If we look at men in the mass, we must believe in the doctrine of fatalism. It applies to them. They are compelled by their environments, they struggle like animals to survive precisely because they are not too far removed from the animal kingdom which was the field of their previous reincarnational activity. They react like automatons under a dead weight of karma, move like puppets out of the blind universal instincts of nature. But this is not the end of the story. It is indeed only its beginning. For here and there a man emerges from the herd who is becoming an individual, creatively making himself into a fully human being. For him each day is a fresh experience, each experience is unique, each tomorrow no longer the completely inevitable and quite forseeable inheritance of all its yesterdays. From being enslaved by animality and fatality, he is becoming free in full humanity and creativity. (9-3.112)
Many Orientals put all happenings under the iron rule of karma. There is no free will, no individual control over them. One has to accept them fatalistically and, if dismayed by their evil, turn to the Spiritual Source for the only real happiness. In mental attitude, in personal inward response to events, lies one's chief freedom of will.
It might, however, be questioned how far such freedom is illusory, since the response, the attitude, are themselves conditioned by the past and many other things. It is quite correct to state that the past inclines us to think and act in a certain way. But it is also admitted that we can grow, can improve our lives and change in the course of time. So this is an admission that we are free to choose to grow or to remain exactly as we were. A man who commits robbery with violence may say that he is fated to act violently. With each offense, he is arrested and suffers imprisonment. After this has happened several times he begins to change his course. Eventually he fears imprisonment so much so that he resists temptation and ceases to be a criminal. This change of mental attitude was an act of free will. His past inclined him to the old direction but it did not compel him.
One of my readers claims that "the decision he makes is the only one he can make at the time." But the real situation is that it is the only decision he was willing to make. A man may not be conscious at first of conflict between two impulses inside himself. It is the presence of the Overself behind the ego which sets up the conflict. At first it remains in the subconscious, then in a dim vague way it becomes conscious. He may dismiss the alternative choice, but it was there all the time. Jesus said: "What you sow, you shall reap." The criminal chooses not to believe it, because he does not want to believe it. Inclinations from the past do not compel a man, but he unconsciously uses them as an excuse and claims he can do nothing else. The will is being expressed even when the man thinks he is, and seems to be, compelled to act in a certain way. It is expressed in the mental attitude adopted towards the situations in which he finds himself. Whenever he accepts the ordinary materialistic, negative, egoistic view of a situation, he is actually choosing that view. He is choosing even though he believes the contrary is true.
"Where there is no choice, where circumstances make the decision, one must bow one's head to them. Fatalism is acceptable only in the sense of recognizing what is inevitable and what is not. But fatalism is unacceptable as a blind, unquestioning, helpless submission to every happening."
-- Perspectives > Chapter 9: From Birth to Rebirth > # 55