After quoting from The Anatta-lakkhaṇa Sutta, someone wrote:

“I agree that it's delusion to believe that I can affect the unfolding of reality”

 I replied:

There are two extremes. Free will and predeterminism are extremes.

One is thinking I am the agent, controller, that can determine the outcome of something. As if hard will alone can cause something to happen. (I cannot immediately run as fast as an Olympic medalist no matter how hard willed I am, but I can gradually improve and work on my body fitness and health and run faster through disciplined training)

The other is thinking there is nothing that can be done to influence an outcome, or that intention plays no role since everything merely spontaneously arise, or that everything is predetermined. This is the faulty view that many Neo Advaitins fall into.

The middle way is that intention and action can influence the unfolding of reality, through dependent origination, but not through hard will or the control of agency. One finger does not control other fingers but one finger contributes to the total exertion of hand grasping object. You cannot deny the contributive influence of one finger but you can categorically reject the notion of agency.

Likewise, I cannot control global warming, but collective activism, increasing global consciousness or awareness, and cooperation throughout the world may be able to solve some of the issues by addressing the interdependencies and causalities accordingly - if (a big if) it’s not too late already, as irreversible tipping points may be triggered after certain point.

This sounds theoretical but the main point is this - no self rejects agency but should not lead to the nihilist extreme of a state of passivity, thinking “nothing can be done” or “nothing to do” and “no practice” or “predetermined” of the Neo advaitin. In true anatta there is discerning of conditionality, there is discerning of karmic propensities, there is practice-enlightenment, actualization, mindfulness, concentration, right effort. Even though the insight is effortless actualized in all moments from just sitting to simple activities like chopping wood and carrying water, peace and freedom is experienced, the factor of mindfulness and samadhi is there, rather than spouting about “no practice”.


"Causes and conditions also have no self-nature; they do not actually control anything, except in appearance."

and quotes someone on the emptiness of causality

I replied:

The emptiness of causality is what allows for causality, for causality and svabhava (existing by its own essence) are contradictory, and thus emptiness is not a negation of but in fact what allows for the efficacy of conventional causality. Otherwise, one falls into the view of nihilism, misinterpreting emptiness to be non-existence, and “are harmed by it” as Nagarjuna puts it.

This is taught clearly by Nagarjuna –

We say that this understanding of yours
Of emptiness and purpose of emptiness
And of the significance of emptiness is incorrect.
As a consequence you are harmed by it.
                                          (Garfield 1995, p.68)
Because the opponent has taken "emptiness" to signify the nonexistence of the Four Noble Truths, he is "harmed by it"-in other words, he sees "emptiness" as destructive…

If you perceive the existence of all things
In terms of svabhava,
Then this perception of all things
Will be without the perception of causes and conditions.

Effects and causes
And agent and action
And conditions and arising and ceasing
And effects will be rendered impossible.
                                          (Garfield 1995, p.69)

And as Malcolm said, “This whole discussion of what is the middle way comes directly after the discussion of how the Buddha only teaches two truths. The two truths are themselves the middle way, the latter is not a third truth. The whole purpose of this discussion in MMK 24 is to explain how the four noble truths are possible only if dependently originated phenomena are understood to be emptiness.”

Also as Malcolm pointed out,

“Nāgārjuna states that dependent origination and emptiness are basically the same thing:
  • That which originates in dependence is explained as emptiness,
    that is a dependent designation, that itself is the middle way.
  • Whoever rejects the emptiness of dependent origination
    is one who rejects all mundane conventions.

  • Whoever sees dependent origination sees suffering,
    the source of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path.
One of the Buddhist criticisms of Advaita is that their presentation of the relative, conventional level is faulty, and therefore, their presentation of the ultimate is consequently faulty.

Because that which dependently originates is empty, it is illusory. Emptiness itself is not a phenomena to characterize as either real or illusory. To say something is empty is equivalent to saying it is illusory.”

Also, the teaching of dependent origination negates control of any kind whether from internal nor external – there is no self-made Nor other-made, but arising via dependencies. There is no agent, no controller, either internally nor externally, but neither is whatever arising spontaneously manifesting without conditions. This must be understood as well.

Sutta – “"It's not the case, Kotthita my friend, that consciousness is self-made, that it is other-made, that it is both self-made & other-made, or that — without self-making or other-making — it arises spontaneously. However, from name-&-form as a requisite condition comes consciousness." -

Neither from itself nor from another,
Nor from both,
Nor without a cause,
Does anything whatever, anywhere arise.

Also James Corrigan wrote well (he writes with deep experiential insights):
In INSIGHTS by James Corrigan4 Comments
Agency implies an agent. If there is no agent, there can be no agency. Agency, of course, is the action or intervention of a thing, or person, that produces an effect. To say that language can’t capture the truth is even more true when silly things are being stated. So when someone talks about causes and conditions, they are being silly because these are not the same. A cause is that which makes a thing happen. It implies an agent and agency, a veritable proliferation of sillinesses. A condition is that which opens the possibility of something happening. But conditions can never cause anything to happen because they are neither an agent nor have agency. Perhaps this surprises you. But think about all the things you thought were going to happen in your life that didn’t, and all the things that did that you never saw coming! Scientists call this stochastic behavior, it extends all the way down to the quantum level, and perhaps especially there. It’s the reason why a computer needs a clock, that coordinates all the stochastic behavior of electronic components so that the device can actually accomplish the tasks it has been engineered to allow to happen. Notice I didn’t say make happen, because sometimes things don’t. And we’ve probably all experienced that too.
Often, in our attempts to make sense of reality, we fall into old habits of thought that arise from an understanding in our heads that things do things. Exorcising that understanding happens naturally when a certain point is reached, but without the direct experience, silliness abounds.
Parmenides, an Ancient Greek philosopher once wrote a poem about his insights into reality. He didn’t use any pronouns, and few, if any nouns. Smart people, thinking they knew what he meant, supplied a lot of additional wording that made the poem easier to read, but empty of truth. Then, once that was done, they realized that Parmenides hadn’t said the right thing in the right way, so they fixed that up too. When Parmenides said: “the same: to be and wherefore is intuitive awareness” (“ταὐτὸν δ᾽ ἐστὶ νοεῖν τε καὶ οὓνεκέν ἐστι νόημα”), equating the manifesting appearances and selfless knowing, they clarified it, equating “being” with “thinking,” turning it into a kind of “I think, therefore I am!” statement instead. Silliness. Neither the Greek word for thought, nor for thinking appears anywhere in Parmenides’ statement.
So, try to make sense of conditions, not as any kind of interaction between entities, not even in a metaphorical fashion. Instead, think of how a seed grows. The sun doesn’t cause the seed to grow, any more than rain does, or the soil, or all the bacteria, fungi, animals, and other plants do. Yet, for the seed to grow, all of those conditions need to be right, including the condition of the seed being present.
As to what causes the seed to grow, well, just let the idea of causes go. It involves agents and agency, and they are just silly nonsense. Understand that when the right conditions are present, the possibility of genesis is present, but what actually happens is uncaused.
Now divest that scenario of all sense of things inherent in it. Sunlight isn’t a thing, except as a concept. Neither is water, or soil, or all the life present in soil. These are all just ideas, ways to talk about reality in shorthand. Instead, see an amazing, and coherent presencing of selfless naturing. Don’t even hold onto the idea of a nature, as something doing the naturing. It will cause a cognitive dissonance that will tire you out, but the effort lays a groundwork for the direct experience to come. It’s all just more conditioning, and in this case, it’s called mind training, but it could be called mind conditioning as well, because you are not making anything happen, you are only developing the right conditions for certain experiences to happen.
So remember: there is no mind, instead there is just this awesome and beautiful selfless naturing. Or if you prefer, there is just this awesome and beautiful selfless minding. But no nature and no mind anywhere, just the appearance of awesome beauty. Reflect on that phrase, awesome beauty. Another way of expressing it, that I use, is the visceral essence of selfless loving. But you can just call it bliss instead.


By the way Garfield explains well and is consistent with my explanation as well as James Corrigan's:

I will begin by offering a philosophical reading of chapter 1. I will argue that Nagarjuna distinguishes two possible views of dependent origination or the causal process--one according to which causes bring about their effects in virtue of causal powers and one according to which causal relations simply amount to explanatorily useful regularities--and defends the latter. This, I will argue, when suitably fleshed out, amounts to Nagarjuna's doctrine of the emptiness of causation.


To assert the emptiness of causation is to accept the utility of our causal discourse and explanatory practice, but to resist the temptation to see these as grounded in reference to causal powers or as demanding such grounding. Dependent origination simply is the explicability and coherence of the universe. Its emptiness is the fact that there is no more to it than that.


Next, Nagarjuna notes (1: 4) that in exploiting an event or entity as a condition in explanation, we do not thereby ascribe it any causal power. Our desire for light does not exert some occult force on the lights. Nor is there anything to be found in the flicking of the switch other than the plastic, metal, movement, and connections visible to the naked eye. Occult causal powers are singularly absent. On the other hand, Nagarjuna points out in the same breath that this does not mean that conditions are explanatorily impotent. In a perfectly ordinary sense--not that which the metaphysicians of causation have in mind--our desire is active in the production of light. But not in the sense that it contains light potentially, or some special causal power that connects our minds to the bulbs.[5]

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