presence causes event C, etc
This Presence is not without similarities with the vacuum of modern physical theories out of which and as a quantum fluctuation of which the Big Bang event arises, creating our universe, space, time, mass/energy, momentum, entropy, etc. The fundamental difference however is that the vacuum of the physicist is a concept used in a mathematical model of reality, whereas the Presence of the sage is the direct experience of his consciousness. There is one single moment, the eternal moment.
Just as the succession of moments is an illusion created by memory, the multiplicity of minds, and therefore of individualities, is an illusion created by selective memory. There is one single mind, the universal mind.
The universal mind and the eternal moment are nothing else than Presence