Q: Do we really have freewill? Every decision I make seems to be impelled by some external force.
Vedantic philosophy (including Bhagavad Gītā 18.14) explains that every decision and subsequent action has five factors involved.
adhiṣṭhānaṁ tathā kartā
karaṇaṁ ca pṛthag-vidham
vividhāś ca pṛthak ceṣṭā
daivaṁ caivātra pañcamam
First of all the environment plays a role in the decision to act. The tools at our disposal also affect the decision and action. One’s potency / strength also affects it. And certainly the fateful momentum of ones previous acts and decisions has a large effect. But the core of any decision or action is called the “doer” – who is identified as the sentient individual himself / herself.
The doer supplies the will to act in a certain way. And then the action is carried out as far as possible through the environment, tools, and strength at the doers disposal, and within the confines of fate. For example, if I decide to become a rock-star, that decision comes from the doer (soul, the individual) and can become true as far as the environment, tools, strength, and fate at my disposal will permit. The source of the decision is my individual freewill, but the limitations involved in realizing the decision are the other four factors.
Further, the other four factors will limit and condition my ability to decide on an action. For example, if my environment is the 1800s, how can I decide to become a rock-star? Rock and roll didn’t even exist in that environment. If I have no eyes in my toolbox, I will not be likely to make the choice to see the sunrise. Etc. So the four external factors limit and condition the central cause of action, the doer.
Some say that the doer is ahamkara, not ātmā. Although this is partially true, ahamkara only has potency due to receiving energy from the ātmā by proximity. Therefore whatever the ahamkara does is attributable to the ātmā although it is technically not directly done or conceived by the ātmā. For example, in an online community or multiplayer game, the persons involved have virtual identities within the electronic world. These identities have personality and perform actions only because the player controls them. Ātmā is analogous to the player and Ahamkara to the player’s “avatar” in the online world. So, will and doership is invested into the ahamkara by the atma, not visa versa.
Advaita schools try to claim that it is visa versa, but their argument has the flaw of suggesting that an inferior substance (ahamkara) can modify a superior substance (ātmā / brahman). Non-advaita schools are much more sensible because they recognize that if an avatar can express will in a virtual world, it means that the controller or programmer of the avatar much has at least as much will. They recognize that the superior substance (in terms of power) influences the inferior, not visa versa.
Coming back to the main point – external circumstances certainly condition, limit, and shape our will, but still the central principle in each and every decision and action we make at every moment is our freewill.
Q: The dictionary defines “free” as: “exempt from external authority, interference,restriction, etc., as a person or one’s will, thought, choice, action, etc.;independent; unrestricted.“
Freedom can exist within limits. It is not that because there is a limitation there cannot be any freedom at all. For example, on a plane from Newark to Tokyo I have no freedom to go to Chicago, but I still have freedom within the plane to watch this or that movie, eat this or that snack, sit down or stand up, etc. etc.
Our will is not absolutely free from restraint. The four factors mentioned about impose restraint upon it. But it is still called “free” will because at the core it has no causality. Sentience possesses the divine ability to generate effects without cause — We can make a choice without being forced by any condition, even though (because our sentience is infinitesimal) the four conditions will modify and limit our ability to realize or conceive our choice.
Q: Isn’t muhurta itself is a tool to harmonize with the forces of the nature and improve our chance of doing the right thing in the right time?
Muhurta is proof of freewill. In the west it is called “elective astrology” because the individual elects the proper action for the proper moment. If the living entity had no vote, no will, there could be no election — selecting an ideal moment would be meaningless, because an entity with no choice cannot make a “selection” at all.
Q: Isn’t it correct that astrology begins with the premises that we are conditioned by the planets and the stars?
No, astrology begins with the premise that every action has a reaction. The next premise is that actions and reactions unfold over time. The third premise is that the movements of objects within space describe the unfolding of time, and therefore imply symbolic information about the actions and reactions unfolding.
Even if we believe that the planets and stars condition our will, still it is merely a conditioning, not an extinguishing of will. However in my opinion, having studied the subjects considerably, we are not conditioned by planets and stars. The planets and stars are merely visible signs describing the conditions in the universe at a given point in time. Much like the hands on a clock do not make the clock work, they merely are a way that we can read the workings of the clock.
I encourage you to read my book, “The Great Big Crystal Ball in the Sky, Part I”
to really learn about this in detail, if you are interested.
– Vic DiCara (Vraja Kishor dās)