Karma and Free Will



Swami Kriyananda said that everything is predestined and all the free will we have is to seek God or reject him. If we are already predestined, where does the freedom to seek God fit into this, and isn’t that the violation of predestination? And if we make a choice here, aren’t we altering the future and so called predestination? Will that not disturb God’s plan? How will he know the future then? SK said that if nothing was predestined, how can God know the future. Please help.

—Sunil P, India


This issue of karma and free will is a complex one. If we try to over-think it, and to “figure it all out” then it only becomes more confusing! What is important to understand is what you can actually do about it. Here are some things I have understood on this topic.

What is “predestined” in our lives is determined by the actions (karma) we have engaged in over many lifetimes, within maya or delusion. Both karmic actions and the reality of our ego (the soul identified with the body) are what truly keep us bound. Once we begin to access and live in the Divine realm, or the superconscious, we begin to loosen the grip that the ego and our karma has on us.

Ananda Moyi Ma gave this illustration: She said our lives are happening as if we are on a train that is already in motion. The choice we have is whether we go to the front of the train or remain in the back of it.

The fact of the matter is that we have set in motion a tremendous amount of karma over millions of lifetimes which determines a great deal of what we do in life. For the most part we live caught in this karmic bondage, not really understanding what life is all about.

Once we have the desire for something more, a desire that evolves over many lifetimes, we come to realize that that “something more” is God. At that point we can begin to make more rapid progress in freeing ourselves from that ocean of delusion and from the karmic bondage that we have created for ourselves (through our attachments and our desires).

How we actually become free is not a rational or logical process. It only happens, in fact, by the grace of God. We have to do our part, but it is God’s grace that finally frees us.

Swami Kriyananda once described the attitude to take when we begin to face our karma and really desire to do something about our bondage from it. I have found his example very helpful and have used it repeatedly in my own life. He said you can feel overwhelmed by what you face if you look at your karma as a whole. It is like a thick sheet of ice covering the water of Divine freedom beneath it. Very little result happens by pounding on it with a hammer. But, if you take a sharp ice pick, and pierce through that sheet of ice at one point, then the whole sheet can crack open from that one point.

The important point to the questions you are asking is, “What can we do about our situation?” By following the above example, we can use our own will power, energy, concentration, and devotion to pierce through the vast sheet of our karma that covers the water of Divine freedom. Once we have done that, by our own efforts and through the grace of God, then we are free, and we have no more questions to be answered! As Yogananda’s guru once said to him, leave a few questions to be answered by the Divine and by your own realized freedom in that Divine.