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Buddhadharma : Spri 2007
buddhadharma| 51 |spring 2007 the past is no longer here. However, the person in this present moment has a huge responsibility to take volitional action from this moment forward. The Buddha taught a path of action and responsi- bility in a very realistic way. robiN korNmaN: For my part, I’m careful not to use that word “responsibility.” I feel people tend to associate that with the Western religious notion of responsibility: you’re responsible to God to keep his laws, and therefore if you don’t keep them, you feel a sense of religious fear and awe and guilt. There is a whole range of emotions that comes with that kind of responsibility. Buddhism does not support that mental complex. NormaN fisher: You have a point, but I don’t find that the word “responsibility” comes with all of that baggage for me. buddhadharma: Does a person who has a profound understanding of karma, a Buddhist who takes vows and undertakes commitments, perceive him- or herself as having choice, free will, in the sim- plest understanding of that phrase? NormaN fisher: Every moment is a choice. robiN korNmaN: Yes, I agree. And yet, as my teacher used to say, if you see the situation clearly, you are courtesyofJackshainmanGallery,nyc faced with the choicelessness of one path. I don’t think he was talking about free will. He was just saying that most situations are choiceless, when you realize what your alternatives are. ajahN amaro: I would agree with that. NormaN fisher: You could say every moment is a moment of choice, and if you really see clearly, there’s only one choice to make. ajahN amaro: And that one choiceless choice changes millisecond by millisecond. NormaN fisher: While it’s always the same thing, it’s always different moment by moment. ajahN amaro: It’s interesting that both free will and determinism depend on the idea of a me that either has a predetermined future or a me that is exercis- ing free will. But when there is enlightened mind, it doesn’t really sound like free will, because it’s ever so slightly dictated by the completely open heart responding to the way things are, moment by moment. NormaN fisher: Western thought presupposes con- cepts and problems and issues that simply dissolve from the Buddhist point of view. Free will versus determinism – from a Buddhist point of view there is no such issue. But it’s hard to bend our under- standing to discuss something like karma in terms The Buddha boiled the basic insight he gained in his awakening down to the simple principle of causality. When you think of all the amazing things in his awakening experience that he could have talked about – the stories of his previous lives, his vision of the cosmos as a whole – it’s interesting that this insight is the one he found most worthwhile to teach. he explained that our experience is based on two kinds of causal patterns. one is that when x exists, y exists with it; when x ceases, y does, too. in other words, these things come and go together. this is causality happening right in the present moment. the other principle is that from the arising of x comes the arising of y, and from the passing away of x comes the passing away of y. this connection doesn’t have to happen immediately in the present moment. it can occur over time. When you put these two principles together, it means that any moment of experience is the combina- tion of three things: the cause arising in the present, plus the effects of that cause, and effects coming from the past. Finding a Way Out although past karma influences our present and future experiences, says thanissaro Bhikkhu, there is still plenty of room for free will. and what is that cause? your present intention. and where are the effects from the past coming from? Past intentions. this means that free will is possible, for our present intentions don’t have to be shaped by our past ones. at any moment, we can choose what to focus on, what to do, what to say, what to think. We’re not compelled by the past. there are influences coming in from the past – the present moment isn’t entirely plastic – but we can choose which influences we’re going to let pass, which ones we’re going to pick up to work on, and what we’re going to do with them. that’s where the whole fabric of our experience of time and space comes from – from the constant input coming from intention. the Buddha’s insight was that if you look at where the new input is coming from, you’ll see the way out. and where are you going to see that new input? right here, in your intentions in the present moment. you really want to get to know these well. adapted from Meditations3, by thanissaro Bhikkhu. Published by metta forest monastery.