I heard a saying once, attributed to Paramahamsa Ramakrishna: “Everybody has free will to choose the form in which they want to worship Krishna”, as an explanation of free will. I reduced this to the core statement, that free will exists only for God and the saints, because everybody else has so many conditions imposed upon them, it would be ridiculous to even speak of any kind of freedom of will. However, it is intuitive to people that they have this or that kind of freedom, and my parsing of Ramakrishna’s dictum is usually rejected on the intuitive level. Also, the concept of desire is very quickly introduced in any discussion about free will, so we’ll need to deal with that, as well.
I have a nasty joke from the former Yugoslavia as an illustration of the relationship between freedom and desire. The adapted version would go somewhat like this:
A guy was cornered by the street gang, and they asked him, do you want us to do it with or without lube? The guy thinks and answers, “with lube”. The gang leader shouts out: “Hey Lube, come over here, this faggot wants it bad”.
That’s the position we’re in, while in this world, and I remember this every time I hear some Hindu preacher start about how the desires need to be controlled because they somehow stand between ourselves and God. The guy cornered by a gang of sodomites actually has a hierarchy of desires; he wishes never to have found himself in that situation in the first place. Barring that, he wants to be out of there unharmed and instantly. Barring that, he would prefer to fight his way out of the situation, but there are too many of them and he assesses his chances and concludes that his options are to be either killed or beaten up first and then raped, and to be raped with varying degrees of bodily harm, and then appears to choose the option with the least harm.
That is what I call a conditioned desire, and all the desires we ever had in this world are likely of this kind, and when someone takes the last iteration of the process and claims that this thing is an actual desire, I think of that joke instantly, because one’s desire for a new car or a house or a new phone is exactly as free as that guy’s “desire” to be fucked with lube, and the Hindu or Buddhist preacher talking against desires is basically humiliating the victim of violence by claiming that “he wants it bad”.
Let me illustrate this with my own hierarchy of desires.
I want to be in God forever with no limitations of any kind, to either my consciousness, form of existence, memory, knowledge, power or freedom. I can’t have that, because reasons. OK, if I have to be here in this lunatic asylum / prison, can I have at least some of my stuff back so that I don’t have to feel like a bonsai kitten in every way possible? Nope, because reasons. [several iterations later] OK, I see where this is going, I’ll go buy a lawn mower to trim the grass on someone else’s lawn that I’m renting because I don’t have anything better to do anyway and I need a workout.
At this point the Hindu preacher pisses himself with happiness because he found the reason for all my problems: it’s the desire for a lawn mower that was preventing me from being with God all this time, and if I only gave it up and not act on it everything would be great, to which I roll my eyes and think “please kill me now”.
Basically, you’ll know what your desires actually are only as you start approaching the actual freedom. I would classify desires as intrinsic and extrinsic, where the intrinsic ones are the ones you would have in your pure, unlimited state, and for all I know, you might still want lube at that point, but I somehow don’t think so. The extrinsic ones come from the circumstances, and can be described as a desire for hell not to be as hot, or a desire for some toy so you don’t go crazy thinking about all the things you can’t do. Basically, the desire for sun block with protective factor of ten million ends as soon as you’re removed from hell.