I do not believe in human freedom in the philosophical sense. A human being is part of the whole that we call the universe.
… [S]he cannot be responsible [for her actions] any more than an inanimate object is responsible for the motion it undergoes.
Albert Einstein, Nov. 9, 1930, New York Times Magazine
When I first read this quote by Einstein, I confronted my own limiting belief about freedom, that is, the ability to choose, moment to moment, what I want. Just as immediately, I was reminded that neither of my parents consciously chose to die of cancer. And therein, the enigma life presents was laid out before me. Which is true? Do we have free will? Or, are we human pieces of a greater puzzle being enacted by the ever-evolving universe? Not neither nor either?
The safe answer might be “we are both” and leave it at that. But, something inside did not ring completely true, which pressed me to inquire more.
[Wo]man has no freedom of action. Life guides you. Thought and life are one interfluent movement.
I have no regrets, no apologies; whatever I am doing is automatic. In a given situation I am not capable of acting in any other way.
U.G. Krishnamurti, The Mystique of Enlightenment;
Some years back, I recognized that my “visions” of the future were inhibited by my limited perspective. In other words, my best experiences were always way beyond my ability to imagine them. So, I entered into an experiment with the universe. I agreed to relinquish desire, ambition, goals, beliefs (free will) and to say yes to whatever showed up in my life. That experiment took me down an unexpected but fruitful path. One where I have no regrets, am constantly learning and would agree with Krishnamurti that Life is guiding me. In short, the first part of both Einstein’s and Krishnamurti’s statements echo true. We are an intimate part of a greater whole and deeply impacted by its experiences just as an apple is impacted by the experiences of the tree it grows out of. For me, the freedom I gained emerged as abundant creative energy and expression. Sound good so far?
However, what continued to puzzle me was one cannot be responsible for one’s actions as directly stated by Einstein and implied by Krishnamurti. Here was a belief deeply ingrained in me. How was I not responsible for my actions, positive and negative? Until I understood that what I was seeing, doing and feeling was not the truth, this sense of responsibility haunted me.
Many wisdom systems — Buddhism, Yoga, etc. — teach that clinging to a desire for physical forms, feelings, perceptions, mental activities and consciousness causes all of our suffering. When we cultivate desires, goals, ambitions and beliefs, we are living in the past or future not in the present moment with whatever is emerging. Liberation or freedom is attained when we relinquish our clinging habits (dependencies) and cultivate mindfulness — awareness of the present moment on purpose without judgment. True enough, releasing my attachment to these causes of suffering allowed me to live in the present moment and see clearly what was emerging.
On seeing a form, hearing a sound, smelling an odour, tasting a flavour, noticing an idea, [s]he does not lust after it, or reject it, having abandoned favouring and opposing. Buddha
Darryl Baily writes in Buddhessence, “we live in illusions that create unnecessary suffering.” When we free ourselves from our attachment to “favouring and opposing”, we see each situation clearly as well as its constantly changing nature. Thus, illusion as well as suffering dissolve. This ending to greed, hatred and delusion is peace—freedom.
Seeing more clearly what can be influenced and what cannot, we govern what we can, and do not worry about the remainder. Darryl Bailey
My intuition says this rings true. And then, as if by magic, I found this passage:
It is not true that you came into this world. You came out of it, in the same way a flowers comes out of a plant … People, are an expression of its [the universe’s] energy and of its nature. You are something the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is something the whole ocean is doing. You do not exist, that is, as a separate will. It is just not so. When you understand that, you are liberated. Alan Watts