Did I choose to write this article?
It seems like such an obvious answer. It seems like it would answering that question is so engrained in our reality, it would be answered with such an easy “yes.”
It’s actually one of the first questions I ask a person when we’re entering into a philosophical discussion. As of yet, no one has ever responded “no, I don’t believe in free will.”
The implications can be overwhelming.Like all questions in Buddhism, the answer lies in the middle path. Nagarjuna’s Diamond Slivers addressed the idea best:
- P; this is, being
- not P; that is, not being
- P and not P; this is, being and not being
- not (P or not P); this is, neither being nor not being
Taking the declaration, “there is no Free Will”, can then be taken as something that is and not is, but also not is and not not is, etc. There is both Free Will and there is not Free Will and there is also not no Free Will.
Taken a bit more simply, the experience of Free Will is just as possible as there being no Free Will either. Approaching this on an everyday, feet on the earth perspective, there is some form of Free Will.
A person think that they want to eat, then they eat. A person thinks that they want to walk to beach and meditate, that person is then on the beach meditating.
On the other hand, there’s also a way in which Free Will doesn’t exist.
The foundation of doubt had more to do with the idea of time, not so much the matter of Free Will itself.
Delusion, when it’s so deeply ingrained in a person’s reality, makes it hard to realize that it is delusion. For example, while looking at the color red, there is no essential thing that is red. Rather, there is a material that is absorbing certain wavelengths of light, except for the 400-700 nanometers (nm) range, that reflects off the surface of the material, enters into your eye, and is interpreted into your brain as whatever it believes is the color red.
Which is a game everyone plays as kids.
But, what if that was applied to time? From all that’s coming out from Quantum Physics, it appears as if time is immutable. That there is a soup of moments, all flowing together in some indescribable stew of reality. Those moments have always been, and always will be.Yet, there is a feeling of some sort of “movement.” That the previous moment that we experience is connected to the current moment in which we are living.
This is the delusion of time, additionally the delusion of Free Will.But what does that mean? Again, it’s time to turn to the middle path. Does the delusion of time mean that there is no Free Will? Remember the Diamond Slivers, that there is not no Free Will, and neither Free Will.
This leads directly to the first two of the 4 Noble Truths.
Life is Suffering
What we experience is what we experience. The essential and objective source of that reality is beyond our knowledge. Maybe it’s a scientific basis like Quantum Physics, maybe it’s a more mystical source like God, or an existential unknowable being, or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
But what do these questions mean in terms of our suffering? Both the constant questioning of the nature of Free Will (and it’s truthfulness), or the demanding to treat it as if it were an objective thing that guides your actions, lead to suffering.
The most skillful means to approach the question is that, for now, Free Will feels real, but that realness may or may not be actually real. The path that leads to relieving suffering is through acceptance. It’s to not desire anything beyond what is, and to surrender to the what is and the now.