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?
User avatar
Moth
Posts: 166
Joined: Mon Jul 19, 2010 7:22 pm
Contact:

Free Will

Post by Moth » Mon Nov 06, 2017 9:34 pm

Given that the five aggregates are anatta and that sankharas are vitaka, does free will exist? In other words, if all things arise dependent upon causes and conditions, and if those causes and conditions are anatta, then where does free will come into play?
May you be happy. May you be a peace. May you be free from suffering.
http://www.everythingspirals.com" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

User avatar
Sam Vara
Posts: 4487
Joined: Sun Jun 05, 2011 5:42 pm
Location: Sussex, U.K.

Re: Free Will

Post by Sam Vara » Mon Nov 06, 2017 10:20 pm

Moth wrote:
Mon Nov 06, 2017 9:34 pm
Given that the five aggregates are anatta and that sankharas are vitaka, does free will exist? In other words, if all things arise dependent upon causes and conditions, and if those causes and conditions are anatta, then where does free will come into play?
Free will comes into play whenever we exercise it. It is incompatible with your description of the aggregates and the view that everything is determined only if it (free will) is conceived as being capable of over-riding those determining factors; it then becomes something that is determined yet undetermined, which involves us in a contradiction. But if we restrict the meaning of "free will" to mean the ability to act according to one's reasons and motives without let or hindrance, then it is perfectly compatible with that free will being dependent upon causes. We are "free" when (say) we want to meditate, and are able to sit and meditate without the hindrances arising. But no being (outside of Theism) is able to do what it wants regardless of external conditions.

User avatar
DNS
Site Admin
Posts: 11874
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 4:15 am
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, Estados Unidos de América
Contact:

Re: Free Will

Post by DNS » Mon Nov 06, 2017 10:29 pm

here is a long, previous topic:

viewtopic.php?t=27791

User avatar
phil
Posts: 874
Joined: Tue Mar 03, 2009 5:08 am
Location: Tokyo

Re: Free Will

Post by phil » Mon Nov 06, 2017 10:39 pm

Moth wrote:
Mon Nov 06, 2017 9:34 pm
Given that the five aggregates are anatta and that sankharas are vitaka, does free will exist? In other words, if all things arise dependent upon causes and conditions, and if those causes and conditions are anatta, then where does free will come into play?
Technically speaking, it doesn't. But fortunately a very encouraging concept of free will is sustained and strengthened in us at every moment in which wise and wholesome impulses are developed rather than the harmful ones, and that happens more and more consistently when dhammas are under the conditioning power of the Buddha's teaching. It is possible to understand the tipitiika correctly (in my opinion, which is that there is oviously no free will) and be encouraged by the notion of free will going in the right direction, the moments of helpful understanding of no free will and helpful belief in free will occur at different moments. Everyone will have a different opinion on this, should be one of the pinned endless debates.

I think a great discourse to consider the concept of free will is the Majjhima Nikaya sutta in which the Buddha encourages Rahula to consider the consequences of deeds before during and after. It could be called the free will sutta, is is all about stepping back and making wise decisions, exercising free will. And that is great. But when considered more deeply in line with all three baskets of the tipitika it will be seen that this is all about the operation of impersonal dhammas being conditioned by a sea of factors, including "i have free will, i do not have to and will not do this harmful thing."
Kammalakkhano , bhikkhave, bālo, kammalakkhano pandito, apadānasobhanī paññāti
(The fool is characterized by his/her actions/the wise one is characterized by his/her actions/Wisdom shines forth in behaviour.)
(AN 3.2 Lakkhana Sutta)

User avatar
DooDoot
Posts: 3142
Joined: Tue Aug 08, 2017 11:06 pm

Re: Free Will

Post by DooDoot » Tue Nov 07, 2017 2:20 am

Moth wrote:
Mon Nov 06, 2017 9:34 pm
Given that the five aggregates are anatta and that sankharas are vitaka, does free will exist? In other words, if all things arise dependent upon causes and conditions, and if those causes and conditions are anatta, then where does free will come into play?
My guess is there is really no free-will because unenlightened motives are dictated by craving & enlightened motives are dictated by peace (Nirvana).
Never ordained... not an anonymous-online-bhikkhu or ex-bhikkhu...

chownah
Posts: 7575
Joined: Wed Aug 12, 2009 2:19 pm

Re: Free Will

Post by chownah » Tue Nov 07, 2017 2:52 am

DooDoot wrote:
Tue Nov 07, 2017 2:20 am
Moth wrote:
Mon Nov 06, 2017 9:34 pm
Given that the five aggregates are anatta and that sankharas are vitaka, does free will exist? In other words, if all things arise dependent upon causes and conditions, and if those causes and conditions are anatta, then where does free will come into play?
My guess is there ..........
:goodpost:
One can only guess about this since (in my view) whether there is free will or not and to what degree is beyond the range of the six sense utilities which is all we have to figure things out and it is better for us to always remember that when we talk about it.
chownah

paul
Posts: 1310
Joined: Tue May 31, 2011 11:27 pm
Location: Vietnam

Re: Free Will

Post by paul » Tue Nov 07, 2017 4:52 am

Theravada depends on the duality of conventional and ultimate:
“Although the Buddha taught that there is no permanent, eternal, immutable, independently-existing core “self” (attā), he also taught that there is “action” or “doing”, and that it is therefore meaningful to speak of one who intends, initiates, sustains and completes actions and deeds, and who is therefore an ethically responsible and culpable being.”—-AN 6:38, Nizamis (notes).

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/ati/tip ... .niza.html
Last edited by paul on Tue Nov 07, 2017 5:40 am, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
L.N.
Posts: 504
Joined: Sun Jul 03, 2016 6:01 pm

Re: Free Will

Post by L.N. » Tue Nov 07, 2017 5:20 am

DNS wrote:
Mon Nov 06, 2017 10:29 pm
here is a long, previous topic:

viewtopic.php?t=27791
Apparently the topic is endlessly interesting.

"Freedom" primarily means one thing:
The purpose of all insight and enlightened understanding is to liberate the mind from the defilements, and Nibbana itself, the goal of the teaching, is defined quite clearly as freedom from greed, hatred, and delusion.
from https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/aut ... ay_04.html

Not sure what "will" is supposed to mean. Whatever it is, "will" is bound up with greed, hatred, and delusion until "will" is free. Upon attaining freedom from greed, hatred, and delusion, what is the "will"?
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。

justindesilva
Posts: 824
Joined: Wed Jul 27, 2016 12:38 pm

Re: Free Will

Post by justindesilva » Tue Nov 07, 2017 11:55 am

Moth wrote:
Mon Nov 06, 2017 9:34 pm
Given that the five aggregates are anatta and that sankharas are vitaka, does free will exist? In other words, if all things arise dependent upon causes and conditions, and if those causes and conditions are anatta, then where does free will come into play?
From the Dammapada: (ch.1)Mind precedes all mental states .
Mind is their chief; they are all mind wrought.
If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts , suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.
Mind precedes all mental states .Mind is their chief ;
they are all mind wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts , happiness follows him like his never departing shadow.
As will is a mind made thought I need not explain that free will is always guided by the purity of the mind. We normally bound by attachment to five senses have to realise that mind is an institution that has to be trained .
Vitakka and vicara are two applications used in meditation where meditation is training of the mind.
Another verse from Dammapada also is
Those who mistake the unessential to be essential and essential to be unessential , dwelling in wrong thoughts, never arrive at the essential.
This further explains what free will could be.

User avatar
Pseudobabble
Posts: 734
Joined: Mon Apr 17, 2017 11:11 am
Location: London

Re: Free Will

Post by Pseudobabble » Tue Nov 07, 2017 4:46 pm

Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire wrote: I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying in Savatthi, at Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's monastery. Then the wanderer Vacchagotta went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there he asked the Blessed One: "How is it, Master Gotama, does Master Gotama hold the view: 'The cosmos is eternal: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...no..."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'The cosmos is not eternal: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...no..."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'The cosmos is finite: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...no..."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'The cosmos is infinite: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...no..."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'The soul & the body are the same: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...no..."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'The soul is one thing and the body another: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...no..."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'After death a Tathagata exists: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...no..."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'After death a Tathagata does not exist: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...no..."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'After death a Tathagata both exists & does not exist: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...no..."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...no..."

"How is it, Master Gotama, when Master Gotama is asked if he holds the view 'the cosmos is eternal...'... 'after death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless,' he says '...no...' in each case. Seeing what drawback, then, is Master Gotama thus entirely dissociated from each of these ten positions?"

"Vaccha, the position that 'the cosmos is eternal' is a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. It is accompanied by suffering, distress, despair, & fever, and it does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, full Awakening, Unbinding.
I would contend that this Free Will question is of the same type as those above.
Does free will exist?

...no...

Does free will not exist?

...no...

Does free will both exist, and not exist?

...no...

Does free will neither exist nor not exist?

...no...

Vaccha, the position that 'free will exists' is a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. It is accompanied by suffering, distress, despair, & fever, and it does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, full Awakening, Unbinding.
"Does Master Gotama have any position at all?"

"A 'position,' Vaccha, is something that a Tathagata has done away with. What a Tathagata sees is this: 'Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is perception...such are fabrications...such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.'" - Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta


'Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.' - Genesis 3:19

'Some fart freely, some try to hide and silence it. Which one is correct?' - Saegnapha

User avatar
Sam Vara
Posts: 4487
Joined: Sun Jun 05, 2011 5:42 pm
Location: Sussex, U.K.

Re: Free Will

Post by Sam Vara » Tue Nov 07, 2017 5:12 pm

Pseudobabble wrote:
Tue Nov 07, 2017 4:46 pm
I would contend that this Free Will question is of the same type as those above.
Does free will exist?

...no...

Does free will not exist?

...no...

Does free will both exist, and not exist?

...no...

Does free will neither exist nor not exist?

...no...

Vaccha, the position that 'free will exists' is a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. It is accompanied by suffering, distress, despair, & fever, and it does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, full Awakening, Unbinding.
Some might claim that - unlike the imponderable questions - the Buddha did provide a definitive answer to this one. It is contained in one of the standard formulations of right view:
"And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view. And what is wrong view? 'There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions.
and his focus upon kamma as the means whereby people purify themselves.

User avatar
Pseudobabble
Posts: 734
Joined: Mon Apr 17, 2017 11:11 am
Location: London

Re: Free Will

Post by Pseudobabble » Tue Nov 07, 2017 6:49 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Tue Nov 07, 2017 5:12 pm
Pseudobabble wrote:
Tue Nov 07, 2017 4:46 pm
I would contend that this Free Will question is of the same type as those above.
Does free will exist?

...no...

Does free will not exist?

...no...

Does free will both exist, and not exist?

...no...

Does free will neither exist nor not exist?

...no...

Vaccha, the position that 'free will exists' is a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. It is accompanied by suffering, distress, despair, & fever, and it does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, full Awakening, Unbinding.
Some might claim that - unlike the imponderable questions - the Buddha did provide a definitive answer to this one. It is contained in one of the standard formulations of right view:
"And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view. And what is wrong view? 'There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions.
and his focus upon kamma as the means whereby people purify themselves.

I don't quite understand - could you expand on this please.
"Does Master Gotama have any position at all?"

"A 'position,' Vaccha, is something that a Tathagata has done away with. What a Tathagata sees is this: 'Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is perception...such are fabrications...such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.'" - Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta


'Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.' - Genesis 3:19

'Some fart freely, some try to hide and silence it. Which one is correct?' - Saegnapha

User avatar
Sam Vara
Posts: 4487
Joined: Sun Jun 05, 2011 5:42 pm
Location: Sussex, U.K.

Re: Free Will

Post by Sam Vara » Tue Nov 07, 2017 7:26 pm

Pseudobabble wrote:
Tue Nov 07, 2017 6:49 pm
I don't quite understand - could you expand on this please.
Yes, sorry - I should have been clearer.

In his references to kamma, or action, the Buddha says that we are responsible for what we do, and its results. Our actions are what cause us to have certain experiences; were we to act differently, then our experiences would be different. This would be incompatible with a form of strict determinism which would write our actions out of the picture, and focus on causes completely outside of ourselves.

In saying (in the formulation of right view) that there is something given, he is highlighting the agency involved. It's more than something - the gift - merely moving around in space; there is a giver, someone who acts. It's not behaviour, which is conditioned. Actions have agency, such that the actor is free to do otherwise. Without that agency, there could be no morality, and no human activity could be more meritorious than any other.

The questions that the Buddha left unanswered might well feature in lists of metaphysical questions that we, today, find difficult, and such a list might also feature the problem of free will. But it's possible that the Buddha didn't include the free will question in those imponderable questions because the answer was already implicit in other aspects of his teaching.

User avatar
Pseudobabble
Posts: 734
Joined: Mon Apr 17, 2017 11:11 am
Location: London

Re: Free Will

Post by Pseudobabble » Tue Nov 07, 2017 7:40 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Tue Nov 07, 2017 7:26 pm
Pseudobabble wrote:
Tue Nov 07, 2017 6:49 pm
I don't quite understand - could you expand on this please.
Yes, sorry - I should have been clearer.

In his references to kamma, or action, the Buddha says that we are responsible for what we do, and its results. Our actions are what cause us to have certain experiences; were we to act differently, then our experiences would be different. This would be incompatible with a form of strict determinism which would write our actions out of the picture, and focus on causes completely outside of ourselves.

In saying (in the formulation of right view) that there is something given, he is highlighting the agency involved. It's more than something - the gift - merely moving around in space; there is a giver, someone who acts. It's not behaviour, which is conditioned. Actions have agency, such that the actor is free to do otherwise. Without that agency, there could be no morality, and no human activity could be more meritorious than any other.

The questions that the Buddha left unanswered might well feature in lists of metaphysical questions that we, today, find difficult, and such a list might also feature the problem of free will. But it's possible that the Buddha didn't include the free will question in those imponderable questions because the answer was already implicit in other aspects of his teaching.
I understand. I rather think that free will and determinism resemble other similarly aligned false dIchotomies like mind/matter. From the present, the future looks free, and the past fixed, but such was the truth at every point in time. It seems we have free will, but whether or not we do is, I would hazard, unprovable.
"Does Master Gotama have any position at all?"

"A 'position,' Vaccha, is something that a Tathagata has done away with. What a Tathagata sees is this: 'Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is perception...such are fabrications...such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.'" - Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta


'Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.' - Genesis 3:19

'Some fart freely, some try to hide and silence it. Which one is correct?' - Saegnapha

User avatar
Sam Vara
Posts: 4487
Joined: Sun Jun 05, 2011 5:42 pm
Location: Sussex, U.K.

Re: Free Will

Post by Sam Vara » Tue Nov 07, 2017 7:46 pm

Pseudobabble wrote:
Tue Nov 07, 2017 7:40 pm

I understand. I rather think that free will and determinism resemble other similarly aligned false dIchotomies like mind/matter. From the present, the future looks free, and the past fixed, but such was the truth at every point in time. It seems we have free will, but whether or not we do is, I would hazard, unprovable.
Yes, you make a sound point, in that it certainly is a dichotomy, and deciding the issue one way or another would certainly be beyond my pay grade! I tend to favour the free will side of the debate because it looks more like common sense to me, and also that I would have to unravel my understanding of what the Buddha meant if I thought that his teaching did not presuppose free will.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Bing [Bot] and 58 guests