Goofaholix wrote: I think if one were to read some scriptures with a very literal mind then one can make a good case for determinism and that we have no choice.
Quite the opposite. IMHO it is too easy to read about Buddha and Arahants talking "I go, I think, etc" and forget about 5 aggregates, 12 sense bases, 18 elements, Dependent Origination, Anicca-Dukkha-Anatta and so on.
However I don't think the Buddha intended his teaching to be understood as a collection of doctrines to be believed, rather as a process of awakening to be followed.
Actually it is wisdom that liberates, not ritualistic actions. There were many cases where a non-Buddhist, such as Suppabuddha who stumbled upon a Buddha's lecture and became a stream-enterer in that seat.
have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying in Rajagaha at the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrels' Sanctuary. Now at that time in Rajagaha there was a leper named Suppabuddha, a poor, miserable wretch of a person. And at that time the Blessed One was sitting surrounded by a large assembly, teaching the Dhamma. Suppabuddha the leper saw the large gathering of people from afar and thought to himself, "Without a doubt, someone must be distributing staple or non-staple food over there. Why don't I go over to that large group of people, and maybe I'll get some staple or non-staple food." So he went over to the large group of people. Then he saw the Blessed One sitting surrounded by a large assembly, teaching the Dhamma. On seeing this, he realized, "There's no one distributing staple or non-staple food over here. That's Gotama the contemplative, sitting surrounded by a large assembly, teaching the Dhamma. Why don't I listen to the Dhamma?" So he sat to one side right there, [thinking,] "I, too, will listen to the Dhamma."
Then the Blessed One, having encompassed the awareness of the entire assembly with his awareness, asked himself, "Now who here is capable of understanding the Dhamma?" He saw Suppabuddha the leper sitting in the assembly, and on seeing him the thought occurred to him, "This person here is capable of understanding the Dhamma." So, aiming at Suppabuddha the leper, he gave a step-by-step talk, i.e., a talk on giving, a talk on virtue, a talk on heaven; he declared the drawbacks, degradation, & corruption of sensual passions, and the rewards of renunciation. Then when he saw that Suppabuddha the leper's mind was ready, malleable, free from hindrances, elated, & bright, he then gave the Dhamma-talk peculiar to Awakened Ones, i.e., stress, origination, cessation, & path. And just as a clean cloth, free of stains, would properly absorb a dye, in the same way, as Suppabuddha the leper was sitting in that very seat, the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye arose within him, "Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation."
Having seen the Dhamma, reached the Dhamma, known the Dhamma, gained a footing in the Dhamma, having crossed over & beyond doubt, having had no more perplexity, having gained fearlessness & independence from others with regard to the Teacher's message,
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Bahiya became an Arahant through listening and deeply understanding Buddha's teaching.
However to say everything comes down to causes and conditions and therefore we have no real choice to me is the antithesis of what the Buddhist path is trying to achieve, it's downgrading us to the level of animals living on instinct rather than upgrading us to enlightenment where we are no longer slaves to causes and conditions. If that were true Buddhist teaching then I wouldn't choose to be a Buddhist.
Suppubuddha the leper was not a Buddhist. He was looking for food and mistook the crowd for people receiving the food. He then decided to listen to the Buddha, and through the lecture he became a stream-enterer.
There are many suttas which talk about understanding of anicca-dukkha-anatta of 5 aggregates, 12 spheres, etc, leading to Awakening.
“Seeing thus[alex: anicca-dukkha-anatta], Sona, the instructed noble disciple becomes disenchanted with form, disenchanted with feeling, disenchanted with perception, disenchanted with volitional constructions, disenchanted with consciousness. Being disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion (his mind) is liberated. When it is liberated there comes the knowledge: ‘It’s liberated.’ He understands: ‘Destroyed is birth, the holy life has been lived, what
had to be done has been done, there is no more for this world.’”
SN22.49 (7) Sona (1) - Ven BB Transl.
Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu sees as impermanent form which is actually impermanent: that is his right view. Seeing rightly, he becomes disenchanted. With the destruction of delight comes the destruction of lust; with the destruction of lust comes the destruction of delight. With the destruction of delight and lust the mind is liberated and is said to be well liberated. [same for other aggregates]
SN22.51 (9) Destruction of Delight (1) - Ven BB Transl.
Again, it is knowledge that liberates.