Doubt in God’s Existence / Conditioned Free Will

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Question: I would really love to believe, know, and experience that god exists. It would make life much easier. Convincing myself about God’s existence does not work. Doubts quickly move in and shake the foundation of my weak reasoning. 

Unhappy life moments far outweigh the happy or neutral ones. Studying, meditation, and chanting does not seem to bring the wanted result—seeing God and/or understanding him (not that I spend much time doing it). The guṇas of material nature seem too complicated to overcome and worldly pleasures bring a quicker calm for the mind (even though temporary). I like to believe that this is more or less what the whole of humanity experiences. Why would God make it so difficult for a human being to know or understand him? Why wouldn’t God simply deliver humanity and give it the capacity to see and understand him? Why did he put a human being in such a situation in the first place? Does he even exist? I would really love to believe so. It looks like a human being has to traverse suffering to be able to get a little bit of wisdom.  I am not sure my questions make any sense, but I suppose knowing the answers would help me bring (more) sense to my life. 

Answer: Why do you want to believe in God? You don’t believe in God, yet you are putting all the blame on God for all of your troubles. Why do you think God will create trouble for you? Can you name the troubles you face that have been created by God? Do you say that you or other beings have no role to play in your troubles? Can you say how God is creating your troubles? Are you not trying to just avoid your problems and throw them on the head of God? Otherwise, how can you even think that the God who may not even exist is busy creating trouble for you? Is it not strange that your mind does not want to believe in God, and it quickly washes away your weak reasoning for His existence, yet it happily blames Him for all its troubles?

I may be wrong, and please forgive me if I am, but my guess is that the problem is not with God, but with your mind. The mind is the real culprit. Śri Kṛṣṇa (the God) says so (Gītā 6.5). He says that this mind is your biggest enemy. It is easy to put the blame on God but that does not solve the problem. You have to deal with the actual problem if you want a solution. So, it is better to study your mind and the saṁskāras that are driving it. All these thoughts are likely rooted in your childhood upbringing. I can answer all of your questions, but your childhood saṁskāras will whitewash my replies and you will revert back to the same thought process. I suggest looking into your own mind and the saṁskāras driving it.

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Question: In Bhagavad Gītā 18.14, it is said that, “the ātma within the body is acting to bring about the results of activity and is therefore known as the doer, kartā.”

That the soul is the knower and the doer is also stated in the Śruti, ea hi draṣṭā sraṣṭā (Praśna Upaniad, 4.9). It is also confirmed in the Vedānta-sūtra by the verses, jño ‘ta eva, (2.3.18) and kartā śāstrārthavattvāt, (2.3.33).

How can we understand the ātma as the kartā in respect to free will, svatantratā? Is this free will an integral part of the ātmā? Or does the kartā choose from various options by means of the intelligence, buddhi?

Answer:  There are three types of agents, or kartā. They are called the independent agent, or svatantra kartā, the impelled agent or prayojya kartā, and impelling agent or prayojaka kartā. Out of these, only the svatantra kartā is free to act and does not depend on anyone else. The impelled agent is not absolutely free to act. If an employer assigns a certain work to his employee, then the employer is the impelling agent, and the employee is the impelled agent. The impelled agent does not have absolute freedom to do that he or she likes. They have to act according to the order given to them. Their freedom or free will is curtailed. Similarly, the ātmā in its conditioned state is not absolutely free to act. The conditioned ātmā is influenced by past karma. Therefore, there is no absolute free will. The ātmā has agency but it cannot act without the body and senses. It has potential but to actualize that potential, it needs the assistance of the body, mind, and senses. The will of the ātmā only becomes manifest through the mind-body complex. 

The body, mind, and senses, however, are inert and limited. Therefore, they condition the ātmā. As a result of this, the agency of the ātmā becomes conditioned. So, depending on the intensity of conditioning, the freedom of the ātmā is curtailed. Therefore, free will cannot be actualized. For all practical purposes, there is no free will. The ātmā’s will is always conditioned in the conditioned state. That is why it is called baddha-jīva—“a bound being.” A bound person is not free; one is always hankering for mukti—liberation or freedom. Nobody likes to be bound. It is for this reason that people do not like prison. Prison means curtailment of freedom. Sometimes famous politicians are put under house arrest. Their house becomes their prison.

People feel the same way during the COVID-19 lockdown. Everyone feels happy to be at home but if one is not allowed to leave the house, then one’s home feels like a prison unless one is an introvert or a devotee who likes to do his bhajana privately.  

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