No Choice

THE QUESTION

In my understanding, Vedanta says that we don’t create our thoughts or perform any actions because there is no thinker or doer.  If this is correct, it seems to follow that we don’t make choices either.  Is that right?

THE ANSWER

Vedanta doesn’t deny the thinker-doer.  It can’t because the thinker-doer is an obvious part of our everyday experience.  What Vedanta does deny is the commonly accepted notion that you ARE the thinker-doer.  So there is in fact a thinker-doer but since you aren’t the thinker-doer, you aren’t thinking any thoughts or performing an actions.  Since choice is both an action and a thought process, it naturally follows that you don’t make choices.  By “you” I mean brahman, the changeless non-dual reality by which thought and action is made possible.

It’s important to note that when you come to this understanding, it doesn’t change the workings of everyday life in any way whatsoever.  The thinker-doer will continue to think, act and makes choices all day long, the same as it ever has.  The difference will be that you won’t identify with the thinker-doer.  You will know that, although the thinker-doer persists, it does not affect you, brahman, at all.  The answer I’ve just given is the only answer relevant to Vedanta, meaning inquiry that leads to inner peace and freedom.

However, it bears mentioning that the philosophical issue that is always lurking behind the pernicious question of “Do I choose?” is that of (said in an ominous voice) FREE WILL.  It almost always comes up when Vedanta declares that you are not the thinker-doer.  It inevitably leads the questioner into unproductive lines of inquiry.  Why are these lines of inquiry unproductive?  Because whether the thinker-doer has free will or not becomes immaterial once Vedanta establishes that you aren’t the thinker-doer.

To put it succinctly:

Inquirer:  Does the thinker-doer have free will to choose what it think and does?

Vedantin:  It doesn’t matter. You aren’t the thinker-doer.  Assimilate that knowledge and enjoy inner freedom.

Inquirer:  Did you choose to say that?

Vedantin: (Sigh).

-Vishnudeva

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