Dogen Sangha Blog

  by Gudo NISHIJIMA

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Free Will

As human beings, do we possess free will?

Thank you,
Jared

23 Comments:

Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear Jared San,

Thank you very much for your question, and I clearly say "Yes!"

Because when we want to eat a meal, usually we can eat it, and when we want to stop eating it, we can do it.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

10:50 AM, December 10, 2007  
Blogger Jared said...

Nishijima Roshi,

Thank you for your response. I have another question regarding free will.

Do all events/actions have a cause that is outside of that event/action?

If yes, I do not see how we can have free will. For if all events have a cause, then all causes must also have a cause, and these causes of causes also must have a cause and so on. In this way, wouldn't the smallest of my actions ultimately have a cause completely out of my control?

If not all events have a cause, then I do not see how we can have free will either. For if some actions that I take do not have a cause then they are random. If an action is random then I am not the cause, and if I am not the cause of my actions then I cannot act freely because I do not always choose what I do.

Perhaps you could explain your answer a little more?

Thank you very much,

-Jared

12:30 PM, December 10, 2007  
Blogger Isahito said...

Dear Nishijima Roshi,

Thank you for your answer, and thank you for Jared question too.

I just want to add some question related to the Jared's Question about "Free will".

Is Love a "will"?

And if you said that we shouldn't have any "will" or "free will",

does it mean that we shouldn't have any kind of Love filling to another person?

Thank you very much for your explanation...

3:03 AM, December 11, 2007  
Blogger HezB said...

Hello,

Thank you all for this interesting conversation.

One question in relation to 'free will' that springs to mind is 'free from what?'

We could, I think, be said to have a 'free' will relative to other humans in that it clearly appears that we have an autonomy in action/experience. But, ultimately, I suppose this is in no way separate or 'free' from reality/the universe.

Maybe its a question of how we perceive reality?

In zazen it seems at times that we can be free of will, and that this represents a special sort of free action beyond the discriminations of self/other.

Regards,

Harry.

4:12 AM, December 11, 2007  
Blogger MatthewA said...

We can will as we want. Not getting what we want is suffering, this happens. Free action ... that is a matter of circumstance (karma), and is pretty much just "getting what you want".

I hope this helps.
See:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Noble_Truths
And "how to get better karma":
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_Eightfold_Path

7:10 AM, December 11, 2007  
Blogger Jared said...

Matthew,

What part of my second question to Nishijima addresses is that what we want is a product of our personality, which is a product of our upbringing/genetics, etc. up the causal chain, none of which we choose. What you propose is part of what is called the Compatabilist viewpoint which claims that free will is just acting in accordance with your desires, regardless of where they come from. But if our desires are pre-determined based on Natural Laws and causes that precede our birth, then even acting in accordance with our wants is not true free will.



Hezb,

"We could, I think, be said to have a 'free' will relative to other humans in that it clearly appears that we have an autonomy in action/experience. But, ultimately, I suppose this is in no way separate or 'free' from reality/the universe. "

This is where I get stuck as well. We appear and feel as if we have free will and choose to act or not act, but upon logical examination that doesn't seem to hold up very well, and if it is true then there should be some way to account for our free will. I don't think that perception solves the problem, since what is true is true regardless of how we might view it or feel about it. If I am not free but I feel free, my feelings don't change the fact that I am not. If I am free and I feel free, there isn't a problem, only that we apparently have no easy way of explaining how or why we are free.

-Jared

7:38 AM, December 11, 2007  
Blogger MatthewA said...

No Jared, I did not confuse will with acts. I specifically separated will and action, because will is to desire (to aspire, incline to have) and we are able to freely choose our desires and aspirations. I think what we disagreed about was the semantics of the word 'will'. Free will as I read the definition, is the ability to choose, not the ability to get what you want.

Jared, you seem to believe that you have never had desires. Is it true?

8:03 AM, December 11, 2007  
Blogger Jared said...

Matthew,

I think we disagree on more than just semantics, although that might be one issue.

First, I fail to see how we choose our desires or aspirations. We may believe that we choose to PURSUE certain desires and aspirations, but the fact that there are desires and aspirations that we do not pursue would appear to me to be evidence that we are not able to choose what desires/aspirations we have, merely the desires/aspirations that we attempt to fulfill. But there does not even appear to be any evidence that the latter choice is free.

Second, I don't see where I gave the impression or said that I think free will is getting what you want, but both of your responses include a reply to that. If what I wrote did imply that, I'm sorry. I do also agree that it is important to distinguish between between free action and free will.

I think that regardless of (a) what we want and (b) whether we get it or not, there is still the problem of freedom. You say that you believe a free will to be the freedom to choose, but you must specify your parameters. I can make a choice and if that choice is in accordance with the choice that I want to make, that is free action. But for me to possess free will I must choose my desires, otherwise it is a free action and not a free will. As an aside, like I said in my last post, merely saying that choosing according to your wants is free will is false since we do not choose our desires. If you believe otherwise, please explain.


-Jared

9:39 AM, December 11, 2007  
Blogger HezB said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:14 AM, December 11, 2007  
Blogger HezB said...

"This is where I get stuck as well. We appear and feel as if we have free will and choose to act or not act, but upon logical examination that doesn't seem to hold up very well, and if it is true then there should be some way to account for our free will. I don't think that perception solves the problem, since what is true is true regardless of how we might view it or feel about it. If I am not free but I feel free, my feelings don't change the fact that I am not. If I am free and I feel free, there isn't a problem, only that we apparently have no easy way of explaining how or why we are free."

hi, Jared.

If you don't feel free than you are, in a real experiential sense, effectively not free. If you feel free then you are effectively free in the same sense. If you feel you are right or wrong then you are effectively right or wrong regardless of exterior values of right or wrong existing at that time. More often I think all these things are confused and mixed up in our minds and the situation is not clear cut leading to all sorts of conflicts and doubts.

If you drop the need to be free and the resistance to being un-free then what are you effectively?

The view/experience of zazen, I believe, is beyond any logical cotradiction of free/un-free. Its a simple direct experience of our situation beyond the values that we impose, accept and/or reject in that we just allow thoughts of these things to drop away naturally.

This is just my own view based on the little bit of practice I've done. I'm sure Nishijima Roshi will have more insight on the matter.

Regards,

Harry.

10:33 AM, December 11, 2007  
Blogger MatthewA said...

First,"I fail to see how we choose our desires or aspirations."

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Cause precedes effect.
We choose by effort.

Try to understand that. If you fail, try very hard, but I don't think that it's very hard to understand that we make choices by effort and therefor have free will.

1:03 PM, December 11, 2007  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear jared San,

Thank you very much for your another questions.

(your question) Do all events/actions have a cause that is outside of that event/action?

(Godo) I think that our action is always done by our own action, and so I think that it is rather difficult for me to think that our action occurs from cause.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

1:34 PM, December 11, 2007  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Isahito さんは書きました...

Dear Nishijima Roshi,

Thank you for your answer, and thank you for Jared question too.

I just want to add some question related to the Jared's Question about "Free will".

Is Love a "will"?

(Gudo) I think that Love is not a "will", but it is a kind of natural tendency.

(Isahito San) And if you said that we shouldn't have any "will" or "free will",

(Gudo) I do not say that we shouldn't have any "will" or "free will" at all.

(Isahito San) does it mean that we shouldn't have any kind of Love filling to another person?

(Gudo) I haven't never said that we shouldn't have any kind of Love filling to another person at all.

(Isahito San) Thank you very much for your explanation...

(Gudo) Thank you very much for your question.

3:03 AM, December 11, 2007
削除


HezB さんは書きました...

Hello,

Thank you all for this interesting conversation.

One question in relation to 'free will' that springs to mind is 'free from what?'

(Gudo) I think that 'free will' does not want to flee from anything, and so it is called 'free will.'

(HezB San) We could, I think, be said to have a 'free' will relative to other humans in that it clearly appears that we have an autonomy in action/experience. But, ultimately, I suppose this is in no way separate or 'free' from reality/the universe.

(Gudo) I agree with your idea, and so I think that "Freedom" means "having entered into Reality perfectly."

(HezB San) Maybe its a question of how
we perceive reality?

(Gudo) Yes, it is true, and so we practice Zazen everyday.

(HezB San) In zazen it seems at times that we can be free of will, and that this represents a special sort of free action beyond the discriminations of self/other.

Regards,

Harry.

(Gudo) I agree with your idea.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

2:23 PM, December 11, 2007  
Blogger proulx michel said...

Nishijima roshi always teaches that at the present moment, we have free will. What is before that present moment (the past) can no longer be changed, it is there and must be accounted with. What lies after (the future) is only in our mind, and has not yet come. Provided we are in the balanced state, at the present moment, we can act, and therefore have free will.

Yudo

9:46 PM, December 11, 2007  
Blogger HezB said...

Dear Nishijima Roshi,

Thank-you for this important explanation:

(Gudo) I think that 'free will' does not want to flee from anything, and so it is called 'free will.'

Regards,

Harry.

10:06 PM, December 11, 2007  
Blogger Jared said...

Nishijima Roshi,

Thank you very much for your answer, it was very helpful.

Also, thank you Harry and Yudo for your input. It was also very helpful.

8:36 AM, December 12, 2007  
Blogger MatthewA said...

Jared, do we have free will?

4:36 AM, December 13, 2007  
Blogger MatthewA said...

Jared, if we still disagree, can you help me understand why?

5:45 AM, December 13, 2007  
Blogger MatthewA said...

Thanks sticking around Jared, you started a very potent conversation and I was hoping if you would finish it. I urge you to keep trying to know free will and not give up.

Jared, for the benefit of all who would read this, can you please tell us what is holding back your understanding of free will?

8:53 AM, December 14, 2007  
Blogger Jared said...

As I said in my last most, I'm not sure if I believe that we have free will or not. Nishijima and several others in the Buddhist comunity appear to be saying that to let go of the self means that there is no problem of freedom because there is nothing that is or is not free. Within the confines of Buddhism this is a logical answer. But I haven't attained a level of whatever-you-want-to-call-it where I have let go of the self completely, or even enough to see the question of free will as meaningless.

To answer your question Matthew, I don't think I have thought enough about free will to have come to a conclusion about it. This is why I welcome anyone who is able to describe and defend their viewpoint. I am glad you are confident you have free will, but I am not so sure. There is not enough space in the comment section of this blog to describe or refute all of the different aspects of Determinism and free will that influence my opinion of it. Perhaps on my blog I will post some sort of response to it, since I have a month off from school.

I will try to answer any more specific questions about my viewpoint either here or if you e-mail me. Someone else who reads the blog but has been unable to post comments has already done so.

-Jared

2:31 AM, December 16, 2007  
Blogger HezB said...

Dear Jared,

I'm glad you are keeping an open mind (or an open intellect at least!) on this.

Please consider that Zazen itself (certainly the type the Nishijima Roshi advocates) goes beyond "the confines of Buddhism". A distinctive feature of the practice, as explained by Dogen in Fukanzazengi, is just letting all views and ideas drop away or 'pass through' while we just sit up straight (be they Buddhist ideas, Christian/Jewish/Muslim views, sexual fantasies, political beliefs, thoughts of missing The Simpsons on TV or thoughts that we are one with the universe... It sounds exotic in a way, but when it gets to the stage to when those viewpoints and thoughts are just "Jesus, my ass hurts!" then its really not that mystical, cerebral or impressive :)

But, overall, I applaud your position of not taking a position until your own direct experience dictates otherwise. That seems to me to be more 'Buddhist' than an awful lot of 'Buddhism' that I've encountered.

Regards,

Harry.

3:43 AM, December 16, 2007  
Blogger Jared said...

Harry,

I have actually been sitting zazen for a little over two years now and I really do see it as being a great practice. While sitting, I don't think the focus should be on whether or not I am free; it should be on sitting! But what about when I get up from the cushion? I think that not asking a question does not mean that the question isn't there, or that the problem which caused the question doesn't still exist.

It's definitely some sticky stuff, but I'll just keep on trucking :-)

-Jared

11:51 AM, December 16, 2007  
Blogger HezB said...

Hi Jared,

I'm glad you're finding something worth returning to in zazen. You say you see this question as symptomatic of something else?

Maybe the answer to the question, or the resolution of it at least, lies elsewhere as well?

Good luck.

Regards,

Harry.

9:46 PM, December 16, 2007  

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