Free Will

Sami Mandeel, modified 9 Years ago at 11/10/12 6:10 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 11/10/12 6:10 PM

Free Will

Posts: 23 Join Date: 5/15/11 Recent Posts
If every thought I have is dependant on the previous state of my mind in conjunction with the current stream of sensory input, then my brain is essentially a sophisticated neural network program and I've never really made a choice in my entire life. I've just been watching it 'make' 'decisions' whilst under the illusion that 'I' am the it, if you see what I mean.

Is there a buddhist consensus on this?
Adam , modified 9 Years ago at 11/10/12 6:15 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 11/10/12 6:14 PM

RE: Free Will

Posts: 613 Join Date: 3/20/12 Recent Posts
Personally I think there probably is no free will, though nothing is being "coerced" either, the Buddha's take on this was "STFU and go meditate" as I recall from the suttas...
Simon T, modified 9 Years ago at 11/11/12 2:01 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 11/11/12 2:01 PM

RE: Free Will

Posts: 383 Join Date: 9/13/11 Recent Posts
What is watching what?
Sami Mandeel, modified 9 Years ago at 11/11/12 2:44 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 11/11/12 2:44 PM

RE: Free Will

Posts: 23 Join Date: 5/15/11 Recent Posts
Simon T.:
What is watching what?

I am watching my brain/thoughts (assuming thoughts originate from within the brain).
Paul charon, modified 9 Years ago at 11/12/12 3:31 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 11/12/12 3:30 AM

RE: Free Will

Posts: 36 Join Date: 11/24/10 Recent Posts
I came across this video of Sam Harris talking about freewill the other day:

I posted an article on the same thing a while ago as it seems to me he's talking about Dependent Origination - but I'm not very confident in how the two marry up, as I'm only just starting to delve into Buddhist theory (as opposed to just practising).
An Eternal Now, modified 9 Years ago at 11/12/12 10:07 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 11/12/12 9:58 AM

RE: Free Will

Posts: 638 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
One should not mistaken no-self with: 1) a state of detached dissociation with will and action, as if you are a mere watcher while things happen by itself, which is dualistic 2) a non-dual state but passive, merely allowing spontaneous experience without engaging in action. Actually no-self may be experienced in such passivity but is not limited by it.

Also, rather than saying "I am not my intention, I merely watch it unfold" it is better to say "I am the intention", and yet it is better to say "Just intention alone IS, no I".

No-self is always already the case but it can be experienced in two modes. In no-self there is a passive mode but also a mode of total engagement in will, action, thought, but there is no gap between actor and action. Entire being is action, is the willing, and everything is like your willing but there is no actor. So not to be mistaken that there is no place for will and action. But at the same time that action without actor-acted dichotomy is non-action. More about this in:

In any case, there is something I wrote before regarding free-will/determinism, something I wrote in my ebook:

not to be mistaken that will has no part in all these. The teaching of anatta or no self does not deny will or the aggregates... The buddha teaches that a sentient being is simply a convention for five aggregates: matter/body, feelings, perception, volition, consciousness. Notice that volition is part of it. This will/volition can be directed towards a wholesome or unwholesome path. However, also remember that the five aggregates are empty of self - and are without agent. Does that mean there is no free will? In a sense yes, but neither does it imply determinism: another dualistic extreme. Free will means subjective controller determines action, determinism means objective world determines subjective experience. In reality there is no subject and object - in thinking just thought, in hearing just sound. But there are requisite conditions for every manifestation. Those conditions can be changed if there is a correct path.

A concrete example: if you ask a beginner to run 2.4km in 9 minutes with an unfit body, that is asking for the impossible. No matter how hard willed is he, he is never going to make it. Why? The current requisite conditions of his body is such that the result of running 9 minutes is impossible. Control, agency, doesn't apply when manifestation always arise due to conditions.

It however also means that if you exercise regularly for months or years, there is no reason the body (conditions) cannot be improved to the degree that running 9 mins is definitely possible. This is what I mean by working with conditions.

So those teachers who say meditation are useless are not understanding latent tendencies and conditions. They mistook no doership with some kind of fatalism. Every proper practice has its place in working with one's conditions.

Just because there is no self, no doer, doesn't mean my body is fated to be unfit and I can't reach the 9 min. Just because I exercise regularly doesn't mean I am reinforcing the notion of self or doership. In any case, action is always without self.

It also does not mean that "will" has no place at all. "Will" is often misunderstood to be linked to a self or agent that has full control over things, whereas it is simply more manifestation and conditions. Yes, sheer will going against conditions isn't going to work – this is not understanding no-self and dependent origination. But if will is directed properly with correct understanding of no-self and conditionality, at a proper path and practice, it can lead to benefits.

That is why the first teaching of Buddha is the four noble truths: the truth of suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, the way to end suffering. This path arises as a result of his direct insight into no-self and dependent origination.

Like a doctor, you don't tell your patients "you are fated to be ill and sick and in pain, because there is no individual controller, everything is the will of God". That is nonsense. Instead, you diagnose the illness, you seek the cause of illness, you give a treatment that eliminates the cause of illness. There is no self, there is no controller, but there is conditions and manifestation and a way to treat bad conditions. This is the way of the four noble truths.
Paul charon, modified 9 Years ago at 11/13/12 1:17 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 11/13/12 1:17 AM

RE: Free Will

Posts: 36 Join Date: 11/24/10 Recent Posts
Thanks for that AEN emoticon

Are there any resources you’d recommend for learning more about Dependent Origination?