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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 29-33

Will according to Swami Vivekananda: A literary review

Department of Yoga – Spirituality, S-VYASA University, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission29-Apr-2019
Date of Acceptance22-Jul-2019
Date of Web Publication17-Oct-2019

Correspondence Address:
Mr. N Krishna Bharadwaj
205, Krishna Krupa, Kurinji Avenue, Sakthi Nagar, Thindal, Erode - 638 012, Tamil Nadu
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijny.ijoyppp_4_19

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Swami Vivekananda was a spiritual giant of the modern age. He was a man of profundity and the full import of his ideas is yet to be understood by us. This article deals with understanding Swami Vivekananda's view on Will, especially its nature. This is a field in which very few researches have been done. For this review, “The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda” published in 9 volumes by Advaita Ashrama was referred to. A keyword search for the terms “Will” and “Free-Will” was employed to find the relevant passages. There are two main metaphysical theories on Will – Libertarianism and Determinism. The main purport is to show that Swami Vivekananda held a Deterministic view on Will – that is, he believed that the Will is a bound phenomenon. Throughout his works, we find various instances wherein the Swami gives reasons as to why the Will cannot be free. However, Vivekananda was not a fatalist, though he was a determinist, and held the power of Will in high regard. This aspect of his philosophy shall also be presented, along with his explanation of why we feel free even though the Will is bound.

Keywords: Determinism, free-Will, Swami Vivekananda, Will

How to cite this article:
Bharadwaj N K. Will according to Swami Vivekananda: A literary review. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol 2019;7:29-33

How to cite this URL:
Bharadwaj N K. Will according to Swami Vivekananda: A literary review. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol [serial online] 2019 [cited 2024 Mar 1];7:29-33. Available from: https://www.ijoyppp.org/text.asp?2019/7/2/29/269477

  Introduction Top

All the lectures, speeches, writings, and letters of Swami Vivekananda were recorded by his disciples and compiled in the form of nine volumes of “The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda” by Advaita Ashrama, Mayawati. These volumes contain numerous utterances by the Swami regarding Will. For this article, these nine volumes were referred to. A keyword search for the terms “Will” and “Free-Will” was employed and the relevant passages were selected. They were then interpreted in the light of my understanding and presented.

The concept of Will, according to Swami Vivekananda, forms an interesting field of study hitherto largely unexplored. The crux of this article is to show that Swami Vivekananda held a deterministic view of Will, yet he was not a fatalist. Once that is established, further studies may be done to show the impact of the aforementioned view on other aspects of Vivekananda's philosophy. Furthermore, certain more famous teachings of Swami Vivekananda such as the universal acceptance of all religions, the divinity of man, ethics and morality will be thrown light on once the deterministic view of Will is established. This study, therefore, shall serve as the basis for future studies on the same subject.

  Deterministic Stand of Swami Vivekananda Top

Libertarianism is the belief that the Will is a free phenomenon, whereas determinism is the school of thought that believes in the bondage of the Will. Vivekananda makes various statements throughout his works, showing his allegiance to the camp of determinism along with the reasons thereof.

To understand whether the Will is free or not, we first need to understand what the term freedom means according to Vivekananda.

Definition of freedom

Swami Vivekananda defines a free entity in the following sentence:

“Who is free? The free must certainly be beyond cause and effect.[1]

For an entity to be free, it must not be caused by something. Why? Because if it is caused, it is then bound by the cause. The effect can be nothing apart from the cause. With clay as the cause, one cannot get a golden pot – it is bound to be a clay pot. The cause being there, the effect must follow, there is no other way. The unity of the cause and the effect is an accepted fact in Vedanta philosophy. Thus, as long as a thing is within the realm of causation, there is no freedom. We may talk about freedom in the relative sense. For instance, we may say that a man is more free compared to an animal, as he is less influenced by his surroundings than an animal. However, the same animal is more free compared to tree or stone. Relative bondage or freedom is a matter of perspective, it is not absolute. What is freedom from one point of view becomes bondage with a change in perspective. Thus, that cannot really be called freedom. As said by Vivekananda, only that which is beyond causality can be free. That is the contextual definition of freedom. So when we are talking about freedom of the Will, we are seeing if the Will is an uncaused phenomenon, for only then can it be free.

However, Vivekananda holds that the Will is within causality and therefore not free, as seen from the following statements:

“The will is not free – it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect – but there is something behind the will which is free.”[2]

“Man's will is as rigorously bound by the law of causation as the growth of any little plant or the falling of a stone.”[3]

The aforementioned statements are unambiguous and leave no room for misinterpretation, and we clearly see that Vivekananda belongs to the camp of determinism. Now that we have established that Vivekananda reckons that the Will is a bound phenomenon, we shall see the reasons he gives to back up his opinion.

  Reasons for Refuting Libertarianism Top

Will – Within the law of causation

As we established earlier, for an entity to be free, it must be beyond the law of causation. Thus, if it can be shown that the Will is within causation, then by virtue of that the Will is bound. We see in the passages to follow how Vivekananda argues that the law of causation applies to the mind, and thus to the Will as well.

“Therefore, we see at once that there cannot be any such thing as free will; the very words are a contradiction, because will is what we know, and everything that we know is within our universe, and everything within our universe is moulded by the conditions of space, time, and causation.”[4]

What do we mean by the universe? The universe is the sum total of all that we know or can possibly know. This is the definition of Vivekananda. The universe does not merely denote the universe of physical matter but also includes the whole range of mental phenomena. The four components of the mind according to Vedanta philosophy, manas, buddhi, ahamkara, and citta are all known by us and hence they are a part of the universe.

Now, everything within the universe is bound by the conditions of space, time, and causation. There is no entity which is beyond the three conditions. We cannot even conceive of something which is beyond space, time, and causation. This applies to the Will too, since it is a part of the universe.

The law of causation states that any phenomenon has causes and itself becomes the cause for other phenomena. Thus, if we see an entity being the cause of a certain effect, it is within causation. The Will is the cause of all voluntary action done through the body. That which has effects must have itself been effected by certain causes. By this logic, the Will must have had prior causes, and ipso facto, it is not free.

In another passage the Swami says:

“As long as you are in the network of time, space, and causation, to say you are free is nonsense, because in that network all is under rigorous law, sequence, and consequence. Every thought that you think is caused, every feeling has been caused; to say that the will is free is sheer nonsense. It is only when the infinite existence comes, as it were, into this network of Maya that it takes the form of will. Will is a portion of that being, caught in the network of Maya, and therefore 'free will' is a misnomer. It means nothingsheer nonsense.”[5]

The Swami criticizes the Libertarian view in strong words in the aforementioned passage, calling it “sheer nonsense.[5] Why? Because, to claim the freedom of the Will when it is within the framework of space, time, and causation is illogical. He calls the very expression “Free-Will” a misnomer: That which is free cannot be the Will and that which is the Will is not free. Thus, through these passages, the Swami establishes that the Will, being subject to causation, cannot be free.

Will – Compound, not a simple

This argument is to show that the Will does not have independent existence as it is the result of a combination of certain forces. We find in the following passage Vivekananda talking about the compound nature of Will.

“The idea of unthinking philosophers was that the mind was a simple, and this led them to believe in free-will. Psychology, the analysis of the mind, shows the mind to be a compound, and every compound must be held together by some outside force; so the will is bound by the combination of outside forces. Man cannot even will to eat unless he is hungry. Will is subject to desire.”[6]

A simple is an entity which is not comprised of anything and exists in its own right. A compound, on the other hand, is a constituted phenomenon. For example, water is a compound as it is composed of two molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of oxygen. The Swami, after criticizing the philosophers of the Libertarian camp as “unthinking,”[6] states that the mind is not a simple, but a compound.

What is the relation between a simple and freedom? A simple, as we saw, is an entity which is composed of only itself and not the result of any other combination. Such a simple entity has no connection with any other entity. Compounds, on the other hand, are all interconnected with each other. Since a simple has absolutely no relation with any other entity, the law of causation cannot apply to it. For there to be any causal relation, there has to be interconnectedness. The ripple in one part of the ocean can cause a movement in another part, only because though each ripple, wave or bubble may be seen as different from each other, they are all interconnected by the water which is a common factor in their existence. Likewise, the whole universe, with its myriad shapes and forms, is in an ocean of existence, according to the Vedanta philosophy, and everything is connected with everything else.

We further see that there can be no entity in the universe that can be a simple. It is inconceivable on the face of it. However, only a simple can be free, for only that is beyond all causal relations. The Will, along with everything else in the universe, is a compound, and as such bound by the laws of causation.

Will – Not the cause of the universe

The Libertarian view is intimately connected with the idea of multiple Wills or a Supreme Will being the cause of all creation. In refutation of this idea, Vivekananda presents the following arguments:

“It is said that the will of the Lord created the universe. It is very good as a common expression, but we see it cannot be true. How could it be will? Will is the third or fourth manifestation in nature. Many things exist before it, and what created them? Will is a compound, and everything that is a compound is a product of nature. Will, therefore, could not create nature. So, to say that the will of the Lord created the universe is meaningless. Our will only covers a little portion of self-consciousness and moves our brain. It is not will that is working your body or that is working the universe. This body is being moved by a power of which will is only a manifestation in one part. Likewise, in the universe, there is will, but that is only one part of the universe. The whole of the universe is not guided by will; that is why we cannot explain it by the will theory.”[7]

Will of the Lord cannot be the cause of the universe

The Swami says here that the Will of the Lord could not have created the universe. Why? Because, Will requires a desire to act on, and every desire presupposes a need. If the Lord has needs, he is a limited being and no Lord at all. Thus, to say that the Will of the Lord created the universe is absurd. All it does is present the Lord in poor light.

Will is preceded by many things

Vivekananda mentions that the Will is “the third or fourth manifestation in nature.”[7] This requires a little bit of the Sankhya philosophy to understand. According to the Sankhya philosophers, there are only two existences – nature and the self. Nature is called Prakriti and is made up of three modes, – Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. The whole universe is a manifestation of Prakriti. This manifestation happens in a particular sequence. The first manifestation is the Mahat (Cosmic Intelligence), next the Ahamkara (Ego-sense), and later comes the Manas (Mind) and Will. Thus, we see that Will by itself is a created entity. If we attribute all creation to Will, how can we explain the creation of phenomena which exist prior to Will? This is one difficulty with the Free-Will theory.

Will is not the cause of all movements

The attribution of creation to Will was due to man's notion that all movements in the universe are initiated by Will. He saw that it was Will which moved his own body, and hence postulated that behind every movement in the universe there must be a Will propelling it. The Swami counters this argument by saying that all movements of the body are not accounted for by Will. There are certain actions which we call voluntary actions, and only these are initiated by Will. The whole spectrum of involuntary actions, such as the movement of the heart and lungs is not governed by Will. Thus, we see that even in the body, Will is not the sole motive power. It is one manifestation of the force which is moving the body. Similar is the case with the universe as well. Will is a part of the universe and one of the manifestations of the force propelling it. To attribute creation to the Will is logically incorrect, as shown by the Swami.

These are the various reasons given by Swami Vivekananda to refute the Free-Will theory.

  Explanation of the Fundamental Feeling of Freedom Top

We have seen so far the various reasons Swami Vivekananda gives to show that the Will is not a free entity. However, we see that even if we may be able to intellectually appreciate the theory of determinism, we cannot help but feel free. This contradiction between knowledge and experience has to be explained by any proponent of determinism. The Swami explains it as follows:

“That soul is free, and it is its freedom that tells you every moment that you are free. But you mistake, and mingle that freedom every moment with intelligence and mind. You try to attribute that freedom to the intelligence, and immediately find that intelligence is not free; you attribute that freedom to the body, and immediately nature tells you that you are again mistaken. That is why there is this mingled sense of freedom and bondage at the same time.”[1]

The Swami explains that our real nature is freedom. The self is free, but we identify ourselves with the body and mind complex and superimpose the freedom on them. We know we are free, we just don't know who or what we are! So as long as we are caught up in this body-mind complex, we can't help but think that the Will is free. This is the reason why, just as a mirage does not vanish once one realizes that it is just an illusion, the Will still appears to be free even after understanding that it is bound.

  Importance of Will Top

As we have seen, Vivekananda upheld the view that the Will was a bound phenomenon. He believed in the all-comprehensive nature of the law of causation, resulting in strict bondage of all matter both on the physical and the mental plane. Yet, he held the manifestation of the power of Will in high regard and considered it an extremely important aspect of personality. The Swami's glorification of the Will must not be misconstrued to be his adherence to the Libertarian view. Power and freedom are two different things, and wherever the Swami praises Will, he refers to its potency and never to its freedom. The Swami says:

“The will is stronger than anything else. Everything must go down before the will, for that comes from God and God Himself; a pure and a strong will is omnipotent.”[8]

Given that we can't help but feel free, it is meaningless to endeavor to refrain from volitional actions, since the act of refraining itself becomes a volitional action, thus defeating the purpose. It is the Will which is the source of power in man. It is Will which lets him do actions. The above-mentioned passage is from a lecture which the Swami delivered in erstwhile Madras. It was an inspirational speech meant to instigate the young Indians to devout their lives for the betterment of the society. Thus, we see the Swami extolling the power of Will and mentioning that “a pure and a strong will is omnipotent.”[8]

In another passage, we find:

“Each one of us is the maker of his own fate. This law knocks on the head at once all doctrines of predestination and fate and gives us the only means of reconciliation between God and man. We, we, and none else, are responsible for what we suffer. We are the effects, and we are the causes. We are free therefore. If I am unhappy, it has been of my own making, and that very thing shows that I can be happy if I will. If I am impure, that is also of my own making, and that very thing shows that I can be pure if I will. The human will stands beyond all circumstance. Before itthe strong, gigantic, infinite will and freedom in manall the powers, even of nature, must bow down, succumb, and become its servants. This is the result of the law of Karma.”[9]

This is an interesting passage. The Swami does not even once say that the Will is free, but speaks of the power of Will in glowing terms. He urges us to be the creators of our own destiny. He inspires us to be intelligent about all the actions we do in the present as they will shape our future. The gist of this passage is that notwithstanding the law of karma, man does not have to develop a passive, indifferent or subservient nature. As long as we feel we are free and our Will is free, we have the ability to change the course of nature with our volitional actions. That is what the Swami means by, “The human will stands beyond all circumstance. Before itthe strong, gigantic, infinite will and freedom in manall the powers, even of nature, must bow down, succumb, and become its servants.”[9] Vivekananda presents the law of karma not as something which weakens and renders us powerless, but as a doctrine which empowers us to take our destiny into our hands.

Thus, we see that though Swami Vivekananda was a staunch determinist, he was by no means a fatalist. He was not one who would meekly surrender, nor did he preach it. Rather, he believed in taking matters into one's own hands and being the architect of one's own destiny, as seen from the above-mentioned passage.

  Conclusion Top

We see that Swami Vivekananda found the Free-Will theory to be flawed due to various reasons. He was an adherent to the school of determinism. Yet, he held the power of Will in high esteem and regard, and considered it to be a potent force which shapes the destiny of men. We also saw how even though one might understand the theory of determinism to be true, he would still feel that his Will is free. This contradiction between knowledge and experience was explained in the words of the Swami.

A man may know from his schooling that it is the Earth which revolves around the Sun and not the other way around. Yet, every morning when he wakes up, he will invariably see the Sun rising from the Eastern horizon, traveling all the way across the sky, and setting in the West, contradicting his knowledge. Similar is the case of Will, where the knowledge of its nature does not translate into experience. The contradiction is bound to be there, and every man invariably feels free. This being the state of affairs, it is only sensible that one uses this apparent freedom to advance in life, rather than develop a submissive, fatalistic attitude. This is exactly what the Swami suggests throughout his works. The Will is bound, but man is free.

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  References Top

Swami Vivekananda. Patanjali's yoga aphorisms. In: The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. 17th ed., Vol. 1. Ch. 2. Mayawati: Advaita Ashrama; 1986. p. 254.  Back to cited text no. 1
Swami Vivekananda. Sayings and utterances. In: The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. 10th ed., Vol. 5. Mayawati: Advaita Ashrama; 1973. p. 409.  Back to cited text no. 2
Swami Vivekananda. Fundamentals of religion. In: The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. 13th ed., Vol. 4. Mayawati: Advaita Ashrama; 2013. p. 390.  Back to cited text no. 3
Swami Vivekananda. Karma yoga – Freedom. In: The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. 17th ed., Vol. 1. Mayawati: Advaita Ashrama; 1986. p. 95.  Back to cited text no. 4
Swami Vivekananda. The free soul. In: The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. 9th ed., Vol. 3. Mayawati: Advaita Ashrama; 1964. p. 14.  Back to cited text no. 5
Swami Vivekananda. Inspired talks. In: The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. 9th ed., Vol. 7. Mayawati: Advaita Ashrama; 2013. p. 54.  Back to cited text no. 6
Swami Vivekananda. A study of the Sankhya philosophy. In: The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. 17th ed., Vol. 2. Mayawati: Advaita Ashrama; 2013. p. 450.  Back to cited text no. 7
Swami Vivekananda. My plan of campaign. In: The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. 9th ed., Vol. 3. Mayawati: Advaita Ashrama; 1964. p. 224.  Back to cited text no. 8
Swami Vivekananda. Vedantism. In: The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. 9th ed., Vol. 3. Mayawati: Advaita Ashrama; 1964. p. 125.  Back to cited text no. 9


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