Free will vs determinism in Buddhism?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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robertk
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Re: Free will and Buddhism

Post by robertk » Thu Dec 27, 2012 7:03 pm

Very nice analysis Jason

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reflection
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Re: Free will and Buddhism

Post by reflection » Thu Dec 27, 2012 7:45 pm

Is there free will or not? You can read the suttas and you can listen to 100 monks and nons, which all is great, but won't give you the answer. You have to try to find 'free will' inside of yourself to find the answer. If you look deeply you'll see that decisions and choices are not made by you, but are made by circumstances. As soon as you can get beyond the idea of 'you' having a choice or not, there is no more need to think about the notion of free will.

Of course, it's not easy to do. In fact, you can't do it at all, because doing is in itself caused by willing. That's why one should let go of willing to see it as it is. And the more you see will is non-self, the easier it is to let go. Then there may arise meditation states in which there is no choice at all anymore; and the question is answered. All of this is part of what the Buddha talked about when he taught non-self.

alan...
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Re: Free will and Buddhism

Post by alan... » Thu Dec 27, 2012 9:49 pm

check out accesstoinsight, a search of "determinism" brought up a lot of info to explain this idea. determinism is the opposite of free will.

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Sambojjhanga
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Re: Free will and Buddhism

Post by Sambojjhanga » Thu Dec 27, 2012 11:32 pm

reflection wrote:Is there free will or not? You can read the suttas and you can listen to 100 monks and nons, which all is great, but won't give you the answer. You have to try to find 'free will' inside of yourself to find the answer. If you look deeply you'll see that decisions and choices are not made by you, but are made by circumstances. As soon as you can get beyond the idea of 'you' having a choice or not, there is no more need to think about the notion of free will.

Of course, it's not easy to do. In fact, you can't do it at all, because doing is in itself caused by willing. That's why one should let go of willing to see it as it is. And the more you see will is non-self, the easier it is to let go. Then there may arise meditation states in which there is no choice at all anymore; and the question is answered. All of this is part of what the Buddha talked about when he taught non-self.
:goodpost:
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Re: Free will and Buddhism

Post by alan... » Fri Dec 28, 2012 3:46 am

there is some sutta where this very issue is discussed, i struggled with the same question until i found it. it is the buddha discussing determinism, kamma and all that but for the life of me i can't remember what it was called! anyway, the buddha said that it's not predetermined so yes we have free will according to the buddha.

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Re: Free will and Buddhism

Post by alan... » Fri Dec 28, 2012 6:13 am

"For the early Buddhists, karma was non-linear and complex. Other Indian schools believed that karma operated in a simple straight line, with actions from the past influencing the present, and present actions influencing the future. As a result, they saw little room for free will. Buddhists, however, saw that karma acts in multiple feedback loops, with the present moment being shaped both by past and by present actions; present actions shape not only the future but also the present. Furthermore, present actions need not be determined by past actions. In other words, there is free will, although its range is somewhat dictated by the past. The nature of this freedom is symbolized in an image used by the early Buddhists: flowing water. Sometimes the flow from the past is so strong that little can be done except to stand fast, but there are also times when the flow is gentle enough to be diverted in almost any direction."

-Thanissaro Bhikkhu

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... karma.html

i still can't find that sutta though! last time i saw it it put to bed this issue for me so i just moved on without writing down the name or anything.

also:

"In this way, the Buddha points to one of the most distinctive features of his own teaching on kamma: that the present experience of pleasure and pain is a combined result of both past and present actions. This seemingly small addition to the notion of kamma plays an enormous role in allowing for the exercise of free will and the possibility of putting an end to suffering before the effects of all past actions have ripened. In other words, this addition is what makes Buddhist practice possible, and makes it possible for a person who has completed the practice to survive and teach it with full authority to others. For more on these points, see the articles, "Karma," "A Refuge in Skillful Action," and "Five Piles of Bricks"; see also the Introduction to The Wings to Awakening, along with the introductions to the sections on Skillfulness and Kamma & the Ending of Kamma in that book."

-Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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

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reflection
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Re: Free will and Buddhism

Post by reflection » Fri Dec 28, 2012 2:02 pm

Determinism and free will are opposites like forest and desert are opposites. There are also other possibilities: sea, tundra, fields etc. Indeterminism could be caused by plenty of other things than 'free will'. So there being no determinism doesn't really say anything about there being free will or not.

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Re: Free will and Buddhism

Post by jackson » Sun Dec 30, 2012 4:12 pm

Thank you kindly for your replies, especially Jason for his detailed reply, you guys have given me plenty to think about!
:anjali:
Jackson
"The heart of the path is quite easy. There’s no need to explain anything at length. Let go of love and hate and let things be. That’s all that I do in my own practice." - Ajahn Chah

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Re: Free will and Buddhism

Post by SamKR » Mon Dec 31, 2012 5:44 am

Jason wrote: ...
:goodpost:

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Lack of Free Will and Anatta

Post by sentientbeing » Sun Jan 13, 2013 11:23 pm

I have been experiencing Depersonalization Disorder for the last 3 years along with other psychological conditions such as Anhedonia, Depression...
The most disturbing of these symptoms is the experience of behaving against my will. My thoughts, feelings, actions work in a completely deterministic fashion that I have no control over.
I also experience Anatta and I have difficulty setting long-term goals and accomplishing them because I lack the emotional substrate.

Is there a way to "un-enlighten"? I would prefer to live in the state of ordinary consciousness with attachments and suffering.

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James the Giant
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Re: Lack of Free Will and Anatta

Post by James the Giant » Sun Jan 13, 2013 11:31 pm

Have you seen a doctor/psychologist about all this? And are you getting ongoing treatment? It sounds like you have, since you know your diagnosis.
Then,
saturated with joy,
you will put an end to suffering and stress.
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sentientbeing
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Re: Lack of Free Will and Anatta

Post by sentientbeing » Sun Jan 13, 2013 11:59 pm

Yes, the diagnosis oscillates between Schizo-affective Disorder and Bipolar II Disorder. After trying different medications, the Bipolar mood stabilizers have been the most effective.

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James the Giant
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Re: Lack of Free Will and Anatta

Post by James the Giant » Mon Jan 14, 2013 3:03 am

Sweet, just wanted to make sure. Some people ask similar questions here but have not seen a doctor first.
Then,
saturated with joy,
you will put an end to suffering and stress.
SN 9.11

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Re: Lack of Free Will and Anatta

Post by sentientbeing » Mon Jan 14, 2013 3:22 am

Thanks for asking!

The emptiness of mind is very apparent in this state, its almost as if my mind has expanded infinitely and phenomenon come into being and cease on their own, similar to the physical laws that govern space-time.

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Re: Lack of Free Will and Anatta

Post by Cittasanto » Mon Jan 14, 2013 7:23 am

sentientbeing wrote:I have been experiencing Depersonalization Disorder for the last 3 years along with other psychological conditions such as Anhedonia, Depression...
The most disturbing of these symptoms is the experience of behaving against my will. My thoughts, feelings, actions work in a completely deterministic fashion that I have no control over.
I also experience Anatta and I have difficulty setting long-term goals and accomplishing them because I lack the emotional substrate.

Is there a way to "un-enlighten"? I would prefer to live in the state of ordinary consciousness with attachments and suffering.
Hi Sentient,
I think your question is not to the right group of people, mainly because what you are experiencing isn't part of the practice per se, rather a medical condition.
Try talking to your doctor about referrals to psychotherapists or other professional experienced in dealing with this area they may send you to a MBSR type therapist or another better suited to the specific help you require.

Hope you find what you are looking for.
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But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
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Alex123
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Re: Free will and Buddhism

Post by Alex123 » Sun Aug 03, 2014 8:18 pm

If there is no self, then there is no self, no agent, that can decide to do this or that.
"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: Free will and Buddhism

Post by tiltbillings » Sun Aug 03, 2014 8:26 pm

Alex123 wrote:If there is no self, then there is no self, no agent, that can decide to do this or that.
There is no independent, self-identical, ontic agent.
>> 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.

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Re: Free will and Buddhism

Post by dhammacoustic » Mon Aug 04, 2014 3:33 pm

I would say, since there is no reality as "ego", it's pointless to debate whether there is free-will or not, as all are conditioned mental processes.

There is the mind - which conditions the kamma processes of a stream, and there is the path/fruition - which leads to unconditionality after it's attained. One will choose Nibbana over ego-existence, and this is a choice of free-will - not, it's just "realization". Once a small child realizes that fire burns, he won't touch it ever again. This means that, there is ignorance and there is wisdom. And it's all about seeking and realizing. But for that seeking to arise, one needs to be already free from certain types of defilements and states, which is unfortunately, dependent upon kamma. It's the reason why a Buddha is a Buddha, and not some other person. His kamma, allows him to be the Buddha. Dependent origination covers abouts anything - except Nibbana. When one enters Nibbana (well, actually there is no one entering it, because it reality, there is no ego-entity) it's the end of every mental concept, so you can't be talking about dependency or conditionality any more. :sage:
Uppādā vā tathagātanaṃ anuppādā vā tathagātanaṃ, ṭhitāva sā dhātu dhammaṭṭhitatā dhammaniyāmatā idappaccayatā. Taṃ tathagāto abhisam­buj­jhati abhisameti. Abhisam­bujjhitvā abhisametvā ācikkhati deseti paññāpeti paṭṭhapeti vivarati vibhajati uttānīkaroti. ‘Passathā’ti cāha; ‘avijjāpaccayā, bhikkhave, saṅkhārā’. Iti kho, bhikkhave, yā tatra tathatā avitathatā anaññathatā idappaccayatā-ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, paṭiccasamup­pādo.
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The Distinction of the Will – bound or free

Post by ancientbuddhism » Mon Aug 04, 2014 8:22 pm

The notion of ‘will’, specifically with reference to pāḷi cetanā, comes up from time to time in discussions with Dhamma practitioners. I have started pulling together some notes on the subject, and brief sketch, as grist for the mill for what others may offer.

“cetanāhaṃ, bhikkhave, kammaṃ vadāmi. cetayitvā kammaṃ karoti — kāyena vācāya manasā.”

“It is volition, bhikkhus, that I call kamma. For having willed, one acts by body, speech, or mind.” (AN. 6.63 – Nibbedhika Sutta/translation: Bodhi)

Thusly, there is ‘will’ or ‘volition’ in the Tathāgata’s analysis of causal processes.

However, there is often in the ‘West’ a notion of ‘free-will’ with questions of ‘do we have control over our actions? … to what extent…? …who is the agent of our actions?” etc.

In the Dhamma of the Tathāgata there appears to be only two distinctions of volition and kamma; one bound by ignorance with inclination to greed, aversion and delusion; and only one that is truly free from these through contemplative knowledge.

The Tathāgata also made a distinction to a will (cetanā) functioning within causal processes as different from the claims of an ‘ultimate locus of control’ (Federman, 2010, p.5) as ātman in the Upaniṣads. Asaf Federman mentions this in What kind of Free Will did the Buddha Teach?:
  • “In the passages from the Upaniṣads that are quoted above, ātman is the inner
    controller. Knowing ātman gives the knower ultimate control and ultimate freedom
    to influence his destiny. By knowing ātman one becomes one’s own master and
    gains freedom of movement. The metaphor of mastery is echoed later in Buddhist
    texts, and stresses that the Buddha rejected ātman not only as a center of perception,
    but also as the center of control (more on this later).

    If knowledge of ātman is indeed so crucial for being one’s own master, being
    free and self-controlled, what should we make of the Buddha’s claim that no ātman
    can be found? There are two options. (1) With the rejection of ātman the Buddha
    provided a new source for ultimate free will. Or (2) with the rejection of ātman the
    Buddha rejected the idea of ultimate self-control and therefore rejected the idea of
    an ultimate free-will. The first hypothesis can easily be ruled out. Pāli texts do not
    suggest any alternative substance as the origin of ultimate control. They discuss reality
    in terms of processes, not in terms of substances. In such a reality there is action
    but there cannot be an ultimate source for action. The search for ultimate control
    must, then, be futile. If ultimate control is the definition of free will then the Buddha
    must have denied it.” (p. 6)

Kalupahana in The Notion of suffering in early Buddhism: compared with some reflections of early Wittgenstein, made reference to SN.12.20 Paccaya Sutta; that although all phenomena are causally conditioned (paṭiccasamuppanna), only some phenomena are dispositionally determined (saṅkhata)(p. 425) “...this human personality is nothing but a “bundle of dispositions” (sankhārapuñja). Yet, through attachment and confusion, man clings to the belief in a substantial self or a metaphysical subject (atta), permanent (nicca) and eternal (sassata), on the basis of the wrong understanding of “Thinker therefore I am” (mantā asmī = cogito ergo sum). … While there is no real self or soul that serves as an agent, sankhāras are real and active within their own sphere, within the world directed and determined by sankhāras, that is, the sphere of the sankhata.”(p.427)

[underlined emphasis mine]

The difference of how volition or determinations, by whatever pāḷi idiom, are handled by the puthujjana and the ariyasāvaka, is then respective to ignorance and choosing the pathway of craving (taṇhā) by the former, or choosing vigilance of the root of such and contemplative knowledge by the latter. This vigilance is directed to the presumption of a ‘self’ – “Thinker therefore I am” (mantā asmī) – as referenced in Kalupahana’s paper to the verse in Sutta-nipāta:
  • 916. “Mūlaṃ papañcasaṃkhāyā ti Bhagavā
    ‘mantā asmī’ti sabbam uparundhe,
    yā kāci taṇhā ajjhattaṃ,
    tāsaṃ vinayā sadā sato sikkhe.”
    (Sn. 4.14 – Tuvaṭaka Sutta) [Pāḷi – PTS/1913, pg. 179]

    “The root of diverse considerations –
    ‘I am the thinker’ – is entirely prevented;
    When one trains ever mindful,
    For the removal of any craving within oneself.”
“Free-will” would then appear only be the property of the noble adherent of Dhamma.
I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

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Sam Vara
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Re: The Distinction of the Will – bound or free

Post by Sam Vara » Mon Aug 04, 2014 8:49 pm

The Buddha seemed to be using a conception of the will which modern philosophers would term compatibilism. This allows for all phenomena to be causally determined, and for the human will (cetana) to be conditioned, but "free" in the sense that it is not opposed by other causal factors (niyama) including the will of another.

This would allow for there being no locus of undetermined freedom (the atman), and for there being a type of will which is conditioned by greed, hatred and delusion, and another conceptually distinct type of will which is not.

Free will is equally the property of noble and worldly beings. To the extend that one's desires are not opposed, one is free. The freedom of a worldly monarch would consist in the ability to realise their desires by means of power and wealth. (The Buddha frequently pointed out that this is a conditioned and precarious freedom at best.) The freedom of an enlightened being would presumably consist of the fact that they have no desires to be opposed and thwarted, and therefore their suffering is ended. Freedom from, rather than freedom to.

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