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 is it an illusion?

Post by tiltbillings » Tue Jul 20, 2010 9:26 am

jcsuperstar wrote:at the risk of causing frowny faces I'll quote ajahn Buddhadasa here
"You are a self that is not a real self. If you do not understand this, you do not understand Buddhism".
It is real enough (whatever "real" might mean), but it is simply not what it imagines itself to be.
>> 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: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by mikenz66 » Tue Jul 20, 2010 9:27 am

Hi Tilt, I did say I was playing devil's advocate above. I think it's a very tricky thing to think about. I think. :thinking:

Here are some comments from Ajahn Punnadhammo
http://bhikkhublog.blogspot.com/2008/04/free-will.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
As for Buddhism and free-will, the question allows of at least three answers, at different levels. In the first place, it should be pointed out that the question itself is something of a category error. The free will vs. determinism debate comes out of western philosophy, not eastern. In it's original form it wrestled with the problem of how free-will could be reconciled with an omnipotent and omniscient deity. If God knew from the creation that I would choose coffee and not tea, is my choice really free? When western thought moved from theism to materialism it took the problem with it, only with blind electro-chemical processes replacing the big guy in the clouds. Since Buddhism isn't encumbered by either the theist or materialist axioms, it isn't bothered by the question in the same way.

On a second level, and in a slightly different form, the question does come up though. The Buddha opposed the hard determinism of Makkhali Gosala with his little ball of yarn. (He would demonstrate his theory that everything was fixed from beginingless time by unrolling a ball of yarn, teaching that beings moved through various rebirths in a fixed order from beginning to end like the unrolling yarn.)

Furthermore, the Buddha said it was an error to teach that all things are determined by karma. This flat statement has been interpreted in various ways. However, in my humble opinion, the statement was made specifically to allow for a kind of free-will. You won't find it laid out so neatly in the Suttanta, but in Abhidhamma it is made clear that in the sequence of conscious mind-moments the sensory awareness of sights, sounds and so forth is determined completely by various factors, including past karma. However, there are other mind-moments (javana) where we make karma, and there the possibility of choice is present.

So, by this Abhidhamma analysis we could say that the present moment experience is always absolutely determined, but that the volitional action we take in response is free. Technically, it involves the factor of cetana or volition. This raises a further philosophical difficulty however. The dependent origination teaches us that everything except for the supramundane Nibbana element arises from past causes. So that would include cetana, so how can our choice be truly free?

The answer is the third level answer, which comes around at a higher level to the first approach. The false assumption still remaining in the previous paragraph is that there is an I who chooses coffee over tea. With the insight of anatta or not-self we dispense with the whole problem of whether a person is free by dispensing with the person. There is only the interplay of various physical and mental factors, one of which is cetana.

These various complexities were wrestled with in Buddhist India, and it may be that the Mahayana concept of the Tathagatagarbha ( the seed-of-buddhahood said to be present in all sentient beings from beginingless time) may have been an attempt to answer one particularly knotty form of this dilemma; how is it that beings who have always wandered in samsara, with only samsaric mental content, could ever develop a volition for seeking the transcendental?
Mike

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cooran
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Re: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by cooran » Tue Jul 20, 2010 9:28 am

The really scary thing for me is that there is No real Control.

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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tiltbillings
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Re: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by tiltbillings » Tue Jul 20, 2010 9:30 am

cooran wrote:The really scary thing for me is that there is No real Control.

with metta
Chris
But there is choice, which is enough.
>> 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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cooran
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Re: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by cooran » Tue Jul 20, 2010 9:34 am

Hello all,

This long article may be of interest:
"Freedom of the Will" in the light of Theravada Buddhist teachings Journal of Buddhist Ethics, Annual, 2007 by Peter Harvey

"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."
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7 ... n28513265/" 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 ---

Shonin
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Re: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by Shonin » Tue Jul 20, 2010 9:51 am

The "person" who we think is in control is a mental construct.
The "person" who we think is NOT in control is a mental construct.

It's all self-views.

Phenomena just are. 'Me' being or not being in control doesn't come into it. It's a kind of clinging. The Buddhist practice is to see that and thus let go.

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tiltbillings
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Re: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by tiltbillings » Tue Jul 20, 2010 10:01 am

Shonin wrote:
Phenomena just are. 'Me' being or not being in control doesn't come into it. It's a kind of clinging. The Buddhist practice is to see that and thus let go.
Except the reality is that until we have the insight to see it as it is, we need to work with the "me," which is the purpose of the precepts, of sitting practice, etc. It is a matter of starting where we are. We might want to tell the "constructed self" where to get off, to put it in its place, but it really does not work that way. Being recalcitrant, stubborn, and persistent, we have to work with it, cultivate it with the precepts, thin its walls with generosity and metta, to gain insight into it via mindfulness.
>> 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

PeterB
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Re: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by PeterB » Tue Jul 20, 2010 10:06 am

Shonin wrote:The "person" who we think is in control is a mental construct.
The "person" who we think is NOT in control is a mental construct.

It's all self-views.

Phenomena just are. 'Me' being or not being in control doesn't come into it. It's a kind of clinging. The Buddhist practice is to see that and thus let go.
following that logic Shonin the person who posted that view is a mental construct, so send me all of your mentally constructed income for the next six months. I will supply a PO box number.

PeterB
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Re: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by PeterB » Tue Jul 20, 2010 10:21 am

The person is real but transient. The person stubs her/his toe. The person loves and is aversive. The person laughs and cries. They are real.
The idea that they will have existence permanently in whole or part is the construct. Not just a mental construct but a psycho -social construct among psycho- social constructs.
What arises when you clench your hand is a fist. When you open your hand the fist does not arise. Nevertheless for the duration of your clenching the fist had reality as a fist. As that which in the English language is named "fist". Which is an action not a thing. A person is an action not a thing. It does have existence however while the conditions for its arising are present..

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tiltbillings
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Re: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by tiltbillings » Tue Jul 20, 2010 10:30 am

PeterB wrote:The person is real but transient. The person stubs her/his toe. The person loves and is aversive. The person laughs and cries. They are real.
The idea that they will have existence permanently in whole or part is the construct. Not just a mental construct but a psycho -social construct among psycho- social constructs.
What arises when you clench your hand is a fist. When you open your hand the fist does not arise. Nevertheless for the duration of your clenching the fist had reality as a fist. As that which in the English language is named "fist". Which is an action not a thing. A person is an action not a thing. It does have existence however while the conditions for its arising are present..
Yes.
>> 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: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by mikenz66 » Tue Jul 20, 2010 10:36 am

Here's the wrong view of Makkhali Gosala mentioned above:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
... Makkhali Gosala said to me, 'Great king, there is no cause, no requisite condition, for the defilement of beings. Beings are defiled without cause, without requisite condition. There is no cause, no requisite condition, for the purification of beings. Beings are purified without cause, without requisite condition. There is nothing self-caused, nothing other-caused, nothing human-caused. There is no strength, no effort, no human energy, no human endeavor. All living beings, all life, all beings, all souls are powerless, devoid of strength, devoid of effort. Subject to the changes of fate, serendipity, and nature, they are sensitive to pleasure and pain in the six great classes of birth.
...
"'Though one might think, "Through this morality, this practice, this austerity, or this holy life I will ripen unripened kamma and eliminate ripened kamma whenever touched by it" — that is impossible. Pleasure and pain are measured out, the wandering-on is fixed in its limits. There is no shortening or lengthening, no accelerating or decelerating. Just as a ball of string, when thrown, comes to its end simply by unwinding, in the same way, having transmigrated and wandered on, the wise and the foolish alike will put an end to pain.'
Mike

Shonin
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Re: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by Shonin » Tue Jul 20, 2010 10:41 am

tiltbillings wrote:Except the reality is that until we have the insight to see it as it is, we need to work with the "me," which is the purpose of the precepts, of sitting practice, etc. It is a matter of starting where we are. We might want to tell the "constructed self" where to get off, to put it in its place, but it really does not work that way. Being recalcitrant, stubborn, and persistent, we have to work with it, cultivate it with the precepts, thin its walls with generosity and metta, to gain insight into it via mindfulness.
Yes. We need to start with where we are and move towards greater insight. However, ruminating over metaphysical questions which themselves are founded on delusion will not move us in that direction.

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Rui Sousa
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Re: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by Rui Sousa » Tue Jul 20, 2010 10:43 am

In my opinion there is will, but is it not free. It is not free because it is conditioned. But there is will. And actions, words and thoughts affected by that will.

Maybe it is just a question of gradient, because even in Christianity will is not absolutely free, because there are consequences for actions and there is the case of divine intervention guiding believers on their actions.

In my understanding of Buddhism "will" is not as free as in Christianity, which is not completely free there, and freer than in fatalist believes.
With Metta

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tiltbillings
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Re: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by tiltbillings » Tue Jul 20, 2010 10:46 am

Rui Sousa wrote:In my opinion there is will, but is it not free. It is not free because it is conditioned. But there is will. And actions, words and thoughts affected by that will.

Maybe it is just a question of gradient, because even in Christianity will is not absolutely free, because there are consequences for actions and there is the case of divine intervention guiding believers on their actions.

In my understanding of Buddhism "will" is not as free as in Christianity, which is not completely free there, and freer than in fatalist believes.
In Christianity, how can you act other than how god knows you are going to act AND how you act is a result of the very nature of the creation of that god.
>> 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

Shonin
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Re: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by Shonin » Tue Jul 20, 2010 10:48 am

PeterB wrote:
Shonin wrote:The "person" who we think is in control is a mental construct.
The "person" who we think is NOT in control is a mental construct.

It's all self-views.

Phenomena just are. 'Me' being or not being in control doesn't come into it. It's a kind of clinging. The Buddhist practice is to see that and thus let go.
following that logic Shonin the person who posted that view is a mental construct, so send me all of your mentally constructed income for the next six months. I will supply a PO box number.
You have misunderstood me. I didn't mean that human beings don't exist, that there are no bellies to fill or that the non-payment of bills will not lead to future pain and suffering. But human beings don't have a real self - there is no real owner of their bodies, their mental states, their choices etc, except as a human convention.

What I posted is in line with what the Buddha taught.

Shonin
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Re: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by Shonin » Tue Jul 20, 2010 10:54 am

PeterB wrote:The person is real but transient. The person stubs her/his toe. The person loves and is aversive. The person laughs and cries. They are real.
The idea that they will have existence permanently in whole or part is the construct. Not just a mental construct but a psycho -social construct among psycho- social constructs.
What arises when you clench your hand is a fist. When you open your hand the fist does not arise. Nevertheless for the duration of your clenching the fist had reality as a fist. As that which in the English language is named "fist". Which is an action not a thing. A person is an action not a thing. It does have existence however while the conditions for its arising are present..
Good description. I think part of the problem is the definition of 'person' - whether we are referring to a person in the philosophical sense - the abstracted agent of choice and subject of experiences, (ie a self) which is what I meant - or whether we are referring to the aggregate of ever-changing physical and mental phenomena we call a 'human being' which is what you are talking about.

Otherwise I think we're in agreement.

What does not exist except as a mental construct is an ultimately real self - a fixed, agent of action and subject of experience. And only in regard to views about such a self do metaphysical questions about freewill or the lack of it make any sense.

I'm surprised that you don't know me better than to think I would claim the literal non-existence of human beings or other real phenomena Peter.

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Re: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by PeterB » Tue Jul 20, 2010 11:12 am

I did of course notice your inverted commas around "person" Shonin. But not everyone reading the message boards as as familiar with that idea as are some others... :anjali:

Anyway does that mean you wont be sending me your dosh ? :smile:

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Re: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by Shonin » Tue Jul 20, 2010 12:29 pm

PeterB wrote:I did of course notice your inverted commas around "person" Shonin. But not everyone reading the message boards as as familiar with that idea as are some others... :anjali:

Anyway does that mean you wont be sending me your dosh ? :smile:
My dosh is non-existent... literally

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Re: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by PeterB » Tue Jul 20, 2010 1:53 pm

I could lend you a few bob.

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Re: Free-will is it an illusion?

Post by Shonin » Tue Jul 20, 2010 2:07 pm

Thanks - but we'll get by. :)

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