I remember clearly the philosophical debates we used to have in college. One hot topic was about free will and fate. The argument for fate was that since every particle is governed by the laws of physics, its behavior is pre-determined and predictable. The laws of physics can be expressed neatly in mathematical equations, and hence the future of any given particle can be computed for any time in the future. Since we are nothing more than a collection of particles there was no role for free-will. Everything is pre-determined and the universe operated like a machine.
The first chink in the argument for a pre-determined destiny was that the laws of physics are not in fact deterministic in nature. These laws are expressed in terms of probabilities, which means that the future state of any given particle cannot be computed with any degree of certainty. Though the laws of physics provide a fair degree of certainty in determining the future state of a large aggregation of particles, it still provides enough wiggle room to make the notion of a universe that works like a giant machine untenable.
The second chink was that the phenomenon of consciousness is not well understood by science and cannot be condensed into a neat mathematical equation. Biology considers consciousness as some kind of an “emergent behavior” of the brain. It is almost as if consciousness is some sort of un-interesting side-effect of the brain that is best ignored. But on the other hand, physics needs consciousness at a much more fundamental level. The equations of physics do not “resolve” until a conscious observer is injected into the mix. This tantalizing role of consciousness at such a fundamental level opens the door for free-will as consciousness seems to be much more than a biological after-effect.
Even after debating long and hard, neither side was able to close the deal, and our arguments remained unresolved. Personally, I leaned towards the free-will team. I believed deep in my core that my destiny was in my hand and that the choices I made would determine how things would turn out for me.
Many decades have passed since my college days. I am no longer as certain as I used to be about free-will. As I look back, I do see that my life has been shaped by the daily choices I made. I also see that some of the choices I made were quite pivotal and my life would have turned out quite different had I not made those choices. But the real question is that given the circumstances, would I have chosen differently? I now see that while all of us have a free-will, it is likely that this free-will operates in a pre-ordained way based on the circumstances we find ourselves in. This is same as saying that the notion of an iron-clad free-will being totally uninfluenced by its surrounding is an illusion. Our destiny may be determined by our choices and our choices may be determined by our circumstances at that time. And all this could lead our life to flow in pre-ordained ways.
But this is not to say that I am sold on the idea of a mechanical pre-destined universe. Our universe has different layers and at a deeper layer free-will has a totally different meaning: If we operate at the level of the ego then our destiny moves in a certain direction. On the other hand if we surrender the ego then our destiny moves in another direction. This freedom to choose may be the most fundamental aspect of free-will that has the biggest impact on our destiny.
So it seems that there are two destinies in store for us. One is the destiny with a small d. This is the destiny that will play out if we choose to live our lives at the level of our ego. There is suffering and isolation in this destiny. The other is Destiny with the capital D. This Destiny is the way our lives will unfold when we surrender our ego completely and live to the tune of the Divine will. There is love, connection, and bliss in this Destiny.
Since most people oscillate between living at the level of the ego and living a spiritual egoless life, the way our lives play out is somewhere between destiny and Destiny. When we are at the level of the ego, we are heavily influenced by external circumstances and our free-will responds to these and our destiny unfolds accordingly. On the other hand when we free ourselves from the ego and dive deeper, then our free-will responds to a deeper calling and a more vibrant and deeply fulfilling Destiny unfolds.
So the question before us is: How can we dive to a deeper level outside the ego? Can our free-will exercise this choice or its hands our tied by circumstance? The answer is that sometimes this happens spontaneously. Each one of us is prone to get “spiritual surges”. These may happen due to a deep calamity, a beautiful experience, or for no apparent reason. If we ride these spiritual surges and manage to hold on to these experiences then we can move our lives towards Destiny. All the spiritual traditions of the world also show us a way to systematically work towards a life out of our egos. Similarly yogic traditions, such as the eight fold path of Yoga as laid down by Patanjali, can allow us to work towards living at deeper level. This should allow our free will to be increasingly synchronized with a deeper calling.
It seems that we are living in a conscious universe that is evolving in a particular direction. As creatures of consciousness we can choose to be co-creators and co-participants in the way the broader universe unfolds. Or we can choose to play discordant notes coming from ignorance and ego. This then is the tale of our two destinies. The choice is ours.
Related: The Golden Egg