The actions that take place in the external world are controlled by the action of the three Gunas, or qualities, of Nature. This includes not only the physical nature, but also the vital nature and the mental nature. There is what we may call a ‘machinery’ of Nature that drives the creation forward for an aim, determined by not each of us individually, but by the Divine Will carrying out its intention in the creation.

To the extent that we exercise our will in carrying out our lives, we are not wholly independent actors, but part of the entire fabric of the reality that is woven around us, and which includes us. The force of the past chain of causality, the actual present circumstances, and the play of the Gunas drive the eventual determination of decisions made now and the shaping of the future.

Since we are not separate and independent of the divine Reality, and in our external nature we act under the impulsion of Prakriti, the illusion we hold of a separate status of being independent actors able to exercise fully independent will is erroneous. The Bhagavad Gita points out that the Divine is seated in the heart and turns our actions as a form of machinery, under the impulsion of the Gunas and their constant variable play. When we shift our standpoint to identify with that divine consciousness which permeates all existence and transcends it, and which is ‘seated in the heart’ of each being, then we share in the exercise of free will of the Divine and the will power we exert takes on the color of the divine impulsion in the manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The only free will in the world is the one divine Will of which Nature is the executrix; for she is the master and creator of all other wills. Human free will can be real in a sense, but, like all things that belong to the modes of Nature, it is only relatively real. The mind rides on a swirl of natural forces, balances on a poise between several possibilities, inclines to one side or another, settles and has the sense of choosing: but it does not see, it is not even dimply aware of the Force behind that has determined its choice. It cannot see it, because that Force is something total and to our eyes indeterminate. At most mind can only distinguish with an approach to clarity and precision some out of the complex variety of particular determinations by which this Force works out her incalculable purposes. Partial itself, the mind rides on a part of the machine, unaware of nine-tenths of its motor agencies in Time and environment, unaware of its past preparation and future drift; but because it rides, it thinks that it is directing the machine. In a sense it counts: for that clear inclination of the mind which we call our will, that firm settling of the inclination which presents itself to us as a deliberate choice, is one of Nature’s most powerful determinants; but it is never independent and sole. Behind this petty instrumental action of the human will there is something vast and powerful and eternal that oversees the trend of the inclination and presses on the turn of the will. There is a total Truth in Nature greater than our individual choice. And in this total Truth, or even beyond and behind it, there is something that determines all results; its presence and secret knowledge keep up steadily in the process of Nature, a dynamic, almost automatic perception of the right relations, the varying or persistent necessities, the inevitable steps of the movement. There is a secret divine Will, eternal and infinite, omniscient and omnipotent, that expresses itself in the universality and in each particular of all these apparently temporal and finite, inconscient or half-conscient things. This is the Power or Presence meant by the Gita when it speaks of the Lord within the heart of all existences who turns all creatures as if mounted on a machine by the illusion of Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, The Hidden Forces of Life, Ch. 1 Life Through the Eyes of the Yogin, pp. 21-22

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 20 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.
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