Fate versus Free-Will
An investigation of the problem of Predestination from the perspective of Occult Science
The problem of Fate versus Free-Will has exercised the minds of some of the greatest thinkers of all times and continues to be debated by many not-so-great thinkers today, without any of them reaching a satisfactory conclusion. In this investigation we will see what light Occult Science can shed on this perennial conundrum, whilst in our customary afterword we consider what answers material science and psychology can offer us. We previously touched on this in the afterword to part ten of our Astral Conversations when we discussed how predictions and fortune-telling work, but will now explore the question of free-will versus predestination or 'fate' in greater depth.
The problem described
We receive many emails from readers who ask us if free-will is a fact or not. If we can foresee the future, as some claim to be able to do, then the future must be fixed for us all, and there can then be no question of free-will. But who can foresee the future, we ask? Can the great Prophets of the Bible foresee the future? Or, rather, could they do so at the times they lived on earth? Of course they could, and so can you or anyone who likes to predict the future. It is a fixed Occult Law that anything anyone may predict will come true at some time or another in some way. But no one can say when that will be! As all things and beings proceed in cycles, so must all cycles return again and again. Thus it follows that during the course of our many incarnations, we will see such prophecies fulfilled in the end, whether we remember the date or place or person of the prophecy or not. The chances are that we do not. A cycle may be of any duration, and may begin or end at any time, to start again immediately, as we discussed in our article on Occult Evolutionary Cycles.
Let us take the example of a horse race. It is possible for a person to predict the winner of the Grand National, or of any horse race which may take place today, tomorrow or next week, or at any time. For some horse must win when its time for winning is due. But that does not take away the horse's free-will. It can refuse to run if it wills to do so. Nor does it influence the freedom of action of the jockey who rides it. We can blend with the future if we wish to do so, whether the future event takes place or not, without losing our freedom. If we blend with that future event, or person, or thing, then we can do so of our own free-will; and if we refuse to blend with the future event, person, or thing, then we can do so too, whether the event matures at the time predicted for it or not. In the case of blending we cooperate with the event or person or thing, whether it comes to pass or not. When we refuse we disassociate ourselves from the person in question, event or the things. All very plain and easy if our mind is free, and not trammelled by doubts, suspicions, or hesitation to accept this law.
Is this too complicated for you? Then let us take another example—one familiar to all of us. If you work in an office, factory, or anywhere away from your home, you will know the day before that the next day you will leave your home at a certain hour, walk, drive, take a bus, a train, the tube, a plane, a boat, or what not, and so go to work if it is a working day. In this way you foresee the future in a small way, providing nothing intervenes meanwhile. But ninety-nine times out of a hundred your prediction will work out as anticipated. Thus you are a very minor prophet in your own right. You are, however, still free, for you can refuse to be bullied by having to work for a living, and stay at home instead. You have free-will! A certain occult order, which we will not name, as it is still in existence, taught, and may still teach for all we know, that there is no such thing as free-will, basing its conclusion on the following analogy. If you are in a room with a heavy table in the centre that blocks your way which you cannot move, then you will have to go round it if you wish to cross the room to reach the other side. Quite right. But you still have the free-will to refuse to cross the room! You can jump or glide across the table or walk round it. You can even crawl underneath it if you want to. Free-will!
But there is a further and important dimension to all this. Philosophers such as Proclus refer to the existence of what they call 'Mundane Gods', who know what happens in the world in general and in particular, both in reference to the world, or nature at large, and in each individual human being. This is a true teaching. Occult Science affirms that everyone has their Genius, their Guardian, their Angel, who knows all that occurs, and guides us, unseen, but seldom heard. But again, this is not interference with our freedom. The Guide or Guardian or Genius will know what is to come to pass, for having greater wisdom, and being more far-sighted than the average man or woman, he will see the trend of things clearly, whilst to the human being on earth, blinded by illusions, these trends will be mere shadows, or utter darkness. But when the Guide foresees what may come to pass to a person, is this interference with their free-will or is it what has been called 'Providence' by some philosophers and mystics in any way or form? Or is it greater wisdom, such as was possessed, and is still possessed, by some exceptionally clear-sighted individuals?
A good friend of the writer of this article once related how he had narrowly avoided a serious accident by listening to his inner voice. He was due to attend an important meeting some distance from his home but when he got into his car he experienced an overwhelming sense of impending danger which he was unable to shake off. After a few minutes he turned the car around and drove home. Later that day he learnt that there had been an accident on the road he was due to travel along at the exact time he would been there when it occurred. The accident involved three vehicles which resulted in several people being severely injured and two deaths. Now, was this a case of predestination or did Providence have a hand in the matter? Our friend could have ignored his inner voice and continued on his journey and suffered the consequences. He exercised his free-will!
We could cite many similar cases of people who have been warned in one way or another about the future and who either chose to act on such warnings or ignore them. You may know of such cases yourself; they are much more common than most people realise. We have free-will, if we choose to exercise it. The fact that so many do not does not negate the fact itself, but only goes to show that the mass of humanity are content to be driven hither and thither by causes of which they have no understanding. It is so much easier to blame our good or bad fortune on others, or on 'Fate', or even Providence, than on our own choices, whether in this life, or previous ones of which we have no conscious memory. This begs the question of who is truly free?
Fate and Fortune
Only the wise man who maintains an empire over himself is truly free. Neither want, nor death (which is another form of freedom for the wise) nor fear can touch him to his detriment. The free man pursues his chosen course in life and spurns the gifts ambition dangles before his seeing eyes. He is firm, relying on no other person, nor on Fate, but will accept the gifts the Gods bestow upon him, wisely deciding within his heart and mind if he is worthy of such gifts. For he knows that the growth of personal power means the end of freedom for most men, for there are two freedoms—the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; and the true, where a man is free to do what he ought. The only freedom worth having for those of us on the path to the Light is that which increases and enlarges our intellect, virtues and wisdom.
That the unwise, the selfish and the cunning can and do flourish in this world is a well known fact. It is also true that the best may have to suffer innocently for things beyond their power. But the inequalities of fortune are always due to our own acts in one way, and to the benefits or misfortunes heaped upon us by good or evil tendencies on the part of others, or by powers beyond our control. We each have the freedom to accept or reject good or bad fortune if we are strong enough to so. We can also give in to both if we are weak enough. Riches, social status, material power, even health, are not always unmixed blessings, for perfect health may prolong the sufferings of one whose earthly life is far from a bed of roses to an almost unbearable extent, while the man of weak health would escape quickly to the freedom of a better life on high.
We have known many parsimonious people who scrimped and saved all their lives, denying themselves the simplest pleasures, only to lose the lot in one sudden disaster in the most unforeseen manner. Was it their fate to live miserly lives, or had they freely chosen to be skinflints? Is a spendthrift fated to be poor, though he always falls on his feet in the end, or fated to obtain wealth and good fortune despite his imprudence? Does Fortune give with one hand and take away again with the other? Is money, or power, or health any use to any one? Ask the Buddhist monk who is satisfied to hold out a bowl for alms and has only one orange shirt to his back. What is his fortune? Could he change his fate if he wished and had the power to do so? Of course he could, but being born lazy and bone idle he prefers it that way, using his free-will to remain poor, but never hungry, and avoiding any kind of work that might lead to his liberation from further incarnations on earth. Is this Fate or Free-Will? Only you can answer this question!
In the Bible we may read: "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). To the true disciple this is priceless advice. But how many true disciples are there? But the disciple also has free-will! He can do as he likes and remain in ease and comfort or do as he ought and follow the Master. Are we now contradicting ourselves by suggesting that wealth, position, health and all the rest of the 'good' things of life do not matter to the man or woman on the path to the Light? Are we suggesting that poverty and asceticism, which the foolish monk we referred to just now embraced in his dire ignorance, are such a wonderful exchange for lack of the good things of this world which most people prize above all virtue? No! We are not suggesting this at all, for there is so much wealth, power and health in the universe that no one should go short in any way. But the time comes for all those who have placed their stumbling feet upon the path to the Light to make a choice. What shall it be? Material wealth and comfort or spiritual freedom? Think it over. But bear in mind that it is possible to have a modicum of both, if we go about it in the right way, and are willing to share our good fortune with those in need of something we can freely give without real loss to ourselves. By forgiving our debtors, whether these are monetary debts only, or moral and mental ones, we draw closer to God Himself, who does not collect the debts from His debtors!
Sir Frederic Leighton — Winding the skein — ca.1878, oil on canvas
All this leads us to the concept of 'Providence' which we mentioned earlier. The Neoplatonic philosopher Proclus, whose ideas we discussed in the second of our articles on esoteric philosophy, had many doubts about Providence—no less than ten in fact! We do not have the time or space to consider his ideas in any depth in this investigation, which you can easily look up for yourself in Thomas Taylor's excellent translation of Proclus' Ten Doubts Concerning Providence and a Solution of Those Doubts and on the Subsistence of Evil published in the 19th century. In essence, Proclus' arguments are the same as we hear today whenever Fate and Free-Will come under discussion. For, it is argued, if there is such a thing as Providence, then this same Providence, by saving us from the course and results of our actions, or the actions of others, would interfere with our freedom and the freedom of the rest.
Taken to its logical conclusion this suggests that if Providence would act in such a way that a poor person would suddenly win the Lottery, thus obliterating want at a stroke, their freedom to live in penury would be impaired, and any virtue caused by their patience in adversity would be lost! This argument is no more far fetched than the opposition of the Church barely a hundred and fifty years ago to the use of anaesthetics, because, it said, the sufferer would lose great rewards in the afterlife if he endured his terrible agonies with due courage and patience now. It is easy to make such idiotic and thoughtless—and even cruel statements—when one is in good health and has plenty of cash! But we rather suspect that the virtuous folks who endorse such notions would tell another tale when they themselves had to suffer! They would cry out to God to help them, and forget all about patience and any future reward. How merciful God must be, and how forbearing of the follies and presumption of men!
Proclus begins his argument by discussing the rules about Providence laid down by Plato, who, he says, compels us by irrefutable arguments to confess the existence of this Providence. Plato, Proclus says: "shows that to the last limit of intelligence the World-Creator has elaborated the production of every detail by his providential energies. These Platonic demonstrations are supported by the testimony of the Chaldean Oracles which will fully convince the worthiest worshippers of the Gods that the oracular tradition demonstrates Providence's existence, even in opposition to the conceptions of the multitude, exorcising the phantasms which prevent them from believing that all things exist in conformity with the will of Providence, leading them up from hypocritical verbiage to the truth of things." Thus speaks Plato as recapitulated in the words of Proclus, and there is nothing we can see against this statement.
That the Law we call Providence does exist is certain; but it is not at all certain how it will work out in various instances, and we alluded to this earlier when we mentioned how one might foresee and predict coming events. We must bear this in mind at all times, for—as John Temple discusses in his excellent article on Prayer—God (or Providence, if you like) does not always answer our prayers in the way we might wish them answered. This brings us to another question. What is Providence? Is it God, omnipotence, the First Cause, the Infinite, the Eternal, or is it, or He, any of the forms men call God? Or is it the Son of God, called Jesus by Christians, Horus by the ancient Egyptians, and Krishna by the Hindus? Or is it perhaps the Way, the Tao, the Truth, the Life, the Light of the World, or the Sun of Righteousness? Or is it an attribute of the Creator or Creators, such as infinite power, wisdom, goodness, justice, truth, love, mercy, holiness, glory, and so on and so forth? Is Providence 'The Mediator', under whatever form or shape or personality we consider him to be? Does Providence, as seen by Plato or Proclus, save, uphold, preserve, predestinate, elect, ordain, bless or sanctify? If any or all these attributes consist and are Providence, do they interfere with our free-will?
We gave you the answer to these questions earlier when we said that we have free-will, provided always that we choose to exercise it. We can choose to cooperate with the dictates of Providence, however we may regard them, or we can refuse to do so. We would add that if Providence (whatever form this may have) makes a decision which seems to interfere with our freedom, it does so for our ultimate good, as the friend of the writer of this article mentioned earlier discovered when an inner voice warned him not to travel to his appointment. It is just the same as if one of our readers should say that because we attempt to guide him or her along the Path to the Light, we are interfering with their freedom. This is not so, for all our readers have the free-will to accept or reject such guidance.
In the Bible we find a curious statement that has often been cited in support of predestination. "I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me" (Exodus 20:5). This verse has also been used to justify the erroneous dogma of Karma which we discuss in part three of our occult studies course, but what does it really mean? Now, the only ways in which a child can suffer for the 'iniquity' of his parents or forbears is through bodily or mental ill-health, by way of inherited physiological factors and through misfortune. But this is not 'punishment', much less predestination. He or she merely suffers from the results set up by previous causes. Some call this Karma; maybe it is if we consider it in the right way. But this is not caused by the child's parents or other forbears so that he suffers for their misdeeds, but by his own errors in a previous life. Nor is this any sort of predestination or interference with our freedom, but the result of our own acts of the past, which acts we enacted of our own free-will, though now we have forgotten all about them. But life does not forget, nor does the Higher Self forget, for it is possible to recall our past lives, or portions of them, which are as fresh to the mind that beholds them as if these things took place five minutes ago.
Although human beings have to obey the laws of Nature, or else suffer and die, they have something which no other living creature on earth can boast of; and that is the Higher Self, which will regulate their actions or non-actions, provided they are aware of it and choose to follow its guidance. Men and women have to obey the laws of the body, but this does not apply to the Higher Self which is free unless it willingly abrogates that freedom by giving way to the lower self. There are cases in which humans are not free agents, such as when they find themselves in prisons, in the army, or under some duress, restraint or contract. But if in prison they are there because they have probably transgressed man-made laws; or when in the army they have been conscripted or entered of their own free-will; whilst when they are under some form of duress, restraint or contract we may say that they have entered those conditions entirely of their own free-will at some time or other in some way, if not in this life, than in a previous life or lives. Again, we emphasise that this is not Karma as it is misunderstood by nearly all mystics and occultists, but the inevitable working out of causes previously set in motion by ourselves or others or the universal spiritual laws, to which all beings are subject.
We should never forget that even the worst conditions imposed upon us by tyrants, enemies of all sorts, or by the working out of the spiritual laws, or man-made ones, when we have wilfully or accidentally offended against them, or by any other means, we still have a Mind which can never become a slave to men or conditions if we exercise our free rights of correct and independent thinking whilst our body itself is deprived of freedom. No human being can force another human being to become his slave so far as the mind is concerned; and the Higher Mind—the true Self—is ever and always free, provided it is not a weak mind without strength of character and individuality. But even a weak mind could still stand up for itself if it really tried. We have Free-Will!
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article published 5 May 2019.