Free Will in the Ancient Sanskrit Texts
The question of Free Will has challenged the best minds throughout human history. In the ancient Sanskrit texts Free Will is an enigma, a veiled mystery bewildering to most westerners. The Bhagavad Gita is the brilliant essence of the earlier texts, and even directly quotes various Upanishads. The final Chapter XVIII in the Bhagavad Gita is a summation of the others and verse 61 contains the Sanskrit term yantrarudhana, which is often translated as ‘mounted on a machine’.
The Lord of all beings abides in the Heart,
Causing all beings to wander, to move (to revolve),
[As if] fixed, attached to, mounted on a machine,
By the power of Illusion (maya).
The graphic, apparently holographic image of the yantrarudhana has always fascinated me. Over the years again and again I find myself reflecting on this metaphysical construct, the invisible cosmic machine-mechanism, which enfolds us in this temporal illusory holographic universe. In my mind I have often connected the yantrarudhana with the famous elusive Sri Yantra, that one can meditate on and never quite grasp.
The Sanskrit scholar J.A.B. van Buitenen translates the yantrarudhana as ‘water wheel’ and I have thought there is value in this because water symbolizes consciousness and a water wheel is a sort of perpetual motion machine that only requires a constant flow.
The metaphysical idea is that Life, what we believe we are experiencing as life, is only the temporal illusory meeting, a marriage of sorts between our sense apparatus and the objects they are engaged in — perhaps even creating as the five-senses send data back to our brain, which we interpret as solidity, sound, sight, etc. And it’s all somehow on automatic. The yantrarudhana is comparable to a matrix that has us in its endlessly whirling cycles of birth and death, desire and disappointment, pleasure and pain, sukha-duhkha in Sanskrit.
We Are Not the ‘Doer’
The Bhagavad Gita [III.27] teaches that we are not the Doer. It is only our confused and deluded sense of ego, ahamkara, literally ‘I-making’ that makes us think ‘I am the Doer’ - kartaham meaning ‘doer I’— when in the Real, it is the material nature Prakriti performing the acts. A wonderful teacher and scholar in Kerala India, Swami Muni Narayana Prasad, refers to the yantrarudhana as Prakriti-wheel rolling on. Prakriti is the Matrix, Nature’s womb of endless creativity and shakti-power. Thus we understand that we are mounted on a holographic water-wheel machine which is rolling on and on, in yuga after yuga throughout the cycles of time.
Prakriti operates through the three qualities, the gunas (sattva, rajas, and tamas). We are compelled by these three qualities, our modes of being, the gunas we ourselves have contributed to over multiple lifetimes. Their effects are the result of our acts, karma, and accumulate nested in our DNA. There is no being free of Prakriti’s gunas [BhG XVIII.40] either on earth or in any other world, even the heavenly realms. In ignorance of our Real nature and thus deluded, we are continually tossed around by our compulsions, while the Lord of our Being, the God-within sits observing, not attached, loving, patiently waiting, watching us manifest Its infinite creative potency and glory.
Thou art That
We are that One, and simultaneously mirrors for the Oneness. Yet we prefer our adventures and self-created distractions in the external hologram, pursuing our temporal desires that never bring us lasting fulfillment.
The Sanskrit texts teach that our only freedom is to Realize we never do or did anything. This wisdom-knowledge is arduous to acquire and is described as walking on a Razor’s Edge, however it is invaluable. The Recognition of the Divine Lila, the ‘Play’ — Liberates our consciousness (Moksha). We begin to understand the mechanics of bondage, the rules of the 'game' so to speak. The concentrated pulling back into the ubiquitous Oneness within thereby lifts the Veils of Ignorance.
So, in the Real sense — Free Will in the temporal illusory hologram is useless! Mildly amusing, isn't it. This perplexing, often infuriating term Lila 'play' is ambiguous, loaded because we are more the all pervading One, God-consciousness, doing the ‘playing’ than the incarnated data-collecting vehicles being played. Subtle! In all respects we are that divine player, but we just don't know it. . . yet. My way of understanding this switching back-and-forth between the temporal appearance of Free Will and the teaching that we are not the Doer at all is this:
When we think we have Free Will, we are not in the Oneness. When we are in the One, we realize there is only the One and the question is useless - it doesn’t matter. No sense of separateness can exist. As the Kashmir Shaivite Swami Lakshmanjoo says, “All questions disappear.” Can it be that the One enjoys the temporal illusory appearance of a limited Free Will in Its various manifested selves, you & me, as part of the entire spectrum of Its infinite possible expressions.
The gunas (sattva, rajas, tamas) are the three qualities or modes that rule us and compel our acts. They are Borg-like — and surely there has never been a better material world symbol for the ‘mounted on a machine’ yantrarudhana than the massive cloud-data-collector computers that have been named Siren Servers by the very insightful programmer and computer scientist, Jaron Lanier. “A Siren Server…is an elite computer, or coordinated collection of computers, on a network. It is characterized by narcissism, hyper-amplified risk aversion, and extreme information asymmetry. It is the winner of an all-or-nothing contest and it inflicts smaller all-or-nothing contests on those who interact with it.”
According to Lanier, Siren Servers take information without having to pay for it (Facebook, Google, etc.), secretly analyse that information, much of it personal including personal financial data, and use it to manipulate the rest of the world to the advantage of those who own and control these elite machines. Thus technology that was meant to liberate the mass of humankind has become, in the hands of tyrants, the perfect tool of our enslavement - or should I say in the pockets of tyrants.
Surely our own state of near complete disconnect with our Source has brought on the creation of machines, which reflect our current state of consciousness and are being misused to subjugate the many to the few. The clever conceit of those who care only for self-interest and profit at the expense of others and the environment is destroying the earth, her oceans, air and soil. Lightning quick, shallow thinking, using however brilliant algorithms to amass information in massive servers that only benefit the few is leading us to inevitable collapse.
Escape from the Labyrinth
Perhaps living in human form remains exciting to us only as long as the secret of life remains a mystery and an experience of the unknown. A life that has been logically calculated and predicted offers no challenge to us. Life without surprise is mechanical and dreary, ungodly, not fun. Are we appalled and bored by a life that is totally predictable?
The Siren Servers intend, it seems to corral all of us into predictable repetitive clone-like behaviour and patterns of consumption that benefit the ruling tyrants, the rich and the technocrats who serve them. When our highly complicated thought processes are entrapped in only specific areas of the brain, where will individual creativity come from?
The over use of computers and addiction to surfing the Net has been shown to actually alter the human brain physically. From ‘The Shallows’ by Nicholas Carr:
“The Net’s cacophony of stimuli short circuits both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our mind from thinking deeply or creatively. …Heavy use has neurological consequences. …as the time we spend hopping across links crowds out the time we devote to quiet reflection and contemplation, the [brain] circuits that support those old intellectual functions and pursuits weaken and begin to break apart. The brain recycles the disused neurons and synapses…”
One wonders how this kind of entrainment by the machine will damage our capacity to meditate. Surely the rapid-fire experience of zooming around the Internet, reading dozens of articles in the most superficial way, perhaps only the first paragraph if that, is the extreme antithesis of the state of consciousness one hopes to achieve in meditation. This ‘redirection of our mental resources’ and ‘making judgements that are imperceptible to us’ as Nicholas Carr says, have been shown to ‘impede comprehension and retention’.
Carr quotes the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, who back in the 1950s said: "...the looming tide of [the] technological could so captivate, bewitch, dazzle and beguile man that calculative [quantitative] thinking may someday come to be accepted and practiced as the only way of thinking." The frenzy of quantity over quality, jumping from one focus to the next, using only a small part of the brain may destroy our capacity for quiet contemplation and meditation. The state of a calm and attentive mind cultivated in silence is not only the source of all genuine creativity and innovation, but also the only Door out of the temporal illusory holographic webs we have bound ourselves within.
Tyrants & algorithms
How much of what we surf on the Net do we actually learn and absorb - and how much is mere titillation, escape and addiction? Where is our Free Will in formats generated by software? Are these new masters of the universe, who we are in fact allowing to transform the very way our brains operate — are they true masters of their own consciousness? Generic formats that gather our personal information exist and are used not for our benefit, but to manipulate us without our knowledge.
As Jaron Lanier says, yes it’s free - as long as we allow them to spy on us. What kind of freedom is that? Perhaps in this phase of our current Kali Yuga, the yantrarudhana has been projected externally into the hologram as these Siren Servers by our own lost and confused consciousness. The Kali Yuga is the Age of Conflict and Confusion. Rene Guenon’s description of the “Reign of Quantity” has descended into new depths. Have we created a new sort of Labyrinth to escape from, one literally and physically in our own brain?
Jason Lanier from his book ‘you are not a gadget’: “It’s crazy not to worry that, with millions of people connected through a medium that sometimes brings out their worst tendencies, massive fascist-style mobs could rise up suddenly.” Will the next generation be more likely to “succumb to pack dynamics” because they have grown up with “crowd aggregation, as is the current fad.” The Siren Servers make it easier than ever for tyrants to herd the crowd, manipulating masses, shoals of people who never met, on paths leading to an abyss.
We cannot abide in harmony with eternal metaphysical Truth when we are in Ignorance of what that Truth (Satya) is — and it appears obvious to me looking at the condition of human consciousness and the environment of the entire ravaged planet, that we are ever more disconnected from our Source, whirling madly towards imbalance, tilting, tipping, skewed into deeper darker chaos. Those who choose to do so, to set Right the misalignments of our era will be served by first aligning their being with the God-within, the ubiquitous One that dwells within all.
The choice is clear. We can continue to run madly, rapid-fire around the labyrinth, blind mice in ever more complex artificial fake and self-created mirage-like mazes — or we can turn within to the Source of All that has been patiently waiting throughout non-existent time for our Return. The only authentic Free Will lies within.
V. Susan Ferguson
From a series on the final Chapter XVIII in the Bhagavad Gita:
The Bhagavad Gita in the Mahabharata, A Bilingual Edition, translated by J.A.B. van Buitenen; The University of Chicago Press, 1981.
The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Winthrop Sargeant; State University of New York Press, 1994.
Life’s Pilgrimage Through The Gita, by Swami Muni Narayana Prasad; D.K. Printworld, New Delhi, 2005, 2008.
Bhagavad Gita, In the Light of Kashmir Shaivism, with original video, Revealed by Swami Lakshmanjoo, Edited by John Hughes, Co-editors Viresh Hughes and Denise Hughes; Universal Shaiva Fellowship, 2013.
Abhinavagupta’s Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Gitartha Samgraha, translated by Boris Marjanovic; Indica Books, Varanasi, 2002, 2004.
Satyaloka in the Rig Veda, A Study, by Dr. A. Venkatasubbiah (1886-1969); Vishveshvaranand Vedic Research Institute, 1974.
Who Owns the Future, by Jaron Lanier; Simon & Schuster, NY, 2013.
'you are not a gadget', A Manifesto, by Jaron Lanier; Vintage Books, NY, 2010, 2011.
The Shallows, What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr; W.W. Norton & Company, NY, 2010, 2011.
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