The debate between free will and fate is a never-ending battle. Some people believe that life’s events are random and free will is the only power that we have to determine our future. Other people believe that fate is controlling our destiny. Isn’t it possible that both viewpoints are correct? Randomness may only be an illusion. Many random events appear to have order when they are viewed from a different perspective. For example, if you look closely at a painting by Seurat, the painting looks like random dots of color. Yet, when you step back from the painting the dots come together to form a magnificent work of art. C.G. Jung defined synchronicity as “meaningful coincidences.” Events or actions that appear to be independently random eventually seem to have meaning when they are viewed in relation to each other.
Maybe our ultimate destiny or direction in life results from the combination of free will and fate. Free will is our right to choose a particular direction. Some of our choices may create a significant event, while other choices may result in nothing. Free will may be working with fate to direct our destiny, and the resulting events could help us accomplish our unique purpose on earth.
The root of the debate focuses on whether or not each person has a unique purpose in life. If we are spiritual beings, the purpose of life may be to evolve the soul by learning certain lessons. People who believe in reincarnation have stated that earth is being used as a “school” to help evolve the soul towards perfection. When I was younger my sister told me that reincarnation was impossible. She argued, “Reincarnation is just not logical. Why would we spend so much time learning lessons only to forget them at birth? What would be the point of learning a lesson in the first place? It also makes no sense that we would keep coming back to earth. How could we evolve in a place where we had already been? If we were supposed to learn additional lessons, why wouldn’t we learn them in a spiritual universe or on a different planet?”
Books on reincarnation have stated that amnesia at birth doesn’t really exist because all information remains in the subconscious. If we learned a lesson in a previous lifetime, we will always remember it. The individual only consciously forgets the previous events that allowed the soul to initially learn the lesson. For example, many people are naturally unselfish without being exposed to circumstances that would have allowed the lesson to be learned. It is possible that unselfishness was learned prior to the individual’s current existence. Many believe that if a person remembers past life events, it could interfere with the learning process. For example, suppose that in a previous life an individual was extremely wealthy, which created an attitude of superiority. In response, the same individual may be born to a life of poverty to learn humility. If the past life is remembered, humility may not be learned because the person may be angry and bitter that the wealth has disappeared instead of facing the conditions that are necessary to learn the lesson of humility. Furthermore, if past life events are remembered, there could never be a “clean slate” between two people. If a person remembers being murdered by another person, the anger or desire for revenge may prevent these people from making a transition from one life to the next.
Reincarnation theory also states that earth may be re-experienced so that the same people can be brought back together. During a lifetime, the karmic balance between people is not always obtained (especially if one person murders another). Therefore, reincarnation ensures that the same people may come back in different roles, so that retribution may occur. For example, if a mother abused a child in one life, their roles may reverse in the next. This opportunity gives both people the chance to balance the negative actions that were unresolved during their first life together.
The earth is also a valuable learning institution because of the imperfections of the human body. The body needs food, water, shelter, and good health to survive. By withdrawing life’s necessities, certain lessons can be learned. For example, poverty and illness are valuable tools for learning certain lessons. In the spiritual universe, the “body” does not need money and does not get sick. Therefore, some lessons learned on earth could never be learned in a spiritual universe. In the spiritual world, there is also no greed, hate, conceit, need for power or anger. The presence of these attributes on Earth can be extremely valuable learning tools.
Reincarnation has been “authenticated” through thousands of cases of past life regressions, in which a person is asked to recall past life experiences under hypnosis. Many people have recited detailed descriptions about obscure historical events and ordinary people that lived hundreds of years earlier. Since the details are not cited in history books, it is highly unlikely that this information could have been learned in the conscious state. The actual verification of the historical facts required months (and sometimes years) of significant research. The people remembered under hypnosis were not famous. To verify the recollection, birth certificates of obscure people have been found in antiquated records that have not been viewed by anyone for hundreds of years. Married couples have also described details of identical past lives from hundreds of years before, even though each partner was hypnotized separately and neither person had access to information that was reported by their spouse. Many couples have found that they were together in previous lifetimes in different roles. Sometimes they were brother and sister, or mother and child, as enemies or friends, or of the opposite gender.
Under hypnosis, patients can also speak in strange languages that are currently extinct. Sylvia Browne hypnotized a patient who described a life as a pyramid builder. He then started talking in what she thought was gibberish. She sent the tape to a professor at Stanford and she reports that the professor called back “breathless with excitement, to tell me that after considerable research, he and his colleagues were in unanimous agreement that those goofy nonsense syllables were actually my client speaking fluent seventh-century BC Assyrian, a language that would have been very popular among pyramid builders.” She asked her patient if he was a linguist or knew Assyrian but he had never even heard of the language. In Brian Weiss’s book, Messages from the Masters, he reports a story about two-year old twins who were speaking to each other with strange words that appeared to have sentence structure and there was mutual comprehension. Their parents took the twins to a professor of ancient languages at
People even have birthmarks in the exact spot where they recall a death wound under hypnosis. For instance, someone may recall a fatal knife wound in the throat that happened thousands of years earlier and the hypnotist then notices a faded birthmark in the shape of a slash on the person’s throat. Sylvia Browne found that 98% of her patients with birthmarks had a death experience that corresponded to the shape of the birthmark (which was discovered after the hypnosis session was over). Furthermore, many irrational fears or mysterious pains are cured after past-life hypnosis. Patients who have an irrational fear of water are suddenly “cured” when, under hypnosis they recall an experience of drowning to death in the 1300’s. One of Sylvia Browne’s patients had extreme trouble swallowing on various occasions and would be unable to breathe, which resulted in continual calls to paramedics. After a hypnosis session where the patient recalled being attacked by a lion through a bite in the throat, all the episodes disappeared. Mysterious pains in the chest also disappear after recalling fatal stab wounds that occurred in previous lives.
Reincarnation theory also states that before a person is born, the soul actually chooses the exact conditions to learn additional lessons, including the parents, future spouse, religion, and geographical location. It is also believed that a person is prepared for a future life through the “programming” of certain smells, voices, or body language into the subconscious. An interesting case was reported in Brian Weiss’s book, Messages From the Masters. In one case, he cites that a graduate student had a dream when his wife was four months pregnant. They did not know the sex of the child. As stated in the book, the graduate student said that “One night, his unborn daughter came to him in a vivid dream, announcing her name, describing her immediate past life, and explaining why she was choosing to be born to this young couple, her karmic purpose and plans.” He awoke with the riveting dream sharply etched in his mind. He turned toward his wife. “I just had the most amazing dream,” he began, at which point she cut him off. “Me too!” she explained. “ I dreamt our daughter came to me…” Both people cited the same name, same past, same plans, and same details. Basically, it was the same dream. Five months later, a beautiful bay girl was born to them.
The pre-selection of our significant relationships, desired lessons, external catalysts and critical milestones is an extremely important concept. Under hypnosis, many people have described (in detail) the process of creating a “chart” for a particular life when they are asked to recall the preparation that precedes birth. They immediately know the theme for each life (according to Sylvia Browne, there are 44 distinct life themes) and the primary lessons that they were trying to learn in that life.
It’s interesting that we spend so much time on this planet being angry at fate or God when we encounter a disaster in life. Some people even turn away from religion after a personal catastrophe. Anger directed at God or the universe is futile and unfair because we alone are responsible for the disasters we experience. We are the ones who chose to face the consequences of a particular tragedy because in an enlightened state, we were eagerly willing to bear the suffering in exchange for the resulting psychological growth (and in the spiritual bliss of the “other side,” we are confident that we will be able to survive the pain that accompanies adversity). Since, we are the ones who choose to endure certain traumatic episodes in life, why do we get mad at God when something bad happens? He is there to support us and give us strength to survive the scenarios that we pre-selected.
Our fate is not some external punishment inflicted upon us by an unsympathetic universe. God and our guides have infinite compassion for our chosen suffering. Single people may spend night after night being upset at the universe because they are not involved in a successful relationship. Yet, the universe would love to save us from our misery. They are merely being respectful of our previous decision to bear the suffering so that we could learn from it. If they saved us from the agony, then we would not be given the opportunity we need to change. And if we are temporarily rescued, we may be angrier when we return to The Other Side because “someone”` took away the catalyst that we selected for growth. It is extremely important to understand that we chose a particular catalyst and the universe does not have the right to take it away (because free will is sacrosanct). As a comparison, a child may decide that he wants to learn how to ride a bike. The parent could save the child from pain by refusing to let the child fall off his bike. However, if the parent does not allow the child to fall, he will never learn how to ride the bike by himself. In this case, the child made a decision to learn something new. If the parent does not allow the child to suffer during the process, the lesson cannot be learned.
If individuals want to get upset about the hardships that are encountered, they should be directing that anger towards themselves instead of the universe. More accurately, however, they just need to understand that they chose to be subjected to the negativity of a tragedy for a reason -- and that reason is much more important than the temporary suffering that must be endured.
When charting a life, some people may choose to die early to accomplish a certain objective. After they die, their family and friends spend significant energy by being angry with God instead of understanding that the person who died chose to leave the earth at that particular time. Some may say that we need to forgive the person who chose to die, but instead we just need to understand that we cannot know the whole story or the reasons why a person chooses to leave the planet at a particular time. Most religions do not adequately explain the life-charting process. Therefore, we are not given the background we need to understand life’s tragedies.
If reincarnation theory is correct, each person has an ultimate purpose in life and the goal of a lifetime is to learn certain lessons or to balance the karma between individuals or groups of individuals. The list of possible lessons that could be learned by a soul may be infinite, which means that it is impossible to learn all lessons in one lifetime. Instead, we may have a subset of lessons that we trying to learn during each life. Some people theorize that life is similar to school. Some people are in “elementary school” and some people are in “graduate school,” and the people in “graduate school” may be older souls. The theory is that easier lessons were learned during previous lives and that each time a person reincarnates, the lessons become more difficult. At one point, everyone has been in elementary school and at some point; everyone will reach graduate school. Reincarnation doesn’t mean that the person “flunked,” it only means that the person chose to come back to school for another degree. The people in graduate school probably encounter the most difficulty in life in the same way that the material studied in graduate school is much more difficult than the lessons learned in 4th grade. A person cannot learn everything they need for a PhD in one year in the same way that a person cannot learn all of life’s lessons during one lifetime.
According to this “education theory,” death is like graduation. When the necessary lessons are learned, it is time to move on. Graduation is called commencement because it represents the beginning of a new experience instead of the end of the learning process. It is possible that only certain lessons can be learned under the conditions of a particular lifetime and after those lessons are learned, the person comes back to learn different lessons under different conditions. This theory is different from the Hindu caste system. The Hindu religion believes that someone is born to a lower caste because of mistakes from a previous life. The theory of “graduate school” is actually the reverse. It states that someone might be born to lower economic circumstances to learn harder lessons.
The education theory implies that we all have a critical path in life that combines free will and fate. Each individual chooses a path through free will but fate ensures that some critical points are reached on this path. Some people could have many critical points, while others may have only a few. For instance, meeting a spouse may be one of the critical points. It is possible that the intended spouse can help someone learn the necessary lessons or that karma needs to be resolved through the marriage.
The way we meet this particular person is determined by free will but if meeting this person is a pre-selected critical point, our free will always leads us to the same critical point. Some actions allow us to meet this person quickly, while other actions make the event happen slower. Yet, in either case, the point is reached.
For example, suppose Lisa must meet Tom because Tom can help her learn the lesson of compassion. The way that Lisa meets Tom is determined by free will, but the eventual act of meeting Tom is a critical point and determined by fate.
The diagram below shows three paths (determined by free will) that all lead to “
Although all three cases involve free will, they all end up at the critical point of meeting Tom. Each case varies according to the number of free will decision points. In the first case, only one decision was needed to reach
After Lisa meets and marries Tom, she reaches Critical Point B, which is learning compassion. This is a simplified diagram of the balance between fate and free will, but it illustrates that no matter what we choose, there are certain events that will happen, regardless of free will. Death is also probably a critical point. There are some people who believe that by exercising and eating right, they can live to an old age. However, if the death critical point happens when all necessary lessons are learned, eating right and exercising will have nothing to do with determining the date of reaching that critical point. An “accident” could occur to ensure that the critical point is reached at the right time.
Each person’s critical points may be tied to other people’s critical points. In the previous example, Tom also had a critical point of meeting Lisa. He also could have used free will to change the situation, which would automatically affect the critical path for Lisa. Drastic events that involve other people lives may be needed to reach critical points. For example, suppose a person's critical point is to learn courage and strength. In order to learn this lesson, the person may have to encounter many tragedies, including the death of a loved one, before the soul learns how to be strong.
In the interviews with Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell talks about Schopenhauer’s essay On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual, and says that Schopenhauer “points out that you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot. So who composed that plot? Schopenhauer suggests that just as your dreams are composed by an aspect of yourself of which your consciousness is unaware, so, too, your whole life is composed by the will within you. And just as people whom you will have met apparently by mere chance become leading agents in the structuring of your life, so, too, will you have served unknowingly as an agent, giving meaning to the lives of others. The whole thing gears together like some sort of symphony, with everything unconsciously structuring everything else. And Schopenhauer concludes that it is as though our lives were the features of the one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too; so that everything links to everything else, moved by the one will to life which is the universal will in nature… Everything arises in mutual relation to everything else, so you can’t blame anybody for anything. It is even as though there were a single intention behind it all, which always makes some kind of sense, though none of us knows what the sense might be.”
In turn, an expansion of the critical path theory is that each person’s critical path is not only tied to another person’s critical path but is also related to the necessary outcome of history. Quantum theory states that every future event has a certain probability of occurring. As free will changes, the future probabilities change. Each person’s critical path can be “managed” so that the necessary future probabilities keep increasing until the desired result is reached. The planning diagram is changing every second, based on every person’s free will. Each time a decision is made, a new path is created and all paths combined must end up at the desired result.
The sophistication of this planning effort is too complicated for any modern computer. It would mean that there are an infinite number of potential future time lines. They would all have to be known in the present and the “job” of the planning committee is to make sure that each person’s free will leads to critical points that interact with other people’s critical points to ensure that the “right” future time line is reached. If we assume that critical paths are "managed" then we cannot be judgmental about life's atrocities. For example, suppose that one of the future time lines is the destruction of earth, which could be the interactions of millions of people's future time lines. Then suppose that another time line is that Hitler rises to power, World War II happens, but the world is not destroyed. We may have been influenced to land on the World War II time line, so that ultimate destruction is avoided.
Based on this “planning model,” it seems that some sort of intervention may be needed to ensure a desired end result. For example, if a speeding car is going to be running a red light at
There is also the noted story about a man who reached an intersection at the exact time that another car was running a red light. He was rushed to the hospital and there was only one doctor who could have saved this man’s life. The doctor had left the hospital to go home and the fastest the doctor could return to the hospital was 45 minutes, which would have been too late to save the man’s life. Miraculously, at the moment they were making the call, the doctor walked back into the hospital because he had forgotten a gift for his wife. He arrived in time to save the man’s life. These are the miracles that we know about. However, the same miracle exists if the man had gotten to the intersection two minutes later because he couldn’t find his keys before he left the house. The second type of miracle happens everyday but we are just unaware that our lives have been saved. How do we know that we don’t get cancer once a month and miraculously it disappears before any symptoms appear?
The theory of “guides” has been authenticated in a number of books, based on real life experiences. For example, one night a woman was walking home by herself, and she saw a suspicious looking man standing in a dark alley. The man frightened her, so she increased her pace and got home as quickly as she could. When she read the paper the next day, she discovered that a different girl had been raped and killed at the same location four minutes after she passed the suspicious looking man. She went to the police and correctly identified the killer. During the criminal’s questioning, the police asked why he chose to attack the second girl instead of the first. The killer stated, “I would never have touched the first girl. Two huge men were with her. I never would have had a chance.” The police related the story back to the witness. “That’s impossible,” she said incredulously. “I was alone! There wasn’t anyone else in sight.” Another documented story was about a pilot who was flying in a small plane. Unexpectedly, he encountered a dense fog that dropped his visibility to zero. The pilot contacted the nearest control tower for an emergency landing. The air traffic controllers responded, “You should not try to land at this airport. The runway is completely surrounded by mountains. Even with perfect visibility, a landing is difficult.” The pilot felt that he had no other choice because he was running low on fuel and didn’t think he would make it to another airport. As the pilot tried to explain, he lost contact with the tower. A few minutes later, the radio started working again and he was carefully guided through the mountains for a safe landing. When the pilot touched ground, he expressed his extreme gratitude to the control tower for helping him through the fog. The air traffic controllers were shocked. “We never guided you down for a landing. We had recommended against it. We lost contact with you in the air and assumed that you had flown to another airport. We had no contact with you until you landed on the runway.” These are only two of the documented stories; there are thousands of other similar experiences.
Many unknowns are involved in the theory of critical paths. The theory combines free will, fate, reincarnation, spiritual guides and an ultimate plan for the universe and every single person on earth. Even if all elements are accepted, the education theory for spiritual evolution revolves around a central issue, “why would it be necessary for the soul to evolve?” It is possible that spiritual evolution is similar to physical evolution. With each genetic or spiritual change, the human being can adapt more effectively to its environment. The critical path theory just suggests that our ultimate goal is spiritual, rather than physical. Physical changes are necessary so that earth can be used as an effective school, or to ensure the survival of the species on this particular planet; but what is the purpose of spiritual evolution?
Many people believe we were created in the image of a superior being, but due to imperfections, we can never be the same as our creator. What if the goal of spiritual evolution is to become more similar to our creator so that we can effectively adapt to the spiritual environment? What if a part of us is always spiritual and we use the human experience to help develop the spiritual entity? Is it possible that throughout history, certain people reincarnate only to set an example of the goals that we are trying to reach? At different points in time, Moses, Jesus, the Buddha or Mohammad may have been the example. Today, it could be the Dalai Lama. All of these people exhibit characteristics that can be admired and followed.
What if the goal of spiritual evolution is exactly like academia? Is it possible that after we learn the required material, we can become teachers instead of students? Or maybe some of us will become creators on our own. To become a creator, a person would need to learn some extremely hard lessons. The potential creator would need to be able to love all children equally. Judgment could never be a part of the equation. Some people believe the ultimate purpose of the “earth school” is to learn unconditional love because the conditions on earth make unconditional love one of the hardest lessons to learn. In this lifetime, we will never know. The purpose of each person’s life can only be discovered through introspection.
Spiritual evolution can be a lonely process. This principle is best explained in the book The Road Less Traveled. According to Peck, “Someone who is approaching the peak of spiritual evolution is like someone at the peak of political power. There is no one above to whom to pass the buck; no one to blame; no one to tell you how to do it. There may not even be anyone on the same level to share the agony or the responsibility. Others may advise, but the decision is yours alone. You alone are responsible. In another dimension, the aloneness of enormous spiritual power is even greater than that of political power. Since their level of awareness is seldom as high as their exalted positions, the politically powerful almost always have their spiritual equals with whom they communicate. So presidents and kings will have their friends and cronies. But the person who has evolved to the highest level of awareness, of spiritual power, will likely have no one in his or her circle of acquaintances with whom to share such depth of understanding. One of the most poignant themes of the Gospels is Christ’s continual sense of frustration on finding that there was no one who could really understand him. No matter how hard he tried, how much he extended himself, he could not lift the minds of even his own disciples to his level. The wisest followed him but could not catch up with him, and all his love could not relieve him of the necessity to lead by walking ahead, utterly alone. This kind of aloneness is ‘shared’ by all who travel the farthest on the journey of spiritual growth. It is such a burden that it simply could not be borne were it not for the fact that as we outdistance our fellow humans our relationship to God inevitably becomes correspondingly closer. In the communion of growing consciousness, of knowing with God, there is enough joy to sustain us.”
I have always believed that I was in some sort of spiritual “school” but I thought that someone forgot to give me the curriculum. Where was the required reading list? Why doesn’t someone tell me when there is a pop quiz? One day, I just developed the curriculum on my own. There were enough clues about the lessons I needed to learn, I just needed to pay attention to them. I also realized that human role models are not always famous. The best teacher could be the person living next door. If we recognize that life is similar to education, we have to develop an internal commitment to keep studying because life’s lessons require an incredible amount of discipline and hard work. Most people just don’t want to work that hard so they find alternatives to learning. For example, they can go to class without doing their homework, they can skip class altogether, or they can go to class without hearing a word that the teacher has said.
Books on reincarnation agree that we develop our own syllabus for learning life’s lessons. As explained earlier, God doesn’t make bad things happen; we choose these things for the purpose of spiritual growth and God is there to help us endure the difficult circumstances that we have chosen to face. I have often believed that I was confused by the heavenly environment that surrounds us when we plan our lives. I think that I forgot the difficulty of The Earth School; and due to an over-ambitious desire to learn tough lessons I went too far. My unrealistic optimism may have caused me to set up conditions that were really too hard to handle. I was relieved when I read that I was not alone in this supposition. In the book, Life on the Other Side, Sylvia Browne says, “I’ve often said it shocks me that The Other Side is drug- and alcohol- free, because that means I was actually sober when I wrote my chart for this lifetime. For better or worse, though, we often feel so invincible in The Other Side’s atmosphere of bliss that we choose some incredibly massive obstacles for ourselves to confront on Earth.”
On many occasions, I have asked for an easier syllabus. Can’t I modify the curriculum? If I created this program of study, why can’t I change it?
However, I am not saying that we do not have the power to change our destiny. Our thoughts directly control reality and there is no curriculum that we can’t modify along the way. Every day we have an infinite number of choices – and it is our freedom of thought (or perceived lack of freedom) that shapes our future. The real truth is that there are no situations that we can't change; no ruts that we can't break, and no career paths that we can't alter. The correct metaphor is that we decided on the “grade” we would enter when we came to Earth, but the actual classes could always be changed during the journey. The process of “selecting the critical points” is metaphorically similar to determining the conditions that are necessary to pass the first year of a BA program in psychology (for example). When we were in college, we may have been told that a BA in Psychology requires the completion of one English class and this requirement could be fulfilled by taking Literature of the 18th century or Romantic Novellas. Correspondingly, we may have chosen a critical point to ensure that we satisfy the English requirement, but our free will determines which class we will take.
In life, lessons are learned through introspection, observation, listening or reading and our teacher is the inner voice that speaks to us in silence. Over time, it can be relatively easy to use the harsh sounds of the city to block the whispers of the sage. Or as Michael Berg says in The Way, “We must make a determined effort to hear the truth over the noise and negativity that pervade our world. Our task is to attune ourselves to the frequency of true wisdom and to train ourselves to hear it through the static that distracts so much of the world.” Learning life’s lessons requires strenuous travel down paths that have few road signs to lead the way. The fear of getting lost can be debilitating, and what would we do if we couldn’t find our way back home?
Finding home is discovering the essence of our heart and soul. No matter where we are, we can always find our way back. We may travel down some dead end roads and we may have to retrace our steps, but along the way, we will always find beauty. We may have to travel through dangerous terrain and we may injure ourselves temporarily as a result; but eventually, we always come home. The door opens, our loved ones welcome us back, and we embrace the familiarity of our nurturing environment.
Our most important critical point is death, but we need to understand that it is not the end of our existence. Instead, it is the beginning of a timeless eternity filled with love, hope, understanding, acceptance, and compassion. At the moment of death, we leave our physical home to enter our spiritual home -- and we finally realize that our separation was only an illusion. We may lose our way along the path of life, but we never lose ourselves.
Crossing the Bar
By Alfred Lord Tennyson
Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar
When I put out to sea.
But such a tide as moving seems asleep
Too full for sound and foam
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell
When I embark.
For tho’ from out our borne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far
I hope to see my Pilot face to faceWhen I have crost the bar.