The Word Foundation


Harold W. Percival



Section 8

Free will. The problem of free will.

Free will is a phrase for one’s freedom to feel, to desire, to think, or to act, as opposed to the inescapable necessity to feel, to desire, to think, or to act, in a given way. It means the absence of prevention, restraint and compulsion that would interfere with physical, psychic and mental action and inaction. The phrase means that one can feel, desire and think and do as he pleases, and not be limited by bounds or coerced by goads.

Not only in this phrase but in the language generally, the word ‘will’ is used as if it were different from what is called desire. But so-called will is an aspect of the active side of the doer-in-the-body, which is desire, nothing more than that. Will is one of the four functions of desire. Desire, which is conscious power, has four functions: to be, to will, to do, and to have. To will is the second function of desire; it is followed by to do, and to have. Will is that one desire which controls the other desires, be it for the moment or for a long period. It controls to the degree that it can use the conscious power which desire is. It gets strength by exercise, that is, by long continued desiring. It lasts until its object is attained or until it is overcome by a stronger desire, which is then the will. The cause or starter of will is immediately feeling and remotely unsatisfied desire, which is ultimately the longing for perfection and to be perfect. Will manifests by a surging up out of the inner depths, of a desire to attain an end. This manifestation may last for years. Will is weakened by the interference of contrary desires, and it is strengthened by continued exercise and by overcoming and compelling other desires.

Will is not free, cannot be free; it is much conditioned at all times. Each desire is will, but that desire is to be designated as will which at any time controls the opposing desire. One of the desires as will does not always control the other desires.

At no time has a human freedom of will, even though there be no physical obstacles to the actions, desires and thinking. A human has a limited amount of freedom to will. He has set the limitations. In so far as he himself has not prevented himself from acting, desiring and thinking, he is free to act, to desire, to think. All his bonds, obstacles or limitations are of his own making, but he is free to remove them when he wills. As long as he has not exercised that freedom, they remain and they limit. He has made them by creating thoughts and the only way to remove them is by thinking without creating other thoughts.

Past thoughts are exteriorized in the physical body and mark the limitations of the body which are also limitations to the will. These physical limitations extend to the time when life begins, the race, the country and the nationality, the kind of family in which the body is born, the sex, the kind of body, the physical heredity, the chief mundane occupations, particular diseases, some accidents, the critical events in life and the time and nature of death. The limitations which a person has made extend to his disposition, temperament, inclinations, moods and appetites, which are part of his psychic nature, and to his insight, comprehension, reasoning and other mental endowments or the absence of them.

The limitations which are obvious, and therefore principally the physical limitations, are what people call destiny or foreordination. Because people limit themselves in their perceptions and conceptions and so are ignorant of the cause of these trammels, they speculate, and they attribute them to God and Divine Providence or to chance. All this is their problem, our problem, of free will. It will remain an unsolvable problem as long as men are ignorant of their own nature and of their relations to what they suppose to be an extraneous deity. That which limits their free will and determines when their destiny shall be precipitated, is no extraneous being, but is the thinker of each one’s own Triune Self.

A human is always free to consent or to object to the conditions in which he is, including his psychic and mental conditions. Even if one of his numerous desires forces him to act, he can register agreement or objection; he is free to agree or object; and this is due to another desire. His free will centers around this point of freedom, the only freedom he has. The point of freedom is the desire he lets rule. This desire is a psychic thing. In the beginning it is only a point. Every human has such a point of freedom and can by thinking extend the point to an area of free will.

Originally desire was undivided. That was when the doer as feeling-and-desire was with and conscious of the thinker and the knower as the Triune Self. The desire of the doer was for Self-knowledge, which was desire for its completion with the Triune Self. Then came the time when feeling-and-desire appeared to separate and be in two bodies, desire in the man body and feeling in the woman body. Of course there could be no real separation of feeling from desire, but that was what the use of the body-mind showed when the doer began to think with the body-mind through the senses. Its thinking caused the doer to see feeling-and-desire in bodies apart from each other and caused an apparent but not a real division, because there can be no desire without feeling nor can there be feeling without desire. Feeling-and-desire were in the woman body, but feeling dominated desire. Also, desire-and-feeling were in the man body, but desire dominated feeling. Continued thinking with the body-mind prevailed and caused the desire for sex to separate from the desire for Self-knowledge. So the desire for sex exiled itself from the Conscious Light in the Triune Self, and into the darkness of the senses. Thus the doer lost the free use of the Conscious Light to make known to it its relation to its thinker and knower. The desire for sex was thus separated from the desire for Self-knowledge. The desire for Self-knowledge has never changed and can never be made to change. That desire for Self-knowledge still persists with the human. But the desire for sex has continued to divide and to multiply into innumerable desires. The multitude of desires are all marshalled and arranged under the generalship of the four senses. They attach themselves to objects of one or another of the four senses, for the direct or remote purpose of gratifying or ministering to or serving their chief desire, the desire for sex. All these desires are attached, they have attached themselves, they are not free. Yet they have the right and the power to remain attached or to free themselves from the things to which they are attached. No one desire, nor the combined desires of all other powers can compel the least of the desires to change itself. Each desire has the right and is the power to change itself, and to do or be what it will of itself desire to do or to be. That desire may be dominated by a stronger desire, but it cannot be made to change or to do or be anything until it itself wills to change and do or be. In that right and power is constituted its own free will.

The only desire which actually and truly is free is the desire for Self-knowledge, for knowledge of the Triune Self. It is free because it has not attached itself to anything and it wills not to be attached to anything. And because it is free it will not interfere with the right of any other desire to attach itself to anything. Therefore it is free.

Not one of the innumerable other desires is free, because they all have chosen to attach themselves to the objects to which they are attached and to which they choose to remain attached. But each one has the right and it is the power to let go of that to which it is attached; and it can then attach itself to any other thing, or it can remain unattached and free from anything, as it wills.

Each desire, therefore, is its own point of freedom. It remains the point, or it may extend its point to an area. The stronger desire controls the weaker and so extends its point to an area, and as it continues to control other desires it extends its area of control, and it can continue to dominate other desires until it has will or control over a vast area of its own and over the desires of other doers. And yet that dominating will is not free. It is not free because the desires it controls are not free, and they are not free if they are controlled: because if they are free they act in accord, each by its own will, and are not controlled. The dominating desire as the will is not free merely by dominating the other desires. The test of its freedom as a point, or its extension to an area is: Is that desire, as will, attached to anything in any way related to the senses? If it is attached, it is not free. How then does it extend its point of freedom of will to an area of will, a dominion where it controls not only its own desires but the desires of others? It wills, and it may extend its will over its other desires, by thinking. Merely by desiring no desire can extend itself so that it controls other desires. But if it is strong enough, it will compel thinking. By continued thinking the desire extends itself as will. The will is increased by exercise. It is exercised by persistence in the effort to think, persistence against and irrespective of all obstacles or interferences to thinking. By persistence in the effort to think, obstacles are overcome and interferences disappear. The more the doer continues to think the greater will be its will over its other desires. Its power to think and to control its own desires will determine the dominion of its will over the desires of other men.

Yet that overruling desire, though it has dominion over the will of others, is not really free. That desire has increased its power by its will to think; only so has its thinking increased its power to desire, to will. Each of the desires over which it has exercised its will and extended its dominion is controlled, but not changed. Each such desire will remain as it is until it wills to change itself or to change other things. And the only means that any desire has of changing itself is by thinking, thinking to accomplish what it wills.

Every desire wants knowledge, knowledge of how to get or to be what it wants to have or to be. The many desires continue to desire, but they do not think. If they will not think, they are controlled by a dominating desire that does think. And because the desire that does think, refuses to think about what it is and why it is attached to things away from itself, it attaches itself to objects that it does not continue to want after it is attached. When it tires of one thing it changes to another and another and is never satisfied. The reason that it is never satisfied and never can be satisfied with any of its attachments is that it has lost parts of itself, and it is dimly conscious that it is lost to them. And it will not and cannot be satisfied until all the desires of the original desire are again one undivided desire. Therefore, as it is afraid or refuses to think about itself, it attaches itself to this thing and that thing in the hope that it has at last found a part of itself that has been lost. But no thing to which it can be attached can also be a part of itself. And even when a desire does think, it will not think about itself.

Why? Because if it really has made the attempt, it finds that as soon as it tries to think about what it is or who it is, it must let go of the objects to which it is attached. Then the effort tires it, or it is afraid of being lost if it lets go of sights and sounds. Why does this happen? It happens because from the earliest years it has been taught to use the mind of the senses, the body-mind. The body-mind can think only about the senses and the objects or things related to the senses; it cannot think about desire or about feeling except in the terms of the senses. To think about feeling or about desire exclusive of the senses, the body-mind must be made inactive, stilled. If or when desire makes an effort to think about itself, it must be a long and persistent effort, and the effort must be repeated again and again, because that effort is calling into action the desire-mind which has been dormant, inactive, except when moved by the body-mind which then draws on it for more Light in its thinking. It would be too much to expect either feeling or desire to use the feeling-mind or the desire-mind to exclude the body-mind from their thinking. Therefore when one desire would think about itself, let it think about itself in relation to the thing to which it is attached. With persistence, the thinking will show to that desire what that thing is. As soon as the desire is conscious of what that thing is, the desire knows that that thing is not what it wants. It will let go and never again will it attach itself nor can it be attached to that thing. That desire is then free from that thing.

Now what happened during the thinking to free it from its attachment? Thinking is the steady holding of the Conscious Light within on the subject of the thinking. By thinking with the body-mind only, the body-mind can show by its Light what the senses show the thing to be. That Light does not and cannot show what things really are. But when a desire turns its thinking on itself in relation to the thing which it wants, then the desire-mind and the feeling-mind focus the Conscious Light on that desire and on the thing which the desire wants or to which it is attached. And the desire at once lets go and refuses ever again to be attached, because that desire then knows that it does not want that thing. The doer in a human for whom certain things have no attraction, has been freed from the attachments of its desires to those things by this process of thinking in a former existence. But the desires which have freed themselves may attach themselves to other things.

How then, can the desire that frees itself from one thing remain free from all other things? This is indeed important. It is done in this way: When the attached desire wills and thinks about itself, it is acting on its point of freedom. It is thinking to know what it is and what its relation is to the thing of its attachment. It desires to know. Very well. Then let it identify itself as the desire to know the thing of its attachment. And let it at the same time relate itself in thinking to its other desire, “the desire for Self-knowledge.” Let the desire to know then persist in thinking on the thing of its attachment and its relation to the desire for Self-knowledge, until the Conscious Light is focused on the thing of its attachment. As soon as the Conscious Light shows that thing as it is, the desire knows it and knows that it is free. Then the free desire will think of the desire for Self-knowledge and will relate itself or at once identify itself with or as the desire for Self-knowledge. When this is done, the human in whom that desire is has an acceleration of joyous life and experiences a new sense of freedom. When the point of freedom has identified itself with or as the desire for Self-knowledge there is an area of free will, and by a like freeing its other desires from their attachments the area can be extended to include all the noetic atmosphere of the human. At present human beings have only the point of freedom; they do not extend it to an area of free will.

Free will will be a problem until men understand that a human is a human being of a doer and that the doer is an integral but imperfect part of an otherwise perfect and immortal Triune Self. Free will is closely related to noetic destiny.

The doer, from the depth or heights of its own inner self, projects a portion of itself into a flesh body which moves among other flesh bodies in an objective world. The bodies are moved around by the four senses, which also belong to nature. The four senses are attracted or repelled by objects of nature. Chief among these objects are other flesh bodies. The four senses which are elementals, nature units, impersoned in a body and harnessed into its systems and organs, play upon the feelings of the impersoned portion of the doer and produce the illusions that the doer is the senses, that feeling is a fifth sense, that the body is the doer, that the doer is nothing if it is not connected with a person or body, that the senses are the test for reality, and that what the senses do not perceive is non-existent. The four senses surround with glamour the other flesh bodies which then excite love and hate, greed and cruelty, pride and ambition. The four senses intensify the hunger for food which is the hunger of nature for circulation. The four senses do not show to the doer, nature as it really is; they hide nature and cast a glamour over it. The human is thus in ignorance of his real nature, of the organization of which he is a part, of his make-up, of his origin and of his destiny.

In a human the essential thing is the doer portion, feeling-and-desire, which are projected periodically from the doer part of the Triune Self into a flesh body for a life on the earth crust. The doer in the human extends to the innermost of nature, and beyond nature to the knower, and to the Intelligence. Feeling-and-desire are the essentials of the human on earth; they persist after the death of the body and through the life of another and other bodies. The succession of the human beings of a doer constitute the twelve portions of the doer, and the entire doer is one of the three parts of the Triune Self. One life on earth is a part of a series, as one paragraph in a book, as one step in a procession or as one day in a life. The notion of chance and that of a single life on earth are two of the outstanding errors of human beings.

The human sees only an outer aspect of a small section of the history of the doer, as presented in the life of that human. He does not see connections which, if he saw them, would appear as producing causes of what the cross section shows. Therefore he is without an explanation of what he sees and feels as the physical, psychic and mental limitations of his being, and so he uses such terms as chance, accident, and Providence to account for the mystery. But this question will cease to be troublesome when man knows more about himself and understands that his destiny is in his own hands.