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Is there a thing as free will? || Acharya Prashant (2016)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
6 min
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Questioner: Is there anything as total free will or is there only free will according to conditioning?

Acharya Prashant: You know, the general concept of freedom, what does it entail? The general concept of freedom is all about being free to act as per my conditioning. "I want to buy that holy candle and I should have all the freedom to buy it." That is what I call as my “freedom”, and that is what all the laws and all the constitutions, and all the societies and all the police systems protect. And that is what we are so touchy about.

"I must have the freedom to cast vote as per my choice." Now I do not even see that my choice of the president is an influenced choice. And what am I saying? That "It is a part of my freedom to cast my vote." Your vote? It is not your vote. It is your papa’s vote. It is the entire locality’s vote. It is your community’s vote. But we say, "No! Don’t take away my freedom." What we call as 'free will', hardly ever exists.

Real free will is something that we cannot even talk about because it is so very unpredictable. The expression of free will is such a shattering expression, and therefore very lovable, that we cannot talk of it in advance. When free will is there, then it is just freewill. It cannot be 'your freewill'. You could say, then it is the will of the free existence expressing itself through you. As long as it is 'your freewill', it is just a slave’s will because we are a slave.

A slave has been sent to the market to negotiate the best price for a good and the slave is negotiating there. If you look only at the small picture; you look at the slave negotiating the price, you might feel that the slave is displaying his free will in the negotiation. But what is the bigger picture? The fact of the matter is that he, first of all, came to the market just to fulfill the wishes of his master. So there is no free will actually.


Q: What about attention? Even coming to attention is not freewill?

AP: Is it ever our own attention? We have our perceptions. When attention comes, surely then free will comes into action. But when attention comes, it is never 'your attention'. As long as you are being attentive, you will mix all your prejudices, all your identities, and biases in the attention.

Q: If I am sleeping, somebody is waking me up, I hardly become attentive.

AP: That is not attention. That is consciousness.

Q: If you have told ten things, but I am focusing on one, so is that attention?

AP: No! That is not attention. That is selective hearing. That is focusing or some kind of concentration. That is not attention. It’s a very flawed definition of attention.

Q: What is attention?

AP: You know concentration, right? In concentration, you are focused on that on which you want to be focused. In concentration, you are acutely looking at that which matters to ‘you’.

So, concentration involves immersion as per your definition of yourself.

Attention also involves immersion but not as per your definition of yourself.

See, these are three things. Normally, the mind lives in a very fragmented state. It cannot even concentrate. It is wandering from here and there, right? There are parts (pointing towards the head), one attached to this, one attached to that, thought waves are arising and confronting each other, and there is nothing. Just chaos! Concentration is when one object becomes tremendously important to the Ego. For example, if a cobra starts hanging from the ceiling right now, you would concentrate greatly on it, because the Ego is attached to the body and the cobra is dangerous to the body. Now you would greatly concentrate because something is at stake. That is concentration.


Concentration is self-centered activity, aimed at the protection of the self. Attention also involves being greatly with the world but without a center in the self. The difference is subtle, but the difference says everything.

Q: So, there is no free will in attention?

AP: In attention, there is actual free will, not 'your' free will.

Q: So, in attention, there is only free will.

AP: There is only freewill. Well said! Beautifully said!

Yes, please?

Q: How to identify if we are in attention?

AP: Okay! If you want to identify, let me drop a hint.

Concentration will come as a very strong mark on the memory. If you are concentrating on something, it will be imprinted in very bold ways on the memory. Attention will come like a gap in the memory.

To take a very current example, if you are concentrating on what I am saying, then you will return with most of what I have said. Because you have concentrated hard, so you would retain most of my words. But if you are attentive, you are quite likely to forget what I have said. If somebody asks you downstairs, "So what was said in the session today?" You will say, "Well! Something. I don’t know much!" He will say, "That means you were not really present there?" You will say, "I am fully present there. Since I was totally there, hence I don’t know what was said." That is attention.

If you are really here, you will forget my words. If you are really here, you will forget my presence. If you are really here, you will forget that I am a body. Then, there is attention and that is a connection to the divine. Now, you are not connecting to a man, a body. Now you are not hearing words, now you are listening. Now you are not connected to somebody outside of you. Now you are connected to your heart, and that is attention.

I request you, please forget everything that I say. None of this is to be memorized.

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