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                                                       A COMMENTARY FROM 

                                                    HOLY  GURBANI –SGGS  JI



The question of whether we are in control of our own lives, or whether everything is determined, has puzzled scientists and philosophers for centuries. The term freewill implies that we have completely free choice whereas determinism implies that our choices are preconditioned by earlier causes. Using Sikhism and philosophy, this question of whether there is freewill or determinism at play, shall now be explored.

Standpoints on Freewill & Determinism

There are three main standpoints on where people stand in relation to freewill:

Libertarians (Incompatibles) – We are totally free to choose and therefore are morally responsible for all our actions

Soft Determinists (Compatibilists) – Most of our actions are free and the rest are determined by other causes, although it’s hard to draw the line of what is free and what is determined

Hard Determinists (Incompatibilists) – Everything is totally determined and therefore humans have no freedom or responsibility, it’s all an illusion.

Sikhism on Free will Determinism

In many of the world’s scriptures there is a mention that some things in life are pre-determined, but what this really means is largely misunderstood.

The Guru Granth Sahib says, “By one’s own actions, nothing can be done; destiny was pre-determined from the very beginning. By great good fortune, I meet my God, and then all pain of separation departs” (Guru Arjan Dev Ji, p.135).

Another quote from Guru Granth Sahib says, “All things happen according to the Will of the Lord God. No one can erase the pre-ordained Writ of Destiny. He Himself is the True Guru; He Himself is the Lord. He Himself unites in His Union” (Guru Ram Das Ji, p.41) and also, “Union with Him, and separation from Him, come by His Will. We come to receive what is written in our destiny” (Guru Nanak Dev Ji, p.6).

On the surface, the terms ‘pre-determined’ and ‘fortune’ appear to suggest that a human being has no freewill and everything is being determined by God and the universe. However, these quotations have been taken out of the context of the entire hymn. The context was, “In the month of Katak, do good deeds. Do not try to blame anyone else. Forgetting the Transcendent Lord, all sorts of illnesses are contracted. Those who turn their backs on the Lord shall be separated from Him and consigned to reincarnation, over and over again” (Guru Arjan Dev Ji, p.135), and “In deep humility, I fall at the Feet of the Perfect True Guru (God)” (Guru Ram Das Ji, p.41).

In context, it can be seen that the Word of the Guru (Gurbani) does not deny the fact that good deeds must be done through free will in order to get to get God-consciousness, which releases us from the system of reincarnation. Also, these hymns show that in the state of deep humility we realise that in the greater scheme of things, everything is in the hands of God, because the reality is that there is only one source of light, which permeates and radiates in different colours, much like a prism.

This does not mean to say that there is no free will, just that we are all at the hands of the Divine Laws of the universe that the Creator set up and which can be found in nature. This includes the Law of Karma, which is the law of action and consequence or what you sow you shall reap.

Karmic Law of Action and Consequence

The system of Karma, gives us a greater insight into the workings of freewill and fate, and therefore give us an understanding of pre-determination and fortune. The Guru Granth Sahib says, “According to one’s desires, one’s condition is determined” (Guru Nanak Dev Ji, p.1342), and “That alone is a good deed, O Nanak, which is done by one’s own free will” (Guru Angad Dev Ji, p.787).

This hymn shows that pre-determination of a person’s destiny comes from what the desires of the mind are, which may be good or bad. The hymn also shows us that good deeds can only be free, otherwise they could not be called good.

A further clarification of this comes from Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first Sikh Master who says, “According to their own actions, some are drawn closer, and some are driven farther away.” Therefore, whether someone is destined to attain God-consciousness is a question of them desiring God instead of worldly attachment, and sowing the seeds of good actions, which has consequences of reaping good fruits.

 Pre-ordained Writ of Destiny

 A question sometimes arises of what the ‘pre-ordained Writ of Destiny’ is? Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the fifth Sikh Master, explains this by saying, “They spy on other men’s women, concealed in their hiding places. They break into well-protected places, and revel in sweet wine.

 But they shall come to regret their actions – they create their own karma.”

The Guru therefore is telling us that we create our own destiny through our actions, and thus the pre-ordained writ of destiny is simply that which we have created for ourselves through our past actions from previous lives and our current life’s actions. In other words, our destiny or fate is the result of the consequences of the actions we have committed. Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the fifth Sikh Master explains, “O Nanak, only your actions shall go with you; the consequences of your actions cannot be erased.”

Great Good Fortune

Another question is of that surrounding what having ‘great good fortune’ really means? This is referring to the very rare chance that a person realises the Law of Karma, that every action has a consequence, and how rare is that person who puts this into practice by doing good deeds, living honestly and meditating on God to achieve the meaning of life, which is to realise the soul and experience universal consciousness. This is reinforced by Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the fifth Sikh Master who says, “Among millions, how rare is that Gurmukh (one who listens to the Guru’s Teachings) who attains the Name (vibration of universal consciousness).”

 Freewill to Love                    

Love is not an idea that a person may be taught or given, we learn what love is through experience. The reason that God does not force people to meditate on the virtues of God (Naam) with love, is because the love would hold no true value and we would also have no freewill to chose to love God.

 An analogy of a King and a peasant girl explains this, “A King falls in love with a peasant girl. If the King wanted to force her to marry him, she would not have any choice but to do so. However, the King wants the girl to love him freely and truly, so he disguises himself as a peasant and allows her to fall in love with him, not because he is King, but because she loves him freely of her own choice, which gives that love true value” (Peter Vardy).

 Scientific View

 Science is very much based around determinism, and when it comes to human choices, psychology explains how environments precondition us to make certain choices. However, some scientists would disagree and say that our choices are completely free. Sikh philosophy does not have any trouble in accepting either of these claims, and is a parallel between these two viewpoints.


Sikhism supports the soft determinist viewpoint, that most of our actions are free and the rest are determined.

Sikhism essentially says that we have determined our own destiny through our past actions and desires (karma), and our current actions and desires are determining our future. Therefore, in the rare instance of great good fortune we understand this, and realise there is an action and consequence sequence, we should engage in good actions of meditation, sharing and honesty, so to reap good effects that bring us to God-consciousness.

 Guru Amar Das Ji, the third Sikh Master says, “O Siblings of Destiny, instruct your minds in this way. O mind, why are you so lazy? Become Gurmukh (one who follows the Guru’s Teachings), and meditate on the Naam (virtues of God).”


·         Sikhism supports the soft determinist viewpoint, that most of our actions are free and the rest are determined

·         Our actions are free but we are still subject to the Will of God which is the Divine Law found in nature, including Law of Karma, action and consequence

·         Our own desires and past actions (Karma) pre-determines and pre-ordains our destiny

·         By great good fortune we realise this chain of action and consequence (Karma)

·         Through freewill we chose our true destiny as a human being, which is realising God within ourselves. We chose to love God and do good actions of meditation, sharing and honesty that give us God-consciousness



                                     A  COMMENTARY FROM  

                     HOLY GITA  &  SRIMAD BHAGAVATAM              





What does Krishna say about free will and determinism?

Dhruva O’Shea – Feb 12, 2018·8 min read

“If I accept determinism to be true my accepting determinism is predetermined. Or is it?” 🤔

My name is Dhruva. I posed this question to some friends Yaso and Vraj and this was our conversation.

 Dhruva: Firstly we should probably define determinism. Determinism is the philosophical theory that all events, including moral choices, are completely determined by previously existing causes.

 Determinism is usually understood to preclude free will because it entails that humans cannot act otherwise than they do. The theory holds that the universe is utterly rational because complete knowledge of any given situation assures that unerring knowledge of its future is also possible.

Just a note: wherever you see “BG” that is abriviation for Bhagavad Gita and “SB” is abbreviation for Srimad Bhagavatam. They are two ancient yoga texts that we draw a lot of understanding from.

Yaso: The fact the determinism can not be rationally affirmed is the greatest problem of determinism.

Consider that you think that determinism is true. This would imply that you think that determinism is true, not because you have rationally freely chosen determinism after careful argumentation; but simply because you were determined to do so. But if so, what is the reason why anyone should hold to determinism? What is the point in trying to convince anyone else of determinism if their beliefs about the truth of determinism have already been determined?

Vraja: In the purport of Bhagavad Gita 9.6 it is explained that “Not even a blade of grass moves without the will of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”

Dhruva: This brings in a notion of determinism, determined by God doesn’t it?

Vraja: You might see it that way. Krishna says in BG 18.61 that “The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone’s heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.”

Dhruva: But what does that mean for the “living entities”? What kind of ability does the living entity have for itself?

Yaso: Is it not the case that one’s freedom is proportional to their realization of transcendental knowledge?

For example in BG 4.37 Krishna says “As a blazing fire turns firewood to ashes, O Arjuna, so does the fire of knowledge burn to ashes all reactions to material activities.”

Dhruva: Materialists may argue against this but I accept it as truth. At least this is my experience. It feels as though I always have a choice and the more I understand about my situation the more I feel I have power to choose. Through many years of practicing meditation I have learnt to observe my habitual behaviour and thereby losen its grip on me.

Let’s discuss more about how we act in the material world. Maybe that will help us reach a conclusion. Often we feel like we have choice but when you practice mindfulness you begin to see that a lot of our thoughts and behaviour are going on automatically, that is, without our control.

 Vraj: This reminds me of the BG verse 3.27 where Krishna says “The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.”

 Dhruva: Sadaputa Das (Ph.D Richard L Thompson) used that verse to explain how what the neuroscientists are calling an “absence of free will”, at the level of habitual choices is true. It is a kind of environmental programming. The three modes of nature are pulling us along, forcing us to act. But, my understanding is that free will is expressed at the level of choosing to accept that condition or not. You can find the link to that presentation here.

 Vraj: My perspective is that there is hope for us by understanding the nature of things. Krishna says in BG 14.19 “When one properly sees that in all activities no other performer is at work than these modes of nature and he knows the Supreme Lord, who is transcendental to all these modes, he attains My spiritual nature.”

 And in BG 13.30 “One who can see that all activities are performed by the body, which is created of material nature, and sees that the self does nothing, actually sees.”

Dhruva: This is scary for some people isn’t it, because what’s left for you when you come to this realisation? You either remain inactive in brahman realisation, enter the kingdom of God to have a personal relationship with Him or you fall back down to the illusory experience. That’s free will. The choice at that level. It’s scary because we are responsible. We don’t want to serve God and we don’t want to be inactive so we fall down to this illusory experience but we can’t blame anyone anymore when we realise this.

Vraja: I don’t think it is as bleak as that because even though a lot of what we experience in life is out of our control we still have ability to exercise our will.

Krishna explains that there are many factors that influence experience including what we have already discussed as well as the self and the Superself.

 BG 18.13–16

“O mighty-armed Arjuna, according to the Vedānta there are five causes for the accomplishment of all action. Now learn of these from Me.”

 “The place of action [the body], the performer, the various senses, the many different kinds of endeavor, and ultimately the Supersoul – these are the five factors of action.”

 “Whatever right or wrong action a man performs by body, mind or speech is caused by these five factors.”

“Therefore one who thinks himself the only doer, not considering the five factors, is certainly not very intelligent and cannot see things as they are.”

 Dhruva: So according to Krishna it is not black and white. It is nuanced. Kind of like Him actually. He is not black and He is not white. There are many factors. So how can we increase our ability to exercise our freedoms?

 Yaso: There’s a verse I recall in the first canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam that describes that.

 SB 1.6.37: “Sūta Gosvāmī said: Thus addressing Vyāsadeva, Śrīla Nārada Muni took leave of him, and vibrating on his vīṇā instrument, he left to wander at his free will.”

 In the purport Srila Prabhupada explains that “Every living being is anxious for full freedom because that is his transcendental nature. And this freedom is obtained only through the transcendental service of the Lord. Illusioned by the external energy, everyone thinks that he is free, but actually he is bound up by the laws of nature.

 A conditioned soul cannot freely move from one place to another even on this earth, and what to speak of one planet to another.

 But a full-fledged free soul like Nārada, always engaged in chanting the Lord’s glory, is free to move not only on earth but also in any part of the universe, as well as in any part of the spiritual sky. We can just imagine the extent and unlimitedness of his freedom, which is as good as that of the Supreme Lord. There is no reason or obligation for his traveling, and no one can stop him from his free movement.

 Similarly, the transcendental system of devotional service is also free. It may or may not develop in a particular person even after he undergoes all the detailed formulas. Similarly, the association of the devotee is also free. One may be fortunate to have it, or one may not have it even after thousands of endeavors.

 Therefore, in all spheres of devotional service, freedom is the main pivot. Without freedom there is no execution of devotional service. The freedom surrendered to the Lord does not mean that the devotee becomes dependent in every respect. To surrender unto the Lord through the transparent medium of the spiritual master is to attain complete freedom of life.”

 Dhruva: This purport is deep. Many levels to it. We become free when we understand and act according to our relationship with the supreme, which is a paradox but then Prabhupada says that the freedom doesn’t mean that we “become dependent in every respect”. That means we can surprise God by doing something independently but Krishna is the self of the self “aham atma” (BG 10.20) so this is another paradox.

 We are simultaneously dependant and independent of God. Achintya, “inconceivable”, but it makes the most sense because otherwise we are back to dualism (we are eternally seperate from creation) or of course voidism, which is very popular but it is not without its weak points.

 The problem with voidism, for anyone following along here, is you cannot explain away consciousness and to say that all matter, all energy springs from nothing forces one to use explanations like “chance” which is nothing more than an attempt to explain what is not understood. Chance means “to fall out”. To fall out of what exactly?

 Actually Void is explained in the Srimad Bhagavatam 12.4.20–21 as being the un-manifest material realm before consciousness enters so we see that voidism is given as a part truth in the vedic model.

Maybe something should be said about monism here too. The problem with monism is once having achieved the realisation that you are one with everything energetically you are aware of that so you still have some “separateness”.

 Therefore Caitanya’s Achintya Bheda Abheda Tattva, simultaneously oneness and difference is the ultimate theory and truth of everything.

 Vraj: There is certainly an aspect of determinism until one is freed from the modes of material nature. Karma is somewhat a mash up of free-will, determinism and fatalism. So if someone is emphasizing determinism- he is not completely wrong.

 Dhruva: Nailed it!

 Vraj: Though ‘determinism’ alone seems to be the best die-hard materialists can do given the hard evidence available to them. Anything beyond that -sastra (descending knowledge) is required.

 Dhruva: Yes! You could see it as like the first half of understanding isn’t it? The understanding of the workings of material nature.

 Vraj: There may be coercisive factors in determining what decisions we will make in this life-time. But really all that matters is that we try our best for love, because that is what gives us the greatest sense of freedom.

 Dhruva: Well I think that’s a great note to end on. Finding and exercising our free will in loving and serving others. Ultimately that’s what will generate the best outcome for the most entities in this life and the the next.

Thanks so much for being a part of this conversation Vraj and Yaso. I look forward to doing it again sometime.

You can find Vraj, Yaso and my self on Facebook.




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