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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tiltbillings
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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.

“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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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.
:heart: namō tassa bhagavatō, arahatō, sammā sambuddhassā

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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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Re: The Distinction of the Will – bound or free

Post by Mkoll » Mon Aug 04, 2014 9:05 pm

The will is always bound by its desires.

:thinking:
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa

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Re: The Distinction of the Will – bound or free

Post by chownah » Tue Aug 05, 2014 6:19 am

I think the concept of will (whether it is free or not) is a manifestation of the self. To understand the concept of will one should come to grips with the not self doctrine by having no doctrine of self whatever......I guess.....don't know for sure.....
chownah

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Alex123
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Re: Free will and Buddhism

Post by Alex123 » Sun Aug 10, 2014 8:52 pm

Here are interesting quotes
"Contacted, one feels. Contacted, one intends. Contacted, one perceives.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Contact is the cause by which sensuality comes into play.
...
Contact is the cause by which kamma comes into play.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
"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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Kim OHara
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Re: Free will and Buddhism

Post by Kim OHara » Mon Aug 11, 2014 6:39 am

SamKR wrote:
Jason wrote: ...
:goodpost:
+ 1

:namaste:
Kim

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dhammacoustic
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Determinism & Kamma

Post by dhammacoustic » Sat Mar 14, 2015 5:28 am

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJtP0Ep1_ds" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

So - since determinism is the current scientific :quote:fact :quote: of the universe, then is it just an 'unwholesome mental action' to recognize it that way? Is this what the Buddha implied? What I mean is; one might intellectually know and understand that it's all determined, though they still shouldn't cling to the idea (as it's just a mental ideation based on sensory perception) and live the illusion of self-doing?

Attakārī Sutta;
“Venerable Gotama, I am one of such a doctrine, of such a view: ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer.’”

“I have not, brahman, seen or heard such a doctrine, such a view. How, indeed, could one — moving forward by himself, moving back by himself — say: ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer’? What do you think, brahmin, is there an element or principle of initiating or beginning an action?”

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“When there is an element of initiating, are initiating beings clearly discerned?”

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“So, brahmin, when there is the element of initiating, initiating beings are clearly discerned; of such beings, this is the self-doer, this, the other-doer.

“What do you think, brahmin, is there an element of exertion... is there an element of effort... is there an element of steadfastness... is there an element of persistence... is there an element of endeavoring?”

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“When there is an element of endeavoring, are endeavoring beings clearly discerned?”

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“So, brahmin, when there is the element of endeavoring, endeavoring beings are clearly discerned; of such beings, this is the self-doer, this, the other-doer. I have not, brahmin, seen or heard such a doctrine, such a view as yours. How, indeed, could one — moving forward by himself, moving back by himself — say ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer’?”

“Superb, Venerable Gotama! Superb, Venerable Gotama! Venerable Gotama has made the Dhamma clear in many ways, as though he were turning upright what had been turned upside down, revealing what had been concealed, showing the way to one who was lost, or holding up a lamp in the dark: ‘Those who have eyes see forms!’ Just so, the Venerable Gotama has illuminated the Dhamma in various ways. I go to Venerable Gotama as refuge, and to the Dhamma, and to the assembly of monks. From this day, for as long as I am endowed with breath, let Venerable Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has gone to him for refuge.”
According to that;

> What might be the element of initiating in scientific terms?
> &;
- the element of exertion
- the element of effort
- the element of steadfastness
- the element of persistence
- the element of endeavoring

and as far as I know, as Theravadins we reject the soul, so anything about us is dependent upon prior causes and conditions. But the problem here is that, we are not responsible for anything in actuality, since there is no 'we' or 'self-doer', 'a mind that discerns and decides'. But the Buddha clearly rejects this. So then, how and why exactly does 'ego' and stress happen? What really is anattā? (don't answer that, let's keep this on topic :roll: )

I'm sorry but either these neuroscientists or physicists do not actually know jackshit about how reality actually is, or there is a supreme god or some sort of a self-aware cosmic will, and no individual kamma at all, and the Buddha (thanks to cosmic will) was smart enough to see that, and proposed a pragmatic self-deluding doctrine. OR - beings have souls (whatever they might be). There is no other explanation. I've thought this through, and I'm sure.

Please share your opinions on this. Thanks.
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.
:heart: namō tassa bhagavatō, arahatō, sammā sambuddhassā

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Pondera
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Re: Determinism & Kamma

Post by Pondera » Sat Mar 14, 2015 6:58 am

I might have had a similar argument with a friend of mine in University. He believed in determinism - I moves my arms up and down and asked him to explain THAT. He vouched for it by saying it was predetermined at the start of existence, etc. etcetera.

Scientifically - at the molecular level, harmonics begin to determine things, so we have to consider that in the brain.

There are social mechanisms that account for our behavior as well. You might even say humans are more socially determined than physically determined.

At the quantum scale; so I have heard, impositions are non-quantifiable and thus harmonics are calling the shots.

We might best compare the brain to a symphony orchestra and similar analogies exist in suttas as I'm sure you know.

Concerts do not go well by accident. And musicans are well trained.

We are socially determined and determined by sense desires.

These qualities you describe: perhaps science might best explain such qualities in terms of glands. ?
A wise man once asked an audience, "why do the ignorant shrug their shoulders?"

No one in the audience knew. They shrugged their shoulders, however the wise man only laughed and shook his head. He didn't explain any further.

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Re: Determinism & Kamma

Post by chownah » Sat Mar 14, 2015 9:12 am

What the heck are the self-doer and the other-doer?
chownah

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Re: Determinism & Kamma

Post by equilibrium » Sat Mar 14, 2015 12:47 pm

silver surfer wrote:we are not responsible for anything in actuality, since there is no 'we' or 'self-doer'
Actually, not technically true.
When we say no "we" or "self-doer", they are mere words but we don't "know" what the words truly means. (reading and understanding are two very different things)
Because of this perception, our actions leads us round and round the "cycle" of existence.
When you see the "cycle" (cause / conditions), one naturally wants out.
Free will can only be discussed at this deeper level, not on the surface.....as it is hard to see.
Then destiny can be changed due to ones actions.
silver surfer wrote:neuroscientists or physicists do not actually know xxxxxxxx about how reality actually is
They are blinded by their own perceptions.....and not even aware of it.....this is normal. (blind leading the blind)

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Re: Determinism & Kamma

Post by acinteyyo » Sat Mar 14, 2015 1:30 pm

silver surfer wrote:and as far as I know, as Theravadins we reject the soul, so anything about us is dependent upon prior causes and conditions. But the problem here is that, we are not responsible for anything in actuality, since there is no 'we' or 'self-doer', 'a mind that discerns and decides'. But the Buddha clearly rejects this. So then, how and why exactly does 'ego' and stress happen? What really is anattā? (don't answer that, let's keep this on topic :roll: )
It is very important to not fall for the trap of determinism. It is utterly wrong to believe that everything about us is dependent upon prior causes and conditions.
In another thread Could it be that you have not been born before? I mentioned the Devadaha Sutta MN101 there the Buddha makes clear, that the view of the Niganthas ("Whatever a person experiences — pleasure, pain, or neither pleasure nor pain — all is caused by what was done in the past") is a wrong view. The Buddha actually teaches that present experience of pleasure and pain is a combined result of both past and present actions and exactly in the present, in the here&now, there is the fulcrum where results can be changed into wholesome directions. Otherwise any effort to end suffering would be futile.

best wishes, acinteyyo
Last edited by acinteyyo on Sat Mar 14, 2015 10:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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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Re: Determinism & Kamma

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Mar 14, 2015 8:36 pm

Hi acinteyyo
acinteyyo wrote: It is very important to not fall for the trap of determinism. It is utterly wrong to believe that anything about us is dependent upon prior causes and conditions.
I presume this is a misprint, and you meant to type "everything"? :reading:

:anjali:
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Re: Determinism & Kamma

Post by Zom » Sat Mar 14, 2015 9:21 pm

I mentioned the Devadaha Sutta MN101 there the Buddha makes clear, that the view of the Niganthas ("Whatever a person experiences — pleasure, pain, or neither pleasure nor pain — all is caused by what was done in the past") is a wrong view.
Actually, this is a wrong view only in the sense, that you can cut your hand here and now and this is not your past kamma - this pain is just due to your present action. In this sense yes, not everything is caused by what was done in the past (in past life, to be more exact). However, Buddha did not say "determinism is incorrect" and neither said "there is an unconditioned free will". Suttas keep silence on this topic (I mean, no such direct statements ever made). However, what Buddha did say - is that when someone has determinist view, then he probably would lack effort in holy life and thus he won't reach the goal (and basing on this argument he critisises determinists). Just that simple. And when someone does not have such a view - then he is likely to live the holy life, because he sees effort as a cause for enlightenment. However, if someone believes that "will is unconditioned, or - "some part of will is unconditioned" - then he, of course, leans towards eternalism, self-view.

So correct answer to these questions: "Is "free will" fully conditioned?" or "Is "free will" at least partly unconditioned?" is: "Do not say so, friend. Instead, you should see it this way: "When there is an effort, there is a result. When there is no effort, there is no result". ;)

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Re: Determinism & Kamma

Post by acinteyyo » Sat Mar 14, 2015 10:23 pm

mikenz66 wrote:Hi acinteyyo
acinteyyo wrote: It is very important to not fall for the trap of determinism. It is utterly wrong to believe that anything about us is dependent upon prior causes and conditions.
I presume this is a misprint, and you meant to type "everything"? :reading:

:anjali:
Mike
Yes it was indeed, thanks Mike for the correction ;)
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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Re: Determinism & Kamma

Post by dhammacoustic » Sat Mar 14, 2015 11:38 pm

Zom wrote:Actually, this is a wrong view only in the sense, that you can cut your hand here and now and this is not your past kamma - this pain is just due to your present action. In this sense yes, not everything is caused by what was done in the past (in past life, to be more exact). However, Buddha did not say "determinism is incorrect" and neither said "there is an unconditioned free will". Suttas keep silence on this topic (I mean, no such direct statements ever made). However, what Buddha did say - is that when someone has determinist view, then he probably would lack effort in holy life and thus he won't reach the goal (and basing on this argument he critisises determinists). Just that simple. And when someone does not have such a view - then he is likely to live the holy life, because he sees effort as a cause for enlightenment. However, if someone believes that "will is unconditioned, or - "some part of will is unconditioned" - then he, of course, leans towards eternalism, self-view.

So correct answer to these questions: "Is "free will" fully conditioned?" or "Is "free will" at least partly unconditioned?" is: "Do not say so, friend. Instead, you should see it this way: "When there is an effort, there is a result. When there is no effort, there is no result". ;)
Hi, Zom

So you agree that the Buddha acknowledged determinisim, and indeed proposed a self-deluding doctrine?

:anjali:
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.
:heart: namō tassa bhagavatō, arahatō, sammā sambuddhassā

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Re: Determinism & Kamma

Post by Alobha » Sat Mar 14, 2015 11:57 pm

silver surfer wrote: Please share your opinions on this. Thanks.
Gladly. It's time to put on the neurohat again! :D

As for the experiments Sam Harris talks about starting at 2:50... just to give an idea how reliable neuroimaging procedures are: Dead salmon have brain activity under fMRI and there are troublesome Voodoo correlations going on. The list goes on with other methodological and technical issues about what studies like the one Sam Harris mentions actually means. The study he mentions may only show that the act of actively expressing a conscious decision takes a few seconds or miliseconds more than one would think and that there is brainactivity going on before that (Well - there is always brain activity going on before anything..). Neuroscience has not found "the place" in the brain where consciousness is located at.

Also, when Sam Harris talks about a row of causes that determine behavior in the end: That's very simplistic. There are things like risk factors. (e.g. biological, social, intrapersonal risk factors for developing this or that mental disorder, this or that disease, commit this or that crime,...) but risk factors are not the same as causes. They increase the likelihood but are not deterministic in nature. People can have the same risk factors or "causes" and still behave different. Sam Harris and others may argue that they don't have the same causes but that is theoretical jibber-jabber. There aren't studies where people have cause 1+2+3 and it can be determined with 100% precision that a person will do x or y once you leave the world of measuring the activity of bloodvessels on the outside of the brain.

He also has a good point though. People may overly believe they are "free" but one has to acknowledge that the chains of kilesas are holding a tight grip on people. Habits, social influence, emotions, ... there's a lot going on. So our decisions and mind are influenced by other things than our conscious will(power) alone - however: this is hardly surprising, is it?
And Sam Harris says we can't control our thoughts? Well, we can guide the mind, can't we? thoughts may pop up, but how the mind approaches this and how it acts is not determined by the thoughts that pop up. Those theoretical assumptions of his don't really catch the reality and complexity of things as far as i'm concerned.

To sum it up: The whole determinism thing according to neuroscience seems a bit too wonky to me both from the empirical/methodic point of view as well as the logical line of explanation used. I might be convinced if there are studies presented where a behavior (committing action x or y like say, choosing a job or university) can be predicted with 100% accuracy before the behavior has been actually shown within a real-world setting for a large number of trials. Measuring the activity of blood veins in an organ that is constantly active with methods that have proven to still fall prey to many weird errors and come to conclusions by calculating differences in the area of seconds to milliseconds... that's not gonna cut it for me.

If there is huge interest in properly tackling the studies Sam Harris mentioned, do tell. I'll see if I can get my hands on the studies and explain the whole thing in longwinding, voodoolistic, bedazzling detail in a seperate thread :P

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Re: Determinism & Kamma

Post by Zom » Sun Mar 15, 2015 12:00 am

So you agree that the Buddha acknowledged determinisim, and indeed proposed a self-deluding doctrine?
I said everything above.

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Re: Determinism & Kamma

Post by DNS » Sun Mar 15, 2015 2:32 am

Not a bad video. Sam Harris frequently refers to "who is the author" of the thoughts implying there is no author, somewhat compatible with Buddhist anatta.

Theistic religions are firmly in the free will camp.
Current scientific thinking / most scholars are firmly in the determinism camp.
I believe the Dhamma is somewhere in the middle.

Okay, perhaps more toward determinism. There is will / volition, but it is highly determined by our past kilesas, saṅkhāras, our conditioned consciousness, viññāna via paṭiccasamuppāda. I believe from a Buddhist perspective, the only way out of the determinism is by strong mindfulness and concentration, so that one does not get controlled by those past kilesas and saṅkhāras. And this could explain why nearly all people do appear to be operating completely in a deterministic way, i.e. successful meditation, mindfulness, is not easy.

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