Free Will

… the sages:
Manage the work of detached actions
Conduct the teaching of no words
They work with myriad things but do not control
They create but do not possess
They act but do not presume
They succeed but do not dwell on success
It is because they do not dwell on success
That it never goes away

TTC, Chapter 2, trans. Derek Lin

Free Will is a topic that has always fascinated me. Check out for a lengthy definition and explanation of the many aspects and philosophies surrounding this issue. Determinism and incompatibilism, libertarianism and compatibilism, argue one way or the other whether free will truly exists, or whether it is an illusion.

Wikipedia states that the I Ching contains “A shifting flow of probabilities for futures,” and that, “Probabilities take the center of the stage away from things and people. A kind of “divine” volition sets the fundamental rules for the working out of probabilities in the universe, and human volitions are always a factor in the ways that humans can deal with the real world situations one encounters. If one’s situation in life is surfing on a tsunami, one still has some range of choices even in that situation. One person might give up, and another person might choose to struggle and perhaps to survive. The Yi Jing mentality is much closer to the mentality of quantum physics than to that of classical physics, and also finds parallelism in voluntarist or Existentialist ideas of taking one’s life as one’s project.”

I myself tend to agree with the I Ching. I believe that our possible futures are constantly shifting, and that our decisions are based on our various backgrounds and psychologies. Whether Everything is predetermined is hard for me to say – it seems like if it were, life might seem fruitless – if it is, at least thinking we have a choice might be all we need. However, to control the Tao is not our job either – TTC#74, “Trying to control the future is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.”

But I do believe that within the Flow of things, within the Tao, exists the choice that will ultimately lead to the most harmonious outcome. We work with knowledge of the Tao, allowing it to guide us, not being too attached to the desired outcome. Finding the most harmonious path and allowing it to guide, is what I call ‘Surfing the Tao’ – yet I concede that for many of us, making such choices may require a ‘revolution’ of our (perceived) free will, since it may be against popular notions of ambition and wealth.

When the student is ready, the Master appears.

This saying has had profound meaning for me throughout my Journey. Looking back, I can see that the knowledge I sought rarely arrived before I was able to absorb it – and if it did, it reappeared again later so I could appreciate it with the right perspective. That goes for the people who arrived along my path too. When I was ready for the change a new person would bring, there they were. The better we get at Surfing the Tao, the easier it becomes to utilize this phenomenon. As another proverb so wisely states, “Teachers open the door, but you must enter yourself.”

20/20 hindsight is truly valuable, for if we can see the wisdom of our seemingly happenchance pasts, we can understand that the future is bound to bring us what we need, when we need it. What can seem like bumps along the path are merely necessary meanderings. We will only understand why later. “When the Way comes to an end, then change – having changed, you pass through.” (I Ching) This is a Way to Surf the Tao.