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On Choice

“The central issue is the complete, absolute, freedom of man.”  J. Krishnamurti

A few thoughts on choice, hence on the imagined gulf between liberty and servitude, between free will and determinism; and on destiny, which is certainly inexorable. But let us not become entangled in the web of what superficially appears as a dilemma. Certain views of reality seem to be at loggerheads, but only because we posit them as opposites. In fact, they are complementary, coexisting in utter harmony like the twin fish of the Tao, locked in the ecstasy of eternal intercourse.

Our lives are entirely determined, that is for sure. Not, however, by an advance program or the grand plan of some unseen predestinator, but by the flow of events through which we live: inner & outer, psychological & material, spiritual & mundane. In many respects we are quite like all living things, the flowers, trees, mountains, other animals. We grow in this way or that, depending on circumstances, with no apparent control over what will come next.

But one thing does separate us from all else that lives, in this and other worlds, other realms of existence even, whether of gods or demons or extraterrestrial creatures, should these exist: the possibility of self-awareness, of taking note while the events of our individual lives unfold, being conscious of the ways in which Nature works herself out. It is this, the ability to observe developing patterns of life within each instant of time, that creates the element of choice.

Somerset Maugham wrote: “It may be that we have no such thing as free will, but at all events we have the illusion of it. At a crossroad it does seem to us that we might go either to the right or the left and, the choice once made, it is difficult to see that the whole course of the world’s history obliged us to take the turning we did.” Indeed, that is precisely what is happening.

What divides the so-called enlightened being from the rest of us is nothing more extraordinary than attention. By paying attention, the sage sees the universe in a grain of sand and the natural flow of the cosmos in every present moment. In this act of seeing, time as we know it dissolves, giving birth to free will. We acquire control by ceasing to think. Our problem stems from attempting to exercise what we believe to be free will in order to gain control. It cannot be done, since without true awareness we are utterly powerless. First we must stop the movement of personally directed thought (by which the notion of self is created, as opposed to that self doing the thinking) long enough to observe what is truly occurring. Only then will choice be ours.

Unfortunately, the exact nature of this potency, of choice, cannot be described from where we now stand, as there are no words available to accurately depict it. All anyone can do is give directions, hints, as to how such a thoroughly unfettered situation can suddenly be arrived at. Once free, we will know it. The trick is: even while observing, paying attention, one must not attempt to obliterate personal frustration, for that too is part of the growth process. Continue being what you are, but without the denial that comes from failing to watch, to observe, the moves you make, whether for good or ill.

You do your work, whatever it may be. You eat and sleep, you make love, you laugh or cry, and so on. Let it happen, realizing you cannot do otherwise. All of these things add up to what you are. Also let the doubts and confusions happen, even those depressions that may occasionally beset you. Do not try to interfere with them, they are as vital to your development as the rest of the ways in which life lives itself through you. But remember: as important as these things are, the ups as well as the downs, they are not important at all. Everything is important and nothing is important at the very same time. Be both serious and lighthearted about all that occurs, simultaneously; and do not worry when you fail, at this or anything else.

Above all, keep on observing, and with an unbiased inner eye. Allow nothing of significance to escape your attention. When least expected, freedom will come in a flash. Right now you are not free, we are not free, only potentially so. We have no free will, yet free will is but a sidestep away. Still, do not accept any of this as the absolute truth, including at an intellectual level. Regard it rather as a working hypothesis. Absolute truth cannot be stated, formulated with a sequence of mere words. But observe relentlessly and you will see this unstateable truth for yourself; you will behold with utter clarity your own lack of freedom. As soon as you see this, the reverse will be true. Once you accept your determined condition, not with your thinking mind, with the part of you that reasons, but with your entire being, that very movement, the very act of accepting ‘things as they are,’ will deliver you from the clutches of determinism. Your ever-present potential for total freedom will have realized itself.

In the end, free will must will itself out. And with this ‘willing without trying’ comes freedom. That and everything else that is ours and ours alone, not to possess but to be. Because we are all there is, I am all there is, you are all there is. Think about this and you will never see it. Thought is simply another form of struggle, unless it is allowed to flow, and is handled carefully as a tool and not a weapon or a means of control, which can only lead to destruction. Let thought be, then you can use its virtues and its powers. Otherwise it uses you.


First published in Chanticleer Magazine (Edinburgh, Scotland)