Free Will, Predestination, the Purpose of Life
Is there free will or is everything predestined? Which is true, responsibility
or powerlessness? What is the purpose and the meaning of life?
The first thing to notice is that the confusion over these questions arises only when there is thinking. They are conceptual problems. We have different conceptual maps of how life works and each map shows us a different version of reality, and so we are confused. We wonder which one is correct. But no map is ever the territory it describes. Even the best and most accurate map is only an abstract representation. Maps are useful, but we get confused when we mistake them for the territory itself.
Opening and closing your hand is not confusing until you begin to think about whether it is an action that happens through free will or whether it was predestined to happen or what purpose it has. Then you get tangled up in the imaginary problem, the imaginary dilemma that thought has just created. But opening and closing your hand is simple and not confusing. It happens quite effortlessly.
Conceptually, as a map, we could say that the urge to open your hand in any given moment -- the impulse to do this, the ability to do it, and the execution of this action depends on and is the result of infinite causes and conditions. It could not happen without your brain, your muscles, your nerves -- none of which would be here without your digestive system and your lungs, and without sunlight, water, air, your parents, your grandparents, the food that kept your grandparents alive, the soil that made the food possible, and so on and on -- in short, opening your hand could not happen at this moment without the whole universe being exactly the way it is.
And if we look closely with awareness for the "you" who takes credit for being the initiator and the author of this action, can anything substantial or persisting or separate from the action actually be found? "You" turn out to be a kind of mental image, a character in a story -- a conglomerate of ever-changing ideas, stories and beliefs that have been learned and practiced: "I am so-and-so, a separate person with free will. I'm this gender, age, social class, ethnicity, and so on. I am the thinker of my thoughts, the doer of my actions, the maker of my choices, the executive at the helm of this bodymind, the one calling the shots and steering the ship." But can this executive actually be found? In fact, the source of every action, when we look closely, seems to be nothing at all, or absolutely everything!