Not particularly convinced by “No Free Will” arguments proposed by Sam Harris and Gary Weber. Has John Tan ever addressed this? Interested in hearing anyone else’s thoughts as well.
Soh Wei Yu
Excerpt from AtR guide:
No-Self is Not Pre-Determinism
(This issue is not peculiar to Stage 5 but can be present the moment one has glimpses or experiences of the non-doership aspect of no-self, even if one has not yet reached Stage 1)
There is a kind of pathology or danger in various kinds of insights because they are partial and one may not have yet seen the complete picture. As you may have seen in my recent discussions, the pathology or danger in non-doership is that one will fall into a kind of extreme deterministic thinking - that somehow because there is no doer, nothing can/should be done about things. This leads to a very passive attitude to things, or rather, one is restricted to experiencing no-self in a passive way (of merely letting experience happen in non-doership), one which prevents the experience of non-dual in action/activities via complete non-dual engagement, involvement, incorporating intentions, and later going into total exertion. (Also non-doership does not imply one has arisen non-dual insight)
On the disease of non-doership, John Tan said:
“Nihilistic tendencies arise when the insight of anatta is skewed towards the no-doership aspect. The happening by itself must be correctly understood. It appears that things are accomplished by doing nothing but in actual case it is things get done due to ripening of action and conditions.
So the lack of self-nature does not imply nothing needs be done or nothing can be done. That is one extreme. At the other end of extreme is the self-nature of perfect control of what one wills, one gets. Both are seen to be false. Action + conditions leads to effect.”
“As to the specifics of your question I’m not sure, but here are a few major differences between classical “determinism” and Buddhist karmic causality:
Determinism proper necessarily involves inherently existent causes giving rise to inherently existent effects in a unilateral manner.
Karmic cause and effect in the context of the buddhadharma is only valid conventionally, and since every cause is an effect and every effect a cause, they are, in a coarse sense, bilateral in nature.
Karma can be “determined” in a certain sense, but since karma takes direction from intention, change can occur, certain results can be averted, suffering can be mitigated and ideally uprooted altogether.” - Kyle Dixon, 2019
“Kyle Dixon Dante Rosati we gave volition [cetana], and can direct that volition freely.
Of course we are subject to our karma, but it is not as rigidly deterministic as you suggest.
Kyle Dixon Yes, we “have,” possess, volition. And are capable of directing it where we choose.
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Kyle Dixon Life is not a fully automated process in the sense that you are like a helpless leaf being blown around by the wind, is the point.
You can make choices and direct volition.
Kyle Dixon Eric Aksunah I don’t know the specifics.
I just recall Malcolm once said we don’t have “free will” because such a principle implies a rational agent, and we are still subject to karma. Nevertheless, we can direct our volition and intention in specific directions, such as following the path.
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“ - Kyle Dixon, 2020
“Someone asked: Yes not fixed, undetermined, and unknown. But what is it within "us" that can act or influence independently outside of conditions? Of all the multitude of infinite flow of interdependent points, I assume there is some co-rippling affect, no end to being caused, no end to being effected. Is our choice eating an Apple vs a Donut factored in an algorithm dependent on all prior conditioning of past experiences and expected outcome of future long term reward against short term satisfaction. Is there really choice hidden in there or simply born of conditions and situations of our current predicaments. Ongoing evolution of genetics, family, society, era, location, culture, and luck.
Soh replied: “Us” is an aggregation, it is a convention like chariot. That is like asking how does the chariot move, actually chariot and movement is dependently designated, agent and action is dependently designated and unfindable. Choice or intention is dependently originating also. Buddha taught, not caused by self, by other, nor causelessly, but via dependent origination. Not caused by self means not caused by an agent, and also Madhyamika explains not caused by the same thing. Not caused by other negates notions of annihilation of some existent self, and also negates notions of fatalism or determinism as if things are caused by “other” with no relation to itself. Rather whatever manifests, manifests due to conditions. For example if desire arise, it arise due to the arising of pleasant sensations (say, nice smell of food) and latent tendencies towards craving and grasping. They do not arise due to agency but due to conditions. But those conditionings are not the same as “caused by others”. They are also subject to cessation. The path that leads to cessation is also dependently originating such as the twelve transcendental links of dependent origination (the one that talks about practice factors like joy, etc), and so on. Then when we get to subtler level, we realise the non arising and non origination of what dependently originates.”
Soh Wei Yu
Soh: “spontaneous presencing is none other than the Maha (great/boundless) total exertion of the seamless conditions of the three times and ten directions, however it is not a linear causality where cause and effect are strictly separate with an actor (cause) and acted-upon (effect). As Dogen said, “Cause is not before and effect is not after.” and John Tan wrote in 2013, “Do you feel being caused or effected? It is just a single flow. Now when we see one, the 10000 things arise”. “
Soh Wei Yu wrote:
"What you said is not completely wrong but can be misleading unless you understand 'nature' as 'dependent origination' (replying to a post about anger, killing, suffering being the expression of nature instead of a self). Which is to say, it is not fate, or some sort of outside determinism, nor is it spontaneous arising without causes, but simply dependencies playing out here.
For example, torturing people is the result of ignorance, aggression, etc etc. There are various causes and conditions as listed in the twelve links of dependent arising. And it is not something that is fixed. By engaging in dharma practice we deal with the afflictions and liberate them. Four noble truths are like what doctor does - diagnosis, cause, relief, cure. Four noble truths are completely in alignment with "no self, dependent origination". It would be erroneous if a doctor realizes there is no self, therefore, thinks that all diseases are 'just as it is' and should not or cannot be dealt with. They should be dealt with. But they are dealt with not via the attempting to exert control or hard will via by the false notion of agency (sickness can't be cured merely by trying to will or control it out of existence - there are so many dependencies involved). They are dealt with via seeing its dependent origination and treating its dependent origination in a non-inherent way.
Now in the case of 'torturing', if someone practices metta, it can help (or if you prefer, leave out the 'someone' -- 'practicing metta can help'). Then when fundamental delusion is cleared, aggression can no longer arise. There is nobody controlling anger, anger arise whether one wants to or not -- yet it can be treated by applying the right antidote (e.g. metta) or actualizing wisdom so that it releases (e.g. anatta, twofold emptiness), just like diseases happen whether one wants to or not -- yet there is medicine, cure. There is suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the path that ends suffering."
John Tan then added on:
"[Someone wrote:] “There is nobody controlling anger, anger arise whether one wants to or not”
[John replied:] Maybe sees it this way:
There is no one controlling anger, anger arises due to dependent origination.
With ignorance comes attachment. When attachment meets its secondary conditions, anger arises. Without secondary conditions, anger does not arise. Although it does not arise, it will not cease to arise unless the primary cause is severed. Here the appearance of “spontaneous arising” is seen from the perspective of DO.
Seeing this way, there is anatta; there is dependent origination; there is mindfulness of the cause of anger, the conditions, the cure and the ending of it. There is no bypassing as in “nothing needs be done”, albeit no-self."
On the subject of free will:
"Nihilistic tendencies arise when the insight of anatta is skewed towards the no-doership aspect. The happening by itself must be correctly understood. It appears that things are accomplished by doing nothing but in actual case it is things get done due to ripening of action and conditions.
So the lack of self-nature does not imply nothing needs be done or nothing can be done. That is one extreme. At the other end of extreme is the self-nature of perfect control of what one wills, one gets. Both are seen to be false. Action + conditions leads to effect.
June 1 at 11:32am · Unlike · 8"
Also in 2008:
(7:23 PM) Thusness: We will not know perfect conditionality is unconditioned
(7:23 PM) Thusness: because the inherent and dualistic mind priced 'controller', 'self'
(7:24 PM) Thusness: The 'perfect conditionality' is never freedom to an inherent and dualistic mind.
(7:24 PM) Thusness: What is the method of practice in Christianity?
(7:25 PM) AEN: surrendering?
(7:25 PM) Thusness: yes
(7:25 PM) Thusness: surrendering is a total giving up, losing self control
(7:25 PM) Thusness: isn't that perfect loss of control and freedom?
(7:27 PM) AEN: no
(7:27 PM) AEN: cos everything continues to be done without a doer, its only the illusion of a doer that is dissolved?
(7:27 PM) AEN: its more like a happening
(7:27 PM) Thusness: yes but isn't that a lost of control?
(7:28 PM) AEN: dunnu leh, but intention can still arise even though there is no doer... so it's not that there is no control
(7:29 PM) Thusness: there is no control
(7:29 PM) AEN: oic
(7:29 PM) AEN: no control but intention arises
(7:29 PM) AEN: resulting in deeds
(7:29 PM) Thusness: there is intention
(7:30 PM) Thusness: we are confused because we 'tend' to analyse and not 'see' the actual happening.
(7:30 PM) Thusness: just like a hand, each fingers does not control
(7:30 PM) Thusness: when you close your hand, it becomes a fist.
(7:30 PM) Thusness: each finger does not control
(7:31 PM) Thusness: like working in a group
(7:31 PM) Thusness: each individual does not control
(7:31 PM) Thusness: but each individual can contribute
(7:31 PM) Thusness: 'control' is really an illusion...though there is intention
(7:32 PM) AEN: oic.. wat you mean is that your intention is only part of the conditioning?
(7:32 PM) Thusness: no lah
(7:33 PM) Thusness: contributes as a form of conditions you mean?
(7:33 PM) AEN: ya
(7:33 PM) AEN: wat you mean
(7:33 PM) Thusness: for an arising outcome
(7:33 PM) Thusness: means intention serves condition for an arising outcome
(7:33 PM) AEN: icic..
Soh Wei Yu
(12:59 PM) Thusness: there is intention, there is doing but there is no agent
so there is intention but there is no control
(12:59 PM) Thusness: intention only as cause and conditions
(12:59 PM) AEN: oic..
(12:59 PM) Thusness: so karma, intentions, tendencies and then manifestation
when you chant, why it works
when you summarize, why it works
(1:00 PM) Thusness: but it works not through an agent controlling an outcome
(1:00 PM) AEN: but it can be misunderstood as determinism? like every action and intention is conditioned
(1:00 PM) Thusness: yes
there is intention
(1:01 PM) Thusness: intention affects outcome
but not like an agent in control of something
(1:01 PM) AEN: icic..
(1:01 PM) Thusness: effects comes powerfully strong when there is complete oneness
that the imprints is strong and stable
(1:01 PM) AEN: wat effects
wat you mean
(1:02 PM) Thusness: means like practice makes perfect lah
(1:02 PM) Thusness: you practice and don't have to ask for result
let it sink into your deepest most consciousness
it is always like that
Session Start: Monday, April 06, 2009
(1:40 PM) AEN: i forwarded you a second mail about free will
(1:47 PM) Thusness: There is influence, there is no control.
(1:47 PM) Thusness: And influence is by intention and imprints.
(1:52 PM) Thusness: Next there is also nothing to fear about 'no-control'. We must clearly know what is meant by no-control in actual experience. It sounds uncomfortable when our mind is inherent but in actual experience it is liberating because 'inherent view' blinds us from right experience and understanding.
(1:54 PM) Thusness: However this is not to say that everything is determined. The advaita practitioners is not aware of imprints and karma and mistaken spontaneity due to dependent origination with determinism.
Session Start: Friday, April 10, 2009
(2:34 PM) AEN: konomonte asked a qn on free will to dharma dan and he replied... i forwarded to
(10:22 PM) Thusness: read. Quite good.
(10:23 PM) AEN: icic..
(10:24 PM) Thusness: komomonte cannot understand the question of free will this way.
(10:26 PM) Thusness: he must first experience no-self and understand how subject/object view affect us then when he look at the question of free will, he will be able to understand better.
(10:29 PM) Thusness: because when our mind and experienced are shaped by inherent thoughts, we see 'free will' as a form of freedom. Once we are able to go beyond dualistic and inherent views, we see otherwise. But we must also not lead to the wrong understanding of determinism for both free will and determinism are extremes.
(10:29 PM) AEN: oic..
(10:31 PM) Thusness: what did you write to him?
(10:31 PM) AEN: you mean previously
(10:31 PM) Thusness: yeah
(10:33 PM) AEN: basically i said what you said, that things do not happen by chance or ramdomly or determined, but due to conditions. so there is no control, but there is influence by intentions and imprints.
(10:33 PM) Thusness: yes
(10:34 PM) Thusness: Dharma Dan's answer i also along that line.
(10:34 PM) Thusness: It is causal.
(8:45 AM) Thusness: yeah...overwhelmed by the taste of presence, we wanted so much to make it 'independent' to suit our 'free will' and 'absolute' model of our dualistic paradigm, that is the mind created such a notion of Absolute Reality.
(8:46 AM) Thusness: This will only hinder our progress from further experiencing presence.
Also I wrote this in my e-book:
6th April 2012
No-self does not imply determinism.
As I wrote to someone:
Yes but 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.
John Tan, 2020:
The logic that since there is no agency, hence no choice to be made is no different from "no sufferer, therefore no suffering".
This is not anatta insight.
What is seen through in anatta is the mistaken view that the conventional structure of "subject action object" represents reality when it is not. Action does not require an agent to initiate it. It is language that creates the confusion that nouns are required to set verbs into motion.
Therefore the action of choosing continues albeit no chooser.
"Mere suffering exists, no sufferer is found;
The deeds are, but no doer of the deeds is there;
Nibbāna is, but not the man that enters it;
The path is, but no traveler on it is seen."
Alan Watts: Agent and Action
Investigation into Movement
Soh Wei Yu yes what’s stated here is my understanding as well. Volition is an aggregate. ‘No free will and determinism are both extremes’— very well put. Thank you Soh!
What did Sam Harris says? Complete no free will? (Too lazy to read his free will book )
Ryan Burton he wrote a book just to say that ?!
For me it’s DO. Our intention/decision is dependently originated which feeds into the whole “Indra net” and condition other decisions
So we have that little space to manoeuvre to direct our eventual destination, something like flying a huge plane with a huge momentum.
Soh Wei Yu
Ryan Burton without understanding and realising anatta and DO, nondoership will turn into determinism.
All the neo and traditional Vedantists fall into this mistake, including Ramana maharshi. They believe everything is nondoership and therefore pre determined by God and everything is the will and play of God. Like we are the puppets of a puppeteer, the highest master behind is God.
Soh Wei Yu
Sam harris is also not clear in view yet. Still one mind to no mind level. His view is influenced by advaita vedanta.
Soh Wei Yu
He has some insight into I Am and certain aspect of impersonality and no self. And glimpses of no mind. But not v clear about realizations yet
His nondual is mostly still experiences
Yin Ling As you said, “our” intention is dependently originated and it has no inherent existence just like anything else. So what makes this intention “ours”? Is it really possible to say that there is free will if there is no independently existing self. That intention is a result of many things - the current situation (environment, people, objects, time, location) as well as the specific mental state of the individual at the time, which in turn depends on past experiences and decisions etc etc. When you go very far back in this web there is no center point at all that could have impacted that original decision whatsoever. Therefore I think of this very similar to determinism in the sense that if you can predict those very specific causes and conditions then you can predict decisions. Basically I don’t think decisions are really decisions, they are more accumulation of conditions and causes. It only seems like we have space to manoeuvre but really that movement is already decided long before any decision is made.
Soh Wei Yu This is pretty spot on about Sam. He clings to a materialist view and seems more concerned with conceptualizing than realization. Just my impression. Waking Up has a lot of discussion at the level of concept. As if one could logic their way to realization. Recent Jay Garfield interview is a good example. Rather than talk to a teacher who understands emptiness and DO, he brings on a philosopher and discusses it at that level. He says things like "obviously there is a real world out there". Really? Obvious? Sam seems stuck in the character of Sam.
Chris Jones sorry took me awhile to reply was out.
Imo free will and determination discussion starts because of a “self” view, without a self worldview this debate does not even has any foundation.
For , in the expanse of dependently originated suchness, we “privileged” a few sensations call “me” and “intention” or “volition” and try to figure out how these few nodes function. Whether it is determined or whether it has a mind itself.
But truly the world has never work that way.
making decisions has always happen without a self, without a person as an actor.
And this action has always been a cause and an effect.
It is being fed into and it feeds towards everything elses in the whole mind moment, past present future, all ten directions, never linear, never inherent.
When we have this understanding of causes and conditions, which in itself is a condition for our decisions, we can create good conditions knowing they eventually will affect the whole web.. so on so forth.
It is complex but volition has always happen without a “controller” yet it has always been influenced and will also influence
Òskar K. Linares
Soh Wei Yu So you don't have control over intentions arising, but you can only work on the conditions of it (like the example with the runner)? If so the will to work or not on those conditions, where does it come from, isn't that also just arising?
Soh Wei Yu
Ultimately, if you understood dependent origination, you also understand that whatever dependently originates does not come from anywhere. Not from an agent, not from God, not from north, south, east, or west.
With the right configuration and collections of conditions, an appearance or function manifests, a fire burns, a rainbow appears, a water moon appears, a mirage appears, a hologram appears. Is there something truly born or arising by its own self existence? No. Was something truly created by causes and conditions? Also no, nothing is created, only appears without amounting to anything being born. Conditions too are empty. Where does the flame come from? Not from any direction. Where does the flame go? Not in any direction. Where does flame abide? Nowhere, never coming, never going, nothing abiding and there is no real flame either, flame too is merely a conventional designation, and even the designation is unreal, and the appearance too is unreal. Under the power of delusion we mistook the conventionally designated phenomena as truly real, as referencing real entities, we mistook the burning flame or rainbow or watermoon or mirage to reference a real self-existing or created entity that could undergo arising, abiding and ceasing. Otherwise its seen to be empty presence, vivid presence-absence, illusory.
Whatever is seen and heard and experienced, understand that to be dependent origination, what dependently originates never truly arose or originated by way of self-existence, like a reflection. Whatever “arises” by dependencies never truly arise. No coming, no going, no origin, no destination, no abiding.
Soh Wei Yu
Baze Josevski like i wrote this in 2016 also:
when we scroll text on facebook, people with erroneous essence view think that the text is actually going up and down, or as if the text below is hidden below and we have to scroll down and 'get there'. but when we realize D.O. and non-arising we don't see phenomena arising, abiding, ceasing, going to or coming from... so scrolling of text is merely appearing without movement, abiding no where and going no where, like a magical illusion.
the same for all other phenomena 'in the universe'
Soh Wei Yu
Listening to someone tutoring about "rainbow",
The teaching of science came to my mind.
The raindrops, the sunshine;
The light that enters and exits the droplets;
The reflection, refraction and light dispersion;
All these formed the rainbow.
But they missed the most important factor,
The radiance of our own mind.
Rainbows need to have eyes in correct position, water droplets, light, radiant mind, all like so for rainbow to appear. Move slightly and rainbow is gone. Never came from anywhere, stayed anywhere, or went anywhere. The rainbow was insubstantial, but vividly displayed. All phenomena are like this.
Soh Wei Yu
Nagarjuna's very first line in Mūlamadhyamakakārikā:
“I pay respect to the best among speakers who, having attained Enlightenment, has taught relative origination (Pratītyasamutpāda) which is no-cessation, no-origination, no- annihilation, no-abiding, no-one-thing, no-many-thing, no-coming-in, no-going-out; being the termination of linguistic description (Prapañcopashamam), it is the good (Shivam) [Ram Candra Pandey & Mañju, 1999, pp.1]
Soh Wei Yu
Having said that, conventionally “you” intended
Wonderment of Seeing Emptiness of the Conventional
Wonderment of Seeing Emptiness of the Conventional
This whole conversation always confuses me. Maybe it's paradoxical and so can't be explained, or maybe there is a better way to explain it all.
First, let's forget about a self having free will or not. The question is, given a certain configuration of reality, what determines the next moment? The only choices seem to be (1) it is fully determined, (2) there is at least some element of pure randomness, or (3) there's some "will" coming in from the outside. But I'm hearing that all three of these are wrong.
I'm afraid that if anyone tries to explain it again in terms of DO, I won't get it. Is there an explanation for dummies?
Soh Wei Yu
In Buddhism, there is only dependent origination of mindstream, no real agent, and it is this mindstream（the word mindstream itself conveys it is not an entity, not an unchanging core, not a real agent, not a real self, etc -- there is no mind [as an entity] only mindstreams moment to moment manifesting according to conditions) which dependently originates wills and actions. Like one moment of thought conditions another moment of thought and on and on. It is not determined by an outside God, nor is there an internal central agent or controller or thinker or coordinator nor a watcher. However so called environmental conditions can influence, but not control, the thought process. Nothing controls nor determines anything, but there are influences, like the five fingers analogy by John Tan.
Conventionally you can even say an empty agent acts. But when subjected to ultimate analysis, that does not stand either.
Soh Wei Yu
Ok enough of blahing for few weeks, this will be my last post.
For those who conclude mmk denies causal efficacy,
they have unknowingly fallen into the essentialist view of "true existence". Mmk only teaches if cause and effect exist essentially, then casuality is untenable and impossible.
Therefore don't just say "ultimately causality, self and phenomena are empty" but deeply understand:
In anatta, there is action without agent.
In prasangika, action is performed by empty agent.
As such "empty wars" kill, "empty self" suffers, empty self takes rebirth and only empty things have causal relations.
That is y Nagasena can be ferried by an "empty chariot".
Hence, don't neglect the imagined and experience the wonderment of seeing emptiness of the conventional.
An early Happy New Year to all and happy journey to all my dharma friends!
Wonderment of Seeing Emptiness of the Conventional
Wonderment of Seeing Emptiness of the Conventional
Soh Wei Yu
Malcolm wrote: ↑Wed Oct 27, 2021 4:09 am
Well, actually the I-making habit, the basic knowledge obscuration, has no real existence as a self, but it functions as an agent of karma and a recipient of karma, so there is that, even though the "I" it imputes does not exist at all.
No, it is an imagined, nonexistent self that causes and experiences everything, for example, when a car is in accident, it is the imagined car for which one pays the damages, not the wrong view of the imagined car. But perhaps this is a special point of Candrakīrti's Madhyamaka, unlikely to be found the Visuddhimagga.
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