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Buddhadharma : Spring 2018
ASK THE TEACHERS 21 can exert free will. You can choose your response to the new situation, allowing neither your past experience nor external circumstances to determine your actions. Certainly, both your experiences and your circumstances will cause an emo tional reaction. It may be subtle, but it exists. Yet you can recognize your emo tions and choose not to act on them, instead consciously shaping your future through your own intentional actions of mind, speech, and body. This is how you exercise free will. This is how you delib erately guide your new karma. There is a Buddhist saying: If you want to know what you did in the past, think of what you have today; if you want to know what you will be in the future, think of how you are acting now. CHIMYO ATKINSON: The term “free will” seems to indicate that there is an isolated self disconnected from all other beings and all influence. If we accept the concept of interdependence, such a state is not possible. All beings are interconnected, and the circumstances they create affect each other. This is dharma. Any belief that our actions are free of the dharma is delusional. ANONYMOUS It’s difficult for us as unenlightened, egotistical human beings to come down on the side of determinism. We want to believe that our choices are completely ours, that we have full control over our destiny. However, there is no choice we can make that is not made based on the conditions of time and space in which we find ourselves. There is no action we take that is not influenced by forces seen or unseen. Our own past experiences place us at the point in time in which we make our choice. Then they inform that choice, so our choices are never quite free. Free will is not the same as liberation from samsara. Liberation means you are free from ever wanting to impose your will upon anything. Such freedom doesn’t mean that you may choose to act in ben eficial or in harmful ways. It means that there is no such choice to make—any action done in real freedom is natural and appropriate to the situation. There is no discrimination between this action or that. Attaining this liberation is what we intend when we practice. We practice in order to cultivate awareness of our interdependence and to live in a way that acknowledges interdependence. Free will does not apply. Chimyo Atkinson is a Soto Zen priest and head of practice at Great Tree Zen Temple in Alexander, North Carolina