Free will happens when a person is absolutely independent of the world, and thinks, speaks and chooses without any influence from the environment or culture. A person with free will can live in absolute aloneness, and act on the world with total freedom.
Is this state of free will even possible?
Humans are not born as clean slates. They come into the world with their own particular nature, constitution or temperament, which shapes the way they will respond to the world and the environment with maturity. Some of the foundation of future behavior is laid into a person before they are even born.
This constitution is the result of countless past generations and their interaction with the environment, which is transmitted through the parents. Although parents are the immediate transmitters of the genes that make up the individual, that gene pool contains many streams from the past, long before the parents were born.
After birth, culture starts the process of conditioning the human child. On the foundation of the constitution or nature of a person, cultural conditioning creates someone who is ready to be assimilated and absorbed by society. In essence, a person or an individual is the result of the genetic makeup and the programming done by culture. While genetics create a general biological and psychological template, cultural and social influences fill in the specific details of the individual.
But free will is neither possible biologically, nor psychologically. Nonetheless, the mind or ego thinks that it possesses free will. The concept of free will is the result of the ignorance of the mind — an illusion of the ego. In this ignorance, the mind is not aware of its own nature, limitations, and dependence.
The mind emerges from the interaction of two forces — nature and nurture. Nature provides general biological conditioning, and nurture gives us a specific cultural programming. As the mind crystallizes out of these fluid influences of nature and nurture, it forgets its own original nature. By being fearful of death, the mind or ego wants to become supremely powerful in order to control the processes of life and thus, death. The mind or ego thinks that by free will, it is able to think, choose and act as it wishes.
As we are developing a more scientific understanding of our world and of our own physical body and mind, it is becoming clear that there are no independent entities, individuals or even thoughts in the universe, which is the most basic requirement of free will. Everything is connected with everything else. The perception of independent parts in our universe is an illusion. Instead, we must see the universe as wholeness, in which each part forms an integral aspect of that whole.
The absence of free will doesn't mean the absence of freedom — life always gives us a great many choices. We can think of life as having a great range of potentialities, which may become an actuality or realization as awareness increases. Less awareness means less freedom. As awareness expands, we discover ever-increasing freedom. Each human being lives in a different level of awareness, and thus has a different amount of freedom. A sage lives in more freedom than a politician or businessman.
But these doors and this freedom are not the result of free will, because they are not the creation of the mind or ego. This freedom is there as the part of the wholeness which is beyond ego. As we make a choice on the path to freedom, new doors open and bring us more freedom. Finally, a point comes when this freedom becomes boundless, timeless, and infinite. At that point all doors disappear, and no structure confining human life is left.
Such an experience is a cosmic state, completely beyond the confines of the mind and ego. In this state there is no free will, but total freedom.