Do we have free will?

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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by Grigoris » Sat Jun 24, 2017 7:50 am

If you guys don't go to the effort of defining "free will" then all your discussion will be in vain.

It'll be in vain anyway, but just saying... :tongue:
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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by Riju » Sat Jun 24, 2017 8:02 am

We have absolute free will if we know that awareness in us is the deciding factor. In that state we chose our path , destination and activities.
We have no free will if are ignorant of our awareness , in this case karmas and surroundings force us to take decisions.

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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by Wayfarer » Sat Jun 24, 2017 8:21 am

Do you turn up and post on Dharma Wheel forum of your own volition, or is life such that you had no choice but to do so, and no choice but to say exactly what you say, every time you post? If your answer is 'no', then that must mean you joined and posted of your own free will, and not because you were compelled to do so. I think that's what the argument is about, anyway.
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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by Jesse » Sat Jun 24, 2017 1:39 pm

Wayfarer wrote:Do you turn up and post on Dharma Wheel forum of your own volition, or is life such that you had no choice but to do so, and no choice but to say exactly what you say, every time you post? If your answer is 'no', then that must mean you joined and posted of your own free will, and not because you were compelled to do so. I think that's what the argument is about, anyway.

in the end, free will is a mostly meaningless topic.. you can discuss the -logic- ad nauseum, and never come to an absolute answer. It's entirely obvious that we have free will when you stop trying to figure it out via reason and logic, and simply look at your experience. When looking at it from that perspective there is absolutely no question that we are free to decide.

However.. everything is deterministic in the sense that everything has causes and conditions, and those causes and conditions create our current experience, our current thoughts, etc... and these things then become the causes and conditions that create the next moment of experience, so fourth and so on. However, all of those causes and conditions have been created by us. There was never a point in time that we did not create those causes and conditions via choice.

So,reality is both deterministic and filled with freedom of choice, aka free will.

It just dawned on me that idea's like free-will are entirely arbitrary human constructions, and they genuinely have no meaning outside of what we ascribe to them. If we ponder whether we have free will, then free-will becomes a real thing to us, and by doing we only create another thing to cling to, creating more problems, and suffering for ourselves. Anyway, just thinking out loud.
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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by Lazy_eye » Sat Jun 24, 2017 2:43 pm

Wayfarer wrote:I think the parallel view in Buddhism would be the idea that 'all human actions are bound by karma, nobody can act in any way other than what their karma dictates.' And that is not what Buddhism teaches, obviously, because if it were true, then there would be no point in teaching!
It seems to me Buddhism does actually teach this. One of the Five Remembrances is that we are "heirs to our karma, born of our karma, related through our karma, and have our karma as our arbitrator."

In order for liberation to happen, a person has to encounter the Buddha's teachings -- and this is a product of karma.
The question really came into focus in Western culture, due to the idea that human action can be understood solely in terms of material causes - neurons, evolution, history, culture or whatever. In that context, those who deny that humans have free will, are typically materialists of various kinds, like Dennett, or Dawkins, who say that everything humans do is a consequence of 'the selfish gene'.
There are also the case studies done on split-brain patients, which tend to undermine the notion of a unified self. If your right and left hemispheres are saying/doing different things, where is the self exactly? Current science doesn't align with all aspects of Buddhist doctrine, but both seem to agree on one key point: each of us is a collection of aggregates. In that sense, I think, both differ from the long-standing Western paradigm that relies on the notion of a soul (which has "free will").
DGA wrote: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?).
But for what reason does a person make the choice one way or another? Is it simply random accident, like tossing a die in the mind?

It seems to me that, according to Buddhism, the choice would be conditioned by karma. Karma would be needed for you to encounter the Buddha's teachings in the first place, and your affinity for them would be conditioned by this as well. Of course, the Dharma is itself a powerful causal factor that shapes the present and future actions of those who encounter it -- for example, the literature includes examples of criminals, drunkards, etc. who were able to reach enlightenment through their affinity for the Dharma.

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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by odysseus » Sat Jun 24, 2017 3:51 pm

The notion of "free will" comes from modern philosophy. It is unclear what it constitutes, because it implies something about a creator god. But Buddhism is 100 percent compatible with "free will" - that's why there is talk about "volition" in Buddhism. Volition is something like the free will. Very simple, that with volition we make our karma and therefore we have so-called free will.

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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by DNS » Sat Jun 24, 2017 5:14 pm

odysseus wrote:The notion of "free will" comes from modern philosophy. It is unclear what it constitutes, because it implies something about a creator god. But Buddhism is 100 percent compatible with "free will" - that's why there is talk about "volition" in Buddhism. Volition is something like the free will. Very simple, that with volition we make our karma and therefore we have so-called free will.

I agree. Some think that Buddhism cannot be in support of any free will due to the anatta doctrine or because Buddhism is mostly non-theistic. However, the Jains are also non-theistic and they believe in a full-fledged Atman / soul. In Buddhism we speak of karma, the fruits of karma, attaining nirvana, bhumis, etc and all this occurs through some will or volition.

In general, theistic religions are firmly in the free will camp.
Current scientific thinking / most scholars are firmly in the determinism camp.
I believe the Dharma is somewhere in the middle.

Okay, perhaps more toward determinism. There is will / volition, but it is highly determined by our past kilesas, saṅkhāras, our conditioned consciousness, viññāna via paṭiccasamuppāda. I believe from a Buddhist perspective, the only way out of the determinism is by strong mindfulness and concentration, so that one (the aggregates; self-less conventional being) does not get controlled by those past kilesas and saṅkhāras. And this could explain why nearly all people do appear to be operating completely in a deterministic way, i.e. successful meditation, mindfulness, is not easy.

Think of the aggregates being something like a computer -- garbage in, garbage out. The computer gets programmed with various information and this results in very specific outcomes / products. In the same way humans get exposed to certain information, environment, culture, upbringing in a certain country, religion, etc and their world view is subsequently quite predictable. There is a way out of the cycle (programming), but it isn't easy.

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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by Lazy_eye » Sat Jun 24, 2017 6:05 pm

David N. Snyder wrote: Okay, perhaps more toward determinism. There is will / volition, but it is highly determined by our past kilesas, saṅkhāras, our conditioned consciousness, viññāna via paṭiccasamuppāda. I believe from a Buddhist perspective, the only way out of the determinism is by strong mindfulness and concentration, so that one (the aggregates; self-less conventional being) does not get controlled by those past kilesas and saṅkhāras. And this could explain why nearly all people do appear to be operating completely in a deterministic way, i.e. successful meditation, mindfulness, is not easy.

Think of the aggregates being something like a computer -- garbage in, garbage out. The computer gets programmed with various information and this results in very specific outcomes / products. In the same way humans get exposed to certain information, environment, culture, upbringing in a certain country, religion, etc and their world view is subsequently quite predictable. There is a way out of the cycle (programming), but it isn't easy.
Very well said!

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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by Astus » Sat Jun 24, 2017 10:10 pm

Wayfarer wrote:Could you expand on what 'other-doer' refers to?
It's just "others", everyone else, other beings, other people. There's also an analysis of the sutta by Piya Tan here.
I think the parallel view in Buddhism would be the idea that 'all human actions are bound by karma, nobody can act in any way other than what their karma dictates.' And that is not what Buddhism teaches, obviously, because if it were true, then there would be no point in teaching!
It is a difference made between old and new karma, i.e. past acts and present acts (see: Kamma Sutta). On a conventional level there is agency, there is intention. But when analysed, it's all empty (no doer) and dependently arisen (causally bound). Where this topic of "free will" actually comes up is how karma is interpreted in Buddhism and by others, and that shows that the moral responsibility lies with the individual being according to Shakyamuni, while other theories (see: Samaññaphala Sutta) deny that.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
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What is there to seek?

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4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
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1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by Riju » Sun Jun 25, 2017 4:30 am

Riju wrote:We have absolute free will if we know that awareness in us is the deciding factor. In that state we chose our path , destination and activities.
We have no free will if are ignorant of our awareness , in this case karmas and surroundings force us to take decisions.
None of us have free will. But with effort and wisdom one can acquire absolute free will. As per lotus sutra Buddhas reach that stage of absolute free will. In chapter 8 of Lotus sutra future of an ordinary person named Purna is predicted by Guatam Buddha.
Purna in future births will be capable of ruling over flying men because his free will wants to do that. In birth after birth he will cultivate virtues and wisdom in such way that he becomes Buddha who creates and rules over universe of flying men but without women.

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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by Wayfarer » Sun Jun 25, 2017 11:18 am

LazyEye wrote:
Wayfarer wrote: I think the parallel view in Buddhism would be the idea that 'all human actions are bound by karma, nobody can act in any way other than what their karma dictates.' And that is not what Buddhism teaches, obviously, because if it were true, then there would be no point in teaching!

It seems to me Buddhism does actually teach this.
I think not. Thanisarro Bikkhu has this to say:
For the early Buddhists, karma was non-linear and complex. Other Indian schools believed that karma operated in a simple straight line, with actions from the past influencing the present, and present actions influencing the future. As a result, they saw little room for free will. Buddhists, however, saw that karma acts in multiple feedback loops, with the present moment being shaped both by past and by present actions; present actions shape not only the future but also the present. Furthermore, present actions need not be determined by past actions. In other words, there is free will, although its range is somewhat dictated by the past. The nature of this freedom is symbolized in an image used by the early Buddhists: flowing water. Sometimes the flow from the past is so strong that little can be done except to stand fast, but there are also times when the flow is gentle enough to be diverted in almost any direction.

So, instead of promoting resigned powerlessness, the early Buddhist notion of karma focused on the liberating potential of what the mind is doing with every moment. Who you are — what you come from — is not anywhere near as important as the mind's motives for what it is doing right now. Even though the past may account for many of the inequalities we see in life, our measure as human beings is not the hand we've been dealt, for that hand can change at any moment. We take our own measure by how well we play the hand we've got. If you're suffering, you try not to continue the unskillful mental habits that would keep that particular karmic feedback going. If you see that other people are suffering, and you're in a position to help, you focus not on their karmic past but your karmic opportunity in the present: Someday you may find yourself in the same predicament that they're in now, so here's your opportunity to act in the way you'd like them to act toward you when that day comes.
(Emphasis added.)

And as for the Mahāyāna, the Dalai Lama makes the following observation:
There are two ways in which someone can take rebirth after death: rebirth under the sway of karma and destructive emotions and rebirth through the power of compassion and prayer. Regarding the first, due to ignorance negative and positive karma are created and their imprints remain on the consciousness. These are reactivated through craving and grasping, propelling us into the next life. We then take rebirth involuntarily in higher or lower realms. This is the way ordinary beings circle incessantly through existence like the turning of a wheel. Even under such circumstances ordinary beings can engage diligently with a positive aspiration in virtuous practices in their day-to-day lives. They familiarise themselves with virtue that at the time of death can be reactivated providing the means for them to take rebirth in a higher realm of existence.

On the other hand, superior Bodhisattvas, who have attained the path of seeing, are not reborn through the force of their karma and destructive emotions, but due to the power of their compassion for sentient beings and based on their prayers to benefit others. They are able to choose their place and time of birth as well as their future parents. Such a rebirth, which is solely for the benefit of others, is rebirth through the force of compassion and prayer.
(Emphasis added.)

So here, His Holiness says that the bodhisattva is no longer compelled to take birth due to karma, but may be born voluntarily for the sake of sentient beings; and if that is not an exercise of free will, then I don't know what would be!
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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by treehuggingoctopus » Sun Jun 25, 2017 12:43 pm

Wayfarer wrote:And as for the Mahāyāna, the Dalai Lama makes the following observation
HHDL wrote:...superior Bodhisattvas, who have attained the path of seeing, are not reborn through the force of their karma and destructive emotions, but due to the power of their compassion for sentient beings and based on their prayers to benefit others. They are able to choose their place and time of birth as well as their future parents. Such a rebirth, which is solely for the benefit of others, is rebirth through the force of compassion and prayer.
(Emphasis added.)

So here, His Holiness says that the bodhisattva is no longer compelled to take birth due to karma, but may be born voluntarily for the sake of sentient beings; and if that is not an exercise of free will, then I don't know what would be!
I think that "choice" here is not the best word.

A Buddha is surely beyond all karma. But if a Buddha is perfectly omniscient, perfectly altruistic and perfectly beyond all limitations -- how could a Buddha actually choose anything? The Buddha is reborn exactly where and when they need to be reborn, and they do exactly that which is needed to be done.

The free will-vs-determinism debate nicely shows what all such conceptualisations in the end lead to: both the position that we truly are genuinely free agents and the position that we are ultimately mere products of our past deeds, fullstop (these deeds being products of other such deeds, etc ad infinitum) strike me as being, firstly, deeply counterintuitive, secondly, emotionally unsatisfactory, and, thirdly and most importantly, irreconcilable with the Buddhadharma.

Actual, "libertarian" free will cannot be reconciled with pratitya-sammutpada.
Pure and total determinism means marigpa cannot be done away with and suffering cannot be eradicated. (I have yet to see a formulation of compatibilism that would avoid being "hard" determinism in disguise.)

In sutrayana terms, I would say that if pratitya sammutpada were not the same as emptiness, Buddhism would be perfectly deterministic (and thus self-unravelling, the liberation it promises being perfectly impossible). The fact that pratitya sammutpada does equal emptiness points towards what lies beyond the two prongs of the dilemma.
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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by treehuggingoctopus » Sun Jun 25, 2017 12:54 pm

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.
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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by Lazy_eye » Sun Jun 25, 2017 1:03 pm

For the early Buddhists, karma was non-linear and complex. Other Indian schools believed that karma operated in a simple straight line, with actions from the past influencing the present, and present actions influencing the future. As a result, they saw little room for free will. Buddhists, however, saw that karma acts in multiple feedback loops, with the present moment being shaped both by past and by present actions; present actions shape not only the future but also the present. Furthermore, present actions need not be determined by past actions. In other words, there is free will, although its range is somewhat dictated by the past. The nature of this freedom is symbolized in an image used by the early Buddhists: flowing water. Sometimes the flow from the past is so strong that little can be done except to stand fast, but there are also times when the flow is gentle enough to be diverted in almost any direction.

So, instead of promoting resigned powerlessness, the early Buddhist notion of karma focused on the liberating potential of what the mind is doing with every moment. Who you are — what you come from — is not anywhere near as important as the mind's motives for what it is doing right now. Even though the past may account for many of the inequalities we see in life, our measure as human beings is not the hand we've been dealt, for that hand can change at any moment. We take our own measure by how well we play the hand we've got. If you're suffering, you try not to continue the unskillful mental habits that would keep that particular karmic feedback going. If you see that other people are suffering, and you're in a position to help, you focus not on their karmic past but your karmic opportunity in the present: Someday you may find yourself in the same predicament that they're in now, so here's your opportunity to act in the way you'd like them to act toward you when that day comes.
Although I respect Thanissaro Bhikkhu and his explanation is useful, I believe he is confusing non-linearity with free will.

It's true that karma is complex and doesn't operate in a straight line; it is also true that our lives are not conditioned solely by the past, but also by present actions. As he says, "our hand can change at any moment," so fatalism is not justified. I agree with that.

Nevertheless, our motives and volitions (which drive our choices) are still dependently originated/conditioned. If something is conditioned, how can we say it is free?

Yes, during the present each of us has the abilty to divert the flow away from the direction produced by past conditions -- for example, a murderer can take refuge and eventually become enlightened. But why do we have the motive to do this in the first place? Why do some "ordinary beings engage diligently with a positive aspiration in virtuous practices in their day-to-day lives," as the Dalai Lama puts it? Isn't it because they have generated good karmic roots, enabling them 1) to encounter the Dharma, and 2) to be receptive to it?
His Holiness says that the bodhisattva is no longer compelled to take birth due to karma, but may be born voluntarily for the sake of sentient beings; and if that is not an exercise of free will, then I don't know what would be!
To me, this looks more like an exercise of bodhicitta.

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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by treehuggingoctopus » Sun Jun 25, 2017 2:19 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:it is also true that our lives are not conditioned solely by the past, but also by present actions. As he says, "our hand can change at any moment," so fatalism is not justified
My present action, the one I am perpetrating right now, will condition my future actions (and co-create "me"). The present action itself, however, is conditioned by all my past actions.

It really is pretty much watertight unless you argue along with the Theravadins that not all that you experience/are is karmic -- or argue that the emptiness of everything is somehow the factor here that liberates one from the twin horns of perfect order (in which literally everything is predetermined) and perfect chaos (in which literally every choice one makes is perfectly meaningless).
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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by Jeff H » Sun Jun 25, 2017 3:14 pm

Wayfarer wrote:... And as for the Mahāyāna, the Dalai Lama makes the following observation:
There are two ways in which someone can take rebirth after death: rebirth under the sway of karma and destructive emotions and rebirth through the power of compassion and prayer. Regarding the first, due to ignorance negative and positive karma are created and their imprints remain on the consciousness. These are reactivated through craving and grasping, propelling us into the next life. We then take rebirth involuntarily in higher or lower realms. This is the way ordinary beings circle incessantly through existence like the turning of a wheel. Even under such circumstances ordinary beings can engage diligently with a positive aspiration in virtuous practices in their day-to-day lives. They familiarise themselves with virtue that at the time of death can be reactivated providing the means for them to take rebirth in a higher realm of existence.

On the other hand, superior Bodhisattvas, who have attained the path of seeing, are not reborn through the force of their karma and destructive emotions, but due to the power of their compassion for sentient beings and based on their prayers to benefit others. They are able to choose their place and time of birth as well as their future parents. Such a rebirth, which is solely for the benefit of others, is rebirth through the force of compassion and prayer.
(Emphasis added.)
I would interpret HHDL’s statement like this. Even though every intention is determined by a cause, within any moment it is possible to “nudge” our intentions.

We have lots of karmic causes waiting to ripen within the right conditions, some more positively aligned with harmony and compassion than others. The causes arise from all our past intentional actions. The conditions arise from many variables, including our own karma and the karma of myriad other beings around us. I think those variations can have unpredicted (not non-determinate) effects on our habitual reactions.

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.

In every moment there are competing elements of our aggregates that are confronted with competing objects of attention. Building on whatever positive karma we currently have, it is possible to cultivate the causal intentions that more nearly align with our primordially compassionate nature. The impetus to put forth that effort comes from the insight that harmony has the potential for lasting happiness whereas isolation leads to suffering. And the potential to consciously act on that motivation is possible because of the truth of emptiness.
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 Lazy_eye » Sun Jun 25, 2017 3:23 pm

treehuggingoctopus wrote:
Lazy_eye wrote:it is also true that our lives are not conditioned solely by the past, but also by present actions. As he says, "our hand can change at any moment," so fatalism is not justified
My present action, the one I am perpetrating right now, will condition my future actions (and co-create "me"). The present action itself, however, is conditioned by all my past actions.

It really is pretty much watertight unless you argue along with the Theravadins that not all that you experience/are is karmic -- or argue that the emptiness of everything is somehow the factor here that liberates one from the twin horns of perfect order (in which literally everything is predetermined) and perfect chaos (in which literally every choice one makes is perfectly meaningless).
Yes, I agree. There doesn't seem to be any room for an unconditioned choice, unless one has broken the twelvefold chain and become a Buddha.

If I understand Thanissaro correctly, he is contrasting a simple view of karma with a more complex one. The difference may be clarified if we look at an example provided by Astus from DN 2. In the simpler view, King Ajatasattu's evil deed would have landed him in hell, end of story. But in the more complex Buddhist view, his future is shaped by a combination of positive, negative, and "mixed" karma, so while he does experience retribution, he ultimately also becomes enlightened. Fatalism is a mistake because it is presumptuous -- it assumes knowledge of the precise workings of karma. Plus, as you mention, in Theravada karma may not the only factor.

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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by treehuggingoctopus » Sun Jun 25, 2017 5:39 pm

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.
And then there is no room for any choice for entirely different reasons.

I really like the issue of free will. It shows fantastically well how crude are the building blocks of our conceptual thought. "Disappointment guaranteed."
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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by muni » Sun Jun 25, 2017 5:41 pm

My present action, the one I am perpetrating right now, will condition my future actions (and co-create "me"). The present action itself, however, is conditioned by all my past actions.
Yes. As the, lets' call it "info", which is resulting in a choice of action is already in the mind before the "info" is remarked by the deciding-thinking mind. It is already before the “individual” thinks to take a decision and is convinced it is his her decision.
This shows actually the lack of an agent.

There is free will ( not by agent) to remain conditioned by the mind, or not. I do not know if this can be called free will. Maybe karmic choice or so.
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Re: Do we have free will?

Post by Jeff H » Sun Jun 25, 2017 6:45 pm

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.
We who are like children shrink from pain but love its causes. - Shantideva

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