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Human beings are generally believed to possess a faculty called the will, which is a subjective principle of action and which is generally distinguished from reason and emotion. The nature of this will, however, has been very elusive to analysis and observation because an understanding of it requires an understanding of the consciousness itself. The issue is also inseparably linked to the question of free will, that is, whether the actions of such a will are determined by causal factors outside of itself or whether it is self-determined.

Will is essentially identified with a set of actions attributed to human beings: choice, volition, or determination. That human beings can do these is evident from our behavior and subjective experience. However, the acts of volition and choice are also observed in animals. It raises the issue then of whether animals too have some form of will or not. When plants turn toward the sun, it seems to be manifesting some kind of choice or preference, but we normally do not attribute will to plants. It appears then that the faculty of will is associated with a certain level of consciousness such as thinking and deliberation, and is to be distinguished from instinctive or reflexive reactions of other organisms.

There are two basic viewpoints regarding the will in Western and Eastern philosophies. The first is that it is a faculty possessed by human beings, that is, the Self possesses will. This is a view espoused by such philosophers as ARISTOTLE, Aquinas, Kant and Hegel. Will, in this view, is associated with the faculties of desire and reason, the former determining the predilection, while the latter determines the choice.

The second basic view is that the will is the Self itself, a view expounded by philosophers such as Plato and British philosopher John H. Muirhead as well as of Hindu philosophies such as the Mīmāmsa. “Will,” wrote Muirhead, “is not something possessed by the self. The will is the self. It is the self apprehended as consciously moving towards the realization of an object of interest” (Elements of Ethics, London: John Murray, 1921, p. 55). The eastern view of štman is essentially of the latter view.

Will in Theosophy. The concept of will in theosophy is identical with the Eastern view that the Higher Self is the will. Helena P. BLAVATSKY stresses that an understanding of the will necessitates an understanding of the dual nature of the human mind, the psychic and the noetic, which is roughly equivalent to the lower and higher selves, or the personality and the individuality. There is in human beings a higher individuality which is a “self-determining power which enables man to override circumstances” (CWXII:357). This is the Self-conscious Will. It is rooted in the swara, or the One Life or Motion, manifesting through the Ātman in human beings. “Will is the offspring of the Divine, the God in man” (CW 12:451). The mind or manas “is the organ of free will in physical man” (ibid.). She at the same time states “there is no special organ of will, any more than there is a physical basis for the activities of self-consciousness” (CW XII:352).

Human will is but a microcosm of the Universal Will, equivalent to what Plato called the Divine Idea. It is equivalent of the Will of Arthur Schopenhauer, and the thing-in-itself of Immanuel Kant (CW 4:491). It manifests in the formation and evolution of the entire Cosmos. Will is the Deity manifested (SD I:343). The will of Adepts are in unison with that of the Cosmic Will (CW VI:265).

Freewill. This understanding of the Will as Self, which in turn is an expression of Swara or eternal motion, helps clarify the muddled issue of free will. Free will is self-determination or spontaneity, which means proceeding from an innate tendency of the self rather than an external cause. Where there is no such innate tendency, then free will has no meaning. It is in this sense that Blavatsky states that even material units such as atoms and cells, which possess their own innate natures, are “endowed with consciousness, each of its own kind, and with free will to act within the limits of law” (CW XII:365).

Freewill then is not noncausality, which is often taken as random occurrence. Randomness is very different from self-determination and carries no responsibility whatsoever. Thus the question of the uncertainty principle in physics has nothing to do with the issue of free will. Chance occurrence is not freedom in any meaningful sense.

The concept of freewill is, according to Blavatsky, applicable only to beings who are endowed with mind and consciousness, such as human beings. Dhyāni-Buddhas, for example, are said to embody divine Freewill. On the other hand, there are divine principles such as what is called Ah-hi in the Secret Doctrine that are not capable of freewill.

. . . A man has free will and Ah-hi have none. They are obliged to act simultaneously, for the law under which they must act gives them the impulse. Free will can only exist in a Man who has both mind and consciousness, which act and make him perceive things both within and without himself. The “Ah-hi” are Forces, not human Beings. (CW X:322)

From a theosophical standpoint, one of the central purposes of human growth and development is for this inner Will or Self to be unfolded, as it is covered by layers of conditionings imposed by the environment. True freedom is when this Self or Will is able to freely express or manifest itself through its instruments, that is, the various vehicles of consciousness such as the mind, emotions and body. When the latter, or conditioned personality, prevails, then the innate tendency of the Self cannot manifest, hence unfree. Annie BESANT wrote: “When the Self determines the activity, uninfluenced by attractions or repulsions towards surrounding objects, then Will is manifested. When outer attractions and repulsions determine the activity, and the man is drawn hither and thither by these, deaf to the voice of the Self, unconscious of the inner Ruler, then Desire is seen” (A Study in Consciousness, Ch. 2, Sec. 1).

Blavatsky stresses that an important aim of modern education should be the strengthening of this inner will (Key to Theosophy, Sec. 13). The aim of growth is “to awaken the will, to strengthen it by use and conquest, to make it absolute ruler within his body; and, parallel with this, to purify desire” (CW VIII:109).



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