Our Free Will

By Monika Borger

What would you say if I asked: Do you have free will? You would probably respond: Yes, indeed. Yet we give little thought to how much free will we have, where it is leading us, and where it should be leading us. The three fundamental propositions in H. P. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine set the stage for understanding more about this subject. They may be summarized as:

(a) An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception . . .
(b) The Eternity of the Universe in toto as a boundless plane; periodically "the playground of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing,'' . . .
(c) The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul, the latter being itself an aspect of the Unknown Root; and the obligatory pilgrimage for every Soul -- a spark of the former -- through the Cycle of Incarnation (or "Necessity") in accordance with Cyclic and Karmic law, during the whole term. -- 1:14, 16, 17

We are such souls, wandering through cycles of activity and rest lasting millions of years, pursuing our evolutionary journey.

The Stanzas of Dzyan go on to describe what happens when a universe reappears after a period of cosmic rest. Stanza I says that at that time: "Universal mind was not, for there were no Ah-hi to contain it." Mind here is the sum of all states of consciousness, distinguished as thought, will, and feeling. The Ah-hi are hosts of spiritual beings, vehicles of divine or universal thought and will. They are the intelligent forces who make and execute the "laws" in nature, acting under the impress of still loftier powers (SD 1:38). Thus, will in its origin is divine or super-divine.

Because of the identity of all souls with the universal Oversoul, we must have participated in the initial act of cosmic will, along with all other beings. What causes divine will to create, differentiate, and infuse will into the cosmos and among men, who often do not know how to use it rightly? HPB points to the following thoughts from Hegel:

"The history of the World begins with its general aim . . . the realization of the Idea of Spirit . . . and the whole process of History . . . is directed to rendering this unconscious impulse a conscious one. Thus appearing in the form of merely natural existence, natural will -- that which has been called the subjective side -- physical craving, instinct, passion, private interest, as also opinion and subjective conception -- spontaneously present themselves at the very commencement. This vast congeries of volitions, interests and activities constitute the instruments and means of the WORLD SPIRIT for attaining its object; bringing it to consciousness and realising it. And this aim is none other than finding itself -- coming to itself -- and contemplating itself in concrete actuality." -- SD 1:640-1

But how can the highest will manifest in the physical world? Stanza V mentions fohat, the messenger of divine will, the occult electric force that unites all forms under the will of the creative Logos. Following patterns in universal mind, it brings worlds and beings into existence. Fohat represents the hosts of higher creative gods who act on substance to set the laws of cosmic evolution in motion and form the seven cosmic principles. As the obedient servant of the incomprehensible One, it brings into action will or the desire to create. Yet fohat is not a kind of scientific force which acts "automatically"; entities stand behind every so-called force or law of nature, overseeing its execution.

Because everything is interconnected and interpenetrating, divine will also exists in us. Our inmost self, spiritual soul, and higher mind are the immortal parts of our being. They overshadow our transient aspects of body, astral body, vital energy, and desires. Will is an expression of desire, and in his Ocean of Theosophy W. Q. Judge explains clearly how and why the will is pivotal:

This fourth [or desire] principle is the balance principle of the whole seven. It stands in the middle, and from it the ways go up or down. It is the basis of action and the mover of the will. As the old Hermetists say: "Behind will stands desire." For whether we wish to do well or ill we have to first arouse within us the desire for either course. -- p. 52

Itself colorless or neutral, willpower is directed upwards or downwards by the mind. It is obvious to us that heading towards spirit requires willpower; however, we may not realize that it is our willpower misapplied that brings us back to earth time and again, and prevents us from achieving our real potential. We are apt to view ourselves simply as individuals enmeshed in our personal circumstances, for which quite often we do not accept responsibility. But this is not the case, as James Long points out:

man comes into life "preordained" by himself, and himself alone, to unfold and develop that which he has accumulated in his own soul-life; also stored there is his own individual quality of free will which he can utilize to make of himself whatever he chooses.
. . .
The author of our life, who is none other than ourself, has so designed the lights and shades of our present experience that we, with our free will and whatever intelligence and purity of aspiration we can muster, may perceive what qualities in our characters need reshaping, and what pillars of strength we may build on. -- Expanding Horizons, pp. 84, 14

Will flows through us and from us, guided by our directing intelligence. We can rise along the pathway of our inmost self to the gods, or descend deeper into matter, because "individual human beings always have their native free will unimpeded and uncoerced. . . . Man always can change his own feelings, his own thoughts, and necessarily, therefore, his own acts."<NR1>

How can the human spirit finally free itself from matter? Every human being has occult forces within, but only a few know how to make use of them. HPB tells us that:

One common vital principle pervades all things, and this is controllable by the perfected human will. . . .
The adept can control the sensations and alter the conditions of the physical and astral bodies of other persons not adepts; . . . He cannot control the immortal spirit of any human being, living or dead, for all such spirits are alike sparks of the Divine Essence, and not subject to any foreign domination. . . .
. . .
"The will," says Van Helmont, "is the first of all powers. For through the will of the Creator all things were made and put in motion. . . . The will is the property of all spiritual beings, and displays itself in them the more actively the more they are freed from matter." And Paracelsus . . . adds in the same strain: "Faith must confirm the imagination, for faith establishes the will. . . . Determined will is a beginning of all magical operations. . . . Because men do not perfectly imagine and believe the result, is [the reason] that the arts are uncertain, while they might be perfectly certain." -- Isis Unveiled 2:590, 1:57

Seership is thus based on willpower. It can be attained only if the adept knows how to suspend the mechanical action of the brain, for his memory must be as completely subjected to his will as his body is, otherwise all pictures of the past, present, and future remain tinctured by perceptions of the objective world. The forces slumbering within us can lead either to adeptship or black magic, for on the road to divinity achieved through willpower and discipline, tempting fruits of phenomena always lie near the downward path. The white magician, by contrast, uses his powers for the benefit and progress of all.

Desire and will directed towards the Divine can alone liberate us from the material plane. Our mind and intuition receive impulses from divine and super-divine planes, and only our limited state of development and weakness of will prevent us from faithfully carrying them out. We can free ourselves by mobilizing our will to bring about our spiritual desires and raise our lower mentality. But as long as our personal egotism prevents us from focusing our will in the higher parts of our constitution, we will not be able to rise above the lower elements. In fact, lack of will marks the current human condition:

Men and women are distracted because of their own weaknesses; they have not willpower even to pursue a single path for a week at a time, or a month, still less a year. Their wills are asleep, their minds are weakened from lack of exercise and from depending upon help from without; their spirit within them has no chance to spread its wings and soar.
. . .
You cannot take a step onwards and upwards until you know the passwords which are parts of yourself, in other words until you have the will and the intelligence to do right.
. . .
A god never became such in one single cosmic cycle. But it is the constant effort of the will, the constant, new resolving, which changes character and turns humanity into godhood. -- Wind of the Spirit, pp. 180, 281, 212

It is our task to direct our own evolution and contribute consciously to the ascent to divinity. Even though we have countless ages ahead in which to train and apply our will, that is no reason for us to wait. Let's begin today, this moment, so that we can contribute more fully to the progress and liberation of humanity in this new millennium.

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2001; copyright © 2001 Theosophical University Press)

Spiritual Path Menu

The mysterious science requires great precision, accuracy, and perspicacity in observing the facts, a healthy, logical and reflective mind, a lively but not over-excitable imagination, a warm and pure heart. It also demands the greatest simplicity and complete indifference with regard to theories, systems and hypotheses, which are generally accepted without question on the testimony of books or the reputation of their authors. It requires its candidates to learn to think more with their own brains and less with those of others. Finally, it insists that they should check the truth of its principles, the knowledge of its doctrine and the practice of its operations from nature, the mother of us all. -- Fulcanelli