Most of us would say that we do have free will. We can do anything we wish. If we want to wear a red shirt instead of a blue one, we can. If we want to eat a sandwich instead of a pizza, we can. If we want to take off from work and sit at home today, we can. If we want to marry the girl or boy we love, we can. If we have enough money, we can buy any house, car, or gadget. Likewise, we can travel wherever we want to. Obviously, it looks as if free will exists.
According to Ramesh Balsekar, all the choices that we make are from the act of exercising the will. How free is free will? Whatever we call free will or choice is finally determined by a mix of two things, nature and nurture, or by our heritage and conditioning. We can’t choose our parents, and hence we have no choice over the genetic material they gift to us. Also, from birth, we are exposed to conditioning and belief systems. These are required for survival.
In the process of growing up, we are conditioned and led to believe a great many things by family, friends and strangers, the media, commercials, books and what-have-you. As an adult, we are thus a mixture of our genetics and all these conditionings. This is our programming, our code. And all our decisions, our choices, our thoughts and acts, originate from this programmed mind. A part of this programming is done by nature and the environment does the rest of it. Really, there is nothing sacred or pure about our decisions.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? By itself, this is difficult to say. But at least we should realise that what we normally consider freedom or free will, is itself a slave of our programming. If you were to ask a vegetarian "Why don't you like meat?” he would most often answer: "Because it is bad to eat meat". "And how have you come to this decision that eating meat is bad"? "I have always been told that eating meat is bad and should be avoided.” As one can see, the decision not to eat meat may seem an act of freedom or free will, but the conditionings of childhood are holding us in slavery, unknown to us.
If two like-minded friends were asked: "What would you do if you were walking together, and saw one man killing another?" One of them might reply: "I will immediately go to the victim's rescue, even if it means risking danger to myself", while the other might say, "I will run away, find the nearest telephone booth, and call the police, without identifying myself". The two friends are close; they often think alike but o this occasion they react differently.
This could be because of their basic natures that have been shaped by their respective circumstances and upbringing. What each of them would do seems to be a free act, but is actually already pre-decided. Real freedom would be if the first fellow would run away or if the second fellow would wait and fight. But usually, our pre-programmed brain acts only in the way it is programmed to.
True freedom and free will come only if we are able to go beyond our programming. To override our basic genetic make up is near impossible. But it is indeed possible to go beyond our conditionings, beliefs, indoctrinations and ideas. Once we can un-condition ourselves, we will be able to respond freely.
Lovely Thoughts for Lovely People Just Like You