About two decades ago, I was teaching Indian Percussion to a
kid over the weekend. Unexpectedly, the kid asked if I could teach him a piece
of music of his choice — which he had heard somewhere but was not a part of the
curriculum I had developed for these classes. While teaching music, I used to expect
my students to follow the curriculum I had set, which involved lessons in their
natural sequence. But now I had a choice: to teach what he wanted or refuse. I
opted to teach him his preferred piece of music. My slight flexibility worked
like a gift for the kid and resulted in a smile on his face.
In this interaction, I also learned a couple of lessons.
When the universe gives us a choice, our tiniest decisions can make someone
else happy. Moreover, such decisions, if towards goodness, can consequently
connect us with happiness, even if momentarily.
Another lesson was that while teaching, the teaching paradigm that had worked for one student may not work for another student. Because the universe changes continuously and every human is different, I would have to go forward with a dynamic teaching approach.
In life, even our trivial interactions with people have a say in forming our disposition, which defines our behaviour for the next moment — and how we approach bigger problems. And they affect the people around us as well.
Which is the best place to start our search for God? Because there is no single correct answer, the workable answer depends on our disposition. We can search for God in churches, mosques, and temples — which are all traditional and established places for spiritual connectivity. These places can transfer positive energies as well as blessings from priests and saints who regularly visit them. We can also search for God in our homes. In fact, while we pray, we can request God to meet us in person one day.
Among all beings in the universe, God, the Supreme Being, is the most accessible to all. Because God is omnipresent, we can even remember Him periodically at our workplace and say a word or two to Him whenever we feel like. We can talk to Him while assuming that He lives in our own hearts and always listens.
Some saints believe that the power of God is present not only in every living being but also in every object. In one of his poems, Saint Kabirdasa says that humans often “forget that just like scent, which resides in flowers, it is the Divine who pervades every object and being” . Along these lines, we can start our search for God by appreciating that God is the nourisher of every soul. At the same time, we should remember that God, being transcendental, is beyond every object and living being.
 I have mentioned this previously in a blog post.
Once upon a time, a five year old prince named Dhruva lived
in a palace with his father, who was the king, his mother, and his step-mother.
While the child was well supported by his mother, his father and step-mother,
at times, mistreated him. Depressed, the child consulted his mother about how
he could obtain better care from his father. Dhruva’s mother said, “Our ill
luck may be behind what is happening with us. But there is a solution to every
problem. Why don’t you consult a sage?”
Dhruva met a sage, who clearly understood what the problem was. The sage said, “Changing the attitude of people towards you is not an easy task. You can make yourself more worthy of your family’s love by worshiping Vishnu, the Supreme Soul. Vishnu will change your destiny. He will also give you a designation in this universe that you truly deserve.”
Dhruva followed the sage’s advice and started worshipping Vishnu regularly. After a few months, Vishnu appeared and blessed Dhruva with spiritual knowledge, love of his family, and an improved fate. God liked his new child devotee so much that He blessed Dhruva with a position in the universe that none had; Dhruva was blessed with thousands times more radiance than the sun. Even today, the pole star in the night sky, which represents a fraction of Dhruva’s manifested energy, reminds us of God’s enormous grace on Dhruva.
Whenever we do something for God, our effort becomes a means of bringing us closer to God — the source of all happiness. In other words, we can gain happiness from our simplest efforts by offering them to God.
Efforts that convert to fame and money may have their importance in the real world but are considered perishables in spirituality. On the other hand, if we read a prayer to God or light a candle in front an image of God, it may bring more permanent results in terms of happiness. Why? Because God, who dwells in every heart and is the real witness of all our karma, gives the fruits of every action according to his own wish. If we have done something that should attract happiness, God will eventually give it to us.
Even career-conscious human beings can gain permanent happiness by forming a relationship with God. One approach of connecting to happiness on the workplace is by forming a harmony with karma yoga. To trigger this yoga, we have to make sure that we trust God. By remembering God at times and by surrendering our actions to God, we can remain unmoved by success and failure. As we move forward, we will see that our trust on God makes God’s grace the source of our happiness, not material success.
Knowledge from scriptures and self-realized individuals has its importance in guiding us towards happiness. In fact, scriptures supposedly provide us with viewpoints of human beings, generally saints, who have already realized God. Because God may directly guide a human being towards himself through inspirations and other means, personal experiences are equally important in spirituality. Personal spiritual experiences can range from chanting a name of God and listening to discourses to having a face-to-face meeting with God (darshan), where applicable. In our professional endeavours or our spiritual journey, whenever in doubt, we can always request God to guide us rather than making concrete assumptions about how the universe works or what our favourite scripture actually says.
No matter how focused and self-assured we happen to be in our spiritual pursuits, our own potential may not be adequate to give us deliverance from the universe. This is one reason why devotional saints have considered the grace of God so important in the context of liberation. Surrender of the self to the Divine makes us more worthy of His grace, which is our ticket to gaining eternal proximity to God.
Reflecting on the glory of God’s grace, Saint Tulasidasa has said, “Ja par kripa Rama ki hoi, ta par kripa kare sab koi,” which basically means, “Whoever is blessed by the grace of God wins the grace of every single being in the universe.” For human beings, it is the grace of God that transforms as guidance and blessings from mentors and saints, as guidance from scriptures, as positive energy from places of worship, and as the development of virtues like forgiveness and patience.
It is God’s grace that protects us from all kinds of sufferings, brings us in contact with true and spiritual friends, gets reflected as selflessness in our work, and provides us with food and other basic needs. God’s grace, in one of its highest forms, becomes bhakti (devotion), the basis of our spiritual connection to God. Once bhakti — the love of God — is granted to us, peace, bliss, and liberation always follow it.
Hinduism does not give a single answer that fits everyone; depending on whether the spiritual seeker believes in a non-dualistic or dualistic philosophy, the person’s stand on free will may be different.
From the non-dualist’s perspective
The Advaitin or non-dualist believes that events of the physical universe are like waves rising from an ocean, symbolizing God. This viewpoint supports no free will. All human actions, in reality, find their source in God. If an egoistic feeling of free will is present, it is due to illusion or due to the absence of God-realization. For the God-realized saint who has experienced the oneness of the self and God, the question eventually becomes redundant.
From the dualist’s perspective
Many believers of dualism support the existence of free will, even if they are not aware of this. It is even possible that free will was granted to human beings by God. The existence of free will does find some support in the early chapters of the Bhagavad Gita, depending upon which translation/interpretation is used. The scripture holds that karma of the past are responsible for our circumstances in the present moment. Supporting free will puts the blame of a human’s present circumstances (and of distress in the world) on the human being rather than on God. For most people, having some free will is a better answer for many purposes, even if it is not true. In spite of being an Advaitin, Sri Aurobindo (b. 1872), a famous Hindu philosopher, has stated, “The sense of free will, illusion or not, is a necessary machinery of the action of Nature, necessary for man during his progress, and it would be disastrous for him to lose it before he is ready for a higher truth .”
As for God-realized devotional saints (bhakti saints), their answer may not differ from that of the Advaitin. People in the refuge of God act in accordance with God’s wish, for they become God-inspired. Because most classical books on Hindu spirituality have been written by God-realized people, books generally discourage free will in Hinduism. The devotional, even if dualistic, generally discourage free will as they find it egoistical, in relation to God.
Reality may be perceived differently by a commoner in comparison to a saint; it is possible that reality is dynamic, and it changes for the spiritual seeker as he or she evolves spiritually. Even if free will is initially present and has been granted by God (while creating the universe), it may get renounced on our path towards God.
Free will and predeterminism
If a group of 50 people are requested to select between vanilla ice cream and chocolate ice cream, would God know the outcome beforehand? Would he know how many people would choose vanilla and how many would choose chocolate? Yes, he should; every choice will depend on one’s disposition, which, in turn, depends upon samskaras or karmic impressions. Choices made within the karmic field, if present, are in accordance with the laws of nature , defined by God. This does not mean that free will is not present; God can still figure out the future and stop an act if He wants to.
God may have hidden some answers from us while creating the universe; the existence of free will may be one of them. But devotional spirituality aims at recognizing the God-centricity of the universe, working in accordance with God’s wish, and aspiring to eventually reach God.
 Essays on the Gita by Sri Aurobindo
 According to Hindu philosophy, Nature binds all eternal souls to the material world through her three modes – goodness, passion, and darkness. Please check out this article for an introduction to these modes of nature.