I think this is one question, for which it is difficult to define a right answer. There will always be two sides who can argue either way! Perhaps this depends on the viewpoint of the seeker! It always makes me thing about the wave and particulate nature of sub-atomic particles such as Photons. You always see what you want to see but you can't see both the properties simultaneously.
What I am going write below is my own reflection on this topic and I can't vouch for its accuracy. So don't base your understanding based on what I have written below, but reflect on this and if needed ask a bonafide spiritual master.
Before deliberating on this subject further, I would like to ask few questions. What is meant by free will? Is this the ability to do something that can't be predicted otherwise? If something can be predicted, how can that be free? Prediction is possible if the forces acting on a object are known and are judged. The question here is- how a object that behaves based on the action of various forces be free? Even if it is free- then to what extent? I am trying to answer these questions in my narration below!
It is important that predetermination must exist for Jyotish to work. If everything is random, then how is it possible to predict? Since Jyotish does work, a logical inference is that predetermination exists. Then the next logical question is- to what extent? Can Jyotish predict everything from the natal chart? If Jyotish can predict from the natal chart, then where is the free will? The free-will adds that element randomness in the whole picture that can make is impossible to predict.
So an important premise is, while predetermination makes it possible to predict, the free-will makes it impossible.
How free are we?
Now lets come back to the question of free will. How free are we? Can our behavior be predicted or is that completely random? I am sure you all will agree with me that the element of predictability makes us react and behave in certain ways when we meet someone be it one's mother, father, brothers, friends or a complete stranger. We anticipate that the other person is going to behave in a certain way and in that manner we also adapt our behavior. This is not only true with human behavior but everything living being.
There is always an element of predictability based on the species, gender, race, caste, religion and all those thing with which one can identify. Randomness will make it impossible for any two people to interact as this will not let the individuals to understand and anticipate each others behaviors.
So, how free are we? Are we not all conditioned? Don't we think and behave in certain pattern? Can we be free from the pattern that gives us the element of predictability. Can we move above all the preconditions that gives us a unique identity? That makes others perceive us in a certain way? Can we rise above our identity? Can we do something that is completely against our nature? If we can't, are we really free? Or we are just following the track in which we were initiated at the time of birth in some social condition and as we grew up we reinforced our identify and embraced the path more and more. Did we try to break free from the identify that was given to us? If not, how free are we? Have we risen above the gender based traits i.e., masculinity vs. femininity? Have we risen above our learning that we imbibe from our surroundings and society as a whole? If not, how free are we?
Thoughts from Gita
In reality, we are not as free as we would believe as to be. Our behaviors are not random and it can be predicted. The choices that we make in life is all based on the per-conditions. Based on our prior learning, inherent nature, social expectations etc. we are pushed in certain direction to make those choices. Albeit it is possible that we don't realize the invisible forces that push us towards specific choices in life and deluded to assume that we have been completely free in making those choices.
nibaddhah svena karmana
kartum necchasi yan mohat
karisyasy avaso ‘pi tat (18:60)
hrd-dese ‘rjuna tisthati
yantrarudhani mayaya (18:61)
Translation: Lord Krsna advises Arjuna that even if he refuses to act, then modes of Nature (Guna) within him will prod him act; because it is the Lord who sits within the heart of all creatures and turns them as if mounted on a machine by the illusion of Nature.
This indicates how much we are the slaves of the Guna that we imbibe, and how much we are at its mercy. The scriptures teaches about 3 Gunas, Sattva - Rajas - Tamas which are the mode of knowledge/liberation/ freedom, the mode of passion/desire/action and the mode of ignorance/inaction respectively.
Whether or not we want to do something, the inherent Guna prods us to act in a certain manner that is consistent with those Gunas. So, are we really free? Perhaps yes, when we endowed with Sattva which has the ability to grant complete freedom!
Why must there be predestination?
The laws of Karma is the only answer to this question. This is the answer to the question regarding "why we are not born all equals?", "why we are not given the same opportunities?" and "even when we are given the same opportunities, why we don't reach the same destination?". According the law of karma, what you sow is what you reap. If one has done good Karma in the past lives, he gets the good results of such good actions and vice-versa. If one has given happiness to someone in past, so does the person receive happiness in this life.
If we are completely free in our action in a life, then what happens to the Past Karma? That way a criminal will come out scot-free without any repercussions of the negative action. Can the divine principle that governs the universe be so unfair?
The past karma manifest situations in this life in which we reap the results of those karma. While there are also some karma which are fresh and are not an outcome of the past life karma. Such karma give us the opportunity to redeem the mistakes done in past and liberate ourselves from the shackles of Karma and predestination. The liberation is not only from the negative karma, but also the positive karma. As long as we need to experience the fruits of the karma, we need to take birth. We are free only when we have no compulsion to take birth which we can attain when we realize that we are not the do'er of an action but just an instrument.
Why must there be free will?
The past life karma manifest certain conditions in this life in terms of in the circumstances in which we are born, they also manifest certain traits, skills, talent, attitude and nature that makes us see the world in a certain manner and also act in a certain manner. In summary, the past karmas per-disposes us towards things which are predestined.
However, the divine consciousness is not cruel through dispassionate. It gives us opportunity in little spurts to do actions which are not pre-destined; actions that are fresh and those which has the ability to alter the flow of Karma. Without this, we become mere slave of our past with no ability to do anything about it. Although many think that, that is the truth - it is a fatalistic viewpoint and is not supported by the Shastras. Such thinking take one towards inaction and away from the notion of freedom.
The only way to attain freedom is to be mentally free. Lord Krsna teaches us to perform the karma in the most dispassionate way. He advises us to keep doing our karma (duties and obligations) as if we are following an invisible master and not to be bothered about the results of such action. This attitude towards action slowly and steadily liberates us from the self identification with the results and thus also grant freedom from the outcome (for which we must take birth to experience). Such dispassionate action grants freedom mentally and breaks the shackles that binds us from our past lives; which prod us to act in certain manner that is consistent with the results acquired from the past life actions.
The concept of freedom is enlightening and empowering as this gives us the power to act to do things which enlighten us and not bind us to this world. This also moves one closer and closer to the final destination of liberation (from the cycles of life and death). This also gives hope that there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel; that we are not doomed for ever into the quagmire of darkness and misery.
Although there is freewill, the ability to exert is not the same in everyone. People with higher spiritual evolution have relatively higher freedom to determine their action and ability craft their future. Those who acknowledge the presence of a spiritual world and a divine force has higher likelihood of given freedom to break-free from the past karma and also start moving in the path to liberation.
How does the predestination start?
What we experience in this life is to a large extent per-determined by the karma of the past no doubt. Bhagavadgita alludes to this fact by saying that the soul takes a body which is appropriate to experience what the soul must based on the past life karma. Hence, it is possible for a glutton to take birth as a pig and a person always thinking about sex to take birth as a dog. Although these examples are extreme, but they are probable. For many of us, even if we take birth, it is always consistent with the past life karma so that it gives us the ideal circumstances to experience the outcome of our past actions. This is the reason why someone would born in the family of a king while someone else to a prostitute.
The predestination stats from the moment of conception, as once the soul enters a womb, there is no way the mother can be changed! The birth circumstances has a strong say on the various experiences the person will undergo in this birth. If one is on a spiritual path, one will be given birth in a family which progresses one spiritual path, so and so forth.
Making the concept simple!
The karma is like a flowing river having certain water currents. The soul is traveling in the water current in a boat and is taken to certain destination irrespective of the will of the person. The relative will of the person can give the ability to steer the boat. However, this is not full freedom but bounded freedom. The ability to use freewill to go to a certain station on the bank of the river depends on the river current (predestination) and the ability to steer the boat (freewill). Someone who is not able to see the water current is deluded into believing that he has used his freewill to reach certain destination.
While the person is able to control the boat to some extent, the current of water is beyond control. The only way to attain full liberation is to row upstream and reach the place from where the stream started flowing. Different people have different level of strength of water current depending on their spiritual evolution. For highly spiritually evolved soul, there is no current in water and the person is able to boat in any direction in the water, going upstream or downstream with his own will. However, for those who are less evolved, the current is very strong and pushes them towards downstream till the time, they realize the truth and evolve.
The water current is nothing but the material instincts that bind us, that prods us to act in a certain way. The instinct is strongest in Tamas Guna (ignorance), moderate in Rajas Guna (passion) and least is Sattva Guna (knowledge).
While it is possible to become free as everyone in the world is given the root impulse of freedom, the ability to exert freedom depends on the mode of one's nature. As one moves from Tamas->Rajas->Sattva, one gets more and more liberated. Finally the time comes when one is completely free.
Jyotish's ability to predict
The ability of Jyotish (Vedic-Astrology) to predict depends on the level of predisposition and precondition binding a person. As long as the action falls into a pattern, it can be predicted.
However, as one evolves in the spiritual evolution cycle, the freewill increases. As the freewill increases, Jyotish becomes lesser and lesser effective in predicting the actions. The person having complete freedom has the ability to manifest any environment and their actions are completely free from any preconditions. For such cases, it is futile to use Jyotish to predict. This is the reason why the Shastras advises not to predict the death of spiritual souls, saints and mystics as they have the ability to chose when they want to leave this mortal plane.
Where free will works, is Jyotish completely dysfunctional? The answer to this question is given by Prasna Marga by Harihara. While the predisposition and precondition in which one has taken birth can be be seen from the conception chart and natal chart, the alteration of the path by exertion of the freewill can cause inconsistencies in the prediction. Many predictions done based on the natal chart can go wrong in such cases. Hence, the advise is to use Prasna (Horoscope of that moment) which shows the path of the soul at that very moment!
- If the Prasna indicate better combinations than the natal chart, this indicates the soul has progressed forward in this birth till the moment of Prasna.
- If the Prasna indicate adverse combinations than the natal chart, this indicates the soul had regressed backward in this birth till the moment of Prasna.
- If the Prasna neither indicate better nor adverse combinations, then the soul is just continuing in the path it has been following from past.
So, while using Jyotish to predict from natal chart can be futile in the cases of souls who have the ability to exert freedom, there is a way to decipher them using Prasna. Hence a combination of Natal Chart and Prasna Chart can be used to predict everything at every stage. The Prasna chart should be given more weightage in the cases of souls having higher power to exert freedom.