And the next question from Sigmund, Carl and Alfred
is, “By what mechanism does free will overcome instinct?”
A: Good question, but let me first, like a politician, go back to yesterday’s question
, which I didn’t get a chance to completely evade. You asked about how my spiritual views influence my practice. It is not so much how my spiritual views influence my practice as how my spiritual practice influences me.
And even that is an unsatisfactory way of expressing it, because one's spiritual practice
is one thing, while the process
it gives rise to is another thing entirely. There are, of course, degrees of spiritual commitment, and if you are committed “mind, heart, and soul,” then you have given yourself over to a process whose outcome you do not control.
This is similar to the deeper forms of psychoanalytic therapy, in which you do not necessarily confront a well-defined problem that you try to resolve in a few sessions. Rather, you are willfully dismantling your surface personality in order to plumb the depths of your being. In that case, you do not control the process -- which would be a form of resistance -- you more or less surrender to it. You will come out a changed person, but you cannot predict ahead of time what type of change it will be. There will be surprises. And there will be pain that must be borne. This is why one of my supervisors said that he would never recommend psychoanalysis to anyone -- he only offered
It is the same way when you truly submit -- surrender -- to the spiritual process. As a matter of fact, this is one of the ways you can tell the false teachers from the true ones. The false teachers will make all sorts of promises about what “you will get from God,” when, first of all, it is much more a question of what you can do for
God (in the sense of "aligning yourself" with the Creator). Secondly, once you give yourself over to the process, changes will take place that cannot be predicted, much less controlled.
This has always been known. It is why serious teachers don’t generally go out looking for students, but turn them away, because most people are motivated by some ulterior egoic reason to try to usurp the prerogatives of spirit. Even if you want to convert to Judaism, by tradition the rabbi will initially turn you away. Likewise, Jesus makes many statements about the level of commitment required and degree of submission involved.
So how are my spiritual views influencing my practice? By encouraging me to give it up and move on to the next stage, whatever it is. I would love to phase out psychology in the next couple of years. It seriously interferes with my real work -- or perhaps I should say, it interferes with whatever it is that is working on me. It’s very real and it’s very intense, and it’s not always pleasant, especially when you have to resist it for whatever reason. As you may know, in that regard, the spirit is no respecter of persons.
Again, I can only say that it’s analogous to the unconscious. In my view, the vertical extends both above and below -- down into the unconscious, but also up into higher regions. Furthermore, I have come to believe that there are defense mechanisms that operate in both directions. In other words, just as we routinely repress the unconscious, we also repress the “supraconscious,” so to speak. And just as weakening the membrane between ego and unconscious will bring forth a burst of material, weakening the membrane between you and God will cause a surge of energies from that direction. And contrary to popular belief, the energies are not always pleasurable and they certainly aren’t predictable.
This is one of the reasons I enjoy reading biographies about people of genuine spiritual accomplishment, because it is comforting to know that this unpredictable transformative process is always the same and yet different. No one
describes it as a walk in the park, much less a way to "Harness the Infinite Power of Coincidence!,” or “Awaken the Giant Within!,” or “Achieve the Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire!" Wha' deepak of lies!
Now, about free will -- by what mechanism does it overcome instinct?
As is the case in most ultimate antinomies, the question of free will vs. determinism is not an either/or issue. Rather, we can possess "more or less" free will, depending on various circumstances. But by and large, our free will is squandered and given away. As Dostoyevsky wrote, man has "no more pressing need than the one to find somebody to whom he can surrender as quickly as possible that gift of freedom with which he, unfortunate creature, was born."
As I noted in my book
, discovering what a human being truly is
is the key to fathoming the mystery of the cosmos itself. In my view, the presence of self-conscious human beings with free will explains much more about the cosmos than the most complete understanding of the material universe will ever explain about human beings. And the existence of free will is one of the most compelling clues for comprehending the cosmos, for it is utterly inexplicable on any purely scientific grounds.
If we are not free, then time is merely duration and life can obviously have no intrinsic meaning. But once you acknowledge the vertical in any form or fashion, you have left the horizontal behind -- that is, the purely material and rational -- as any kind of comprehensive, all-encompassing explanation of existence.
For example, if you acknowledge the existence of free will -- which, by the way, some people don't... then again, I suppose they have no choice -- you have already conceded that we move and have our being in a mysterious "hole" in creation, a hole known as the "now." By all rights, this "now" should not exist at all.
Einstein was particularly baffled by its existence, to such an extent that he thought the present moment in which we exercise our free will was only a stubborn illusion. This is an example of how science reaches a metaphysical dead end once it begins to ponder the vertical.
I have a conscious thought: I am going to make a fist. I do so. I sneak up behind Einstein and give him a serious nuggy. No one can tell you how I did so -- how consciousness -- whatever that is -- exerts an effect on matter in this way, even leaving a slight bruise on top of Albert’s head.
One of the cultural problems that has arisen since the 1960's is a persistent misunderstanding of the notion of freedom. For example, if you ask me if I am free to play the saxophone, the answer is "no," the reason being that I have not put in the requisite time to study music and practice the instrument. Of course, I am "free" to pick up a saxophone and randomly blow into it, but what kind of freedom is that? Only through intense discipline and long years of practice am I free to produce something musically satisfying on the instrument, that is, to achieve aesthetic depth.
All meaningful human freedoms are analogous to that. Freedom is not just the absence of constraint or the ability to indulge one's whims in an aimless fashion. Rather, real freedom always involves discipline, boundaries, and most importantly, a higher goal or standard toward which the freedom is directed. Otherwise, mere freedom itself is by no means a morally or spiritually constructive thing. In the absence of higher goals and standards, people are abandoned either to a passive, rudderless, aimless existence or to a more impulsive acting out of various psychological patterns.
In order to understand our situation, we must imagine a cross with a horizontal and a vertical arrow. We live at the point of their intersection. The horizontal line has to do with heredity, with Darwinian evolution, with the transmission of culture, etc. If this were all there were, we would be no different than animals -- like just pigs or other members of CAIR. We would not live in a cognitive space of spiritual freedom, routinely exerting a topdown influence on our horizontal selves. We would not possess this inexplicable capacity called "free will."
But not everyone seems to have the same degree of topdown influence over themselves -- of free will. In fact, it is a capacity that varies quite widely.
According to an Unknown Friend
, "there are strong -- i.e., creative -- souls, and there are weak -- i.e., imitative -- souls. The stronger a soul is, the greater the independence from the semi-hypnotic influence of the model presented by the preceding generations of family chosen for the soul's incarnation."
We have heard from the wise that a Creator supposedly endowed us with “liberty,” which is to say free will. But every leftist knows that we don’t really have free will. Rather, we are victims of our environment and our genes. For example, poverty causes crime. Unless you happen to be rich. Then greed causes crime. Unless you haven’t committed any crime. Then it’s just a crime to be rich. But don’t be confused -- there’s no objective right or wrong anyway. Multiculturalism is the doctrine that race, not values, determines consciousness and truth.
In reality, as expressed by Frithjof Schuon, “There is no knowledge without objectivity of the intelligence” and “no freedom without objectivity of the will.” Freedom is a paradoxical thing, for if it simply means that we are subjectively free to do or believe whatever we want, what good is it? It’s just another, more subtle form of tyranny, the tyranny of unconstrained, arbitrary, and ultimately meaningless choice on the horizontal plane.
The classical (not contemporary) liberal draws a sharp distinction between freedom and liberty. Freedom is the mere absence of constraint, the right to do whatever one wishes. It implies no verticality at all. Liberty, on the other hand, is constrained by Truth, both as it applies to knowledge and our will to act.
One may well ask: what good is academic freedom unless it is actually converging upon objective truth? One of the problems in the Arab Muslim world is that they have neither freedom nor liberty. They are obliged to believe lies -- lies about Israel, lies about America, lies about women, lies about Christianity. But it is possible to have the opposite problem, the obligatory belief that truth doesn’t exist, so that one person’s belief is no higher or better than another’s. Moral and intellectual relativism are not just forms of tyranny, they are a manifestation of hell, for hell is any place where one cannot appeal to Truth. Thus, many college campuses have become intellectual and spiritual hells. Truth be told, they are places where Death himself saunters from class to class in the cool of the evening breeze.
Ironically, the person who believes that truth exists and that he is free to discover it is far more constrained than the person who either doesn’t believe in objective truth or who lives in tyranny. For example, if you read memri.org, you will see that in the Arab world you are absolutely free to believe the most vicious and vile lies about Jews. Likewise, on American college campuses, you are free to believe the most brazen lies about American history, or about President Bush, about religion, or about free enterprise.
But the person who believes in truth doesn’t have that kind of freedom. For he is only free to believe what is true, and what kind of freedom is that? In other words, such a person is not free to believe that 2+2=5, or that men and women are identical, or that children do just as well with two fathers as a father and mother, or that objective truth doesn’t exist, or that natural selection alone explains human consciousness, or that high taxes are a good way to reduce poverty, or that we have no transcendent moral obligations. And yet, the truth supposedly "sets you free.” How does that work?
It seems that objective truth is the key to true freedom, both as it pertains to knowledge and to action. Objectivity is often thought of as empirical knowledge of material reality, but this is a misleadingly narrow definition. Rather, according to Schuon, objectivity must be understood not as “knowledge that is limited to a purely empirical recording of data received from outside, but a perfect adequation of the knowing subject to the known object.”
In other words, objectivity has to do with aligning our understanding with what it is we wish to know, whether it is a rock, a mathematical equation, or God. It is “conformity to the nature of things": “An intelligence or a knowledge is ‘objective' when it is capable of grasping the object as it is and not as it may be deformed by the subject.”
As such, objectivity is even a kind of “ego death” in the face of the reality of the object. But there is a payoff, in that “the subjective compensation of this extinction is the nobility of character,” a vertical nobility that is our true human birthright. Moreover, in our logoistic cosmos, the transcendent Object (Brahman, the Father) merges with the immanent Subject (Atman, the Son). Therefore, in the final analysis, objectivity is none other than the ultimate Truth “in which the subject and the object coincide, and in which the essential takes precedence over the accidental -- or in which the Principle takes precedence over its manifestation -- either by extinguishing it, or by reintegrating it.”
Thus, through objectivity, we actually become who we are, undistorted by the accidents and contingencies of existence. "Without objectivity and transcendence there cannot be man, there is only the human animal; to find man, one must aspire to God.”
In short, because we have the capacity for objectivity, we partake of the Absolute, which is absolute freedom. We are not really free to know God. It is only God who is free to know himself through us. Deny this truth, and we live in another absolute -- the false absolute of arbitrary and unlimited horizontal freedom. The purpose of freedom is to enable us to choose what we already are in the depths of our being. This is that famous point whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere: there is only this one center, and you are it. Or, to be perfectly accurate, not distinct from it.