Free Will vs. Predestination



Am trying to reconcile:

1) God knows ALL past/present/future (which implies that future is completely predetermined/destined).

2) Individuals have free will & can create/influence (at least a part of) future which is undetermined.

Would u say only that portion of future is known/predestined by God which is now too late 2 change (based on Divine Laws); EG When 1 throws a ball, trajectory can b changed only b4 ball leaves 1's hand, not after?

But Grace can change even laws/karma/destiny, right?

—John C, USA


Dear John,

You are tackling some huge issues – karma, free will, predestination – about which the intellect can only speculate. It can never know. Only intuitive perception brings such knowledge.

Still, the intellect does cry out for some measure of understanding, so I thought you might enjoy the excerpts below from a couple of talks that Swami Kriyananda has given.

Bottom line: Whatever free will we may or may not have, we have to live as though we do have free will. Only then can we reach our divine potential.



First talk

Predestination versus free will is not a “versus.” People make the mistake of thinking that free will is being able to do something unpredictable. The life of Jesus was completely predictable before he was born. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have free will.

If God is omniscient, He must know everything. Free will has to be defined in terms of whether you’re acting in freedom or in bondage. To act in freedom does not mean to act unpredictably. You can predict that a good man is going to do a good thing. To act in freedom means not to be bound by desires to do something that’s contrary to your happiness and the happiness of others, not to be bound by attachments, but to do it because it’s the divine will.

You can never be free if you think that freedom means even freedom from God. A free soul acts in attunement with that divine will because he knows that that’s free action, and no other action is free. So we have to get out of our mind the thought that unpredictability is the definition of free will, and understand that the definition of free will is the ability to act, free from any bondage of desire or ego. When you’re acting as an instrument of the Infinite, there is no bondage. It may seem that Jesus would have to suffer on the cross, but that was his choice. It was his choice before he came. There was no bondage involved.

I don’t want to ask, “Do you understand?” Nobody understands. [audience laughter] It’s not really a point that’s understandable. But at least it gives us a sort of purchase on the subject.

Second talk

I’ve heard two descriptions made-unfortunately both were by masters. One is that free will is like riding on a train, and having the freedom to go the front or the back of the train. [audience laughter] The other is like being tethered to a tree: you can go north, south…[more laughter]. Don’t bother your poor heads with this issue, for the simple reason that our very questions are going to betray our delusion, our incapacity to understand.

One thing we can observe quite clearly, and that is that somebody who tries hard gets more than somebody who doesn’t try. What we’re really dealing with is the alternative thought that somebody could have known that you would try hard and someone else wouldn’t. What can you make of that? You just have to try hard, that’s all. The harder you try, the more likely you are to succeed.

Say you’ve got somebody training a bunch of commandos, and finally somebody gets through all the tests and comes out at the head of his class, and everybody’s applauding, and the coach says, “I knew you had it in you.” Well, so what does that mean? You still had to do it. He just knew that you would do it, because he saw who you were, and what you were.

But if on the other hand, you had decided, “Well, he knows I can, and of course I can, so I won’t”, I would say somebody along the line probably had the sense to be able to say you didn’t have the willpower to do it, and you wouldn’t do it.

So it’s a useless question, don’t you see? It just boxes you into a dead-end street. We do know for a fact that if we try, we succeed much more than if we don’t try. And if we try really hard, we’re going to succeed much more. And if we try without faith, we’re going to succeed less than if we try with faith. So it doesn’t reduce any of the spiritual laws. Just forget the question because we can’t ask the right question, therefore we can’t get the right answers. Master [Paramhansa Yogananda] said only a master is capable of understanding the subtlest points in this teaching, so better forget it. [audience laughter]