In the course of his Awakening, the Buddha discovered that the experience of the present moment consists of three factors: results from past actions, present actions, and the results of present actions. This means that kamma acts in feedback loops, with the present moment being shaped both by past and by present actions; while present actions shape not only the present but also the future. This constant opening for present input into the causal processes shaping one's life makes free will possible. ... However, the fact that the experience of space and time requires not only the results of past actions but also the input of present actions means that it is possible to unravel the experience of space and time by bringing the mind to a point of equilibrium where it contributes no intentions or actions to the present moment. The intentions that converge at this equilibrium are thus a fourth type of intention — transcendent skillful intentions — which lead to release from the results of mundane intentions, and ultimately to the ending of all action. * (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/canon/su ... index.html
For the early Buddhists, karma was non-linear. Other Indian schools believed that karma operated in a 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 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. This constant opening for present input into the causal process makes free will possible. This freedom is symbolized in the imagery the Buddhists used to explain the process: 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. * (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... karma.html
Although the precise working out of the kammic process is somewhat unpredictable, it is not chaotic. The relationship between kammic causes and their effects is entirely regular: when an action is of the sort that it will be felt in such and such a way, that is how its result will be experienced (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... passage-13
). Skillful intentions lead to favorable results, unskillful ones to unfavorable results. Thus, when one participates in the kammic process, one is at the mercy of a pattern that one's actions put into motion, but that is not entirely under one's present control. Despite the power of the mind, one cannot reshape the basic laws of cosmic causality at whim. These laws include the physical laws, within which one's kamma must ripen and work itself out. ... The point here is that old kamma does not override other causal factors operating in the universe — such as those recognized by the physical sciences — but instead finds its expression within them.
However, the fact that the kammic process relies on input from the present moment means that it is not totally deterministic. Input from the past may place restrictions on what can be done and known in any particular moment, but the allowance for new input from the present provides some room for free will. This allowance also opens the possibility for escape from the cycle of kamma altogether by means of the fourth type of kamma: the development of heightened skillfulness (kusala) through the pursuit of the seven factors for Awakening and the noble eightfold path — and, by extension, all of the Wings to Awakening [§§16-17] (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... passage-16
The non-linearity of this/that conditionality (idappaccayata) explains why heightened skillfulness, when focused on the present moment, can succeed in leading to the end of the kamma that has formed the experience of the entire cosmos. All non-linear processes exhibit what is called scale invariance, which means that the behavior of the process on any one scale is similar to its behavior on smaller or larger scales. To understand, say, the large-scale pattern of a particular non-linear process, one need only focus on its behavior on a smaller scale that is easier to observe, and one will see the same pattern at work. In the case of kamma, one need only focus on the process of kamma in the immediate present, in the course of developing heightened skillfulness, and the large-scale issues over the expanses of space and time will become clear as one gains release from them. * (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... part1.html
Over the years many schools of meditation have taught that mental fabrications simply get in the way of a goal that's uncaused and unfabricated. Only by doing nothing at all and thus not fabricating anything in the mind, they say, will the unfabricated (nibbana) shine forth. This view is based on a very simplistic understanding of fabricated reality, seeing causality as linear and totally predictable: X causes Y which causes Z and so on, with no effects turning around to condition their causes, and no possible way of using causality to escape from the causal network. However, one of the many things the Buddha discovered in the course of his awakening was that causality is not linear. The experience of the present is shaped both by actions in the present and by actions in the past. Actions in the present shape both the present and the future. The results of past and present actions continually interact. Thus there is always room for new input into the system, which gives scope for free will. There is also room for the many feedback loops that make experience so thoroughly complex, and that are so intriguingly described in chaos theory. Reality doesn't resemble a simple line or circle. It's more like the bizarre trajectories of a strange attractor or a Mandelbrot set.
(http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... nance.html
For more, see:
Samsara Divided by Zero by Thanissaro Bhikkhuhttp://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... nance.htmlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractalhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-similarity