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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acinteyyo
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Re: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by acinteyyo » Fri Nov 26, 2010 7:18 pm

This is one of the worst threads I've ever seen. You guys are repeating yourselves over and over again...
I want to drag your attention to one thing, namely you are approaching the question from different points-of-view in relation to time (past, present, future), which imho is the reason for this seemingly endless ongoing discussion.

I only want to pick out Tilt's and Alex' posts to point out what I mean, because as I see it they represent the two different views from where most of the paticipants are approaching the issue. Both of you are right within their own appropriate point of view in relation to time, but wrong within the other if the other point of view will be excluded.
Alex' understanding on choice seems to be this:
Alex wrote:(...)Where is there any possibility for any other choice to occur, other than the choice that was conditioned to occur? In other words, the choice that occurs is the only possible choice that could ever occur given those specific internal/external conditions.
If there are causes for X to occur, X occurs, never Y.
If there are causes for Y to occur, Y occurs, never X.
The phrase: "When this is, that is... With the arising of this, that arises... With ignorance as conditions, formations..." and so on, is often quoted by Alex to support his view. For him everything is completely conditioned and therefore choice according to his understanding can only be fully conditioned, too. There is always only one possible outcome, due to its causes. Choice is conditioned and deterministic.

Tilt seems to agree, that choice has it's causes, is conditioned but disagrees to the notion of determinism, that there is always only one possible outcome and there is no functional choice, that there aren't viable options but only one option.:
tiltbillings wrote:
Alex wrote:(...)I agree with it. But since it IS conditioned, conditions dictate what choiceful action will or will not occur.
You say that all the time, but if you are correct, it is not a choice. Choice, to be functional, must have viable options, not an option solely dictated by what have has gone before.
For him, choice, to be functional, must have viable options, not an option solely dictated by what have has gone before.

Both Alex and Tilt don't bring in any kind of agent or self in this process and they agree that the process is anatta (so it seems to me).

Now here comes the crucial point!
The present moment always includes the past, the present and the future.
When one only attends to the past in the present moment (leaving out present and future), one can see that everything is fully conditioned, that everything happend because of conditions and that the causes for x to occur always led to the occurance of x, never to y.
One can come to the view that there is no choice, in the way Tilt defines it, that there are no viable options, but only one option. That is true, BUT only in within this point of view, when one only attends to the past in the present moment.
When all possible options are fully determined, we call it the past. There is no option left, everything happend according to their necessary causes. One can easily come to the conclusion that there is no choice, in the way Tilt defines it, but only fully conditioned choice with only one possible option in the way Alex defines it.

But in the present (leaving out the past and the future), in the here and now not everything is already fully determined, not every cause has happened. An action isn't carried out or will be carried out, an action carries out! Which means that there is some kind of "space", where things aren't fully determined yet, this is called present. One can easily come to the conclusion that there is choice, in the way Tilt defines it, but not only fully conditioned choice with only one possible option in the way Alex defines it.

We can say, that:
The past is fully determined. -> no viable options, everything determined
The present is under-determined. -> some viable options, some things already determined
The future is undetermined. -> infinite viable options, nothing determined

Imho this is a very important point which has to be acknowledged! Otherwise there will be a lot of confusion.
So, as I see it both of you are right and wrong, it depends on the general conditions.
The middle way is the way to go, we shouldn't go for the extremes.

Regarding the question of the thread: "Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?"
We should be able to agree that the Buddha taught that there is choice, but that we have to be careful what we mean by "choice" and that our understanding of a certain meaning depends on the point of view from where we approach the whole matter.

Excuse me Alex and Tilt if I presented your views wrongly.

If my post didn't contribute to clarify the matter, so that we can end this discussion, it's a matter of course that everyone is free to go spinning round.

best wishes, acinteyyo
Thag 1.20. Ajita - I do not fear death; nor do I long for life. I’ll lay down this body, aware and mindful.

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kirk5a
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Re: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by kirk5a » Fri Nov 26, 2010 8:48 pm

Good show acinteyyo! The importance of time-perspective in all this was also mentioned by Tinhtan in that excellent post: "Here the expression places on the result-end point of view." (and much other profound stuff in there as well). So this suggests a much broader, living, *useful* perspective that is available in "real time" that can negotiate skillfully through "uncertainty" or to put a more "positive" word to it - "possibilities" or "potential."
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230

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tiltbillings
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Re: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by tiltbillings » Fri Nov 26, 2010 9:46 pm

acinteyyo wrote:This is one of the worst threads I've ever seen. You guys are repeating yourselves over and over again...
Of course it is and of course we have, but it was good enough to draw you into giving us a rare extended statement, which over all is spot on. I have had little problem with what you have said.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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mikenz66
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Re: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by mikenz66 » Fri Nov 26, 2010 11:27 pm

Thanks acinteyyo,

Your points remind me of this sutta:
MN 101 Devadaha Sutta: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Mike

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tiltbillings
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Re: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by tiltbillings » Sat Nov 27, 2010 6:17 am

Moderator note: This thread, any number of pages ago, became a tail-chaser.
Image
At this point Ven Acinteyyo's astute observations above can be the final word in this thread.


--------------------

[EDIT: 11 Feb 2013 - Topic re-opened as the subject has arisen again and doesn't need to be started from scratch]
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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josephcmabad
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free will?

Post by josephcmabad » Fri Apr 15, 2011 10:51 am

What is the Buddhist take on free will? does it or does not exist? is our life predetermined? :juggling:

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mikenz66
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Re: free will?

Post by mikenz66 » Fri Apr 15, 2011 12:06 pm

Some discussions here:
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=6234" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=5049" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

:anjali:
Mike

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Nibbida
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Re: free will?

Post by Nibbida » Sat Apr 16, 2011 3:42 am

This is an interesting talk on the topic by philosopher/Buddhist, Rick Repetti, Ph.D.:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaHtmm46OP0

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Alex123
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Re: free will?

Post by Alex123 » Sat Apr 16, 2011 3:01 pm

josephcmabad wrote:What is the Buddhist take on free will? does it or does not exist? is our life predetermined? :juggling:
Regardless of whether there is or isn't "free" will, the answer that matters is to do the best that you can.
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

dhammapal
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Re: free will?

Post by dhammapal » Sun Apr 17, 2011 7:52 am

The Buddha transl. Thanissaro wrote:Having approached the priests & contemplatives who hold that... 'Whatever a person experiences... is all caused by what was done in the past,' I said to them: 'Is it true that you hold that... "Whatever a person experiences... is all caused by what was done in the past?"' Thus asked by me, they admitted, 'Yes.' Then I said to them, 'Then in that case, a person is a killer of living beings because of what was done in the past. A person is a thief... unchaste... a liar... a divisive speaker... a harsh speaker... an idle chatterer... greedy... malicious... a holder of wrong views because of what was done in the past.' When one falls back on what was done in the past as being essential, monks, there is no desire, no effort [at the thought], 'This should be done. This shouldn't be done.' When one can't pin down as a truth or reality what should & shouldn't be done, one dwells bewildered & unprotected. One cannot righteously refer to oneself as a contemplative. This was my first righteous refutation of those priests & contemplatives who hold to such teachings, such views.
From: Tittha Sutta: Sectarians translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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daverupa
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Re: free will?

Post by daverupa » Sun Apr 17, 2011 8:40 pm

The point of repurposing "kamma" from Hindu meanings to Dhammic ones is to show both that choices can be made, and which choices are wholesome and unwholesome, i.e. germane to the Path.
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

befriend
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middle path between determinism and choice

Post by befriend » Tue Jul 12, 2011 10:43 pm

hey everyone,
what does buddha say about some actions being involuntary and some actions being totally free will. for example, ive noticed that if i get angry and there is a pencil in my hand, i dont realize ive broken the pencil until i notice it snapped in two in my hand. meaning there is no pause in between the intetion to brake the pencil and the actual act of breaking the pencil. there is no room to make a choice.
nothing can destroy a man who has lived a pure life

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daverupa
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Re: middle path between determinism and choice

Post by daverupa » Tue Jul 12, 2011 11:14 pm

befriend wrote:there is no room to make a choice.
Sure there is, you simply need stronger mindfulness to experience it. Practice, practice, practice!

:heart:
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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cooran
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Re: middle path between determinism and choice

Post by cooran » Tue Jul 12, 2011 11:29 pm

Hello befriend, all,

This article and these previous threads may be of interest:

Journal of Buddhist Ethics / Annual, 2007
"Freedom of the Will" in the light of Theravada Buddhist teachings

Abstract
A well known issue in Western Philosophy is that of "freedom of the will": whether, how and in what sense human beings have genuine freedom of action in the context of a broad range of external and internal conditioning factors. Any system of ethics also assumes that humans have, in some sense, a freedom to choose between different courses of action. Buddhist ethics is no different in this--but how is freedom of action to be made sense of in a system that sees human beings as an interacting cluster of conditioned and conditioning processes, with no substantial I-agent either within or beyond this cluster? This article explores this issue within Theravada Buddhism, and concludes that the view of this tradition on the issue is a "compatibilist" middle way between seeing a person's actions as completely rigidly determined, and seeing them as totally and unconditionally free, with a variety of factors acting to bring, and increase, the element of freedom that humans have. In a different way, if a person is wrongly seen as an essential, permanent Self, it is an "undetermined question" as to whether "a person's acts of will are determined" or "a person's acts of will are free." If there is no essential person-entity, "it" can not be said to be either determined or free.
read article ....
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7 ... n28513265/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Freewill, is it an illusion?
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... 9&start=40" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Free will?
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=8105" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

with metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Nibbida
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Re: middle path between determinism and choice

Post by Nibbida » Thu Jul 14, 2011 8:59 pm


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phil
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Re: middle path between determinism and choice

Post by phil » Fri Jul 15, 2011 2:44 am

I always find it interesting that when I'm soaking in a hot tub before bedtime as is the custom here I never get out after thinking ok, enough of this nodding off, time to get out, the getting out always happens suddenly, involuntarily. May have no meaning, may have important meaning about how intentions (conventionally understood) condition actions...

But for me there is rarely free will about andandoning the sensory pleasure of the hot bath on a cold winter's eve, may apply to clinging to sense pleasures in general, in some way...
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)

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determinism, prophecies and myths

Post by perkele » Fri Dec 30, 2011 8:42 pm

Hello!
In the Dhamma there are some deterministic statements.
For example, someone who attains stream-entry is ascertained to attain Nibbana within seven lifetimes.
That is a statement which I don't doubt very much. It makes sense to me that someone who has experienced "the taste" of Nibbana and sees the path clearly will never stray from it again.
Then there are the actions with immediate result: killing one's father or mother, killing an arahat or wounding a Buddha. A person who carries out such acts is said to be destined to a long time in hell after his current life. I know to some extent from my own experience that evil actions carried out with evil intentions have a devastating and debilitating effect on the mind which is unimaginable to any reasonably sane person who would abhor from such things. So I also don't doubt this very much.
But then there are some more prophetic statements that I found somewhere but not in the suttas. For example that Ajatasattu and Devadatta are destined to become Pacceka-Buddhas. Or that king Pasenadi is a bodhisatta. What do you make of such particular statements of certain persons' destiny in the future?
Sorry if this is a stupid question. Maybe it is close to the imponderables and totally useless. It just makes me curious.

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Alex123
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Re: determinism, prophecies and myths

Post by Alex123 » Fri Dec 30, 2011 10:03 pm

perkele wrote:Hello!
In the Dhamma there are some deterministic statements.
For example, someone who attains stream-entry is ascertained to attain Nibbana within seven lifetimes.
Аssured Awakening is great news. Free-will doesn't make sense, isn't part of the Dhamma, contradicts conditionality (paṭiccasamuppannā dhammā) and anatta.

Either phenomenon happen due to causes, or it happens not due to causes (uncaused). There is no third option, law of excluded middle, no third possibility (tertium non datur) .In either case there is no freedom of will. In one case it is causes that produce certain effect, in another case effects just arise.

Lets take this scenario:
A ball is on the table. If you tilt a table in a certain direction, the ball will roll down it. Does it have any "say" in whether it remains still or where it moves? No, force acting on it causes it to move or remain still. It would be strange if ball could suddenly roll up the slope or randomly somewhere. What would be cause of that? Is it caused or uncaused?

With beings it is same principle, just much more complex. Countless factors that occur now, and before, input from inside/outside, interactions of conditions, conditionality happening too fast or decisions done below normal awareness (my question in hearing while sleeping thread), etc. Of course people believe in Self so much, that they want to believe to somehow be immune from conditions. But even choices done without any causes, is random, and not free will. At least with determinism we can hope that good causes will bring good effects and thus is worthwhile to do.

As I was discussing, in another topic: some of our decisions can be done below the threshold of conscious awareness... So decision to act, can occur almost subconsciously. Where is control there?

If we say "I willed this". Did this intention appear due to causes or without causes? In either way, no control.
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: determinism, prophecies and myths

Post by squarepeg » Fri Dec 30, 2011 11:16 pm

As I was discussing, in another topic: some of our decisions can be done below the threshold of conscious awareness... So decision to act, can occur almost subconsciously. Where is control there?
there might not be (complete) control. but surly your not denying the fact that we have will in our decisions. I.E. Ill decide to study dhamma. it might not be compleatly free and i aggree it seams to be subject to a multitude of conditions, but there is something, possibly the illusion of something, pushing it in this direction or another.
"Yadisam vapate bijam tadisam harate phalam" — as we sow, so shall we reap
Maranam Bhavissati - "death will take place"

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Alex123
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Re: determinism, prophecies and myths

Post by Alex123 » Fri Dec 30, 2011 11:29 pm

squarepeg wrote: there might not be (complete) control. but surly your not denying the fact that we have will in our decisions.
Will is. There are good and bad decisions. But this is all fully conditioned and not done by any Self (atta).
squarepeg wrote: I.E. Ill decide to study dhamma. it might not be compleatly free and i aggree it seams to be subject to a multitude of conditions,
And what are the causes for studying Dhamma and not something else? Can you really make oneself believe in some spaghetti monster on the Moon made of cheese? Why not? No causes for it. Can one quickly make a really fanatical Christian indoctrinated since childhood, teen and adult years to believe in Dhamma? Not anytime soon. Their upbringing, people around them, and delusion is the decisive cause.
squarepeg wrote: but there is something, possibly the illusion of something, pushing it in this direction or another.
A Self, a controller pushing thoughts out and intending this or that?

Here is an experiment. Sit in comfortable position and try to control the mind. Tell it "don't think any thoughts for 5 minutes". Please tell me how it goes. If we can't control even one thought, then how can we control any decision making? It all happens due to impersonal cause-effect conditionality.

The other possible option is that decision/intention/thoughts are uncaused. But even this rejects free will. Phenomena would just appear randomly without any cause at all (hence uncaused).
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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