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Buddhadharma : Spring 2018
BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 19 THANISSARO BHIKKHU: As with so many other issues, the Buddha took a middle path— in this case, between the two extremes of determinism and total free will. If all your experiences were predetermined from the past—through impersonal fate, the design of a creator god, or your own past actions—the whole idea of a path of practice would be nonsense. If your choices in the present moment were totally free, with no constraints from the past, that would mean that your present actions would in turn have no impact on the future. The Buddha’s alternative was to teach that present experience is a combination of three things: the results of past inten tions (your old karma), present intentions, and the results of present intentions. Your present intentions determine whether the mind does or doesn’t suffer in any given moment. They’re also where freedom can come in. Past karma is a given, providing the raw material that your present karma can shape into present experience; the principle of causality is a given, provid ing the ground rules as to which present actions will or won’t give good results. The wider the range of skills you bring to Thanissaro Bhikkhu is abbot of Metta Forest Monastery in San Diego County, California your present actions, the more freedom you gain through being able and willing to act skillfully. The whole purpose of Buddhist prac tice is to expand your range of skills in the present moment. As you develop such skills as virtue, concentration, and discernment, you become like an expert cook, able to make good food out of whatever is in the kitchen pantry. The Buddha never explains why we have this potential for freedom of choice in the present moment. He just teaches how best to take advantage of it. If you follow his advice in exploring how far it can go, it leads you ultimately to a free dom of a totally different sort: a dimen sion absolutely free from conditions, the greatest freedom there is. Fully awakening to this dimension releases you from all the roots of unskill ful behavior: greed, aversion, and delu sion. You’ve mastered the skills needed to not suffer from past karma or create any new karma with your present intentions. From that point on until death, you’re free to will only what is skillful. After death, your freedom is so total that it can’t be described. REALLIN