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The Nature Of Free Will


tariki
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Merton again.....well, why not......

 

The mere ability to choose between good and evil is the lowest limit of freedom, and the only thing that is free about it is the fact that we can still choose good.

 

To the extent that you are free to choose evil, you are not free. An evil choice destroys freedom.

 

We can never choose evil as evil: only as an apparent good. But when we decide to do something that seems to us to be good when it is not really so, we are doing something that we do not really want to do, and therefore we are not really free.

 

Perfect spiritual freedom is a total inability to make any evil choice. When everything you desire is truly good and every choice not only aspires to that good but attains it, then you are free because you do everything that you want, every act of your will ends in perfect fulfillment.

 

Freedom therefore does not consist in an equal balance between good and evil choices but in the perfect love and acceptance of what is really good and the perfect hatred and rejection of what is evil, so that everything you do is good and makes you happy, and you refuse and deny and ignore every possibility that might lead to unhappiness and self-deception and grief. Only the man who has rejected all evil so completely that he is unable to desire it at all, is truly free. God, in whom there is absolutely no shadow or possibility of evil or of sin, is infinitely free. In fact, He is Freedom.

 

from New Seeds of Contemplation

 

Trying to see the implications, it would seem that, because of the "fall" we discriminate, create duality, a "low form of freedom" yet, in a sense, a necessary one. Yet by seeking the "good" - maybe even believing in the existence of the "good", the ground of being - we are able to move from this very "low" form of freedom to a true freedom, one that would in fact be a spontaneity, where "no working is true working".

 

So in a certain sense, we gain "true" freedom when we lose "free will", its lowest expression.

 

Do others see these implications, or maybe disagree. Or perhaps other implications.?

 

Thanks

Derek

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Derek,

 

Two things i do not at this time find agreement with.

 

The first it seems to me in freedom it is stated "and the perfect hatred and rejection of what is evil, so that everything you do is good and makes you happy,"

I would think that in "true" freedom as he defined at the end, making choices as God would, there is neither good nor evil. How could there be room for perfect hatred?

 

Secondly, the statement "when we decide to do something that seems to us to be good when it is not really so, we are doing something that we do not really want to do, and therefore we are not really free." The statement has made the attainment or the goal of the good the measure of freedom while perhaps all we can do for now is act out of our best intentions for good as we perceive them and not be so concerned with the results with our limited knowledge.

 

But of course if we knew the right choice (had all knowledge before the choice) to get what we as Merton says and defines as what we "really want to do", we would make that choice. But then of course to me, choice disappears as choice, so true freedom as he defines to me is void of any concept of choice and also of any concept of evil.

If on the other hand if what all this is saying in your OP is that if we had complete knowledge of all things (as God) our "true" free choice would always avoid self deception and grief and lead to our real happiness and perfect love. I would agree. Because you have made the definition of truly free as being as God.

 

So my question is , what is he really trying to get accross except to say true Freedom is to be as God?

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Joseph, thanks for your response. I suppose for myself, knowing Merton's writings as I do, I can in effect tend to discount things that do not appear to match later additions/changes to his thought. I have just been reading his dialogue with Suzuki regarding the recovery of "innocence" via "knowledge" , the recovery being in effect a complete emptiness of self in which all is the work of God, the free and unpredictable expression of His love, the work of grace. In the purity of original innocence, all is done in us but without us...............but before we reach that level, we must also learn to work on the other level of "knowledge" where grace works in us but "not without us."

 

New Seeds came earlier and, yes, I can see how ideas of "perfect hatred" jars, even for "evil". Certainly in the dialogue with Suzuki our discriminations made between the dualities are seen as necessary, yet are embraced within the "ground of Being".

 

Unfortunately, the exchanges with Suzuki are so full of insights on the fringe of my own experience and understanding that I am not really able to give any sort of responsible summary.

 

Thanks

Derek

Edited by tariki
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In a book I’ve been reading I just came across this reference to a lecture by Merton, On True Freedom – you probably know of it. “The real freedom is to be able to come and go from our essence, and to be able to do without anything that is not immediately connected to that center. Because when you die, that is all that is left…everything is destroyed except for this one thing which is the reality that God preserves forever. The freedom that matters is the capacity to be in touch with that center. Because it is from that center that everything else comes.”

As he puts it, real freedom is not “choice freedom but spontaneity freedom” – which this other author defines as surrendering to the Divine hold on us, and becoming free of the cultural progamming that usually dictates our choices. We do not become a true servant until we become free of all but God. Living from that place of wholeness, we allow our individual authenticity to unfold like Boehme’s ‘string in the concert of God’s joy.’

Is this possible only for a monk, do you think?

Edited by rivanna
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Karen,

 

Thanks for those words that to me seem clear. It does seem clear to me that we are not free as long as we are operating out of the bondage of "our cultural programming that dictates our choices". Wheras acting out of wholeness is our real identity and that is true freedom from the bondage of laws, rules, and conditioning. Perhaps that is what Merton was trying to say in the OP but it was not as clear to me in the words he used?

 

Joseph

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"Acting out of wholeness" is very close to Jung's definition of Individuation. It is also a favorite theme found in Whitehead. Spontaneity, creativity, adaptation, are overlapping constructs. The "center" or "centering" is also a major concept found in Jung. The exercise of "walking the labyrinth" is intended to facilitate the process of realization or finding the "true center" of the whole person. Contemplating a mandala is similar in function.

 

Myron

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real freedom is not “choice freedom but spontaneity freedom

 

 

Rivanna, yes, that's it.

 

Just a small excerpt from the dialogue between Merton and Suzuki, here the words of Suzuki.........."When we return to the state of 'innocence' anything we do is good. St Augustine says, 'Love God and do as you will.' The Buddhist idea of Anabhoga-Carya corresponds to innocence."

 

In a footnote, Suzuki states that Anabhoga-Carya is often translated as "effortlessness" or "no-striving".

 

Again, in the Pure Land, the idea is expressed by saying "No working (i.e. our own calculations/hakarai) is true working (i.e. Amida's working), yet allowing for the realisation that there is in fact no "self power", nor "other power", there is only Other Power.

 

And just to taunt Joseph with further obscurity....( :D )......Pai-Chang (a Ch'an master) has said....that what are called desire and aversion when one is not yet enlightened or liberated are called enlightened wisdom after enlightenment. That is why it is said, "One is not different from who one used to be; only one's course of action is different from before."

 

 

"A clearly enlightened person falls into the well. How is this so?" (Zen Koan)

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  • 4 weeks later...

The “all is other power” concept isn’t clear to me (it may never be!) but I did find a bit more by Merton on the nature of freedom, in this passage from No Man is an Island. He alludes to the gospel story of Jesus with Mary and Martha – which to me was helpful -

 

“One of the chief obstacles…is the anxiety to get the most out of everything, to be a success in our own eyes and in the eyes of others. We can only get rid of this anxiety by being content to miss something in almost everything we do. We cannot master everything, taste everything, understand everything, drain every experience to its last dregs. But if we have the courage to let almost everything else go, we will probably be able to retain the ‘one thing necessary’ for us -whatever it may be. If we are too eager to have everything, we will almost certainly miss even the one thing we need. Happiness consists in finding out precisely what the ‘one thing necessary’ may be, in our lives, and in gladly relinquishing all the rest. For then, by a divine paradox, we find that everything else is given us together with the one thing we needed.”

 

I like how Merton doesn’t define the “one needful thing” (Jesus left it open to interpretation also)– it varies from one person to the next. Merton says elsewhere that a superficial freedom to wander aimlessly, to make a choice of distractions (like Martha) evades the basic task of discovering who it is that chooses….finding who we are on the deepest level.

 

For me, the one needful thing is my family, that devotion above all – yet without my involvement in art, music, and poetry I might never have opened to God… as Merton said “I have become convinced that the very contradictions in my life are in some ways signs of God’s mercy to me.”

Edited by rivanna
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Rivanna posted: superficial freedom to wander aimlessly, to make a choice of distractions (like Martha) evades the basic task of discovering who it is that chooses….finding who we are on the deepest level.

 

Matt Ch 13:44 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.

45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:

46 Who, when he had found one PEARL of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

 

Jenell

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"In this century we have been newly filled by the conscious knowledge of our own darkness - that we carry this darkness within us. We no longer need to project our darkness outward into demons or scapegoats - or, if we do, we know we are evoking disaster. It is by encounter with our own darkness that we recognise the light. It is the light itself which shows us the darkness - and both are summoned within us.

Lorna M Marsden, 1983"

from Quaker Faith and Practice. GB.

 

I think that a choice is necessary but I feel one can only choose when one is aware that choices are available. As human beings I think we can presently and at best (IMO) seek the light from the darkness. We can only make "only light choices" when there is no more darkness with which to choose and we are part of that light. In this world we may not often see the light clearly and spiritual growth (IMO) in this world needs experience of the darkness in order to recognise the light because both light and darkness exist here. It is for us to then choose light and move towards it within ourselves so we can outwardly serve the light. We only (IMO) reach the light completely when we journey from this world into the light that I call God.

Edited by Pete
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But were we ever to leave darkness entirely behind, would light even be light anymore, or simply nothingness?

 

hot-cold

dry-wet

teacher-pupil

light-dark...

 

All words for concepts or states of being, that alone, without their opposite, have no meaning at all, becoming non-being.

 

Jenell

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To a blind man or women does the moon exist or is it still there despite not being able to sense it or describe it?

If only light exists then that would be the norm. If only dark exists then that would be the norm. The description of light and darkness may be removed because there is no distinction to contrasted it with but does that remove the light?

If we are of the light then by free will we act in the light because we have no other option and if there is only light then would another option be necessary?

However, this is all hypothetical (IMO) as who can say what the next life is like or even if it exists. One can believe it does or believe it does not but like the moon to a blind man we can only be led by our own faith in what is or is not? What if the moon was just a story the sighted like to tell blind men or women?

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But were we ever to leave darkness entirely behind, would light even be light anymore, or simply nothingness?

 

hot-cold

dry-wet

teacher-pupil

light-dark...

 

All words for concepts or states of being, that alone, without their opposite, have no meaning at all, becoming non-being.

 

Jenell

 

Where does darkness end and light begin? Aren't they both the same thing, existing on opposite ends of the same pole? Take a thermometer for example. Where does cold end and hot begin? Hot and cold are the same, they only vary in degree. The same is true with dark and light, wet and dry, teacher pupil, etc. Likewise, the same is true for spirit and matter. Heat, light, spirit are the higher degrees of the three poles. Heat is higher in degree than cold. Light is higher in degree than dark. Spirit is higher in degree than matter.

 

 

Light is the same as dark, only darkness is a lesser degree of electromagnetic radiation. Cold is a lesser degree of thermal energy. Matter is made up of lower vibrations of atoms, whereas "spirit" vibrates at a much higher rate. Take an ice cube for example. An Ice cube exists as a very low rate of vibration, whereas liquid exists at a much higher rate, and then steam at an even higher rate.

 

Duality is an illusion. All things that seem to have opposites are in reality the same things. They merely vary in degree of vibration. Darkness is a part of light. Cold is a part of heat and so on. Evil is a part of good. The only difference is in the degree of vibration. Without darkness, light does not become a no thing, it remains as it is, operating at a higher vibration. If the vibration slowed down, darkness would reveal itself again. Throw a cup of water in the freezer and pretty soon you'll have yourself a block of ice. Take that ice and set it on a hot stove top, and it will soon liquefy then turn into steam.

 

I think our goal is to operate at higher frequencies, whereby good overcomes evil, spirit overcomes flesh, and light overcomes darkness. Even emotions have high and low frequencies. Joy, happiness, and love are higher vibrations than say jealously, fear, and hate. The potential of darkness, evil, etc will always be our reality, but we can largely overcome these lower states by allowing ourselves to tap into the higher frequencies.

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I remember reading a science magazine which said that darkness is just the absense of light. Darkness itself as an entity does not exist. Light on the hand does.

 

 

Darkness is ruled by light, just as evil is ruled by good, the student ruled by teacher, matter ruled by spirit, etc. The absence of light is darkness, the absence of good is evil, the absence of heat is cold, and so on. There are no true opposites, only an absence of something else.

 

Good post!

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  • 9 months later...

The mere ability to choose between good and evil is the lowest limit of freedom, and the only thing that is free about it is the fact that we can still choose good.

 

Free will is not about making choices. It is about whether our driver (will) for our choices is free. If we think our wills are somehow intrinsically free then I am predicated to ask free from what?

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