How do we decide what we decide? Why do we do what we do? For most people, the response is relatively automatic. They have an innate sense of having ‘made a decision’ and they thus believe they have free will. Yet, for the most part, they are reacting to conditioning they have received through socialization (education, influence of family and friends, peer pressure, social and societal expectations, marketing and advertising and various forms of propaganda, as well as subtle psychological manipulation to build support for a particular ‘team’ whether a specific religion, economic or political system or party, or smaller grouping. This is without entering into the underlying strata of built in ‘instincts’ and ‘habits’ that accompany us through the development of the animal nature. Reactions of fear, reactions of desire, reactions of attraction and repulsion certainly underpin much of what leads to our exercise of our “free will”.

At a certain point, the self-reflective capacity of the mind allows the individual to begin to see, understand and appreciate all the hidden elements, the occult forces which are actually making the exercise of ‘free will’ an expression of reaction to external pressures and forces.

There comes a further stage where an individual may begin to identify with a force, or a being representing a force, consciously, recognising that he is carrying out the will determined by that other force or person. He still feels like he is important to the action, the nexus, if you will, and that he has actively chosen and is the ‘doer’ of the work.

A yet further stage can come where he no longer feels any separation from the force and he loses the egoistic sense of attachment; while he continues to act through the individual nexus of manifestation, he sees that it is an incident of the larger force at work, and as he has identified with that force, he experiences the free will of that higher power.

The Mother writes: “In the universal play there are some, the majority, who are ignorant instruments; they are actors who are moved about like puppets, knowing nothing. There are others who are conscious, and these act their part, knowing that it is a play. And there are some who have the full knowledge of the universal movement and are identified with it and with the one Divine Consciousness and yet consent to act as though there were something separate, a division of the whole. There are many intermediary stages between that ignorance and this full knowledge, many ways of participating in the play. There is a state of ignorance in which you do a thing and believe that it was you who decided it; there is a state of lesser ignorance in which you do it knowing that you are made to do it but you do not know how or why; and there is too a state of consciousness in which you are fully aware, — for you know what it is that acts through you, you know that you are an instrument, you know how and why your act is done, its process and its purpose. The state of ignorance in which you believe that you are the doer of your acts persists so long as it is necessary for your development; but as soon as you are capable of passing into a higher condition, you begin to see that you are an instrument of the one consciousness; you take a step upward and you rise to a higher conscious level.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, The Hidden Forces of Life, Ch. 1 Life Through the Eyes of the Yogin, pp. 8-9

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 20 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.
More information about Sri Aurobindo can be found at
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