Do we have free will?

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DGA
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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by DGA » Sun Jun 25, 2017 9:39 pm

treehuggingoctopus wrote:
DGA wrote:Our choices are not causeless. Choices are legible in actions. Actions follow from intentions. Intentions emerge from [the complex of mental processes and sensory inputs that predicate intention]. Which is to say that it is easy to discern a Buddhist doctrine of choice, especially in light of different indices of ethical conduct that are given for lay and ordained people.

What is the Vinaya if not a catalogue of choices one is not to make? Similarly for the Brahma Net Sutra precepts? Precepts themselves presuppose the inevitability of choice in that they aim to limit the range of one's choices preemptively. To my mind, the fact that Buddhism offers precepts to its followers is the measure to which it assumes the existence of some kind of choice (murder or not?).
Buddhist ethics does certainly seem to presuppose our making choices (and being responsible for the choices we make provided they follow our intention). I am far less certain to what extent such a position is fully compatible with Mahayana teachings on pratitya sammutpada and emptiness. If all of my lifeworld -- all of my karmic vision -- both on the side of the subject and on the side of the object is produced by and on the basis of my past deeds, there is no room for any genuine choice, is there?

That which is beyond the produced subject and the constructed objects, that which is uncreated, unconfined and unbound can hardly make any choices either, can it? All choices are and must stay within the domain of karmic pushes and pulls.
Yes, all of this samsaric stuff is like this: wholly mechanical.

Being able to choose this from that means that, at least for a moment, one is relatively free from that field of determination and conditioning. Which means that the possibility of ethical choice presupposes moments of awakening. This is how I've been taught.

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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by Wayfarer » Sun Jun 25, 2017 9:57 pm

treehuggingoctopus wrote:if a Buddha is perfectly omniscient, perfectly altruistic and perfectly beyond all limitations -- how could a Buddha actually choose anything?
Such questions have plagued Western theology for millennia. I don't know the answer but I suspect that we see it this way because we project our own limited notions of what those terms mean onto what we imagine the Buddha to be. But in any case, it is just the kind of speculative metaphysics that the Buddha generally avoided.
LazyEye wrote:If something is conditioned, how can we say it is free?

.... There doesn't seem to be any room for an unconditioned choice, unless one has broken the twelvefold chain and become a Buddha.
I think you're posing a false dichotomy between the 'wholly conditioned' and 'the wholly unconditioned', as if they're mutually exclusive. In reality, beings are not wholly conditioned; arguably, the tathagatagarbha is 'the unborn, the unconditioned' in all of us.

That passage I quoted from Thanissaro Bhikkhu also contains a verse that speaks of 'dark karma, good karma, and the ending of kamma'.
DGA wrote:the possibility of ethical choice presupposes moments of awakening...

Agree. If our decisions were wholly conditioned, we would always be what we've always been.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki-roshi

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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by treehuggingoctopus » Sun Jun 25, 2017 10:25 pm

DGA wrote:Which means that the possibility of ethical choice presupposes moments of awakening. This is how I've been taught.
Well, if the Buddha is the mirror in which that which needs must and nothing but that which needs must manifests, choice is neither this not that side of the barricade. Which would probably mean that we are equally mechanically driven to awaken.

Not a very satisfying story, though. I prefer the one which exposes perfect determinism and perfect freedom to choose to be equally and utterly mistaken notions.
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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by Lazy_eye » Mon Jun 26, 2017 6:25 pm

Wayfarer wrote: I think you're posing a false dichotomy between the 'wholly conditioned' and 'the wholly unconditioned', as if they're mutually exclusive. In reality, beings are not wholly conditioned; arguably, the tathagatagarbha is 'the unborn, the unconditioned' in all of us.
OK, but are you then equating free will with tathagatagarbha? How can Buddha Nature have a will, let alone a free one? That would imply that a Buddha has not abandoned the three poisons and still has a self-identity that is capable of exerting free will.

I agree with the point made earlier by treehuggingoctopus, to the effect that neither the conditioned nor the unconditioned provide much room for a concept of free will. Insofar as we are ordinary beings, our volitions and actions are dependently originated. For a Buddha,
treehuggingoctopus wrote: there is no room for any choice for entirely different reasons.
If Buddhas had choice, they could choose to renounce Buddhahood and go back to acting and thinking like ordinary beings, which seems like an absurd proposition.
Wayfarer wrote:
DGA wrote:the possibility of ethical choice presupposes moments of awakening...
Agree. If our decisions were wholly conditioned, we would always be what we've always been.
We're clearly not going to see eye to eye on this, but FWIW here's my view. Ethical choice in Buddhism is tied to causality. We make ethical decisions not to please God, but because the Dharma has shown us what choices exacerbate our suffering, what choices lead us towards more pleasant states of being, and what choices lead towards nirvana. Because the causes and conditions that generated "us" enabled us to have contact with the Dharma and feel an affinity towards it, we place trust in the teacher and in the teachings, and thus we make decisions that align with the Dharma.

We are not what we've always been because samsara itself is the cause of the search for enlightenment. As sentient beings mired in greed, delusion, and hate, we bring about suffering. Because we suffer, we eventually reach the point where we've had enough and we seek a way out. Because there were seekers, there are Buddhas. Because there are Buddhas, we eventually will encounter one. The entire process is governed by interlinked causes and conditions; it derives from the fundamental attributes of samsaric existence.

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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by Lazy_eye » Mon Jun 26, 2017 6:29 pm

Jeff H wrote:
Lazy_eye wrote:There doesn't seem to be any room for an unconditioned choice, unless one has broken the twelvefold chain and become a Buddha.
I disagree. I think between the 7th and 8th links (Feeling > Craving) there is a potential gap. Feeling is a projected effect. Craving is an actualizing cause.

The immediate reaction to a stimulus is karmically conditioned (Feeling, as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral). But when one has been exposed to alternative options, it is possible to invoke Craving in a more positive direction.

I think that the purpose of repetitive training and stabilizing the mind is to provide such instinctive (not intellectual) options in that moment. It cannot be a thoughtful choice in the moment, it must have been pre-conditioned, but the means of pre-conditioning are as I suggested in my previous post.

Nevertheless, I think this is the sliver of freedom and free will that we have available to us.
That's an interesting point, and it seems reasonable to say this gap between the links is the weak point where the chain can be broken. Still, aren't the alternative choices conditioned by our knowledge of options, which in turn stems from our awareness of (and receptiveness to) the Dharma? Where did that come from?

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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by treehuggingoctopus » Mon Jun 26, 2017 7:11 pm

Wayfarer wrote:If our decisions were wholly conditioned, we would always be what we've always been.
And ultimately we are:

Image

I would add that choosing = dukkha. As every visit to a supermarket establishes beyond the shadow of a doubt.
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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by Jeff H » Mon Jun 26, 2017 7:29 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:
Jeff H wrote:
Lazy_eye wrote:There doesn't seem to be any room for an unconditioned choice, unless one has broken the twelvefold chain and become a Buddha.
I disagree. I think between the 7th and 8th links (Feeling > Craving) there is a potential gap. Feeling is a projected effect. Craving is an actualizing cause.

The immediate reaction to a stimulus is karmically conditioned (Feeling, as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral). But when one has been exposed to alternative options, it is possible to invoke Craving in a more positive direction.

I think that the purpose of repetitive training and stabilizing the mind is to provide such instinctive (not intellectual) options in that moment. It cannot be a thoughtful choice in the moment, it must have been pre-conditioned, but the means of pre-conditioning are as I suggested in my previous post.

Nevertheless, I think this is the sliver of freedom and free will that we have available to us.
That's an interesting point, and it seems reasonable to say this gap between the links is the weak point where the chain can be broken. Still, aren't the alternative choices conditioned by our knowledge of options, which in turn stems from our awareness of (and receptiveness to) the Dharma? Where did that come from?
I remember reading in Khensur Jampa Tegchok's Insight Into Emptiness that we are not always deluded. (I can't find the section right now.) But with that idea in mind, I suggested in my previous post that:
Although our reactions to conditions are normally habituated by ignorant delusion, that ignorance is not the nature of the mind, clarity is. We all work hard at blocking our natural clarity and compassion, but sometimes it can shine through in spite of ourselves and in that moment we’ve created a positive karmic cause.
It just seems to me that any positive karma, established by whatever means, implies a base to build on.

[Edit at 2:55pm:] I found the section of that book I was thinking of (chapter 7, second section), but it's not about delusion, it's about distinguishing valid and invalid minds relative to the apprehended and grasped "I". Nevertheless, this reasoning still makes sense to me.
We who are like children shrink from pain but love its causes. - Shantideva

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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by treehuggingoctopus » Mon Jun 26, 2017 8:42 pm

And an afterthought.

Choosing = dukkha.
Choosing =/= genuine freedom. It may seem counterintuitive at first glance but, lofty words and concepts aside, it feels right. The only genuine freedom is resting in the state beyond all choosing and all choices. Makes sense: after all,
Choosing = limitation. And limitation = dukkha.
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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by DGA » Tue Jun 27, 2017 1:10 am

treehuggingoctopus wrote:
DGA wrote:Which means that the possibility of ethical choice presupposes moments of awakening. This is how I've been taught.
Well, if the Buddha is the mirror in which that which needs must and nothing but that which needs must manifests, choice is neither this not that side of the barricade. Which would probably mean that we are equally mechanically driven to awaken.
I don't think this conclusion follows necessarily from what I wrote above. Or at least it is not the only conclusion that follows from it. Consider an analogy:

There was once a young man who, by right of birth, was heir to a great kingdom. The keys to the palace have always been his and cannot help but be in perpetuity.

The problem is that, like a fool, he wandered off, got himself mixed up in a number of bad habits of body/speech/mind, and forgot who he really is. That is, he somehow convinced himself he was an unworthy vagrant, and not a noble one.

One day the young man's father discovered him and devised a trick to convince him that he was indeed worthy of inheriting all that was already his anyway. I'll spare you the details but it involved a graduated path, starting with shoveling shit and ending with project management. The lad worked his way up in the organization, so to speak, until he came to the conclusion that he was suitable to actually run the whole joint himself (which he had been all along), and chose to become convinced of this. (here's the connection to choice).

So the father, now elderly, handed the keys to the kingdom over to the son, who chose to accept them, and told him (the younger one) the truth: that all that Dharma practice wasn't really necessary because it was his from the start, but it was necessary because he was too afflicted to recognize and integrate this truth.

In this parable, Buddha Shakyamuni is the elderly landowner, and ordinary persons are the lost son who are tricked into different kinds of practices according to their capacities and needs by Buddhas and their regents in this world. See: Lotus Sutra, chapter four.

This is the narrative I had in mind when I wrote that post above. It's impossible for Buddhahood to be mechanical, since it is not a process, but the way things are from the start. Realization of that, however, differs entirely. For that reason, it is possible to speak of intervals of awakening in which choice is possible. Trungpa Rinpoche's commentary on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, if I recall, has some interesting language on choice from this perspective also.

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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by treehuggingoctopus » Tue Jun 27, 2017 6:51 am

Consider these:
DGA wrote:One day the young man's father discovered him and devised a trick to convince him that he was indeed worthy of inheriting all that was already his anyway
DGA wrote:The lad worked his way up in the organization, so to speak, until he came to the conclusion that he was suitable to actually run the whole joint himself (which he had been all along), and chose to become convinced of this
The crux is whether the trick you speak of includes also the son's choosing -- or rather, if you follow my lead, "choosing" -- to become convinced.

Actually, I would say that we find ourselves convinced, and not choose to do so, no matter what context, generally speaking; that is, at least, how it feels to me in my lifeworld. I agree that it is not exactly the whole story because my life clearly does not feel to me to be a puppet show. But then if it is not anything like the latter, the reason might well be that "we" are both the puppet and the puppet-master, right?
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