Habit vs Freewill
nānyaḿ guṇebhyaḥ kartāraḿ
guṇebhyaś ca paraḿ vetti
mad-bhāvaḿ so ‘dhigacchati
The performer of actions is none other than the three modes of nature.
See this through the eyes of those who can see,
And come to understand something above and beyond these three modes:
My spiritual nature… and you can attain it!
These words from Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad Gita could not possibly be more pertinent to an astrologer like me. After all I deal with the subject of fate vs. freewill on a constant basis.
Say you slap someone in the face – let’s use that as a simple example of free choice. What happens next? Next you must suffer the consequences! The consequences are the fate which arises from your free choice. This is a simplified analogy to illustrate what karma really is. It is the marriage of freewill and fate. Fate exists because of freewill.
I cannot control my fate, but I can control how I choose to react to it. My choices in the past created my present fate; and so too will my choices in the present determine my future. Thus, “I am the architect of my own destiny.”
But do I really have full control over how I react?
The answer is no. But I could get full control if I work towards it. That is what this verse is talking about.
The fourteenth chapter of Gita explains that we are habituated to react to circumstances in various predictable ways. There are three forces of habituation acting on us:
- Tamas habituates us to ignore our choices and run away from issues and circumstances seeking refuge in fantasy, intoxication, and forgetfulness.
- Rajas habituates us to be greedy in how we react to our circumstances, always trying to profit more, enjoy more, and amass more.
- Sattva habituates us to be thoughtful and careful about how we choose to react to circumstances in our lives. Thus it leads us to acquire knowledge and generates long term happiness.
Kṛṣṇa says here in this verse, nānyaḿ guṇebhyaḥ kartāraḿ – The entity making choices (“kartāraḿ”) is nothing besides these three habits, these three modes of material nature. Our habits make all our decisions for us.
But we have reincarnated as human beings – which is relatively rare opportunity to change this! We have a chance to understand that we can exist in a similar way that God exists (“mad- bhāvaḿ”): completely situated in pure freewill without any imposition. The purpose of being born as a human being is to use our freewill and stop reacting to circumstances out of instinct and habit, like animals do.
First we must “know the enemy.” First we must be able to spot a habit when we see it, and differentiate a habitual response from an act of freewill. This means we must have clear knowledge of what the three habituating forces are – tamas, rajas, and sattva – and be able to spot them when we see them. Thus Kṛṣṇa says,
“See the habituating modes!” (yadā draṣṭa)
I don’t see them! How can I see them?
“Through the eyes of those who can see.” (anupaśyati)
If you look up at a cloud and see a clown face, you can say to me, “Hey wow! See that clown face cloud?”
I’ll say, “No, where?”
You’ll point and say, “There, see. Those are the eyes, there’s the puff hair…”
Then I’ll see it, “oh yeah! That’s cool!”
That’s what anupashyati means – seeing through the eyes of those who see. So we must learn about the habituating modes by hearing about them from people who understand and can see them in action. Kṛṣṇa is one such person, and we try to see through his eyes by exerting an effort to understand what he teaches in Bhagavad Gita.
What exactly do we see when we see the eyes of those who see?
We see that the modes are not everything! There is freewill beyond the habituations enforced by material energy. Thus Kṛṣṇa says, “guṇebhyaś ca paraḿ vetti” – Seeing through the eyes of those who know, you will come to know the three habituating modes (gunebhyah) and something beyond them, too (ca param).
What is beyond the programming and habitualizations of the material world?
“mad-bhāvaḿ” – Kṛṣṇa’s own existence!
Is that not beyond us? Is free will only for God?
No! “’sah adhigacchati” – you can also attain this perfectly free level of existence!
Knowing that freewill exists and is within our reach is half the battle of attaining it. Being able to spot our conditionings is the third quarter of the battle. Being able to desist from the force of habit once we spot it is the final part of the victory.
– Vic DiCara