There is much on-going and polarizing debate in nondual circles about whether or not there is free will (Is there any choice about what we do or how we respond in any given moment?) and whether or not spiritual practice is a vital necessity or an unnecessary hindrance for liberation. In my experience, these are very subtle questions, and we cannot solve them intellectually by thinking about them. Perhaps it is possible to begin by dropping all previous beliefs and conclusions about which view is “right.” As I often say, no map is the territory it represents. Maps are a frozen abstraction of something that is actually seamless, boundless, inconceivable and in constant flux. Maps are useful, but if we mistake them for the territory they represent, we get easily confused and we suffer greatly.
We grow up being told that we have free will. We
have learned to think that there is somebody in control who chooses to think
each of our thoughts and to take this or that action. But when we look closely
(either with science or with our own direct awareness) for this
thinker-chooser-decider-author-actor who is supposedly behind the curtain like
the Wizard of Oz pulling the levers, we don’t find anything or anyone back
there. We find no-thing or everything, but we don’t find any actual “me”. We
find that the separate, independent, encapsulated “self” is a mental
construction, an idea, a concept, but never our actual direct experience prior
to thoughts and stories. The separate self is a mirage-like creation of smoke
and mirrors. But it’s a powerful illusion and it doesn’t lose its grip on our
lives simply by seeing through it once, and certainly not by merely picking up
an intellectual idea that there is “no self.” And that’s why meditation,
inquiry and other practices are often so liberating. They don’t take us
somewhere new and exotic, but rather, they expose the delusions that are
preventing us from clearly seeing and being What We Truly Are Here / Now.
Is this a choice? Is it something we can do? Does it matter if we are awake or asleep? Yes and no. Nothing matters in the way we think it does, and yet, when we are suffering, it matters! There is an ability Here / Now to act, and yet, when we look for the source of that ability, we find no-thing and everything.