What is controlling?

An open and inclusive investigation into Buddhism and spiritual cultivation

Re: What is controlling?

Postby kirk5a » Sat Sep 07, 2013 11:20 pm

The Buddha did not say that individual choices are an illusion or fallacy. He strongly denied determinism/fatalism. Nor did he deny self-control. On the contrary:

“I have not, brahman, seen or heard such a doctrine, such a view. How, indeed, could one — moving forward by himself, moving back by himself [2] — say: ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer’? What do you think, brahmin, is there an element or principle of initiating or beginning an action?”[3]

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“When there is an element of initiating, are initiating beings [4] clearly discerned?”

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“So, brahmin, when there is the element of initiating, initiating beings are clearly discerned; of such beings, this is the self-doer, this, the other-doer. [5]

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .niza.html
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
User avatar
kirk5a
 
Posts: 1794
Joined: Thu Sep 23, 2010 1:51 pm

Re: What is controlling?

Postby chownah » Sun Sep 08, 2013 3:03 am

kirk5a wrote:The Buddha did not say that individual choices are an illusion or fallacy. He strongly denied determinism/fatalism. Nor did he deny self-control. On the contrary:

“I have not, brahman, seen or heard such a doctrine, such a view. How, indeed, could one — moving forward by himself, moving back by himself [2] — say: ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer’? What do you think, brahmin, is there an element or principle of initiating or beginning an action?”[3]

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“When there is an element of initiating, are initiating beings [4] clearly discerned?”

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“So, brahmin, when there is the element of initiating, initiating beings are clearly discerned; of such beings, this is the self-doer, this, the other-doer. [5]

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .niza.html

I've been wanting to discuss this doer thing and now that you have posted it maybe here is the chance. The term self-doer can for me have two meanings: 1) a self which has the function of doing.....or 2) a thing which creates a self like a "self-maker". I'm wondering what the difference is between "self" and "self-doer" and I'm reasonably sure that the answer lies in the Pali.
chownah
chownah
 
Posts: 2953
Joined: Wed Aug 12, 2009 2:19 pm

Re: What is controlling?

Postby barcsimalsi » Sun Sep 08, 2013 3:41 am

kirk5a wrote:The Buddha did not say that individual choices are an illusion or fallacy. He strongly denied determinism/fatalism. Nor did he deny self-control. On the contrary:

“I have not, brahman, seen or heard such a doctrine, such a view. How, indeed, could one — moving forward by himself, moving back by himself [2] — say: ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer’? What do you think, brahmin, is there an element or principle of initiating or beginning an action?”[3]

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“When there is an element of initiating, are initiating beings [4] clearly discerned?”

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“So, brahmin, when there is the element of initiating, initiating beings are clearly discerned; of such beings, this is the self-doer, this, the other-doer. [5]

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .niza.html

Thanks for bringing this up. It is one of the sutta i'm not clear of.
Quoting from Isidatta sutta, Ven. Isidatta explained that the self is just a view:
"Now, householder, are you asking this: 'Concerning the various views that arise in the world... when what is present do they come into being, and what is absent do they not come into being?'?"

"Yes, venerable sir."

"Concerning the various views that arise in the world, householder... when self-identity view is present, these views come into being; when self-identity view is absent, they don't come into being."

"But, venerable sir, how does self-identity view come into being?"

"There is the case, householder, where an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person — who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma — assumes form[2] to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form. He assumes feeling to be the self, or the self as possessing feeling, or feeling as in the self, or the self as in feeling. He assumes perception to be the self, or the self as possessing perception, or perception as in the self, or the self as in perception. He assumes (mental) fabrications to be the self, or the self as possessing fabrications, or fabrications as in the self, or the self as in fabrications. He assumes consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness. This is how self-identity view comes into being."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Although it isn't the words from Buddha it is support by what Buddha taught in Anattalakkhana sutta.

chownah wrote: I'm wondering what the difference is between "self" and "self-doer" and I'm reasonably sure that the answer lies in the Pali.
chownah

I've the same feeling on this.
barcsimalsi
 
Posts: 385
Joined: Fri Dec 09, 2011 7:33 am

Re: What is controlling?

Postby pegembara » Sun Sep 08, 2013 7:16 am

"There is the case, householder, where an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person — who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma — assumes form[2] to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form. He assumes feeling to be the self, or the self as possessing feeling, or feeling as in the self, or the self as in feeling. He assumes perception to be the self, or the self as possessing perception, or perception as in the self, or the self as in perception. He assumes (mental) fabrications to be the self, or the self as possessing fabrications, or fabrications as in the self, or the self as in fabrications. He assumes consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness. This is how self-identity view comes into being."


The operative word is "assumes". We assume the body, feelings, emotions, thoughts, perceptions and consciousness to be ours. If we are truly in control, we would not age, happiness is available 24/7 and we can make sure only good thoughts occur to us. Nibbana would be ours for taking. No need to follow the N8FP. But since that is not true we need to follow the instructions as laid down be the Buddha. On a contrary, it is the self view that is the cause of all the trouble. We need to fully understand what this self is to escape from the same self ( a true paradox).
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.
pegembara
 
Posts: 677
Joined: Tue Oct 13, 2009 8:39 am

Re: What is controlling?

Postby kirk5a » Sun Sep 08, 2013 7:49 am

barcsimalsi wrote:Thanks for bringing this up. It is one of the sutta i'm not clear of.
Quoting from Isidatta sutta, Ven. Isidatta explained that the self is just a view:
"Now, householder, are you asking this: 'Concerning the various views that arise in the world... when what is present do they come into being, and what is absent do they not come into being?'?"

"Yes, venerable sir."

"Concerning the various views that arise in the world, householder... when self-identity view is present, these views come into being; when self-identity view is absent, they don't come into being."

"But, venerable sir, how does self-identity view come into being?"

"There is the case, householder, where an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person — who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma — assumes form[2] to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form. He assumes feeling to be the self, or the self as possessing feeling, or feeling as in the self, or the self as in feeling. He assumes perception to be the self, or the self as possessing perception, or perception as in the self, or the self as in perception. He assumes (mental) fabrications to be the self, or the self as possessing fabrications, or fabrications as in the self, or the self as in fabrications. He assumes consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness. This is how self-identity view comes into being."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Although it isn't the words from Buddha it is support by what Buddha taught in Anattalakkhana sutta.

chownah wrote: I'm wondering what the difference is between "self" and "self-doer" and I'm reasonably sure that the answer lies in the Pali.
chownah

I've the same feeling on this.

"self-identity view" (sakkāya diṭṭhi) is as explained in the quotation above. Those are wrong assumptions. Recognizing that beings have the ability to initiate an action, make an exertion, make an effort, exercise steadfastness, persistence, and endeavoring is not self-identity view. Getting these things mixed up, thinking the Buddha taught the total negation of individual beings, having an extreme view about lack of control, is a confused view of the teachings.
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
User avatar
kirk5a
 
Posts: 1794
Joined: Thu Sep 23, 2010 1:51 pm

Re: What is controlling?

Postby reflection » Sun Sep 08, 2013 11:39 am

The attakari sutta is a bit off an odd duck and the word "attakara" (translated as self doer) as far as I know only occurs there without a direct explanation. The full meaning of a word does not always have to be made up by its components, so it isn't always clear from the pali. You have to look in the context. Quite clearly "atta" here does not mean a self as we usually see it, because that is denied so many times.

So I think it goes very far to conclude from that sutta alone that the Buddha thought there is free will. And we have to look at this sutta in context of all the others, instead of the other way around. There are so many suttas that say volitions are not self, and also "one can't have it of *any aggregate*, 'let it be thus'".

So to me the sutta does not imply a free will. I see the answer lying in sentences such as this:
"“So, brahmin, when there is the element of initiating, initiating beings are clearly discerned; of (among) such beings, this is the self-doer, this, the other-doer. [5]"

As also seen in the notes the word of is to be interpreted as among. So the sutta is just saying there are beings among beings. There are individual beings, and of each being its actions are part of that individual being. One beings actions are not part of another being. So that beings have a self or whatever else which has free choice - that isn't said in this sutta.

This could be seen as opposed to people who may think that there is a God who controls it all - or that we are part of his dream or whatever. That would explain the view of the brahmin.
User avatar
reflection
 
Posts: 1115
Joined: Wed Mar 30, 2011 9:27 pm

Re: What is controlling?

Postby daverupa » Sun Sep 08, 2013 11:47 am

Teasing mere individual continuity apart from a sense of personal existence is a very difficult task. Limited free will is a feature of individual continuity; belief in a personal existence is the root of asking "who controls", I think. Same as asking, "which self do non-self-actions affect?" The question has to bring in an assumption from outside the Dhamma.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
User avatar
daverupa
 
Posts: 4362
Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:58 pm

Re: What is controlling?

Postby barcsimalsi » Sun Sep 08, 2013 12:26 pm

kirk5a wrote:Recognizing that beings have the ability to initiate an action, make an exertion, make an effort, exercise steadfastness, persistence, and endeavoring is not self-identity view.

The Attakari sutta does not implies that way, it says the self-doing is conditioned by the element of initiating so the "self-doer" comes secondary to "element". And the question in interest lies more on what is the element of initiating that give rise to self-doing.

EDIT:
Sorry for the mistake above, i'm sure i misunderstood something. I'm not sure which is the primary cause, the element of initiating or the self-doer?


Thank you everyone for the replies.
barcsimalsi
 
Posts: 385
Joined: Fri Dec 09, 2011 7:33 am

Re: What is controlling?

Postby chownah » Mon Sep 09, 2013 1:52 am

You could try some things to see if you can learn something about how the mind is controlled. Before reading further, here is what I will do. I will try to make you lose control of your mind. You should pay close attention to your mind as you lose control of it to see what you can see about the process. I will give you a task which will start with you controlling your mind to accomplish the task and end with you losing control of your mind. Try to detect the moment you lose control. Before starting you should clear your mind and calm it a bit so that you can observe it better. It's is an experiment, I hope it works.







I am going to type backwards......I want you to figure out what I typed but do not think about it...do not imagine it's appearance or taste or smell or texture or sound:

maerc eci

Could you detect the moment when you lost control?
chownah
chownah
 
Posts: 2953
Joined: Wed Aug 12, 2009 2:19 pm

Re: What is controlling?

Postby SarathW » Mon Sep 09, 2013 2:04 am

I could work it out what you typed back word based on my previous knowledge (karma).
SarathW
 
Posts: 2570
Joined: Mon Sep 10, 2012 2:49 am

Re: What is controlling?

Postby kirk5a » Mon Sep 09, 2013 2:59 am

barcsimalsi wrote:And the question in interest lies more on what is the element of initiating that give rise to self-doing.

Volition is mental, so I would say the element of initiating is a function of the mind.
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
User avatar
kirk5a
 
Posts: 1794
Joined: Thu Sep 23, 2010 1:51 pm

Re: What is controlling?

Postby barcsimalsi » Mon Sep 09, 2013 4:43 am

chownah wrote:
I am going to type backwards......I want you to figure out what I typed but do not think about it...do not imagine it's appearance or taste or smell or texture or sound:

maerc eci

Could you detect the moment when you lost control?
chownah

The moment awareness is not on the instruction, i guess. Perhaps you can give a better elaboration on that specific moment.

Thanks for helping.
barcsimalsi
 
Posts: 385
Joined: Fri Dec 09, 2011 7:33 am

Re: What is controlling?

Postby barcsimalsi » Mon Sep 09, 2013 4:52 am

kirk5a wrote:
barcsimalsi wrote:And the question in interest lies more on what is the element of initiating that give rise to self-doing.

Volition is mental, so I would say the element of initiating is a function of the mind.

Happen to come across the Bahudhatuka Sutta , it covers about various elements. Is there any way it can help clarify the message in the Attakari Sutta?
barcsimalsi
 
Posts: 385
Joined: Fri Dec 09, 2011 7:33 am

Re: What is controlling?

Postby Sylvester » Mon Sep 09, 2013 4:52 am

reflection wrote:The attakari sutta is a bit off an odd duck and the word "attakara" (translated as self doer) as far as I know only occurs there without a direct explanation. The full meaning of a word does not always have to be made up by its components, so it isn't always clear from the pali. You have to look in the context. Quite clearly "atta" here does not mean a self as we usually see it, because that is denied so many times.




Hi hi.

Not really an odd duck, since there's a Chinese parallel in SA 459 that also has 自作 which corresponds nicely to attakāra. The translator into Chinese obviously thought that the atta was not referring to "Self"/Atman, but was being used as a very common reflexive pronoun (eg myself, himself etc). I think if one looks at AN 6.38 is in its entirety, it would be clear that the Pali reading for the atta should also be a self-reflexive pronoun, and does not refer to a "Self".

So, you have self-doer (attakāra) and other-doer (parakāra). Why should atta be given a dull reading as a reflexive pronoun, rather than the more exciting reading of a "Self"? Take a look at the clue here -

So, brahmin, when there is the element of initiating, initiating beings are clearly discerned; of such beings, "this is the self-doer, this, the other-doer".

Yaṃ kho brāhmaṇa ārambhadhātuyā sati ārambhavanto sattā paññāyantī, ti ayaṃ sattānaṃ attakāro, ayaṃ parakāroti.


I've added the quotation marks into the underlined text, as they are in the Pali.

The trick is to pay attention to the pronoun "this" = ayaṃ. You might be wondering why the Buddha did not say "This is the self-doer, that is the other-doer". Actually, He did. This is because in an oral context, ayaṃ functions as a deictic pronoun (see - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deixis). In an oral setting, the Buddha could gesture with His hands to point to 2 different items, but verbally, both would be identified by "this".

So, the translation was over-literal and a better translation would therefore be "This is the self-doer, that is the other-doer". Based on the context where it is said that "beings (plural) are clearly discerned", the Buddha was pointing to a population of beings. He was essentially teasing out one doer from another doer. It looks to me from the context and the grammar, "self-doer" is actually an idiomatic expression for "a doer".

:anjali:
Sylvester
 
Posts: 1585
Joined: Tue Mar 10, 2009 9:57 am

Re: What is controlling?

Postby robertk » Mon Sep 09, 2013 6:18 am

according to the commentary of the attakari sutta the Brahim was a follower of makkali gosala. he was a famous wrong viewer of the time who held that there was no such thing as kamma: one could live a good life or live a life where one went about killing and raping to the greatest extent, it didnt matter too much as at death all would have the same fate, back to the mud, dust.

in this sutta the Buddha was trying to help the Brahmin see that there is the result of action. it was not a sutta that had the goal of explaining anatta.
User avatar
robertk
 
Posts: 1323
Joined: Sat Jan 03, 2009 2:08 am

Re: What is controlling?

Postby daverupa » Mon Sep 09, 2013 11:10 am

robertk wrote:according to the commentary of the attakari sutta the Brahim was a follower of makkali gosala. he was a famous wrong viewer of the time who held that there was no such thing as kamma: one could live a good life or live a life where one went about killing and raping to the greatest extent, it didnt matter too much as at death all would have the same fate, back to the mud, dust.

in this sutta the Buddha was trying to help the Brahmin see that there is the result of action. it was not a sutta that had the goal of explaining anatta.


This is a problem the Buddha seems to have frequently encountered, viz. confusion over terms of self-reference doing double-duty in philosophical discourse with reference to theories of substantiality.

If people in the conversation didn't have a hang-up over the term, the Buddha seems to have been perfectly content to use 'self' according to prevailing convention as a mere individuator. In this sense, one stream of becoming is different from another in terms of kammic consequences, the Dhamma is to be realized for oneself, etc.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
User avatar
daverupa
 
Posts: 4362
Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:58 pm

Re: What is controlling?

Postby pulga » Mon Sep 09, 2013 2:03 pm

I like the analogy of someone under the delusion that he has sovereign authority over the town in which he lives. He goes about telling the baker to bake bread, the traffic cop to direct traffic, the storekeeper to sell good, etc.. Doing so affirms his sovereignty, his control over things, his mastery of things. It gives him pleasure.

Since he really doesn't have any authority over those he commands he often finds himself in conflict with those around him. But this conflict which undermines his sense of control is due to the pleasure he finds in being master over the situation. A vicious cycle then ensues in which conflict itself affirms the mastery due him, the very sense of mastery gives him pleasure. Rather than simply accepting his insignificance in the lives of the baker, the traffic cop, the storekeeper, etc. and finding peace in the way things really are, he finds pleasure in dukkha.
pulga
 
Posts: 511
Joined: Sun Nov 14, 2010 3:02 pm

Re: What is controlling?

Postby chownah » Mon Sep 09, 2013 3:29 pm

barcsimalsi wrote:
chownah wrote:
I am going to type backwards......I want you to figure out what I typed but do not think about it...do not imagine it's appearance or taste or smell or texture or sound:

maerc eci

Could you detect the moment when you lost control?
chownah

The moment awareness is not on the instruction, i guess. Perhaps you can give a better elaboration on that specific moment.

Thanks for helping.

I see my instructions were not clear. I am not trying to show about moment awareness.....it would have been better if I had left "the moment" out of the post. Here is what I was trying for:
In your original post you talk about the mind being sometimes focused and sometimes wandering and this seems to have brought up the idea of what is controlling the mind. One way to learn about this is to read stuff and discuss it with people like here on the forum. Another way is to calm the mind and try to actually observe the mind changing from being focused to wandering. So, my idea was that if I gave you a simple task (reading a word or two written backwards) then you would need to intentionally focus your mind a bit to accomplish the task and upon successfully deciphering the word your mind would develop some kind of mental image or taste, or smell, or etc. and your mind would do this WITHOUT you intentionally focusing it or directing it in any way. In this way your mind would change from one mode of direction into another mode.....it would change from being analytical to being imaginative perhaps....or change from being focused to wandering perhaps. I am not trying to give a definition of any of the minds activities.....I am trying to create a situation which would make it easier to actually be aware of what the mind is doing so that you could directly experience your own mental changes. It is difficult to see these changes and calming the mind as much as possible will help in detecting the change. So, what I'm trying for is direct experience of mental qualities.

Try again?
Calm your mind first.......




Typed backwards:
ekans




chownah
chownah
 
Posts: 2953
Joined: Wed Aug 12, 2009 2:19 pm

Re: What is controlling?

Postby beeblebrox » Mon Sep 09, 2013 6:41 pm

reflection wrote:The attakari sutta is a bit off an odd duck and the word "attakara" (translated as self doer) as far as I know only occurs there without a direct explanation. The full meaning of a word does not always have to be made up by its components, so it isn't always clear from the pali. You have to look in the context. Quite clearly "atta" here does not mean a self as we usually see it, because that is denied so many times.

So I think it goes very far to conclude from that sutta alone that the Buddha thought there is free will. And we have to look at this sutta in context of all the others, instead of the other way around. There are so many suttas that say volitions are not self, and also "one can't have it of *any aggregate*, 'let it be thus'".

So to me the sutta does not imply a free will.


Hi Reflection,

There is free will, but it's not a permanent self.

Practically everyone does whatever they like... whether you want them to or not. That is called "free will." It is definitely not a source of permanence.

The will is "free," not fixed. (I.e., anicca.)

If we try to view a "self" or the "permanence" in a concept, such as this one for example, the chances are that this is mistaken... so, try to view it in a way that would fit in with the Buddha's Dhamma. I think that is what the "Right View" is, basically... it's the position from where the Buddha's teachings would start to make sense.

:anjali:
User avatar
beeblebrox
 
Posts: 939
Joined: Thu Dec 31, 2009 10:41 pm

Re: What is controlling?

Postby Jason » Mon Sep 09, 2013 7:18 pm

reflection wrote:The attakari sutta is a bit off an odd duck and the word "attakara" (translated as self doer) as far as I know only occurs there without a direct explanation. The full meaning of a word does not always have to be made up by its components, so it isn't always clear from the pali. You have to look in the context. Quite clearly "atta" here does not mean a self as we usually see it, because that is denied so many times.

So I think it goes very far to conclude from that sutta alone that the Buddha thought there is free will. And we have to look at this sutta in context of all the others, instead of the other way around. There are so many suttas that say volitions are not self, and also "one can't have it of *any aggregate*, 'let it be thus'".

So to me the sutta does not imply a free will. I see the answer lying in sentences such as this:
"“So, brahmin, when there is the element of initiating, initiating beings are clearly discerned; of (among) such beings, this is the self-doer, this, the other-doer. [5]"

As also seen in the notes the word of is to be interpreted as among. So the sutta is just saying there are beings among beings. There are individual beings, and of each being its actions are part of that individual being. One beings actions are not part of another being. So that beings have a self or whatever else which has free choice - that isn't said in this sutta.

This could be seen as opposed to people who may think that there is a God who controls it all - or that we are part of his dream or whatever. That would explain the view of the brahmin.


I think that's a fair point, and I came to a somewhat similar conclusion myself after a similar discussion about the apparent contradiction between AN 6.38 and SN 22.59—the former seeming to affirm the existence of a self-doer (atta-kara), and the latter stating that the five aggregates are not-self (anatta), which raised the question, How can there be a self-doer if all of the aggregates are not-self? My answer was as follows:

To begin with, I personally tend to translate attakara as 'individual effort,' which I think helps avoid some of these linguistic dilemmas. Moreover, I understand this self-doing or self agency or individual effort that's mentioned in AN 6.38 to be analogous to kamma, the intentional actions done via body, speech and mind (AN 6.63). Kamma is intention (cetana), and intention is a product of the aggregate of mental formations (sankhara-khandha). Therefore, being a product or process within one of the aggregates, which themselves are types of processes and not-self, this type of internal decision maker or will-to-do, if you will, has its own requisite conditions and is also not-self, since whatever is conditioned and subject to change can't be said to have an unchanging being or essence.

In other words, SN 22.59 is refuting the idea of a permanent and unchanging self or soul (i.e., an agent free from conditionality, and consequently, aging, illness and death) within and controlling the aggregates, whereas AN 6.38 is refuting the idea that there's no volitional choice available to us whatsoever. They're two extremes the Buddha rejects. As Nyana once so eruditely put it:

    Desire and attention and volitional choice can all be concomitant causes or effects. Freedom of choice isn't independent of other causes and conditions -- it operates within the same conditioned mind-stream. But it does operate, and it does so in consort with desire and attention, and so on. Hence there is no need for Cartesian notions of free will or Upaniṣadic notions of a permanent, unchanging Self for there to be freedom to choose. In fact, these non-Buddhist systems are not sustainable precisely because of the interdependence of phenomena: i.e. an unchanging agent cannot engage in actions, etc.

As for where the line between volitional and involuntary actions begins, I'd say it's consciousness (vinnana); although, given the complexities of this/that conditionality and the inherent interconnectedness of all these internal and external processes, I don't think there's anyway to pinpoint precisely what or where this element of intention is. For one, it's not a thing as much as a process, and this focus on processes over substances is one reason I view Buddhism as a type of process philosophy.

Basically, I think this apparent contradiction can be easily resolved by taking the context of the two suttas into consideration, as well as surmising that the Buddha essentially took the position that we, as sentient beings, have functional choice via intention operating within a broader framework of causality that conditions the choices available to us at any given time—thus avoiding the extremes of an unchanging agent (eternalism) and no agency at all (nihilism). Others in the Buddhist community see it this way, as well, e.g., Karin Meyers' paper "Freedom and self-control: Free will in South Asian Buddhism" notes:

    Both Karunaratna and Nanayakkara claim that Buddhism accepts the freedom to choose between alternative courses of action as an "empirical truth," by which they mean a truth that is observed and accepted in the context of moral action. This claim is consistent with the fact that the Buddha offers copious advice as to what actions persons should take or avoid so as to reduce suffering for themselves and others and also arguably consistent with Buddhist accounts of moral responsibility, but Nanayakkara makes the further claim that freedom of choice is essential to the Buddhist concept of karma (Pali: kamma). He explains that cetana, which he describes as “the (free) will," is "equated with moral action (kamma)" in order to account for the fact that one is only responsible for conscious, deliberate actions. A number of other interpreters have made similar claims. For example, K.N. Jayatilleke explains: By 'free will' in a Buddhist context, it is not meant that there is a will, choice or decision which is unaffected by causal factors that affect it, but that our volitional factor or will, choices or decision, while being conditioned by such factors, are not wholly shaped or strictly determined by them, since there is in man 'an element of initiative ' (arabbha-dhatu) or 'personal action' (purisa-kara) or 'individual action' (atta-kara), which within limits can resist the factors that affect it. If not for this factor of human personality, 'moral responsibility' would be a farce and the forces that impel us to act would be responsible for our actions.

But this raises some difficult questions about the nature of volition and the choices we make, and I'm reminded of the causal determinism found in the Abhidhamma. True free will would seem to require an independent agent, and Buddhism effectively denies such an agency. And if our volition is itself conditioned by other factors, then it, too, must ultimately be the result of causally determined processes, meaning that it's not so much an agent as it has the appearance of being an agent. For example, Dhammanando Bhikkhu once gave me the example of a mosquito biting you on the nose: first you feel annoyed and want to squash it, but then you recall that you're a precept-observing Buddhist and so restrain yourself.

He explained that when this event is described in conventional terms, or according to the Sutta method, it might be said that you had a choice to kill the mosquito or to refrain, and that you chose the latter. But when it's described according to the Abhidhamma method, your abstention from killing wasn't due to choice but to the arising of kusala cetasikas (wholesome mental factors) such as moral shame and fear of wrong-doing (hiri & ottappa), and abstinence (virati), i.e., it was causally determined.

And there are supporting passages like this from the Dhammasangani (pp. 7-8):

    What on that occasion is volition (cetana)? The volition, purpose, purposefulness, which is born of contact with the appropriate element of representative intellection - that is the volition that there then is.


And the Atthasalini (pp.147-148):

    Volition is that which co-ordinates, that is, it binds closely (abhisandahati) to itself associated states as objects. This is its characteristic; its function is conation. There is no such thing as volition in the four planes of existence without the characteristic of co-ordinating; all volition has it. But the function of conation is only in moral and immoral states; as regards activity in moral and immoral acts, the remaining associated states play only a restricted part. But volition is exceedingly energetic. It makes double effort, double exertion. Hence the Ancients said: 'Volition is like the nature of a landowner, a cultivator who, taking fifty-five strong men, went down to the fields to reap. He was exceedingly energetic and exceedingly strenuous; he doubled his strength, he doubled his effort, and said, "Take your sickles," and so forth, pointed out the portion to be reaped, offered them drink, food, scent, flowers, etc., and took an equal share of the work.' Volition is like the cultivator; the fifty-five moral states which arise as factors of consciousness are like the fifty-five strong men; like the time of doubling strength, doubling effort by the cultivator is the doubled strength, double effort of volition as regards activity in moral and immoral acts. Thus should conation as its function be understood.

    It has directing as manifestation. It arises directing associated states, like the chief disciple, the chief carpenter, etc., who fulfil their own and others' duties... even so, when volition starts work on its object, it sets associated states to do each its own work. For when it puts forth energy, they also put forth energy... It is also evident that it arises by causing associated states to be energetic in such things as recollecting an urgent work and so forth.

Moreover, I think this Abhidhammic position accords well with what Sam Harris writes about the illusion of free will here, here and here (for some reason, all the original links on Harris' site just redirect here). And even in the Suttas, there are teachings that evidence elements of casual determinism, lending support to the Abhidhammic position. I find AN 11.2 interesting, for example, in that it seems to show how certain wholesome mental factors (kusala cetasikas) condition certain wholesome qualities and experiences.

However, I wonder whether an agent or self is absolutely necessary for decision making in the first place. A computer can essentially make choices and 'act' based upon imputed information and various algorithms, for example, without a soul or self in the Western philosophical conception. Having a component of our physiology/psychology that does more or less the same isn't all that far fetched. We have the mental capacity to observe, remember, make distinctions, etc., and the part of us responsible for our actions doesn't have to be an independently existing, eternal entity for decisions to be made and their effects/consequences to be analyzed within a moral framework. And if the answer is indeed no, then the entire debate seems to be moot, at least from a practical point of view.
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

leaves in the hand (Buddhist-related blog)
leaves in the forest (non-Buddhist related blog)
User avatar
Jason
 
Posts: 469
Joined: Sun Jan 04, 2009 1:09 am
Location: Earth

PreviousNext

Return to Open Dhamma

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: mikenz66, Modus.Ponens and 13 guests