Free Will

A kitchen supervisor was scolding his assistant for a mistake.

“How many times have I explained to not put celery leaves in the broth before boiling it. They have to be put after the liquid boils over. That you were born stupid is your misfortune but that you will die stupid is your destiny.”

Master and his group of monks were passing through and these words stopped him in his tracks. Master appeared thoughtful and the group knew that the evening sermon would be an elucidation on some related theme:
“How many of you believe destiny directs your life and how many think that it is free will or your conscious choice that determines your outcomes”. The master opened his evening discourse.

Almost 70 per cent of assembly polled for free will as having a lead influence on human outcomes.

Master smiled, shaking his head.

“Free will or free access to full choice range is a popular fantasy that we believe to be true however our choice palette is infinite only in theory. In practice we operate in a very limited choice zone. As an example, can anyone of you seated here become the ruler of the land. It is probable certainly but it’s possibility is extremely remote.”

“So master are you saying that we do not have free will and we are slave to a predetermined destiny”.

“No I am saying total free will is an illusion, a cognitive trick. However within our narrow zone of possibility we do have certain choices available that we can exercise. So to put it other way, we have a Bounded Free Will (or a free will with boundary conditions)”.

“Master, so according to you destiny selects a narrow slice of possibility for us and we are condemned to exercise our choices within that narrow frame”. An incredulous monk inquired finding it hard to digest that life was a rigged play.

“Yes that’s right. Macro decisions of your life are preset for you by genetics (which determines your physical and mental attributes) and by accident of your birth in place and time ( nurture and social customs). These factors determine about 70-80% of your life’s outcomes if not more. In micro decisions like lifestyle to adopt (which accelerate or retard your outcomes), careers to pursue, people to socialize with you do have a genuine choice. They are important choices in their own right however not all that material to the big picture of you”.

“So Master, if you are born with most of your life’s outcomes pre-determined and you just have a limited negotiating power with them; then is the karmic theory of rebirth true? You get these predetermined factors set by the amount of good karma in your previous birth. You are born to a king and have his genetics because you were virtuous in your previous life”. Another monk questioned.

“Firstly if you need karmic accounting to keep you moral, you do not understand what virtue is. Secondly why bother about what sets up these parameters for us and how to game them. Instead we should focus on how to expand our choices palette in our lifetime and how to over-write some of this pre-determinism.

So keep focus on expanding your consciousness which is your choices filter. Also that is exactly why you are here in this monastery, meditating with me. Remember wider your consciousness is, broader will be the slice across which you can exercise choices or to put it differently; wider consciousness is nothing but more of free will” Master concluded.