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Divine Grace and Free Will
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In spiritual quest an aspirant often faces a peculiar dilemma or question of 'Divine Grace' vs. 'Free Will'. However, there is no easy and satisfactory answer to this problem. On the one hand, the Scriptures maintain that no amount of self-effort can be enough to realize Divine Consciousness, and on the other, it proclaims that Divine Grace cannot come without sincere efforts and spiritual practice! How to resolve these two contradictory statements?

Sadhaka (Spiritual Aspirant)

The purpose of spiritual life is to seek God or to experience Divinity of Self. For this it is necessary to somehow develop longing or yearning for God; it is necessary to feel love for God. Then only it is possible to realize Him, interact with Him. To develop such longing, spiritual disciplines are prescribed in all the religions and sects. Superficially such practices might appear different, but in essence they all help the sadhaka to turn away from the world of duality: of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, good and evil, and life and death. Spiritual practices help the sadhaka to transcend the realm of intellectual reason and enter the arena of intuition where all dualities end or are resolved. There only Light of Brahman shines.

Upanishads highlight some of the spiritual disciplines as contemplation and meditation, discrimination and dispassion, non-attachment and selfless service, and prayer and worship. In the Gita Sri Krishna has added two more paths 1) Karma Yoga, the path of selfless service and 2) Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion to already prevalent Jnana Yoga (path of knowledge) and Raja Yoga (path of mental control). All these methods and means are basically meant to purify the mind so that the aspirant may become fit to receive Divine Grace. In fact, God is Grace itself. His Grace is continuously blowing everywhere for everyone to make use of. However, just as for a boat to move forward the sails must be raised, similarly we should make ourselves fit to receive the 'wind of His Grace' by undertaking spiritual practices.

Practice and Grace

We do not feel or we are not aware of Divine Grace because of Primal Ignorance - Avidya - the power that superimposes non-self on Self. The ignorance superimposes 'illusory snake on the rope', and this superimposition creates an illusion of a real snake when in fact there is/was/will be none. This creates a panicky reaction and we either run away to seek safety or try to destroy the 'snake'. Similarly, 'Vidya' is also one form of ignorance that creates the illusion of gold ornament in place of rope and we rush to procure the same. In both the instances - either evil or good - we act with fear or attachment, thus forgetting the real nature of reality as rope. Such is the condition of this world; this world of joy and sorrow, happiness and suffering is superimposed upon the ever-Blissful, pure, unchanging, and beautiful 'Rope of Brahman'.

The Problem of Ignorance

Spiritual disciplines are meant to remove, even if temporarily, the scum accumulated over underlying pure expanse of Ocean Of Brahman. Then we see the real; then we experience the Truth of our Divinity. We don't have to become Divine, we are already that; we have to just remove the scum of worldliness superimposed on that Divinity.

Grace is Divinity Itself; it is ever existent, the only one Existence. Therefore, by practice (Free Will) we have to remove the dirt accumulated over the needle of our mind, which does not allow the magnet of God to attract us to Him. This is Divine Grace. Removing the dirt, tackling the primal Avidya or Ignorance is our problem; that we can overcome by spiritual disciplines. Then what remains? What is achieved? That all is Grace. Graceful union of the needle and the magnet, graceful reflection of our self in the peaceful and blissful ocean of Brahman is possible thus by self-effort.


As the mind becomes purer, it can understand the Graceful nature of Supreme Reality. Then the sadhaka does not pray to or worship some anthropomorphic God to bestow His Grace on him/her, but the aspirant realizes that the Grace he/she was praying for was in fact the God he was trying to seek. Grace and God become one. To a Jnani God comes as Universal Knowledge, to a yogi it comes as transcendental Consciousness, to a Bhakta God appears as his/her Chosen Deity, and to a yearning sadhaka He comes as Grace. The same Brahman, although having no name or form, or attributes, appears as having many attributes as per the aspirant's desire and approach towards Him.
c s shah
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