Free Will/Part I: Bhagavad Gita XVIII.61


The Lord of all beings abides in the Heart,

Causing all beings to wander, to move (to revolve),

[As if] fixed, attached to, mounted on a machine,

By the power of Illusion (maya).


ishvarah sarvabhutanam

hriddeshe Arjuna tishthati

bhramayam sarvabhutani

yantrarudhani mayaya


The Sanskrit words yantra-arudhani have always fascinated me. Somehow over the years again and again I find myself thinking about them. I often connect this invisible cosmic machine-mechanism that enfolds us in the temporal illusory hologram, to the famous enigmatic Sri Yantra, which one can meditate on and never quite grasp. J.A.B. van Buitenen has translated the yantrarudhani as ‘water wheel’ and I have thought there is value in this because water symbolizes consciousness and a water wheel is a sort of perpetual motion machine that only requires a constant flow.

In Swami Lakshmanjoo’s translation of verse 61, the Kashmir Shaivite conviction comes across more bluntly. Remember that Lakshmanjoo was the embodiment of very highly enlightened states of God-Consciousness, living Truth. Because his command of Sanskrit was greater than his English, his sentences are peppered with Sanskrit and sometimes a bit unwieldy, but nevertheless express his superlative Wisdom-Knowledge. Also, Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita speaks as the voice of the Oneness, which is termed Parabhairava in Kashmir Shaivism:

“Ishvarah, I, think [of] Me [I am Ishvara, I am Parabhairava, I am residing in each and every heart of everybody, every soul. Bhramayan, I am playing with them with My own will.”

“Bhramayan sarva bhutani yantrarudhani mayaya. By My svantantrya shakti [the Lord’s free will as creative power], they are going here and there, and I am indulging in that way.”

The Sanskrit word Bhramayan is explained further by Swami Lakshmanjoo: “He [meaning the One] handles it; whatever you do, it is handled by Him, not by you. There is only ignorance in that you say, ‘I am doing it, I am doing it.’ He [the One] is doing it. He is handling it.”

Swami Lakshmanjoo continued: “Who are you [Arjuna] to [say] that you will not [engage in this war]? Who are you? You are not existing at all; your will is failure!"


Who am I?

The question of 'Who are you?' resonates with the Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) technique of self-inquiry in which the question 'Who am I?' is asked repeatedly. Swami Lakshmanjoo in his youth was one of Ramana Maharshi’s favourites and there are lovely inspiring photographs of the two together. The idea of continually asking 'Who am I?' leads to the brain forming new synaptic paths which redirect our consciousness away from the external ever shifting holographic temporal coagulations and towards the Real, meaning the God-within and the understanding that we are not the Doer.

The Bhagavad Gita III.27 teaches that we are not the Doer. It is only our confused and deluded sense of ego, ahamkara, literally ‘I-making’ that makes us think ‘I am the doer’ - kartaham ‘doer I’- when in the Real it is the material nature Prakriti performing the acts. Swami Muni Narayana Prasad refers to this as Prakriti-wheel rolling on. Thus we understand that we are mounted on this holographic water-wheel machine which is rolling on and on, in Yuga after Yuga throughout the cycles of time. So where is our free Will?

Again, the Bhagavad Gita V.8 & 9 says that the man of yoga, meaning one who has Become united – yoga means union – with the ubiquitous One realizes that we do nothing when we are ‘seeing, hearing, touching, smelling.’ In truth “it is only the senses operating on their objects” [J.A.B. van Buitenen]. Naiva kincit karomite is translated by Swami Lakshmanjoo as “I don’t do anything.” – and the ‘I’ is understood to be Krishna, who speaks as the voice of the Oneness.

In Kashmir Shaivism, Krishna is “established in the supreme state of [Para] Bhairava. He [who] is established in the supreme state of Bhairava, he says, ‘although I do everything, I don’t do anything.’ …[The yogin who is in Union with the One says] ‘the organs [Prakriti] are doing their job, what have I to do with them? I am separate; I am aloof from this.... I am just the observer, I don’t do anything.” The Sanskrit is indriyani (senses, powers) combined with indriyartheshu (in the sense objects, in the objects of the senses).

The idea that what we believe we are experiencing as life, is only some temporal illusory meeting, a marriage of sorts between our sense apparatus and the objects they are engaged in, perhaps even creating as they send data back to our brain that we interpret as solidity, sound, sight, etc. And it’s all somehow on automatic. The yantra rudhani has us in its endlessly whirling cycles of birth and death, desire and disappointment, pleasure and pain, sukha-duhkha in Sanskrit.

We are compelled by the gunas we ourselves have created over multiple lifetimes. There is no being free of Prakriti’s gunas [BhG XVIII.40] either on earth or in any other world, even the heavenly realms. While we are in delusion, continually tossed around by our compulsions, the Lord of our Being, the God-within sits observing, not attached, loving, patiently waiting, watching us manifest Its infinite creative potency and glory. We are mirrors for the Oneness.

"All questions disappear."

A conversation I enjoyed with a long time disciple of the Swami Lakshmanjoo produced a few helpful insights. The recognition that we are the One (Parabhairava in Kashmir Shaivism) results in the realization that we are more God doing the 'playing' in the time-space holographic universe than the data-collecting vehicles (my term) being 'played'.  This realizing that we are and have always been the One comes about by Grace, by the rising of our own Grace. Swami Lakshmanjoo says that we can lift ourselves up by our own Grace, but we don't want to. We prefer our self-created distractions in the external hologram, pursuing our temporal desires that never bring us lasting fulfillment. 

Thus our freedom is limited. Our only authentic freedom is to Realize we never do/did anything, and thus surrender everything to the God-within because everything always belonged only to the One, who we are anyway. Liberation (Moksha) is found in the Recognition of the game, the Divine Lila, the 'Play'. By pulling our consciousness back into the ubiquitous Oneness within, we lift the Veils of Ignorance to understand the mechanics of bondage, the rules of the 'game' so to speak.

So in the Real sense, Free Will in the temporal illusory hologram is useless! Mildly amusing, isn't it. Still this somewhat disturbing term 'played' is ambiguous, loaded — because we are more God doing the playing than the incarnated data-collecting vehicles being played. Subtle! In all respects we are that divine player, but we just don't know it - yet. My way of understanding this switching back-and-forth between the appearance of Free Will and the teaching that we are not the Doer at all is this:

 When we think we have Free Will, we are not in the Oneness. When we are in the One, we realize there is only the One and the question is useless. It doesn’t matter. No sense of separateness can exist. As Swami Lakshmanjoo says, “All questions disappear.”


The Appearance of a Limited Free Will

Can it be that the One enjoys the temporal illusory appearance of a limited Free Will in Its various manifested selves, you & me, as part of the entire spectrum of Its infinite possible expressions. People in the west are more accustomed to believe that we have Free Will, while one might assume that India and the East have been more accepting of Fate and Destiny. Yet more recently as India embraces the ideology of capitalism, the entrepreneur, the independent individual self beyond family, many are experiencing the exhilarating and precarious vulnerability of new freedoms, and breaking with tradition as they shake off the old concepts of predestination - (as Anand Giridharadas describes in his insightful book, "India Calling").

The scholar and polymath K.K. Nair/Krishna Chaitanya did not accept the Sankarite rejection of the world as an illusion. He championed the idea that we humans do have Freedom. "This means that God does not merely want, but in reality needs, man's partnership in realising his design in history; and by being his partner, man will move to a similitude with him." However, the Freedom that mankind experiences must be aligned with and in harmony with God’s Design, meaning the primordial metaphysical principles that are the very ‘being’ and structural supports of this polarity universe.

A man’s thoughts and acts can reflect God’s intent and purpose (telos). In Sanskrit this vast concept of God’s Design is named Rita (rta), meaning Truth, Law, Right, Order, ‘the course of things’ (from the root ri = 'to rise, tend, upward').  This concept of Rita is said to be the basis of the later idea of Dharma — literally 'what holds together' and thus is the basis of all order [J. Grimes/Sanskrit Dictionary]. Righteousness is the English word often used to define Dharma, but in no way does it encompass the deeper understanding that the root verb dhr implies: 'to uphold, to establish, to support.'

Rita is one of the most frequently used words in the Rig Veda, occurring more than five hundred times, according to the Vedic scholar Dr. A. Venkatasubbiah (1886-1969) in a study on the “Satyaloka in the Rig Veda” (Vishveshvaranand Vedic Research Institute 1974). In later Sanskrit texts Rita became obsolete and was replaced by Dharma. There are many diverging opinions regarding the root meaning of Rita (ri), like so many other early Sanskrit roots. However the idea of Truth (Satya) or perhaps better, Cosmic Truth applies to K.K. Nair’s idea of God’s Design.


:XVIII BhG:Arjuna_and_His_Charioteer_Krishna_Confront_Karna --Version 2-1.jpg

Are we free or not?

In the Bhagavad Gita XVIII.59-60, Krishna expresses the same profoundly perplexing contradiction when at first he tells Arjuna that he has no Free Will, that as a warrior he will do as his Rajasic gunas compel him to do, his own material nature (prakritis) will compel him, that he is bound to his warrior kshatriya karma and he will do what he does not wish to do, even against his own will. Yet a moment later Krishna (XVIII.63) says, “Do as you please!” (yathecchasi tathA kuru), as if Arjuna does have Free Will.

K.K. Nair/Krishna Chaitanya believed that mankind does have Free Will which allows us to decided to live in harmony with the metaphysical principles that support this polarity universe or reject them. In his comments on the yantrarudhani and the idea that we are “mounted on a machine” K.K. Nair warns the reader not to misunderstand this as helpless “conditioned, determined, will-less (avasa)” predestination.

K.K. Nair: “This is not what deity wanted when he made man free; he wants man to align himself freely and in full understanding with his design in creation and history. For such alignment in freedom, man has to be autonomous, not slavishly dependent on deity.”

The goal of spiritual life is alignment with the One, Becoming the Oneness within that is ubiquitous. When we in ignorance and delusion imagine that we are separate from the Creator, we fall into disharmony, misery, and ultimately with nothing Real to support us, we collapse into depression, sickness and the arms of death. The Kali Yuga is the cycle of time in which most have forgotten that we are the One, and thus most have come to believe that only greed and avarice will fulfil them. The history of the last 6000 years is a repeating story of tyrannical men and women who engaged in unending bloody wars to satisfy their own frail vacuous egos at the expense of millions of innocent lives.

:XVIII BhG:DSC_0164_2.jpg


The goal of Liberation from birth and death is very Real for me. I accept the Wisdom-Knowledge in this ancient teaching as the final goal. However, I know there are many enlightened men and women who want to remain here, in what perhaps is rather like a Bodhisattva vow, and contribute to the upliftment of mankind and planet Earth. We spend most of our lives throughout the cycles of time in delusion. It is our behaviour in such bondage that determines our consciousness and eventual release. Swami Lakshmanjoo says, “Don’t blame God for your mistakes.” Even though the One is ‘enjoying’ the Veiled state of our forgetting who we are, we are responsible for Remembering. Subtle, isn't it.

Therefore I find value in K.K. Nair/Krishna Chaitanya’s analysis of our perceived 'appearance' of freedom through the teachings of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. The Mahabharata has an entire book devoted to the dharma of kings (raja), instructing good acts and character in rulers; within the Shanti Parva is the Rajadharmanushasana Parva in which Yudhishthira asks Bhishma to describe the righteous duties of a king. We could sure use some of that today! It is also worth considering that K.K. Nair, along with many others in India, felt that the idea of disconnecting from the world and becoming a parasite with a begging bowl had been a serious anchor on India. He did not accept that the destruction of man’s faith in himself was the true meaning of the Bhagavad Gita.

“Totally opposite is Vyasa’s [the Gita’s author] conception of both deity and man. Deity has given freedom to man and his hope is that man will use it to attain to a similitude with himself (Sanskrit below). And man can do this if he alertly sees to it that the subsidiary powers of his psyche do not usurp the role of the will by determining action.”

BhG XIII.18: madbhavaya – to My state of being; upapadyate – he enters

BhG XIV.2: mama sadharmyam – sameness with Me, state of identity with Me

We all know from experience how different life is for us when we feel consciously connected to the God-within, even if that experience was fleeting. Many have had a momentary ‘reconnection’ with the Real and True [Satya] that carried us for the rest of our lives — or even into seeking full God Realization, what Lakshmanjoo calls God-Consciousness. Only those who abide in Wisdom-Knowledge deserve our trust to participate in the responsibility for the well-being of our planet.

Part II continues...

We Meet in the Heart,

V. Susan Ferguson




Bhagavad Gita, In the Light of Kashmir Shaivism, with original video, Revealed by Swami Lakshmanjoo, Edited by John Hughes, Co-editors Viresh Hughes and Denise Hughes; Universal Shaiva Fellowship, 2013.

WHO AM I? The Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi; Sri Ramanasraman, Tiruvannamalai, 26th Edition, 2011.

The Gita for Modern Man, by Krishna Chaitanya; Clarion Books, Associated with Hind Pocket Books, New Delhi, 1986, 1992.

KRISHNA CHAITANYA, A Profile and Selected Papers; Edited by Suguna Ramachandra; Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd., Delhi, 1991.

Life’s Pilgrimage Through The Gita, by Swami Muni Narayana Prasad; D.K. Printworld, New Delhi, 2005, 2008.

The Bhagavad Gita in the Mahabharata, A Bilingual Edition, translated by J.A.B. van Buitenen; The University of Chicago Press, 1981.

The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Winthrop Sargeant; State University of New York Press, 1994.

Abhinavagupta’s Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Gitartha Samgraha, translated by Boris Marjanovic; Indica Books, Varanasi, 2002, 2004.

Satyaloka in the Rig Veda, A Study, by Dr. A. Venkatasubbiah (1886-1969); Vishveshvaranand Vedic Research Institute, 1974.

Who Owns the Future, by Jaron Lanier; Simon & Schuster, NY, 2013.

You are not a gadget, A Manifesto, by Jaron Lanier; Vintage Books, NY, 2010, 2011.

The Shallows, What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr; W.W. Norton & Company, NY, 2010, 2011.

India Calling, An Intimate Portrait of A Nation's Remaking, by Anand Giridharadas







Questions or comments about articles on this site:
Email V. Susan Ferguson: 
Click Here
Copyright© V. Susan Ferguson
All rights reserved.
Technical questions or comments about the site:
Email the Webmaster: 
Click Here