Did the Buddha teach we have choice? (aka The Great Free Will v Determinism Debate)

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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Sam Vara
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Re: Free Will

Post by Sam Vara » Wed Nov 08, 2017 2:45 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
Wed Nov 08, 2017 5:58 am
pegembara wrote:
Wed Nov 08, 2017 5:50 am
Perhaps one should inquire if one's intentions are conditioned or unconditioned. ...
In brief, the argument (which is probably not particularly original) is that the intention allows us to have some insight into someone's mind, and how the person is likely to behave in the future. If someone accidentally bumps into you, they are not likely to do it in the future and no action is required. If they intentionally punch you, they can be presumed to be somewhat dangerous, and need to be dealt with.
Yes, it's David Hume.

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Zom
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Re: Free Will

Post by Zom » Wed Nov 08, 2017 3:57 pm

Conditioned.
True. However, an unenlightened person doesn't see this and agrees that "his" will is "free". This very idea is based on the deepest inner sense of selfhood. And this is why, according to paticca-samuppada, ignorance leads to kammic activities, which, in turn, require such thing as will (or intention) to operate. And this is why arahants do not create any kamma 8-)

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Sam Vara
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Re: Free Will

Post by Sam Vara » Wed Nov 08, 2017 6:10 pm

Zom wrote:
Wed Nov 08, 2017 3:57 pm
True. However, an unenlightened person doesn't see this and agrees that "his" will is "free". This very idea is based on the deepest inner sense of selfhood. And this is why, according to paticca-samuppada, ignorance leads to kammic activities, which, in turn, require such thing as will (or intention) to operate. And this is why arahants do not create any kamma 8-)
Thanks for this, Zom; it's interesting and well-explained. If one takes this view, what does one then make of Right Effort? Is the effort to attain enlightenment not real, or not really an attribute of the one who apparently makes the effort? If it is not "his" will, then whence the attainment? If it is not "free", then was the attainment pre-determined by something else?

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mikenz66
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Re: Free Will

Post by mikenz66 » Wed Nov 08, 2017 6:35 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Wed Nov 08, 2017 2:45 pm
mikenz66 wrote:
Wed Nov 08, 2017 5:58 am
pegembara wrote:
Wed Nov 08, 2017 5:50 am
Perhaps one should inquire if one's intentions are conditioned or unconditioned. ...
In brief, the argument (which is probably not particularly original) is that the intention allows us to have some insight into someone's mind, and how the person is likely to behave in the future. If someone accidentally bumps into you, they are not likely to do it in the future and no action is required. If they intentionally punch you, they can be presumed to be somewhat dangerous, and need to be dealt with.
Yes, it's David Hume.
Thanks, I can see some of that in this article: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hume-freewill/

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mikenz66
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Re: Free Will

Post by mikenz66 » Wed Nov 08, 2017 6:51 pm

And here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hum ... onsibility
David Hume wrote: Actions are, by their very nature, temporary and perishing; and where they proceed not from some cause in the character and disposition of the person who performed them, they can neither redound to his honour, if good; nor infamy, if evil.
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Re: Free Will

Post by Zom » Thu Nov 09, 2017 1:13 am

Thanks for this, Zom; it's interesting and well-explained. If one takes this view, what does one then make of Right Effort? Is the effort to attain enlightenment not real, or not really an attribute of the one who apparently makes the effort? If it is not "his" will, then whence the attainment? If it is not "free", then was the attainment pre-determined by something else?
The effort is real, and it is based on our real feeling of "free will". If we want, we do actions, if we don't - we don't. Usually, though, we don't inquire why do we want or do not want .) We just either do not see why, or don't bother at all.

The thing is - Buddha never said that our will if "free" or "not free". What he kept saying, is that if we aim and strive - we will get a result. If we don't do that, the result will never come. Very pragmatic!

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Re: Free Will

Post by BlueLotus » Thu Nov 09, 2017 2:42 am

It seems that your thoughts create form (see paticcasamuppada). Thoughts seem to create our reality. Don't believe me. Reflect on a thought pattern for a period of time and see how it materializes in your reality.

So, if thoughts create reality, you can change your reality by consciously changing your thoughts. There is your free-will.

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Re: Free Will

Post by pegembara » Thu Nov 09, 2017 4:13 am

L.N. wrote:
Wed Nov 08, 2017 2:43 pm
pegembara wrote:
Wed Nov 08, 2017 5:50 am
Perhaps one should inquire if one's intentions are conditioned or unconditioned.
Conditioned.
And it is precisely because they are conditioned that there is the possibility of change for better or worse. Change isn't the problem. Ignorance is. The mistake is to think that one can control change in such a way as to expect things to become better.

I ask the Kinsman of the Sun, the great seeker,
About seclusion and the state of peace.
Seeing what is a bhikkhu quenched,
Not grasping at anything in the world?

Buddha
One should completely extract
The root of proliferation and reckoning—
The notion, “I am the thinker”.
One should train to dispel whatever craving
There is inside, ever mindful.

Whatever principle they have known for themselves,
Whether internally or externally,
They would not be stubborn about that,
For good people say that this is not quenching.

https://suttacentral.net/en/snp4.14
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.

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Re: Free Will

Post by L.N. » Thu Nov 09, 2017 5:56 am

No discussion on the Buddhist perspective of "free will" would be complete without reference to the Attakari Sutta. Following is a link to an interesting PDF on it: link.

Following is the version from Access to Insight:
Then a certain brahman approached the Blessed One; having approached the Blessed One, he exchanged friendly greetings. After pleasant conversation had passed between them, he sat to one side. Having sat to one side, the brahman spoke to the Blessed One thus:

“Venerable Gotama, I am one of such a doctrine, of such a view: ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer.’”[1]

“I have not, brahman, seen or heard such a doctrine, such a view. How, indeed, could one — moving forward by himself, moving back by himself [2] — say: ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer’? What do you think, brahmin, is there an element or principle of initiating or beginning an action?”[3]

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“When there is an element of initiating, are initiating beings [4] clearly discerned?”

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“So, brahmin, when there is the element of initiating, initiating beings are clearly discerned; of such beings, this is the self-doer, this, the other-doer. [5]

“What do you think, brahmin, is there an element of exertion [6] ... is there an element of effort [7] ... is there an element of steadfastness [8] ... is there an element of persistence [9] ... is there an element of endeavoring?” [10]

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“When there is an element of endeavoring, are endeavoring beings clearly discerned?”

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“So, brahmin, when there is the element of endeavoring, endeavoring beings are clearly discerned; of such beings, this is the self-doer, this, the other-doer. I have not, brahmin, seen or heard such a doctrine, such a view as yours. How, indeed, could one — moving forward by himself, moving back by himself — say ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer’?”

“Superb, Venerable Gotama! Superb, Venerable Gotama! Venerable Gotama has made the Dhamma clear in many ways, as though he were turning upright what had been turned upside down, revealing what had been concealed, showing the way to one who was lost, or holding up a lamp in the dark: ‘Those who have eyes see forms!’ Just so, the Venerable Gotama has illuminated the Dhamma in various ways. I go to Venerable Gotama as refuge, and to the Dhamma, and to the assembly of monks. From this day, for as long as I am endowed with breath, let Venerable Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has gone to him for refuge.”
The footnotes are worth a read. See also the following article: http://enlight.lib.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/ ... 222515.pdf

As noted elsewhere in the topic above, various valid perspectives are possible and may be helpful to a particular person at a particular point. Ultimately, I believe there comes a time to abandon/renounce/surrender/entirely let go of whatever we might regard as our "free will." For some, this may be a terrifying prospect.
Sire patitthitā Buddhā
Dhammo ca tava locane
Sangho patitthitō tuiham
uresabba gunākaro


愿众佛坐在我的头顶, 佛法在我的眼中, 僧伽,功德的根源, 端坐在我的肩上。

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manas
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'The illusion of free will' by Sam Harris is a dangerous idea, but can anyone disprove it?

Post by manas » Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:01 pm

It runs counter to what the Buddha taught, and furthermore, it could lead some people to stop making an effort to improve themselves, since according to Harris that effort, too, is predetermined, and whether you try or not, won't change what is already preordained to occur. Yet despite my revulsion for it, and the fact that on an intuitive, experiential level, I feel it is incorrect, I find myself unable to definitely prove him wrong on an intellectual level. Can anyone prove him wrong, definitively?
Last edited by manas on Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"To these too I teach the Dhamma which is lovely in its beginning, lovely in its middle and lovely in its ending, in spirit and in letter, I display to them the holy life, perfectly fulfilled and purified."
- from the Desanaa Sutta

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Re: 'The illusion of free will' by Sam Harris is a dangerous idea, but can anyone disprove it?

Post by retrofuturist » Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:07 pm

Greetings Manas,

Here's an interesting topic from days of old, which seems relavent to your line of inquiry...

Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Metta,
Paul. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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manas
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Re: 'The illusion of free will' by Sam Harris is a dangerous idea, but can anyone disprove it?

Post by manas » Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:13 pm

Thanks Retro, I didn't know this issue has already been discussed. I'm reading that Topic now. :anjali:
"To these too I teach the Dhamma which is lovely in its beginning, lovely in its middle and lovely in its ending, in spirit and in letter, I display to them the holy life, perfectly fulfilled and purified."
- from the Desanaa Sutta

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Sam Vara
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Re: 'The illusion of free will' by Sam Harris is a dangerous idea, but can anyone disprove it?

Post by Sam Vara » Tue Nov 28, 2017 11:18 pm

manas wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:01 pm
I find myself unable to definitely prove him wrong on an intellectual level.
Don't take a knife to a gunfight. Prove him wrong on a practical level.

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Will
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Re: 'The illusion of free will' by Sam Harris is a dangerous idea, but can anyone disprove it?

Post by Will » Tue Nov 28, 2017 11:54 pm

manas wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:01 pm
It runs counter to what the Buddha taught, and furthermore, it could lead some people to stop making an effort to improve themselves, since according to Harris that effort, too, is predetermined, and whether you try or not, won't change what is already preordained to occur. Yet despite my revulsion for it, and the fact that on an intuitive, experiential level, I feel it is incorrect, I find myself unable to definitely prove him wrong on an intellectual level. Can anyone prove him wrong, definitively?
Fie & hogwash on Mr Harris.

There is not an 'ocean' of causes that affect one individual now, but a stream of karma-fruition induced by our previous births. Even then, past karmic effects, good or bad, can be increased or mitigated by thoughts, words & deeds now.

However, his will to believe in his view will be supported, for him, by his motivation to deny free-wiil. For Buddha defined karma as intention or will or motive. In short, he is digging his own grave - spiritually speaking.
Last edited by Will on Wed Nov 29, 2017 12:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
Distrust everyone in whom the impulse to punish is powerful!
Nietzsche

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Re: 'The illusion of free will' by Sam Harris is a dangerous idea, but can anyone disprove it?

Post by DooDoot » Tue Nov 28, 2017 11:56 pm

manas wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:01 pm
It runs counter to what the Buddha taught....
Imo, it doesn't. To me, the above statement misrepresents what the Buddha taught. Refer to link: viewtopic.php?t=28065
manas wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:01 pm
...furthermore, it could lead some people to stop making an effort to improve themselves...
Imo, it doesn't. While it pains me to defend Sam Harris, to me, the above statement misrepresents what Sam Harris taught.
manas wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:01 pm
since according to Harris that effort, too, is predetermined, and whether you try or not, won't change what is already preordained to occur.
My impression is Harris said an individual deposition, including willingness & capacity to change, is pre-ordained by luck. In other words, willful change is possible, as long as the willingness & capacity to change exists due to sheer luck. For example, when Sam used the example of a psychopath, Sam was referring to an individual largely incapable of positive moral change.
manas wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:01 pm
Yet despite my revulsion for it, and the fact that on an intuitive, experiential level, I feel it is incorrect, I find myself unable to definitely prove him wrong on an intellectual level.
The intuition, intellect or 'soul' referred to above is the very mental disposition Sam was referring to in the video; which came into existence via sheer luck. For example, unlike you, I had no intellectual dilemma with what Sam proposed.
manas wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:01 pm
Can anyone prove him wrong, definitively?
What's to prove wrong? :shrug:
Bhikkhus, it is on account of elements that beings associate and fit in; those of a low inclination associate, fit in, with those of a low inclination; those of an inclination to good, associate, fit in with those of an inclination to good. SN 14.15

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Re: 'The illusion of free will' by Sam Harris is a dangerous idea, but can anyone disprove it?

Post by Garrib » Wed Nov 29, 2017 12:07 am

I don't mean to be dismissive, and I hope this is relatively on topic - but this question comes up so often on Buddhist forums, and in our own lives, that I feel it is important to have some practical response to it. So how about this:

Whether or not we have "free will", however you wish to define it, we cannot, and will not attain liberation without the effort (which we conventionally refer to as "will"). If and when we do attain Nibbana, we can forever put aside metaphysical questions such as these.

Of course, such a response may not totally satisfy the intellect - but then again, nothing truly does. All of this being said, I think that we can perhaps find a balanced approach ("middle way") where we consistently apply effort in the proper direction, but understand that everything around us, and within us, is conditioned and therefore, "out of control" to a very large extent. In this way, we use our conditioned willpower to create the causes that are likely to bring positive fruit, rather than seek to dominate and manipulate situations as they arise (which might be the way we try to apply willpower when we think it is absolute).
Last edited by Garrib on Wed Nov 29, 2017 5:26 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: 'The illusion of free will' by Sam Harris is a dangerous idea, but can anyone disprove it?

Post by DNS » Wed Nov 29, 2017 3:40 am

retrofuturist wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:07 pm
Here's an interesting topic from days of old, which seems relavent to your line of inquiry...
Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?
And here's another long thread on this topic too:
viewtopic.php?t=27791

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Re: 'The illusion of free will' by Sam Harris is a dangerous idea, but can anyone disprove it?

Post by mikenz66 » Wed Nov 29, 2017 3:41 am

manas wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:01 pm
It runs counter to what the Buddha taught, and furthermore, it could lead some people to stop making an effort to improve themselves, since according to Harris that effort, too, is predetermined, and whether you try or not, won't change what is already preordained to occur. Yet despite my revulsion for it, and the fact that on an intuitive, experiential level, I feel it is incorrect, I find myself unable to definitely prove him wrong on an intellectual level. Can anyone prove him wrong, definitively?
Garrib wrote:
Wed Nov 29, 2017 12:07 am
Whether or not we have "free will", however you wish to define it, we cannot, and will not attain liberation without the effort (which we conventionally refer to as "will"). If and when we do attain Nibbana, we can forever put aside metaphysical questions such as these.
Good response. I'm not a Harris apologist, but his podcasts are often thoughtful, and the problems he points out with simplistic concepts of "free will" are well known. In other places, Harris (again using well-known arguments) is careful to point out that a lack of "free will" doesn't mean that people should not be held accountable for their actions and so on.
viewtopic.php?t=30550&start=20#p443821
https://www.samharris.org/podcast/item/is-buddhism-true @2:20

I suspect that if you asked the Buddha about it he'd say that such metaphysical concpepts as "free will" are not conducive the end of suffering.

:heart:
Mike

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manas
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Re: 'The illusion of free will' by Sam Harris is a dangerous idea, but can anyone disprove it?

Post by manas » Wed Nov 29, 2017 12:02 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 11:18 pm
manas wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:01 pm
I find myself unable to definitely prove him wrong on an intellectual level.
Don't take a knife to a gunfight. Prove him wrong on a practical level.
Your 'outside the box' answer helps, thank you. :anjali:
"To these too I teach the Dhamma which is lovely in its beginning, lovely in its middle and lovely in its ending, in spirit and in letter, I display to them the holy life, perfectly fulfilled and purified."
- from the Desanaa Sutta

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manas
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Re: 'The illusion of free will' by Sam Harris is a dangerous idea, but can anyone disprove it?

Post by manas » Wed Nov 29, 2017 12:11 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
Wed Nov 29, 2017 3:41 am
manas wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:01 pm
It runs counter to what the Buddha taught, and furthermore, it could lead some people to stop making an effort to improve themselves, since according to Harris that effort, too, is predetermined, and whether you try or not, won't change what is already preordained to occur. Yet despite my revulsion for it, and the fact that on an intuitive, experiential level, I feel it is incorrect, I find myself unable to definitely prove him wrong on an intellectual level. Can anyone prove him wrong, definitively?
Garrib wrote:
Wed Nov 29, 2017 12:07 am
Whether or not we have "free will", however you wish to define it, we cannot, and will not attain liberation without the effort (which we conventionally refer to as "will"). If and when we do attain Nibbana, we can forever put aside metaphysical questions such as these.
Good response. I'm not a Harris apologist, but his podcasts are often thoughtful, and the problems he points out with simplistic concepts of "free will" are well known. In other places, Harris (again using well-known arguments) is careful to point out that a lack of "free will" doesn't mean that people should not be held accountable for their actions and so on.
viewtopic.php?t=30550&start=20#p443821
https://www.samharris.org/podcast/item/is-buddhism-true @2:20

I suspect that if you asked the Buddha about it he'd say that such metaphysical concpepts as "free will" are not conducive the end of suffering.

:heart:
Mike
More great responses, thank you both :anjali:
"To these too I teach the Dhamma which is lovely in its beginning, lovely in its middle and lovely in its ending, in spirit and in letter, I display to them the holy life, perfectly fulfilled and purified."
- from the Desanaa Sutta

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