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

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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robertk
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Re: Free will vs determinism in Buddhism?

Post by robertk » Sun Sep 18, 2016 1:09 pm

chownah wrote:
"There is a path, but nobody on it."
Actually I seem to remember a sutta that said something like that. I looked a bit but couldn't find it so maybe my memory has malfunctioned. It seems that my memory is that it might say "suffering there is but no one who suffers"...and again I looked a bit but couldn't find it either.

Does anyone know where I might have picked up these quips?
chownah
"
There is no doer of a deed, or one who reaps the result. Phenomena alone flow on, no other view than this right."
Visuddhimagga XIX19

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robertk
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Re: Free will vs determinism in Buddhism?

Post by robertk » Sun Sep 18, 2016 1:21 pm

binocular wrote:
robertk wrote:The only issue is if someone takes these words to denote something real and solid - a SELF.
I think the issue is when someone keeps bringing up the self or no-self issue, keeps drawing attention to this self or no-self issue.
It's suspicious, like when someone says, out of the blue "I wasn't drunk last night" -- which usually means that they in fact were out drinking and probably got drunk too.
An unprompted denial usually has some background and an agenda.

An agenda? As this is a Theravada Buddhist forum it is to be expected that you will read information related to the doctrine.
And as Anatta, conditionality, is the heart of the doctrine it should not be a surprise to read about it..

Here is Nyanatiloka's definition,

Buddhist Dictionary,
"Anattaa: No-self, egolessness, soullessness, impersonality, absence
of identity, is the last of the 3 universal characteristics of
existence ti-lakkhana. This anattaa doctrine, which only is taught by
a Buddha, teaches that neither within the bodily, material and mental
phenomena of existence, nor outside of them, can be found anything at
all, that in the ultimate sense could be regarded as a self-existing,
real & same, ego-entity, identity, soul, self or independently
existing substance. This is the central core doctrine of Buddhism,
crucial for understanding the message & method of Buddhism. It is the
only really specific Buddhist doctrine, with which the entire
structure of the Buddhist teaching stands or falls.
All the remaining
Buddhist doctrines may, more or less, be found in other philosophic
systems and religions, but the anattaa doctrine has been clearly and
unreservedly taught only by the Buddha, wherefore the Buddha is known
as the anattaa-vaadi or 'Teacher of impersonality'.
Whosoever has not
penetrated this universal impersonality of all existence, and does not
comprehend that in reality there exists only this continually
self-consuming & self-referring process of arising and passing away of
bodily, material and mental phenomena, and that there is no separate
ego-entity or stable and same core neither within nor outside this
process, he will not be able to understand Buddhism, i.e. the teaching
of the 4 Noble Truths sacca, in the right light. He will think that it
is his ego, his personality, that experiences suffering, his
personality that performs good and evil actions and will be reborn
according to these actions, his personality that will enter into
Nibbaana, his personality that walks on the 8-fold path. This is the
fatal 'personalist-view' sakkaaya-ditthi and self-deception maana 'I
Am' that keep beings wandering in Samsaara. Thus it is said in Vis.M XVI:

Mere suffering exists, no sufferer is found;
Actions are, but no actor is ever found;
Nibbaana is, but no being exists that enters it;
The path is, but no traveler is seen.

Whosoever does not understand the origin of conditionally arisen
phenomena, and does not comprehend that all the actions are
conditioned by ignorance, greed and hate, he thinks that it is an ego
or self that understands or does not understand, that acts or causes
to act, and that comes into existence at rebirth. He believes there
exists an identity 'I' that has the sense-contact, that feels,
desires, becomes attached, continues and at rebirth again enters a new
existence as the same being... Vis.M XVII, 117...
"

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Bhikkhu Pesala
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Re: Free will vs determinism in Buddhism?

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala » Sun Sep 18, 2016 6:47 pm

binocular wrote:
Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:What decides?
3. vitakko vicāro adhimokkho vīriyaṃ pīti chando cāti cha ime cetasikā pakiṇṇakā nāma.
The lack of any permanent self does not prevent us making both wise and unwise decisions.
Why are you bringing self-views into this discussion?
Someone asked who chooses, so I answered the question. Using conventional terms such as I, me, or you, does not bring any self-view into the discussion.
binocular wrote:I never asked "What decides?" -- but you bring it up.
You're not the only one posting in this thread.
binocular wrote:Why direct our focus in ways that, as far as the suttas seem to go, is misleading?
I am directing everyone to use conventional terms wherever appropriate, without clinging to views of a permanent, really existent self.
binocular wrote:And since you're a monk, your words weigh a million times more than that of an ordinary poster.
I would not make that claim, but yes, a senior monk's words should be given more careful consideration than those of an average person who has not spent most of his life studying the teachings and practising meditation.
binocular wrote:What you're saying seems to be mixing up items from several different stages of the gradual path.
The words are actually the Venerable Mahāsi Sayādaw's from the link that I provided, or at least a translation of his words. His teachings should also be given very careful consideration. Something may be lost in translation, or by taking words out of their context, but if the Sayādaw's words seem to be incorrect, we should make a careful inquiry before dismissing them. After all, he was chosen from among all the monks in Burma to be the Chief Questioner at the Sixth Buddhist Council due to his great learning and practical insight.

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chownah
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Re: Free will vs determinism in Buddhism?

Post by chownah » Mon Sep 19, 2016 3:13 am

a senior monk's words should be given more careful consideration than those of an average person who has not spent most of his life studying the teachings and practising meditation.
Just wanting to point out that the way things really are a senior monk might not be any more knowledgeable than a lay person and a senior monk might not be any more moral than a lay person. Those monks who fled thailand and are now living in the US are all senior monks I think. These are reasons why indeed it is important to give senior monk's words careful consideration; because their position of authority tends to make their wrong views more acceptable to the lay community.
chownah

binocular
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Re: Free will vs determinism in Buddhism?

Post by binocular » Mon Sep 19, 2016 4:16 pm

robertk wrote:An agenda? As this is a Theravada Buddhist forum it is to be expected that you will read information related to the doctrine.
And as Anatta, conditionality, is the heart of the doctrine it should not be a surprise to read about it..
An agenda, yes.
Given that there are so many different theories on anatta (and free will, and some other hot topics), I suspect there is an agenda behind at least some of them, and it's not to make an end to suffering.
Whosoever does not understand the origin of conditionally arisen
phenomena, and does not comprehend that all the actions are
conditioned by ignorance, greed and hate
, he thinks that it is an ego
or self that understands or does not understand, that acts or causes
to act, and that comes into existence at rebirth. He believes there
exists an identity 'I' that has the sense-contact, that feels,
desires, becomes attached, continues and at rebirth again enters a new
existence as the same being... Vis.M XVII, 117...[/i]"
So arahants don't act?

Dhammanando wrote:
ihrjordan wrote:How could you not need conceit to cognize? Where would the thoughts spring from? As far as I know, thoughts are kamma and/or results of kamma in and of themselves yet it has been said that Buddhas and arahats no longer produce new kamma...care to clarify?
That arahants' actions and speech don't amount to new kamma isn't because they don't think or intend. It's because they're free of the three unwholesome roots.
  • “Bhikkhus, there are these three causes for the origination of kamma. What three? Greed is a cause for the origination of kamma; hatred is a cause for the origination of kamma; delusion is a cause for the origination of kamma.
    (Nidānasutta, AN. i. 134)
http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 18#p384618

chownah
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Re: Free will vs determinism in Buddhism?

Post by chownah » Tue Sep 20, 2016 4:12 am

Determining whether there is free will or not is beyond range isn't it?...the same goes for determinism I think.
chownah

pegembara
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Re: Free will vs determinism in Buddhism?

Post by pegembara » Tue Sep 20, 2016 6:45 am

The focus should be on causes and conditions rather than whether there is free will or not?

You may appear to "choose" to consume alcohol. If alcohol were not in the menu, that "choice" would not have been made. If it were available, the "choice" to not drink might be driven by religious reasons.

So without the right conditions being present, nothing happens. The major conditions driving our actions are greed, hatred and delusion or kamatanha, bhavatanha and vibhavatanha. In other words the desire for survival, comfort, happiness, fun etc.

http://www.buddhanet.net/4noble12.htm


Do you think it is free will that determines whether one reads and replies to this thread?
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.

davidbrainerd
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Re: Free will vs determinism in Buddhism?

Post by davidbrainerd » Tue Sep 20, 2016 7:18 pm

pegembara wrote:The focus should be on causes and conditions rather than whether there is free will or not?

You may appear to "choose" to consume alcohol. If alcohol were not in the menu, that "choice" would not have been made. If it were available, the "choice" to not drink might be driven by religious reasons.

So without the right conditions being present, nothing happens. The major conditions driving our actions are greed, hatred and delusion or kamatanha, bhavatanha and vibhavatanha. In other words the desire for survival, comfort, happiness, fun etc.

http://www.buddhanet.net/4noble12.htm


Do you think it is free will that determines whether one reads and replies to this thread?
The will is free to break cycles it started in the past at any point, if it will just will itself to will it bad enough. When a long time drinker quits cold turkey, would you call it if not free wiil?

practitioner
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Re: Free will vs determinism in Buddhism?

Post by practitioner » Tue Sep 20, 2016 7:34 pm

Not-self does not deny the existence of a being. A being's 5th aggregate is volition (or mental formation). Volition gives one the ability to make a choice.

When wrong view is taken, conditions cause one to think that it is "I" who is feeling this or that.

When right view is taken, one sees the condition as condition and has the free will to not abide by the automatic reaction to the condition. The wrong view is the one that takes away free choice because the one is reacting automatically (which is the lack of choice).

It is in Buddhism that there is free will, and in wrong view there is no free will only imagined free will.

davidbrainerd
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Re: Free will vs determinism in Buddhism?

Post by davidbrainerd » Tue Sep 20, 2016 9:42 pm

practitioner wrote:
It is in Buddhism that there is free will, and in wrong view there is no free will only imagined free will.
I think that's going too far. But perhaps something similar is true: Those who recognize they have free will do indeed have it. Those who don't recognize they have it therefore don't have it. "Self fullfilling prophecy" as the saying goes.

practitioner
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Re: Free will vs determinism in Buddhism?

Post by practitioner » Wed Sep 21, 2016 2:21 am

Free will is having the ability to choose.

Does a gambler have free will? Though he doesn't want to gamble anymore but he cannot stop himself from gambling. Same with alcoholic and drug addicts.

When you are subconsciously programmed to automatically react, that is not free will. However, when you can not react and respond that is free will.

It is not going too far.

davidbrainerd
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Re: Free will vs determinism in Buddhism?

Post by davidbrainerd » Wed Sep 21, 2016 3:39 am

practitioner wrote:Free will is having the ability to choose.

Does a gambler have free will? Though he doesn't want to gamble anymore but he cannot stop himself from gambling.
Because he doesn't want to stop bad enough. But then when he hits rock bottom and finally wants it bad enough, he stops.

pegembara
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Re: Free will vs determinism in Buddhism?

Post by pegembara » Wed Sep 21, 2016 3:48 am

davidbrainerd wrote:
pegembara wrote:The focus should be on causes and conditions rather than whether there is free will or not?

You may appear to "choose" to consume alcohol. If alcohol were not in the menu, that "choice" would not have been made. If it were available, the "choice" to not drink might be driven by religious reasons.

So without the right conditions being present, nothing happens. The major conditions driving our actions are greed, hatred and delusion or kamatanha, bhavatanha and vibhavatanha. In other words the desire for survival, comfort, happiness, fun etc.

http://www.buddhanet.net/4noble12.htm


Do you think it is free will that determines whether one reads and replies to this thread?
The will is free to break cycles it started in the past at any point, if it will just will itself to will it bad enough. When a long time drinker quits cold turkey, would you call it if not free wiil?
As said, will is not "free". That is why there is effort involved. Also the effort is not always successful. Only when conditions are right do you kick the habit. BTW the success for hard core addiction is nearly zero - how "free" is the will then?

To put it another way. If you have free will, there would be no such thing as addiction. Can you will your fear or anger away?

Gamblers have been known to commit suicide. You can't go any lower than that!
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.

davidbrainerd
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Re: Free will vs determinism in Buddhism?

Post by davidbrainerd » Wed Sep 21, 2016 4:05 am

pegembara wrote:
davidbrainerd wrote:
pegembara wrote:The focus should be on causes and conditions rather than whether there is free will or not?

You may appear to "choose" to consume alcohol. If alcohol were not in the menu, that "choice" would not have been made. If it were available, the "choice" to not drink might be driven by religious reasons.

So without the right conditions being present, nothing happens. The major conditions driving our actions are greed, hatred and delusion or kamatanha, bhavatanha and vibhavatanha. In other words the desire for survival, comfort, happiness, fun etc.

http://www.buddhanet.net/4noble12.htm


Do you think it is free will that determines whether one reads and replies to this thread?
The will is free to break cycles it started in the past at any point, if it will just will itself to will it bad enough. When a long time drinker quits cold turkey, would you call it if not free wiil?
As said, will is not "free". That is why there is effort involved. Also the effort is not always successful. Only when conditions are right do you kick the habit. BTW the success for hard core addiction is nearly zero - how "free" is the will then?

To put it another way. If you have free will, there would be no such thing as addiction. Can you will your fear or anger away?

Gamblers have been known to commit suicide. You can't go any lower than that!
So people who are addicted originally had free will but gave it away of their own free will and now are in a struggle to free it again.
Can you will your fear or anger away?
Of course.

pegembara
Posts: 1648
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Re: Free will vs determinism in Buddhism?

Post by pegembara » Wed Sep 21, 2016 5:05 am

@DavidBrainerd

So you are free from dukkha already! Great. Most of us still require right effort. Still work in progress.
"Yes, brahman, I practice for the welfare & happiness of many people and have established many people in the noble method, i.e., the rightness of what is admirable, the rightness of what is skillful.

"And, yes, I think whatever thought I want to think, and don't think any thought I don't want to think. I will any resolve I want to will, and don't will any resolve I don't want to will. I have attained mastery of the mind with regard to the pathways of thought.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
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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