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

Post by Sherab » Fri Nov 19, 2010 5:25 am

octathlon wrote:I don't think saying that free will is an illusion means you are saying that there is strict determinism.
Because there is still the factor of pure chance.

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Re: Did the Buddha teach strict determinism?

Post by m0rl0ck » Fri Nov 19, 2010 5:43 am

alan wrote:Obvious answer is no. But, this being a forum, I suppose we will hear from someone who insists on arguing the opposite. For what reason, I cannot conceive.
Well obviously, being a determinist, he would be doing it because he couldnt stop himself.
“The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.” ― Robert M. Pirsig

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Bhikkhu Pesala
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Re: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala » Fri Nov 19, 2010 6:02 am

Four Points to Bear in Mind

Relationship of Cause to Effect

The fourth aspect of Dependent Origination is the one-to-one correspondence between cause and effect (evam dhammatā). Every cause leads only to the relevant effect; it has nothing to do with any irrelevant effects. In other words, every cause is the sufficient and necessary condition for the corresponding effect. This leaves no room for chance or moral impotency (akiriya-ditthi). However, as the Visuddhimagga says, for those who misunderstand it, it provides the basis for rigid determinism (niyatavāda). Meditators clearly see the relationship of each effect to its cause, so they have no doubt about their one-to-one correspondence and the truth of moral responsibility.
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Re: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by Modus.Ponens » Fri Nov 19, 2010 6:16 am

I have not read the other thread as it is way too long.

Pure determinism is an inevitable consequence of the principle of causality, which is a principle I think the Buddha thaught. However, only a person completely aware of the laws that run the universe and what the present state of the universe is would be devoid of choice. Anyone who is not in this condition is unable to completely understand the causes that made him act in a way and therefore has the illusion of choice. The conclusion is not that one should not care for one's actions because all is predetermined and choice is an illusion. The conclusion is that we should care for our actions because that illusion is the reality to us and we got to make the best out of our reality.
He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: 'This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.'
(Jhana Sutta - Thanissaro Bhikkhu translation)

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Re: Did the Buddha teach strict determinism?

Post by mikenz66 » Fri Nov 19, 2010 6:35 am

I think M.P. sums the issues up well. I found the article
Federman, Asaf (2010) What kind of free will did the Buddha teach? Philosophy East and West, Vol.60 (No.1). ISSN 0031-8221
http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/3142/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
that was already referred to on the other thread very interesting (though now my head hurts...). In particular the distinction made between determinism and fatalism...

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

Post by Viscid » Fri Nov 19, 2010 6:55 am

Modus.Ponens wrote:I have not read the other thread as it is way too long.

Pure determinism is an inevitable consequence of the principle of causality, which is a principle I think the Buddha thaught. However, only a person completely aware of the laws that run the universe and what the present state of the universe is would be devoid of choice. Anyone who is not in this condition is unable to completely understand the causes that made him act in a way and therefore has the illusion of choice. The conclusion is not that one should not care for one's actions because all is predetermined and choice is an illusion. The conclusion is that we should care for our actions because that illusion is the reality to us and we got to make the best out of our reality.
:goodpost:
"What holds attention determines action." - William James

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

Post by Sherab » Fri Nov 19, 2010 7:27 am

Modus.Ponens wrote:Pure determinism is an inevitable consequence of the principle of causality..
Agreed.
Modus.Ponens wrote:However, only a person completely aware of the laws that run the universe and what the present state of the universe is would be devoid of choice. Anyone who is not in this condition is unable to completely understand the causes that made him act in a way and therefore has the illusion of choice. The conclusion is not that one should not care for one's actions because all is predetermined and choice is an illusion. The conclusion is that we should care for our actions because that illusion is the reality to us and we got to make the best out of our reality.
This conclusion while inevitable is still emotionally unsatisfactory. Why? Because as a result of determinism and by the law of large numbers, there will be at least a minority of sentient beings who can never ever attain liberation or buddhahood. To affect the outcome of such a deterministic situation, one will need an influence that is outside the range of determinism or an influence that is a truely random.

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Re: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by tiltbillings » Fri Nov 19, 2010 7:30 am

Viscid wrote:
Modus.Ponens wrote:I have not read the other thread as it is way too long.

Pure determinism is an inevitable consequence of the principle of causality, which is a principle I think the Buddha thaught. However, only a person completely aware of the laws that run the universe and what the present state of the universe is would be devoid of choice. Anyone who is not in this condition is unable to completely understand the causes that made him act in a way and therefore has the illusion of choice. The conclusion is not that one should not care for one's actions because all is predetermined and choice is an illusion. The conclusion is that we should care for our actions because that illusion is the reality to us and we got to make the best out of our reality.
Good post? Image If it made sense, maybe it would be, but pure determinism leaves us as leaves blowing in the winds, having no choice. What difference is there in what we do, since what we do is has nothing to do with anything I imagine I want, since imagining that I want anything and can do anything of my own accord is just an artifact, a side effect, of impersonal mechanical cause and effect, meaning there is not a thing I can do? Is that what the Buddha taught?
>> 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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tiltbillings
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Re: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by tiltbillings » Fri Nov 19, 2010 7:39 am

As a matter of clarification Did the Buddha teach strict determinism? Is the the subject of this thread. Is strict determinism what one finds the Buddha teaching in the suttas?

Edit: shifting the focus: Did the Buddha teach that we have a functional choice?
>> 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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Sherab
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Re: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by Sherab » Fri Nov 19, 2010 7:55 am

tiltbillings wrote:As a matter of clarification Did the Buddha teach strict determinism? Is the the subject of this thread. Is strict determinism what one finds the Buddha teaching in the suttas?
The Buddha only taught what was required to help us attain liberation/buddhahood. Whether his teachings implied strict determinism or not is for us to figure out if we so desire.

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Re: Did the Buddha teach strict determinism?

Post by robertk » Fri Nov 19, 2010 8:03 am

I think the Buddha taught causality based on his knowledge of complex conditions. Determinism sounds like a philosophical viewpoint that the old philosophers debated about.

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Re: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by tiltbillings » Fri Nov 19, 2010 8:08 am

robertk wrote:I think the Buddha taught causality based on his knowledge of complex conditions. Determinism sounds like a philosophical viewpoint that the old philosophers debated about.
Yes, the Buddha taught causilty, but to refine the question: Did the Buddha teach that we have functional choice within the causal context within which we find ourselves?
>> 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: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by robertk » Fri Nov 19, 2010 8:10 am

tiltbillings wrote:
robertk wrote:I think the Buddha taught causality based on his knowledge of complex conditions. Determinism sounds like a philosophical viewpoint that the old philosophers debated about.
Yes, the Buddha taught causilty, but to refine the question: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice within the causal context in which we find ourselves?
Titlt could you change the title of this thread to what you rephrased it, they are somewhat different questions.

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

Post by tiltbillings » Fri Nov 19, 2010 8:17 am

robertk wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
robertk wrote:I think the Buddha taught causality based on his knowledge of complex conditions. Determinism sounds like a philosophical viewpoint that the old philosophers debated about.
Yes, the Buddha taught causilty, but to refine the question: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice within the causal context in which we find ourselves?
Titlt could you change the title of this thread to what you rephrased it, they are somewhat different questions.
Thanks. Actually, that is a far better question.
>> 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: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by Hanzze » Fri Nov 19, 2010 8:34 am

"Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?"
Yes, we just need to leave our habits. Caught in our habits, we have no choice. We are just moved by cause and effect. So its up to the monkey to calm down. Just give him a chance or let him run wild till he is tired.
Just that! *smile*
...We Buddhists must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos, and the battlefields will become our temples. We have so much work to do. ... Peace is Possible! Step by Step. - Samtach Preah Maha Ghosananda "Step by Step" http://www.ghosananda.org/bio_book.html

BUT! it is important to become a real Buddhist first. Like Punna did: Punna Sutta Nate sante baram sokham _()_

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Re: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by Sanghamitta » Fri Nov 19, 2010 8:49 am

The original debate could only have occured to western consciousness influenced no matter how indirectly and how unconsciously by Calvinism and so arriving at a doctrine of the division between the Predestination of the Buddhist Elect and those who are eternal incarnation fodder.

I hasten to add I meant by the original debate the one that Tilit linked to.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.

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Re: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by plwk » Fri Nov 19, 2010 10:35 am

Reminds me of the many debates on icchantikas.... :coffee:

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Re: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by piotr » Fri Nov 19, 2010 11:00 am

@Tiltbillings, I think that the most straightforward answer to your question is found in Kusala Sutta (AN 2.19).
Bhagavaṃmūlakā no, bhante, dhammā...

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Re: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by Nyana » Fri Nov 19, 2010 11:47 am

tiltbillings wrote:Did the Buddha teach that we have functional choice within the causal context within which we find ourselves?
Cetanā is volitional intention, the will-to-do, the intentional directing of the mind. It is functional choice. Just because a particular mind-stream doesn't have all of the optimal requisite causes and conditions in place to always make the most optimally efficacious choice doesn't mean that cetanā isn't functional choice.

Contact is concomitant with volitional intention. The path includes developing fundamental attention (yoniso manasikāra), right effort (sammāvāyāma), and right exertion (sammappadhānā), which condition desire (chanda), volitional intention (cetanā), and so on. Functional choice isn't independent of other causes and conditions -- it operates within the same conditioned mind-stream. But it does operate, and it does so in consort with desire and attention, etc. Hence there is no need for Cartesian notions of free will or Upaniṣadic notions of a permanent, unchanging Self for there to be functional choice. In fact, these non-Buddhist systems are not sustainable precisely because of the interdependence of phenomena: i.e. an unchanging agent cannot engage in actions, etc.
  • There are these four right exertions. Which four? There is the case where a monk generates desire, endeavors, arouses persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen... for the sake of the abandoning of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen... for the sake of the arising of skillful qualities that have not yet arisen...(and) for the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen. These are the four right exertions.

    Just as the River Ganges flows to the east, slopes to the east, inclines to the east, in the same way when a monk develops & pursues the four right exertions, he flows to Unbinding, slopes to Unbinding, inclines to Unbinding. [SN.49.1]

    There are these four exertions. Which four? The exertion to guard, the exertion to abandon, the exertion to develop, & the exertion to maintain.

    And what is the exertion to guard? There is the case where a monk, on seeing a form with the eye, does not grasp at any theme or variations by which — if he were to dwell without restraint over the faculty of the eye — evil, unskillful qualities such as greed or distress might assail him. He practices with restraint. He guards the faculty of the eye. He achieves restraint with regard to the faculty of the eye. (Similarly with the ear, nose, tongue, body, & intellect.) This is called the exertion to guard.

    And what is the exertion to abandon? There is the case where a monk does not acquiesce to a thought of sensuality that has arisen [in him]. He abandons it, destroys it, dispels it, wipes it out of existence. He does not acquiesce to a thought of ill will... a thought of violence... any evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen [in him]. He abandons them, destroys them, dispels them, wipes them out of existence. This is called the exertion to abandon.

    And what is the exertion to develop? There is the case where a monk develops the mindfulness factor for Awakening dependent on seclusion... dispassion... cessation, resulting in letting go. He develops the investigation of qualities factor for Awakening... the persistence factor for Awakening... the rapture factor for Awakening... the serenity factor for Awakening... the concentration factor for Awakening... the equanimity factor for Awakening dependent on seclusion... dispassion... cessation, resulting in letting go. This is called the exertion to develop.

    And what is the exertion to maintain? There is the case where a monk maintains a favorable theme of concentration — the skeleton perception, the worm-eaten perception, the livid perception, the festering perception, the falling-apart perception, the bloated perception. This is called the exertion to maintain. [AN 4.14]

    And how is a person ardent? There is the case where a monk thinks, 'The arising of unarisen evil, unskillful qualities would lead to what is unbeneficial,' and he arouses ardor. 'The non-abandoning of arisen evil, unskillful qualities... The non-arising of unarisen skillful qualities... The ceasing of arisen skillful qualities would lead to what is unbeneficial,' and he arouses ardor. This is what it means to be ardent.

    And how is a person concerned? There is the case where a monk thinks, 'The arising of unarisen evil, unskillful qualities would lead to what is unbeneficial,' and he feels concern. 'The non-abandoning of arisen evil, unskillful qualities... The non-arising of unarisen skillful qualities... The ceasing of arisen skillful qualities would lead to what is unbeneficial,' and he feels concern. This is what it means to be concerned. This is how a person ardent & concerned is capable of self-awakening, capable of Unbinding, capable of attaining the unexcelled security from bondage. [SN16.2]

    [W]hen an individual with an internal blemish discerns, as it actually is, that 'I have an internal blemish,' it can be expected of him that he will generate desire, endeavor, & arouse persistence for the abandoning of that blemish. [MN 5]

    If, on examination, a monk knows, 'I usually remain covetous, with thoughts of ill will, overcome by sloth & drowsiness, restless, uncertain, angry, with soiled thoughts, with my body aroused, lazy, or unconcentrated,' then he should put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, undivided mindfulness, & alertness for the abandoning of those very same evil, unskillful qualities, just as when a person whose turban or head was on fire would put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, undivided mindfulness, & alertness to put out the fire on his turban or head.... [AN 10.51]
Moreover, just because there is no permanent undying self as the agent controlling the aggregates or within the aggregates does not mean that there is no conscious, functional, volitional self-agency operating. AN 6.38 Attakāra Sutta:
  • "This, master Gotama, is my my doctrine; this is my view: There is no self-agency/acting (attakāra); there is no other-agency/acting (parakāra)."

    "Never, brahman, have I seen or heard of such a doctrine, such a view. How indeed can one step forward, how can one step back, yet say: 'There is no self-agency/acting; there is no other-agency/acting'? What do you think, brahman, is there such a thing as initiative?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "That being so, are beings known to initiate?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Well, brahman, since there is such a thing as initiative and beings are known to initiate, this among beings is self-agency; this is other-agency."

    "What do you think, brahmin, is there such a thing as stepping away ... such a thing as stepping forward ... such a thing as stopping ... such a thing as standing still ... such a thing as stepping toward?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "That being so, are beings known to do all these things?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Well, brahmin, since there is such a thing as stepping away and stepping forward, and the rest, and beings are known to do these things, this among beings is self-agency/acting; this is other-agency/acting. Never, Brahmin, I have seen or heard of such a doctrine, such a view as yours. How indeed can one step forward, how can one step back, yet say: 'There is no self-agency; there is no other-agency'?"
All the best,

Geoff

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Re: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice?

Post by tinhtan » Fri Nov 19, 2010 2:55 pm

Hello tiltbillings, all
tiltbillings wrote:In this thread http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=6234" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; in the general meditation section was a back and forth about the role of determinism within the Buddha's teachings. It is a battle better fought here for those who are interested.

Edit: Yes, the Buddha taught causilty, but to refine the question: Did the Buddha teach that we have choice within the causal context within which we find ourselves?
I think the problem comes from the understanding of the anatta.
The argument often shown is the "beyond-control" or "out-of-control" or "no-control" aspect of the anatta dhamma. So there is no choice possible.

As Alex argue :
Alex123 wrote:ayoniso or yoniso manasikāra belongs to the aggregates (especially Saṅkhāra khandha).

In MN35 The Buddha defined anatta as 5 aggregates being beyond control when he was talking to Saccaka (Aggivessana). Anatta is similarly defined in SN22.59. One cannot control any aggregate "let it be thus, let it not be thus".

Saṅkhāra Khandha includes such thing as wisdom, ignorance and intention toward sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, mental objects - SN22.57.
So one cannot control intention "let me put wisdom or anger toward" sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, mental objects. One cannot choose to have only yoniso manasikāra toward things. If I could, I would do it
This is not the way that I understand the meanings of "no control" aspect of the anatta dhamma.

Why one cannot control any aggregate ? well , it is just because of the anicca-impermanence of every phenomenon. It is never be permanent due to the ever changing nature of every phenomenon. It cannot be the same permanently. It will change according to the natural law of anicca-impermanence.

It means that what one have seen arising as kusala dhamma, it will be falling away, disappearing, and if one is influenced (conditionned) by bad stimuli, akusala dhama will arise and fortunately then will also fall away.
The arising/falling of each conditionned dhamma leaves place for the best as the worst to happen.

This anicca law is a chance, a real opportunity for one to change one's life. Now what is missed, it is the way to use this anicca law for one's benefit. Fortunately, this is teached by Gotama Buddha summarized in the 4NT (which is also a brief summary of the Paticcasamupadda).

The first thing to know is to identify what is dukkha (that is to discern or to feel of what are kusala/akusala dhammas). The cause of dukkha. Finally the path to realize the cessation of dukkha.
Kusala dhammas are conditions that lead to the cessation of Tanha, that is also the cessation of Avijja.

So the only way to keep one to maintain, to accumulate kusala dhammas (that are arising/falling away all the time) is to repeat the process in the direction that allow kusala dhamma to arise frequently.
The fact to see/go in a good direction means making a good, skilfull choice - yoniso manasikara (also called appropriate attention).

The suttas MN19, MN20 are very clear on how the Boddhisatta processed on the path.
Here is another basic/fondamental sutta about yoniso manasikara (translated in this sutta as "appropriate attention" ) : MN2 : Sabbasava Sutta: All the Fermentations. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Surely that there will be another mental qualities that we need to cultivate for the progress on the spiritual path (atapi, sati, sampajanna, faith, samadhi,panna..)
It is meaningless to say :
"mental-qualities" belong to "sankhara khanda"
but "sankahra khanda" is beyond control
so "mental-qualities" are beyond control !!! Yeah, and what's else ?

It is counter-productive to have such views missing the role of the 8 Noble Path in short or the 37 Boddhipakiyadhammas in large.

"choice/no-choice", "control/no-control" .. whatever one calls that, but because of the arising/falling of all conditionned phenomenon, there is room to make conditions for kusala dhamma arised.
- But WHO makes conditions ?
- BAD question, there's no who, but panna makes conditions
- really ?? but it is sankh....
- oh dear... :tantrum:



Thanks tiltbillings for your amazing kind wolf.


just my other two cents :toast:
best wishes
metta

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