Free Will and the End of Materialism
by Nowick Gray
1. With true friends and true music, all is permitted.
The context of this statement is today’s Beacon Hill gig with Masala, calling out a brilliant sun in honor of climate change . . . and after the parade to Clover Point, picnicking on the burial site of the ancestors of another people. Our intent was peaceful, though the conversation in mixed genders was rather irreverently frank -- or was it frankly irreverent? We spoke of camas, and the feet of camels, and like lizards lingered till the sun went down.
True music is what happens when choices are already made or abandoned. These possibilities reflect also a sacred marriage, or a clear path of freedom and independence, or a more complex synthesis of these in free interdependence. The abandoned choice has to be as clearly known as the conscious commitment, though perhaps in a more intuitive mode and motivation: fear as opposed to love, or reservation more than intention. These are just synonyms for the universal yin and yang, minus and plus, off and on, particle and wave, black hole and shining sun.
Some of these – fear, reservation, minus, off, black – connote “problems” the ego prefers to avoid. Ego chases the lure of endless freedom and also the tradeoff of security – forgetting that freedom and independence imply also loneliness and isolation, and that security implies also the same ends. The ends are the same because the end of the ego is always the same: fading into irrelevancy and nonexistence when deserted by the body politic.
2. The debate over free will ranges through the usual circuitry:
-- Of course we have free will. I can decide right now to lift my arm.
-- It wasn’t you who decided. It was your karma, your influences.
Sort of like particle and wave; yang and yin . . .
Two sides of the same coin.
Some say that free will is an illusion because it is a tool of the ego, and the ego itself is an illusion. All things are illusions if spelled out in words, so to call some things illusions and some things truth is a problematic exercise.
Buddha said the rain is not really the rain, it’s just what we call rain. Behind the rain and the umbrella is the same old particles and waves again -- which of course are also illusions, as proved by one’s immediate disappearance as soon as the other (call it the alter ego) is observed. Yet they both are truths . . . if truth is to be understood now as a relativistic and now an absolute term.
Again we come to a supposed division: relative vs. absolute. In truth, everything is relative, and everything is absolute. So I must contradict myself, and see now that truth is also absolute.
So does free will exist? Everything that we choose to name exists, which obviously includes free will. Does a three-headed dragon exist? In storybooks, in metaphors, in figures of speech, in the cartoonist’s edgy brush even now as the heads sprout horns, and the teeth lengthen . . .
By the same token, as everything we name can be said to exist (if only as a name), it is also true that nothing we can name has actual material substance. Even less substantial are the concepts and imaginations that never were supposed to have solid reality. But as for those things we hold dear -- vanilla ice cream, haircombs, a date with a new love, a choice cut of meat or tofurkey, the cell phone -- these things will pass away in an instant, whether that instant involves a bite swallowed, a life lived, plastic decomposing for an eon. In fact in the instant, any instant, they can be dematerialized by the simple act of not engaging with that supposed construct. To the argument, “Well that’s just subjective; that table over there will still exist even if you deny it,” I say, “Then it’s your construct of ‘that table over there’ that’s also subjective.” No one has the final say, or is the ultimate authority on what does and what does not exist, or in what consists “a table” or “the rain” -- not even Buddha. But Buddha had already found the end of materialism, at the end of thought and naming. His mission was to unname, to think through to unthinking, and thereby to live in freedom even from “free will.”
So I go walking in the rain today, finding comfort in the warmth I carry with me in my clothes and skin, with my oxygenated blood, finding the end of suffering as Buddha promised. Today I found the rain was not the rain but a surf of Anna’s ocean, a wave of energetic particles, a bath of eternity all present.
Since free will is a function of the ego, and the ego is an illusion, free will is an illusion. [paraphrasing Colin D. Mallard]
The will to choose or not to choose is this impulse to expand or contract (love or fear). It is a motion or a resistance on the part of the boundaried self managed by the de facto leader and commander in chief, the Ego. The Ego is the fictional name we give this character who believes he is the writer of his own life. In fact he must listen to his own body politic, which will support him if he is attentive and humble (authentic and peaceful), and in any case will drag him down in the end. What seem vast choices now, in the transition from ego to eon, lose all significance. Why not measure our standard on the timeline of the stars? 2012, here we come . . .
Meanwhile these fundamentally opposite yet universal principles (expansion and contraction, authenticity and peacefulness) vie for supremacy at any given moment. As the quantum beings we are, our survival-bent egos are constantly reading the landscape and, depending on our moody or habitual perception of the moment, see ourself and our life as a particle of choice or a wave of non-choice. Earlier it seemed that the state of rest or fear was the particle, aligned with abandonment of choice. The alignments of such dualities can also shift with selective interpretation, so that the skeins of opposites twine themseves together like DNA helixes. Or perhaps there is only chaos and confusion. This too is an interpretation, a choice, an irrelevancy.
Thus stands my own proof for the cancellation of free will. Not that it doesn’t exist; but rather that its existence is ephemeral, and the ground of its action an unreliable construct of concepts arbitrarily arranged for the justification of the ego in all its actions. Therefore it manages all the media outlets, so as to sustain and proliferate the illusions of its imagined successes.
3. The grass is always greener on the other side, once we have eaten most of what's on this side. This too is a symptom of the ego.
Don't it always seem to go
that you don't know what you've got
till it's gonethey pave paradise
and put up a parking lot--Joni Mitchell