Is everything predestined or is there a free will?

There is a saying in Hindi:

Bina Bhagwaan ki marzi ke, ek patta bhi nahi hilta

It translates in English to:

Without the wish of God, even a leaf cannot move.

It is pretty funny. The statement has the potential to lighten up any environment. As soon as you utter this statement, people start vividly imagining God standing beside every leaf, and blowing it with air from his mouth, and as they imagine it, they laugh out heartily. It really feels funny that every leaf moves with the blow of air from someone’s mouth.

Besides fun, people also use this statement to justify their behavior. “Jaisi marzi hai bhagwaan ki, waisa hi hum kar rahe hai”. It means “As God wishes, so I am doing”. It makes sense also that if no leaf cannot move without God’s wish, then our every action is in line with God’s wish. So, if I am doing something bad, cheating someone, lying to someone, abusing someone, it must be God’s wish. How can I do anything that is against God’s wish?

Gurbani says that everything happens according to God’s will:

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Rather than just saying that everything happens to God’s will, as we can see in the last three lines, Gurbani specifically says that God himself misleads people and leads people astray. So, Gurbani is unequivocal that whatever happens, happens as per God’s wishes.

Gurbani even goes beyond this and says that it is not only that everything happens as per God’s wishes, it is that everything is God and everything that is happening, God himself is doing.

From the above content, it must be clear that Gurbani says:

  1. Everything happens according to God’s will
  2. God is everything and everyone. There is nothing except God.

So, who are we? God?

  • But then, why do we suffer?
  • Why are we held accountable for our actions?
  • Why is it said that as we sow so shall we reap?
  • If we are Gods, how can God be sad?
  • How can God do anything bad?
  • Why don’t we have a utopian world where there is no misery and there is happiness all around?

Before we tackle these questions, let’s look at some of the other Gurbani lines:

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These Gurbani lines:

  • talk about the fundamental law “As you sow, so shall you reap”
  • talk about the consequences of bad karma
  • urge us to remember our true self

Are they contradictory to the previous Gurbani lines? If we are all God, then why are we required to do anything? Why can’t we be happy without doing a thing? Isn’t happiness and peace our right, if we are God?

All of these questions are valid. To answer them, we need to understand the illusion of this world.

It is imperative to understand that Gurbani talks on two levels:

  1. The Reality or The Truth: In reality, all there is is God. There is no other thing. This reality has been discussed in the article “Beginning of the Universe“. Within the context of the reality, everything is God and God is everything. Given this, everything that happens is done by God and is thus, according to his will. There is no one higher or lower than other, no one bad, no one good, no one sinner, no one saint – the reason being that all there is is God.
  2. The Illusion or The Duality: In reality, there is no separation and no two things: Everything is One. However, the life we experience everyday has separation: we are separate from each other and from the nature. We feel ourselves as this body and everything outside this body, we see that as separate from us. So, in our regular consciousness, we have us and everything else i.e. a world of duality, of I and everything else.
    How do we experience this separation if there is no separation? The reason is that we are under illusion, as explained in detail in the article “Why and How was this universe created?“. This illusion of duality has been very commonly referred to as “Maya” in eastern religions.

One may ask why was this illusion created. The reason is that in the absence of duality, nothing can be experienced. For example: we cannot experience

  • light without darkness
  • good without bad
  • virtue without vice
  • love without hatred
  • selflessness without selfishness
  • happiness without sorrow
  • life without death
  • cold without hot
  • health without disease
  • us without someone else
  • up without down

Rather, if you think deeply about it, light will have no meaning if there is no darkness. In such a case, we’ll never know what light is because we’ll have never seen darkness. If everything is at the same temperature, the temperature will lose its meaning. The cold and the hot need to exist if we have to experience temperature. If everyone is a saint, how would we know that there is a possibility of anything else? How would we appreciate or experience the saintliness?

So, an illusion was created so that God could experience himself (Read “who is God?“). And this is possible only in the presence of duality. Given that the duality does not exist in reality, an illusion of duality or separation was created.

Under this illusion, all of us have the power to experience whatever we want. We have the power to create our own destinies. This power is what is communicated by the law “As you sow so shall you reap“. We can sow whatever we want and we’ll reap accordingly. The power to sow anything we want lies with us.

We may choose to sow a life full of joy, happiness, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, courage etc
OR
We may choose to sow a life full of misery, selfishness, cruelty, vengeance, greed, fearfulness etc

So, when Gurbani talks about in the context of the reality, it says that everything is God and everything happens as per God’s will.

However, when Gurbani talks within the context of the illusion, under which we all are living, it tells us the law (or our power) of “As you sow so shall you reap”. It also urges us to remember our origin.

Why does Gurbani urge us to remember our origin or God or asks us to follow certain guidelines in life, when in reality we are all God?

The reason is simple: to make us happy. There is no compulsion that you have to follow Gurbani or any other scripture. However, you may choose to do that if you feel you are not happy or that following Gurbani will increase happiness and joy in your life. You may choose to follow Gurbani to sow different seeds than what you are currently sowing, in case you are not happy with what you are reaping in life.

In reality, of course, there is no need to do anything. We can live the way we want. We have the free will to do whatever we want. No one can take away that freedom.

However, obviously, if we are not happy, we would like to do different things that can bring us happiness. Gurbani gives us guidelines which are supposed to bring happiness, joy, and bliss into our lives.

We shouldn’t be under the misconception that Gurbani saves in the afterlife and does not impact our life on earth.

Gurbani or any other religious scripture makes our lives on this earth happier and more joyful and peaceful. The experiences of heaven and hell exist right here on earth. There are no separate hells or heavens. Hell or heaven is a state of mind. If we are truly in a blissful state, we are in heaven. If we are burning in hatred or anger or jealousy or any other thing, we are in a hell. You don’t even need to take my word that hatred or anger or jealousy are like hell, you can just watch yourself when you are experiencing these things. Are you really happy at those times?

On the other hand, when you are filled with gratitude or compassion or kindness or love, aren’t you happy?

If we really understand the guidelines of Gurbani, all the guidelines or principles help us live a happier life. But we don’t understand that. We think that Gurbani gives us a set of rules which are supposed to please God or help us in the afterlife. We are completely wrong in our understanding. God doesn’t need anything. Rather, as we know, in reality, everything is God, including us. So, we are not doing anything to please God. We are doing everything for our benefit in this life on earth.

Also, Gurbani is not a set of mechanical rules to be followed. If it were so, Gurbani would never talk about the reality of the universe. It would never tell us that essentially, we are all God. It is not for anyone else’s benefit that Gurbani asks to do certain things and avoid other things, it is for our own benefit. We just need to try it and see if it helps. We can keep following the things which work for us and keep other things on hold. That way, we’ll keep our freedom but also become happier in life by following Gurbani. And when we’ll gradually realise that Gurbani works – it actually helps in daily life and makes us happier – our faith will increase and we’ll implement even more of the guidelines in our life.

However, more important than any other guideline is the guideline to remember our origin because once we remember our true origin, we’ll not need any rules. We’ll understand everything once we understand the reality of ourselves and the world.

Lastly, it is true that nothing happens without God’s wish. We can even use this idea to justify all our actions, including not-so-good ones and to justify not following the basic principles laid out in Gurbani or other scriptures. No one is going to punish us for doing this, given we are all God.

However, we’ll have to face the consequences of our actions. And if we are not happy or if we want to be happier, we may want to look at what Gurbani says and try to follow it in our lives.

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