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Free Will

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  • robmoult
    Hi Robert (Kirkpatrick) and others, I was preparing my class on the Noble Eightfold Path by Reviewing Bhikkhu Bodhi s book on the subject:
    Message 1 of 7 , Aug 9, 2002
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      Hi Robert (Kirkpatrick) and others,

      I was preparing my class on the Noble Eightfold Path by Reviewing
      Bhikkhu Bodhi's book on the subject:

      http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/bps/misc/waytoend.html

      I came across the following passage, "As [mundane right view]
      affirms that people can choose their actions freely, within limits
      set by their conditions, it opposes the 'hard deterministic' line
      that our choices are always made subject to necessitation."

      This reminded me of a comment that you made a few days ago, "I want
      to add that negating freewill doesn't imply determinism".

      I want to stress again that I am not yet ready to enter into a
      discussion on the topic. I am, however, really looking forward to
      the discussion - it's gonna be really interesting!

      Perhaps as an appetizer, I would like to ask you to expand on your
      comment (just to whet my appetite and prepare my palate for the main
      course that is coming later).

      Thanks,
      Rob M :-)
    • robertkirkpatrick.rm
      ... want ... main ... ___________________________________ Dear RobM, I paste some comments I made in 2 old letters, they are a little off the point but I m
      Message 2 of 7 , Aug 9, 2002
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        --- In dhammastudygroup@y..., "robmoult" <rob.moult@j...> wrote:
        > > This reminded me of a comment that you made a few days ago, "I
        want
        > to add that negating freewill doesn't imply determinism".

        > Perhaps as an appetizer, I would like to ask you to expand on your
        > comment (just to whet my appetite and prepare my palate for the
        main
        > course that is coming later).
        ___________________________________
        Dear RobM,
        I paste some comments I made in 2 old letters, they are a little off
        the point but I'm happy to add more anytime.

        Someone wrote to me a while back who
        feels that no control is a dangerous idea.They wanted to stress
        control and volitional intention
        which is what they believe that Buddha really taught
        and they feel uncontrollabilty to be a pernicious
        belief leading to apathy.

        "I have a choice whether to get angry in the present
        moment." the writer said."this is new kamma".

        I replied:
        Yes, the processes of cittas during anger are new
        kamma. However, they are
        also conditioned. The Patthana, the last and most
        important book of the
        Abhidhamma, goes into enormous detail about the 24
        paccaya (conditions).
        Some of which are past and some present. But even the
        present ones do not
        simply arise out of nothing. Nor do they arise because
        "I" want them to. The
        processes of mind are happening at enormous speed and
        there is no "person"
        who can do anything to stop them or change them. Even
        the cittas that are
        arising at this moment are conditioned by previous
        cittas as well as well as
        by other conditions that are present at the same time.
        This is not the place
        to go into details but it is well worth studying the
        Patthana. It gives us a
        glimpse of the profundity of the path and the wisdom
        of the Buddha.

        They further wrote that "we are not just
        helpless automata acting out our old kamma - that is
        absurd.
        I hope the above helps overcome the despair that comes
        from the belief that we are a slave to our
        conditioning."

        I said "This sounds like the debates that western
        Philosophy used to have (and still
        does) about Free-will versus Determinism.
        The Buddha's analysis of the world is neither, it is
        the middle path. Thus
        the statement about "we being helpless automata acting
        out our old kamma"
        misses the point. There is no "we" to be anything. And
        kamma is not the only
        condition.
        Hearing the teachings of Buddhism - especially the
        deep teachings on anatta,
        are a condition for understanding. This understanding
        leads to energy:
        energy to hear more, and energy to carry on with the
        study and practice of
        vipassana. It leads to the type of determination that
        will gladly keep
        developing understanding moment after moment, life
        after life, aeon after
        aeon, no matter how long it takes. And if
        understanding grows then there
        will be detachment from the idea of self and of
        control. Then there is no
        more despair about the path - because "I" have been
        taken out of the
        equation. The "I" that we love so much, the "I" that
        we want to be happy,
        get enlightened , whatever. Then, as the
        Visuddhimagga says,
        'there is a path but no one on the path'."

        This round of births and deaths is beginningless. However, it is
        not random in any sense. Because of conditions birth occurs in
        one plane and because of different conditions birth occurs in
        another plane. Panna (wisdom) is a conditioned phenomena and it
        is itself conditioned.
        What are the conditions for panna to develop : hearing the
        Dhamma, considering it, applying it and also accumulations of
        merit from the infinite past (pubekata punnata). Why are we so
        interested in Dhamma? Why isn't the leader of the Taliban
        interested; surely he makes effort, surely he has the intention
        to do what is best? Why do some people hear Dhamma but find it
        unappealing while others can't get enough even after hearing it
        just once? Why are some initially not interested and then later
        they get interested and surpass in understanding those who
        studied much longer? It is clear that there must be reasons for
        all this; and the Dhamma explains it all.

        You wrote "that's where i get stuck...if all dhammas except
        nibbana
        > are
        > conditioned (i'm going on saddha with this, of course), then
        > thinking one
        > can develop anything seems like an exercise in
        > micchaditthi....

        _________________
        Good point. I think it depends on the thinking. If we have the
        idea of "I can do it", then we are likely to be caught in self
        view. Or we think we can manufacture sati by effort or good
        intention - self. But there can be wisdom - not us- that sees
        the danger in samasara and thus there is naturally effort that
        arises with that understanding. It is subtle: often we slip into
        self view; either towards the freewill end of the continuum or
        towrds the fatalistic end that thinks nothing can be done.

        ____________________________

        >
        > can the path be developed? or do we just leave it up to (for
        > lack of a
        > better f-word) "fate"? ""
        __________________
        Fate implies a preordained outcome. In that case whether we did
        this that or the other nothing would make a thread of
        difference. We could go out and kill and pillage and nothing
        would have any effect and we would all get enlightened or not
        get enlightened depending on our "fate". This is not what the
        Buddha taught. He explained in detail many different conditions.
        It is true that some are past conditions but there are also
        present ones thus it is not fatalism. Both the idea of fatalism
        and the idea of freewill are bound up in self view - a self who
        can control and a self who can't. The Dhamma is the middle way
        and is neither.
        When we hear a teacher say "develop it" this can be a
        condition for either wrong effort or right effort. It depends on
        the understanding of the listener.
        Robert
      • robmoult
        Oops, I did not give the complete quote from Bhikhu Bodhi, As [mundane right view affirms that people can choose their actions freely, within limits set by
        Message 3 of 7 , Aug 9, 2002
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          Oops, I did not give the complete quote from Bhikhu Bodhi, "As
          [mundane right view affirms that people can choose their actions
          freely, within limits set by their conditions, it opposes the 'hard
          deterministic' line that our choices are always made subject to
          necessitation, and hence that free volition is unreal and moral
          responsibility untenable."

          I interpret this as saying that "free volition" (free will?) is real.



          --- In dhammastudygroup@y..., "robmoult" <rob.moult@j...> wrote:
          > Hi Robert (Kirkpatrick) and others,
          >
          > I was preparing my class on the Noble Eightfold Path by Reviewing
          > Bhikkhu Bodhi's book on the subject:
          >
          > http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/bps/misc/waytoend.html
          >
          > I came across the following passage, "As [mundane right view]
          > affirms that people can choose their actions freely, within limits
          > set by their conditions, it opposes the 'hard deterministic' line
          > that our choices are always made subject to necessitation."
          >
          > This reminded me of a comment that you made a few days ago, "I
          want
          > to add that negating freewill doesn't imply determinism".
          >
          > I want to stress again that I am not yet ready to enter into a
          > discussion on the topic. I am, however, really looking forward to
          > the discussion - it's gonna be really interesting!
          >
          > Perhaps as an appetizer, I would like to ask you to expand on your
          > comment (just to whet my appetite and prepare my palate for the
          main
          > course that is coming later).
          >
          > Thanks,
          > Rob M :-)
        • robmoult
          Hi Robert, I starting writing a follow-up message to my first posting (to give the full quote from BB) and I heard my name being called over the airport paging
          Message 4 of 7 , Aug 9, 2002
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            Hi Robert,

            I starting writing a follow-up message to my first posting (to give
            the full quote from BB) and I heard my name being called over the
            airport paging system (I was very late for my flight). Sorry for the
            brusque tone of that cut-off message. It will take me a few days to
            reply to this message.

            Thanks,
            Rob M :-)

            --- In dhammastudygroup@y..., "robertkirkpatrick.rm"
            <robertkirkpatrick@r...> wrote:
            > --- In dhammastudygroup@y..., "robmoult" <rob.moult@j...> wrote:
            > > > This reminded me of a comment that you made a few days ago, "I
            > want
            > > to add that negating freewill doesn't imply determinism".
            >
            > > Perhaps as an appetizer, I would like to ask you to expand on
            your
            > > comment (just to whet my appetite and prepare my palate for the
            > main
            > > course that is coming later).
            > ___________________________________
            > Dear RobM,
            > I paste some comments I made in 2 old letters, they are a little
            off
            > the point but I'm happy to add more anytime.
            >
            > Someone wrote to me a while back who
            > feels that no control is a dangerous idea.They wanted to stress
            > control and volitional intention
            > which is what they believe that Buddha really taught
            > and they feel uncontrollabilty to be a pernicious
            > belief leading to apathy.
            >
            > "I have a choice whether to get angry in the present
            > moment." the writer said."this is new kamma".
            >
            > I replied:
            > Yes, the processes of cittas during anger are new
            > kamma. However, they are
            > also conditioned. The Patthana, the last and most
            > important book of the
            > Abhidhamma, goes into enormous detail about the 24
            > paccaya (conditions).
            > Some of which are past and some present. But even the
            > present ones do not
            > simply arise out of nothing. Nor do they arise because
            > "I" want them to. The
            > processes of mind are happening at enormous speed and
            > there is no "person"
            > who can do anything to stop them or change them. Even
            > the cittas that are
            > arising at this moment are conditioned by previous
            > cittas as well as well as
            > by other conditions that are present at the same time.
            > This is not the place
            > to go into details but it is well worth studying the
            > Patthana. It gives us a
            > glimpse of the profundity of the path and the wisdom
            > of the Buddha.
            >
            > They further wrote that "we are not just
            > helpless automata acting out our old kamma - that is
            > absurd.
            > I hope the above helps overcome the despair that comes
            > from the belief that we are a slave to our
            > conditioning."
            >
            > I said "This sounds like the debates that western
            > Philosophy used to have (and still
            > does) about Free-will versus Determinism.
            > The Buddha's analysis of the world is neither, it is
            > the middle path. Thus
            > the statement about "we being helpless automata acting
            > out our old kamma"
            > misses the point. There is no "we" to be anything. And
            > kamma is not the only
            > condition.
            > Hearing the teachings of Buddhism - especially the
            > deep teachings on anatta,
            > are a condition for understanding. This understanding
            > leads to energy:
            > energy to hear more, and energy to carry on with the
            > study and practice of
            > vipassana. It leads to the type of determination that
            > will gladly keep
            > developing understanding moment after moment, life
            > after life, aeon after
            > aeon, no matter how long it takes. And if
            > understanding grows then there
            > will be detachment from the idea of self and of
            > control. Then there is no
            > more despair about the path - because "I" have been
            > taken out of the
            > equation. The "I" that we love so much, the "I" that
            > we want to be happy,
            > get enlightened , whatever. Then, as the
            > Visuddhimagga says,
            > 'there is a path but no one on the path'."
            >
            > This round of births and deaths is beginningless. However, it is
            > not random in any sense. Because of conditions birth occurs in
            > one plane and because of different conditions birth occurs in
            > another plane. Panna (wisdom) is a conditioned phenomena and it
            > is itself conditioned.
            > What are the conditions for panna to develop : hearing the
            > Dhamma, considering it, applying it and also accumulations of
            > merit from the infinite past (pubekata punnata). Why are we so
            > interested in Dhamma? Why isn't the leader of the Taliban
            > interested; surely he makes effort, surely he has the intention
            > to do what is best? Why do some people hear Dhamma but find it
            > unappealing while others can't get enough even after hearing it
            > just once? Why are some initially not interested and then later
            > they get interested and surpass in understanding those who
            > studied much longer? It is clear that there must be reasons for
            > all this; and the Dhamma explains it all.
            >
            > You wrote "that's where i get stuck...if all dhammas except
            > nibbana
            > > are
            > > conditioned (i'm going on saddha with this, of course), then
            > > thinking one
            > > can develop anything seems like an exercise in
            > > micchaditthi....
            >
            > _________________
            > Good point. I think it depends on the thinking. If we have the
            > idea of "I can do it", then we are likely to be caught in self
            > view. Or we think we can manufacture sati by effort or good
            > intention - self. But there can be wisdom - not us- that sees
            > the danger in samasara and thus there is naturally effort that
            > arises with that understanding. It is subtle: often we slip into
            > self view; either towards the freewill end of the continuum or
            > towrds the fatalistic end that thinks nothing can be done.
            >
            > ____________________________
            >
            > >
            > > can the path be developed? or do we just leave it up to (for
            > > lack of a
            > > better f-word) "fate"? ""
            > __________________
            > Fate implies a preordained outcome. In that case whether we did
            > this that or the other nothing would make a thread of
            > difference. We could go out and kill and pillage and nothing
            > would have any effect and we would all get enlightened or not
            > get enlightened depending on our "fate". This is not what the
            > Buddha taught. He explained in detail many different conditions.
            > It is true that some are past conditions but there are also
            > present ones thus it is not fatalism. Both the idea of fatalism
            > and the idea of freewill are bound up in self view - a self who
            > can control and a self who can't. The Dhamma is the middle way
            > and is neither.
            > When we hear a teacher say "develop it" this can be a
            > condition for either wrong effort or right effort. It depends on
            > the understanding of the listener.
            > Robert
          • oreznoone@aol.com
            Hello TG, may I jump in? If I promise not to stay ;-) ... of ... In two senses. First, it s your free decision to do something just in case you wanted to do
            Message 5 of 7 , Aug 9, 2002
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              Hello TG, may I jump in? If I promise not to stay ;-)
              >If actions unfold due to a cause,
              >there is no way to usurp causal laws with free will outside the boundaries
              of
              >causality. In other words, if "my" actions are due to causes, how can "I"
              >have a decision?

              In two senses. First, it's 'your' free decision to do something just in case
              you wanted to do it; this in contrast to someone forcing you to do the same
              action (say by some threat or manipulation), or it occurring for some solely
              biological reason (say a seizure). Free versus involuntary.
              >Will is not apart from conditionality...free
              >will would have to be or it wouldn't be free.
              (from a second post — hope I'm not distorting your meaning by chopping up
              your posts)
              Will apart from conditionality would just be randomness, which clearly isn't
              freewill; just something that happens out of the blue. One un/skillfully
              causes actions; they must be part of conditionality (caused) to be free.
              Causal laws include the psychological (citta niyama), no usurpation (of
              physics?) is required.
              Second, this presumes that causes are determining, but (IMHO) they are merely
              conditioning.

              "These patterns of events [all forms of causality] are neither deterministic
              nor indeterministic but present themselves as probable tendencies rather than
              inevitable consequences.
              "Though man's actions may be conditioned by some of these laws he is not
              determined by any one of them. In general the Buddha opposed all forms of
              determinism, whether natural determinism (svabhava-vada), theistic
              determinism (issara-karana-vada), karmic determinism (pubbekata-hetuvada), or
              any other philosophy in which these facets may be combined.
              In general the Buddhist theory of causation offers a via media between the
              extremes of determinism and indeterminism. According to strict determinism
              the present and the past are unalterable, but the Buddha upholds a concept of
              free will according to which an individual may to a certain extent control
              the dynamic forces of the past and present and also the course of future
              events. Man has free will (attakara) and personal endeavor (purisa kara) and
              is capable of changing both himself and his environment."
              Padmasiri de Silva, An Introduction to Buddhist Psychology, p.6-7.
              Which is what Bhikkhu Bodhi said.
              (In my view the conventional 'self' is enough of a 'self,' as it were, to
              freely will actions, within the context of our conditioning, and thereby
              generate kamma, i.e., create the conditions for further actions.)

              (I've never been able to understand Robert's view. Hopefully he'll talk about
              seeing rather than doing, which I suspect is somehow the key. But seeing is
              also conditioned, and freely chosen, or...)
              metta, stephen
            • robertkirkpatrick.rm
              ... were, to freely will actions, within the context of our conditioning, and thereby generate kamma, i.e., create the conditions for further actions.) (I ve
              Message 6 of 7 , Aug 9, 2002
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                --- In dhammastudygroup@y..., oreznoone@a... wrote:
                > (In my view the conventional 'self' is enough of a 'self,' as it
                were, to
                freely will actions, within the context of our conditioning, and
                thereby
                generate kamma, i.e., create the conditions for further actions.)

                (I've never been able to understand Robert's view. Hopefully he'll
                talk about
                seeing rather than doing, which I suspect is somehow the key. But
                seeing is
                also conditioned, and freely chosen, or...)
                metta, stephen

                _______________________
                Dear Stephen, RobM, Larry, TG and all,
                Welcome to the list Stephen, hope you will stay; and good to have you
                back in time to help on this difficult aspect of Dhamma, TG. I paste
                some more comments from earlier letters.

                There is no
                fixed determination and everything is possible and can happen - but
                only by the
                correct conditions.
                It is wisdom, understanding - panna - a conditioned , mental phenomena
                that has the function of seeing rightly and it comes with
                detachment. It is not a self.
                Intention, cetana, arises all the time but it too is not a self, it is
                conditioned. Where did our wish and intention to learn about Dhamma
                come
                from? It was because of hearing Dhamma and so wisdom is conditioned by
                this and the intention to hear more strengthens, the intention cannot
                grow
                from nothing. Some people hear Dhamma and it means nothing to them.
                Why?
                Different tendencies, also conditioned.

                All types of kusala; giving, sila, samatha can be successfully
                developed with sakkya ditthi (self view) still intact - all types
                except vipassana. Thus it is only when we want to understand the path
                of insight that such ideas as 'freewill' hinder.

                The Buddha taught about the five khandhas , the elements,
                the ayatanas, so that we could begin to see what really exists. And
                what exists is evanescent, conditioned phenomenena, no person. But
                thinking about it can't break up the idea of self and control; it is
                only by direct insight that takes any of these dhammas as an object
                that the (mis)perception of a whole, a person is erased. It seems
                like 'we' can control and do as we wish, but this is an illusion that
                is at the heart of the self view; as the different elements are
                resolved the 'whole' is found to be concept and instead there is a
                complex concantenation of conditioned dhammas with no controller or
                overlord, anywhere.
                Resolution into the component parts is an antidote to the
                wrong idea of a self that exists and is
                somehow directing this conglomerate of namas and rupas.
                It is like a butcher; when he takes the whole cow he thinks
                'this is a cow'. But by the time he has skinned, chopped ,
                cut, boned, diced, sliced and minced the carcase that idea of "cow"
                is gone.

                When we think of intention and choice and being able to control, this
                is thinking and it is not understanding the nature of cetana,
                intention, as a momentary phenomena -it cannot last even for a split
                second, nor can any feelings or consciousness.

                We have much ignorance about dhammas, they have to be known directly.
                But if we overestimate the role of intention the knowing is likely
                to
                be tied up with craving - and then the links of the Paticcasamuppada
                are strenghtened.
                I believe the knowing and investigation should be with
                detachment otherwise self slips in and distorts. Effort is often "self
                effort", but right effort is not obtrusive, it is associated with
                seeing
                rather than doing, it can feel almost effortless.
                Robert
              • Sarah
                Hi Stephen, ... to stay ;-) My goodness, you sound like a real gate-crasher;-) Glad you’ve taken the plunge and a big welcome. You’ve obviously considered
                Message 7 of 7 , Aug 10, 2002
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                  Hi Stephen,

                  --- oreznoone@... wrote: > Hello TG, may I jump in? If I promise not
                  to stay ;-)

                  My goodness, you sound like a real gate-crasher;-) Glad you’ve taken the
                  plunge and a big welcome.

                  You’ve obviously considered very carefully and read widely, Stephen. I’m
                  very glad to read your ideas and I think it’s a very important area of
                  discussion that really is at the heart of the Teachings (I say that quite
                  often, mind.....).

                  If you’d care to say a little about yourself here (for those who are not
                  so familiar with your reputation), we’d all appreciate that too.

                  Hope you can stay to continue keeping Rob K and the rest of us on our
                  toes;-)

                  Sarah
                  =====




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