Causality and ‘Free Will’

The process of perception received a causal explanation in the hands of the Buddha. For him, this was a problem of prime importance because he realized that all the misery and unhappiness in the world were due to the evils associated with sense perception. The Buddha realized that a proper understanding of the sensory process would give insight into the origin of suffering as well as into the way one can attain freedom from suffering. Hence, the higher life is said to be aimed at understanding the sense organ, the sense object, and sense contact, i.e., sense perception, because it is sense perception that leads to suffering.

            The theory of sense perception is represented in the twelvefold formula of causation. The term ayatana, which, to use a word from modern psychology, means ‘gateway’, denotes both the sense organ and the sense object. One of the most important statements concerning the origin of perception from the subject-object relationship follows:

“Depending on eye … and visible form arises visual consciousness; meeting together of the three is contact;because of contact arises feeling or sensation; what one feels, one perceives; what one perceives, one reflects on; what one reflects on, one is obsessed with; what one is obsessed with, due to that, concepts characterized by such obsessed perceptions assail him with regard to visible form cognizable by the eye, belonging to the past, the future, and the present.”

            Three important stages in the process of perception can be distinguished from this passage. The formula begins on a very impersonal note and follows the pattern set out in the general formula of causation proposed by the Buddha (“When this exists, that exists or comes to be”). This impersonal manner of description is found only up to the point of feeling or sensation. Then the mode of description, the grammatical structure of the sentences changes to a very personal tone suggestive of deliberate activity. Note the use of the third-person verb: “What one feels or senses, one perceives; what one perceives, one reflects on; what one reflects on, one is obsessed with.” Thus, immediately after feeling, the process of perception becomes one between subject and object. The feeling comes to be looked upon as belonging to a subject. This marks the intrusion of the ego-consciousness, which thereafter shapes the entire process of perception, culminating in the generation of obsessions. These obsessions are threefold: craving, conceit, and dogmatic view. The final stage in this process of perception seems to be different from the preceding two stages. It is no longer a mere contingent process, nor is it an activity deliberately directed, but an inexorable subjection to an objective order of things. At this final stage of perception, he who has hitherto been the subject now becomes as it were a hapless object.

            This analysis of the process of perception is of tremendous importance for several reasons. First, it replaces the theory of an eternal and unchanging entity (like the atman) considered to be the subject, with a causal account of the process. Second, while tracing the origin of ego-consciousness to the deliberate activity of the mind, it also accounts for the phenomenon of free will, without which a theory of moral responsibility is untenable. It shows that up to the point of feeling or sensation one is governed by a natural flow of events, a flow in turn governed by the causal pattern. But immediately after that begins deliberate activity, which can lead one either to subjection to the objective order of things, that is, to enslavement to things of the world, or to freedom from bondage to such things through the elimination of ego-consciousness.

            Let us examine the problem of free will in Buddhism. The reconciliation of free will with causality has been a perennial problem in philosophy. With regard to the problem of free will in Western philosophy, it is pointed out that the advocates of free will depend on the apparent indeterminacy of the future as compared with the determinacy of the past, because what is foreseen is considered to be fated. Jayatilleke presents another view in explanation of the Buddhist position. He distinguishes between physical and psychological causation and maintains that since causality “is a probability and not a necessity when psychological factors are involved,” one can admit freedom of will.

            With regard to the first view, it has been well argued that dependence on future indeterminacy as the basis of a theory of free will is the result of ignorance. That is because “it is plain that no desirable kind of free will can be dependent simply upon our ignorance; for if that were the case, animals would be more free than men, and savages than civilized people. If we are able to recollect some of our past volitions, volitions that have changed the course of our lives, then we would certainly feel we were free in the past. Similarly, we might be free in the future even if we are able to perceive our future volitions. Therefore, the definition of freedom that “our volitions shall be as they are result of our own desires, not of an outside force compelling us to will what we should rather not will” seems to be consistent with the teachings of Buddhism [free will is causally conditioned]. This is possible only if we recognize the causal status of our dispositions and desires, a recognition that points to a Buddhist contribution to Indian thought when viewed in light of the theories propounded by the naturalistic schools current in India during the Buddha’s day.

            Jayatilleke quotes two statements from the Pali Nikayas in support of his view that causality “is only a probability, not a necessity, when psychological factors are involved.” The first is, “A person who knows and sees things as they are, need not make an effort of will (saying) ‘I shall become disinterested’; it is in the nature of things that a person who knows and sees becomes disinterested.” This statement implies that causality reigns supreme in the sphere of psychological life. As opposed to this, Jayatilleke quotes another statement that if a person “being ardent, gains knowledge and insight, and because of it, praises himself and disparages others,” he will not progress in spiritual development. Comparing these two statements, one in which causality seems to work and the other in which the same causal process seems to have failed, Jayatilleke concludes that causality is a probability when psychological factors are involved.

            Acceptance of such indeterminism in the sphere of psychological causation would seem to go against the Buddha’s theory of the uniformity of mental phenomena. But a careful examination will show that these two statements explain two different causal situations. According to the first statement, causality is a law valid in the sphere of psychological life. In the second example, the individual’s disposition, that is to say, his inclination to be satisfied with the knowledge he has gained, appears to have interfered with the natural process and therefore produced a result that is different from what it would otherwise have been. Thus, the difference between the two examples is that in the case of one a certain causal factor, namely, the disposition to be satisfied, is absent and in the case of the other, it is present. Only if we dismiss the importance of this disposition as a causal factor can we maintain that causality in the present case is merely a probability, not a necessity.

            On the contrary, the examples above illustrate very clearly that causality is not incompatible with free will so long as psychological factors such as dispositions are given causal status. In fact, the incompatibility of causation with free will becomes a problem when causation is confined to physical phenomena alone, denying its validity and the causal efficiency of psychic phenomena. It was the knowledge that causality was effective in the past, is effective in the present, and will be effective in the future that enabled the Buddha and his disciples to put an end to suffering and thereby attain perfect happiness and peace. This may have been a very good reason for the inclusion of ignorance of the past as well as of the future under the category of ignorance.

Source: Kalupahana, David J., (1975). Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, The University Press of Hawaii. pp.122-125


Dear friends,

I am excited to introduce a new category on which I am writing on different aspects of life from useful social skills and personal development, to life visions and enlightenment.

In the meantime….

An analogy between Conventional/Ultimate Truths in Buddhist philosophy and every day jokes

The everyday example of the joke can serve as a helpful model for understanding the structure of “Not only synonymous but also irrevocably opposed” or “Indeed identical only by means of their opposition” in everyday Jokes, with the provisional (conventional) as the setup and the ultimate as the punch line, thus preserving both the contrast between the two and their ultimate identity in sharing the quality of humorousness that belongs to every atom of the joke considered as a whole, once the punch line has been revealed. The setup is serious, while the punch line is funny. The funniness of the punch line depends on the seriousness of the setup, and on the contrast and difference between the two. However, once the punch line has occurred, it is also the case that the setup is, retrospectively, funny; we do not say that the punch line alone is funny, but that the whole joke was funny. This also means that the original contrast Continue reading

Endo-Cannibalism in Malayo-Polynesian

In the early twentieth century the French sociologist Robert Hertz published an influential essay under the title of “A Contribution to the Study of the Collective Representation of Death.” Hertz’s primary interest was in the quite widespread Malayo-Polynesian practice of double burial, whereby corpses were not immediately taken to a final resting place but instead placed in a temporary location such as the family house for a period of time. It was said that the corpse should not be permanently buried until it had thoroughly decomposed so that only the bones remained. Bodies allowed to rot in this way were sometimes sealed in coffins and the putrefying liquids drained from time to time. Continue reading

Why do men woo and women choose?

According to neo-Darwinian synthesis, evolutionary success is defined largely in terms of fecundity, or reproductive success, not just survival. It is the replication of the gene that matters most, not the organism. If reproductive success through genetic replication is the ultimate goal of evolution, then resource acquisition can be seen as merely a means to an end.
A great deal  of contemporary work on human social behavior, including religiosity, employs the “social evolution” framework outlined above. Of course genetic replication in human occurs through sexual reproduction and so significant features of human minds evolved, presumably for the purpose of attracting and securing mates. Continue reading

Weikza and sexual intercourse with fruits

As in the case of European alchemy, Burmese alchemy too includes techniques for the transmutation of base metals into gold. Of much greater importance in Burmese alchemy, however, are the goals of achieving magical power, especially of immortality. These powers are acquired by means of the alchemic stone whose absolute purification and refinement is the aim of all alchemic experiments. Continue reading

Self-effacing behavior of Thai women


…Buddhadasa Bhikkhu’s proposal for a dhammic socialism offers a case in point. His diagnosis of the root cause of the social problems that Thailand faces is certainly correct at the most fundamental level. Not only Thailand’s, but all humanity’s troubles are rooted in our “me” and “mine” ways of thinking. From this it follows that the ultimate solution to our problems is selflessness. Each must live for the benefit of society, placing the common good above personal interests. However, in this proposal for a dhammic socialism, Buddhadasa does not foreground the problem of sexism nor does he connect gender issues with other social issues, and herein lies a problem. Continue reading

Feminists’ arguments and religious studies


This essay includes considerations of feminism both as academic method, i.e. the women studies perspective, and as social vision, i.e. the perspective of feminist philosophy. Though the values and insights of these two perspectives are intertwined and closely linked, they are not identical. The women studies perspective is less radical, claiming only that scholars must include women in their data base if they wish to claim that they are discussing humanity (rather than human males). Feminist philosophy in its many varieties proposes reconstructions of current religions and societies to render them more just and equitable to women, and thereby, also to men. Continue reading

Religion, faith, and theology

religionThe starting point for clarifications is a general observation about human existence-namely, that to be human at all is both to live by faith and to seek understanding. For our immediate purpose, which is to clarify what is properly meant by “religion,” it is the first part of this observation that is important. The faith to which I refer in observing that each of us lives by faith is our basic confidence or assurance simply as human beings that life is worth living.  To live in any case, even as an animal, is one and the same with accepting one’s life in its larger setting and adjusting oneself to it. This is why George Santayana goes so far as to speak of “animal faith,” meaning thereby the inalienable confidence of all animal life in its environment as generally permissive of its struggle to live and to reproduce its kind. Continue reading

And a message on the way

love treeSome day
I will come and bring a message.
Into veins I will cast light,
And call out, “O you whose baskets are full of dreams!”
     I have brought you an apple, the red apple of the Sun.
I will come to offer the beggar a lilac flower.
I will give the lovely leprous woman a pair of earrings.
To the blind I will tell: “How scenic the garden is!”
I will become a peddler, roam the alleyways,
     and cry out, “Dews, dews, dews.”

Continue reading

Love, lovers, and non-lovers

Summarized from the book “Phaedrus” by Plato, translated by: B. Jowett


The Phaedrus is closely connected with the Symposium, and may be regarded either as introducing or following it. The two Dialogues together contain the whole philosophy of Plato on the nature of love, which in the Republic and in the later writings of Plato is only introduced playfully or as a figure of speech. But in the Phaedrus and Symposium love and philosophy join hands, and one is an aspect of the other. Continue reading

Feminist Ethics & Feminist Ethicists


Feminist Ethics is an attempt to revise, reformulate, or rethink traditional ethics to the extent it depreciates or devalues women’s moral experience.

Feminist philosopher Alison Jaggar faults traditional ethics for letting women down in five related ways. First, it shows less concern for women’s as opposed to men’s issues and interests. Second, traditional ethics views as trivial the moral issues that arise in the so-called private world, the realm in which women do housework and take care of children, the infirm, and the elderly. Third, it implies that, in general, women are not as morally mature or deep as men. Continue reading

Shunyata in Mahayana Buddhism

sunyata-4Of all Buddhist doctrines, possibly the most difficult — and misunderstood — is shunyata. Often translated as “emptiness,” shunyata is at the heart of all Mahayana Buddhist teaching. It is often misunderstood to mean that nothing exists. This is not so. Instead, it tells us that there is existence, but that phenomena are empty of svabhava, a Sanskrit word that means self-nature, intrinsic nature, essence, or “own being.”

Shunyata, in Buddhist philosophy, the voidness that constitutes ultimate reality; shunyata is seen not as a negation of existence but rather as the undifferentiation out of which all apparent entities, distinctions, and dualities arise. Continue reading

Materialism in Indian philosophy


Lokayata SchoolIndian materialism is not so well known, nor is it known in all its details at home or abroad as are other metaphysical doctrines which originated in India. This is mainly due to the fact that the original literature related to materialistic metaphysics has been lost beyond recovery, and that the critical references to this brand of metaphysics made by its adversaries as well as certain stray references to it to be found here and there are the main sources of our knowledge about it. Continue reading

Speeches in honor of Love

Summarized from the book “SYMPOSIUM” by Plato, translated by: B. Jowett

book platoIntroduction

It is claimed that in Symposium there are more than the author himself knew. The Symposium of Plato is a work of his character, and can with difficulty be rendered in any words but the writer’s own. There are so many half-lights and cross-lights, so much of the color of mythology, and of the manner of sophistry adhering—rhetoric and poetry, the playful and the serious, are so subtly intermingled in it, and vestiges of old philosophy so curiously blend with germs of future knowledge, that agreement among interpreters is not to be expected. Continue reading

Zen state of consciousness

 Zen masters’ advice to reach Zen state of consciousness (one’s own final abode)

necklaceThere are occasions in the study of Zen in which the monk stays with the master for years but no enlightenment come over him despite following the advice of his master faithfully. After many weeks of meditation he cannot come to any result and he is the same old monk with no experience whatever. His disappointment knows no bounds.. He cannot think of going back with no new spiritual outlook to his native land. He is then the most miserable man in the world, utterly dejected in spirit and body.  The Zen masters out of their experience give advice purporting to help monks to solve their koan and to create what may me called the Zen state of consciousness. [koan is a succinct paradoxical statement or question used as a meditation discipline for novices] Continue reading

New Age Movement (NAM) in brief

          new-ageFirst: a new religious language. The religious metaphors of the Judeo-Christian tradition developed in a patriarchal society and show the limitations of that particular experience. The Father God metaphor, for example, while suggesting paternal care, also evokes absolute power, patriarchal authority, harsh punishment, and other related ideas which are now considered controversial. The NAM, by searching for inspiration in the many religious traditions of the world, especially in mysticism, opens up a new field of religious metaphors which may help us to more meaningfully re-imagine God for contemporary humanity. Continue reading

Yoga: Hindus and Christians’ stance

yoga6Yoga in the Modern World

The ground for its introduction to the West was laid in 1893, with the arrival from India of Swami Vivekananda, who gained notoriety when he represented Hinduism at the world Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Soon after, the West’s awareness of Indian philosophy grew, through the work of such groups as the Theosophical Society, founded in the US by Madame Blavatsky. Continue reading

Hindu’s belief in the law of Karma

The law of Karma:

karmaKarma is a concept in Hinduism which explains causality through a system where beneficial effects are derived from past beneficial actions and harmful effects from past harmful actions, creating a system of actions and reactions throughout a soul’s reincarnated lives forming a cycle of rebirth. The causality is said to be applicable not only to the material world but also to our thoughts, words, actions and actions that others do under our instructions. Continue reading

4 social classes in Hindus’ beliefs

CasteBodyVarnas (four social classes):

Although every Hindu must follow general moral codes, each has individual duties according to his or her own nature. These are called sva-dharma, literally “own duties.” They are regulated by the system of four varnas (social classes). Varna is a Sanskrit word which means color or class. Ancient Hindu literature classified all humankind, and all created beings, in principle into four varnas:

1-The Brahmins (Priests, Teachers, and Intellectuals): The chief function of this varna is the preservation of knowledge and culture, the satisfaction of gods, and the safeguarding of justice and morality. The brahmins provide education and spiritual leadership. They determine the vision and values of any society. Continue reading

The Quran ch. 12: The story of Joseph

ziba-3In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful.

  1. Alif, Lam, Ra. These are the Verses of the Clear Book.
  2. We have revealed it an Arabic Quran, so that you may understand.
  3. We narrate to you the most accurate history, by revealing to you this Quran. Although, prior to it, you were of the unaware.
  4. When Joseph said to his father, “O my father, I saw eleven planets, and the sun, and the moon; I saw them bowing down to me.” Continue reading

Saint Augustine on “Time”

What then is time?

augustineIf no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone who does ask me, I do not know. Yet I state confidently that I know this: if nothing were passing away, there would be no past time, and if nothing were coming, there would be no future time, and if nothing existed, there would be no present time. How then can these two kinds of time, the past and the future be, when the past no longer is and the future as yet does not be? But if the present were always present, and would not pass into the past, it would no longer be time but eternity. Therefore, if the present, so as to be time, must be so constituted that it passes into the past, how can we say that it is, since the cause of its being is the fact that it will cease to be? Does it not follow that we can truly say that it is time, only because it tends towards non-being? Continue reading

Feminist Ethics

        feministSome recent ethicists claim that ethics are gender dependent as well. Although feminist moral philosophy is not monolithic, Carol Gilligan argues for the contextualization of moral reasoning in her book In a Different Voice. She cites empirical research which demonstrates that women’s moral development is significantly different from that of men’s. Women operate from a “morality of responsibility,” using the “psychological logic of relationships,” whereas men operate with a “morality of rights,” using the “formal logic of justice.” In contrast to an enlightenment emphasis on competing rights and formal and abstract connections, females typically operate with an awareness of conflicting responsibilities and a mentality that is contextual and narrative; Continue reading

Artworks: forgeries and artistic value


We can consider a variety of Philosophical questions about art and art criticism, ranging from questions about the definition of what art is to questions about the aesthetic status of forgeries. Much talk about art by artists, critics and interested spectators is confused and Illogical. Employing philosophical rigour and insisting on clarity of argument in this area can only improve matters. As in all areas of philosophy there is no guarantee that clear argument will provide convincing answers to the difficult questions, but it does increase the chances of this happening. Continue reading

What Virtue Ethics is…

samaritan 1. Virtue theory

Virtue theory is largely based on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and as a result is sometimes known as neo-Aristotelianism. Unlike Kantians and utilitarians, who typically concentrate on the rightness or wrongness of particular actions, virtue theorists focus on character and are interested in the individual’s life as a whole. The central question for virtue theorists is “How should I live?” The answer they give to this question is: cultivate the virtues. It is only by cultivating the virtues that they will flourish as a human being. Continue reading

Christian Ethics

jesus ethicsIntroduction:

 Is morality simply a matter of prejudice or can we give good reason for our moral beliefs? The area of philosophy which deals with such question  is usually known either as ethics or as moral philosophy — both terms will be used interchangeably here. Christian Ethics belongs to duty-based ethical theories. Duty-based ethical theories stress that each of us has certain duties — actions that we ought or ought not to perform — and that acting morally amounts to doing our duty, whatever consequences might follow from this. It is this idea, that some actions are absolutely right or wrong regardless of results which follow from them, which distinguishes duty-based (also known as deontological) ethical theories from consequentialist ethical theories. Here we will examine Christian ethics. Continue reading

God’s Existence: The Gambler’s Argument

cardPascal’s Wager

The arguments for and against the existence of God that we have examined so far (1234, 5) have all been aimed at proving that God does or doesn’t exist. They have all purported to give us knowledge of his or her existence or non-existence. The Gambler’s Argument, which is derived from the writings of the philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), and is usually known as “Pascal’s Wager”, is very different from these. Its aim is not to provide proof, but rather to show that a sensible gambler would be well-advised to “bet” that God exists.

It begins from the position of an agnostic, that is, someone who believes that there is not enough evidence to decide whether or not God exists. Continue reading

Theists’ God and the Problem of Evil


Does God exist? This is a fundamental question, one which most of us ask ourselves at some time in our lives. The answer which each of us gives affects not only the way we behave, but also how we understand and interpret the world, and what we expect for the future, If God exists, then human existence may have a purpose, and we may even hope for eternal life. If not, then we must create any meaning in our lives for ourselves: no meaning will be given to them from outside, and death is probably final. Continue reading

The First Cause Argument for God’s Existence (Cosmological Argument)

 adyanThe First Cause Argument

The First Cause Argument, sometimes known as The Cosmological Argument, states that absolutely everything has been caused by something else prior to it: nothing has just sprung into existence without a cause. Because we know that the universe exists, we can safely assume that a whole series of causes and effects led to it being as it is. If we follow this series back we will find an original cause. This first cause, so the first cause argument tells us, is God. Continue reading

The Design Argument for God’s Existence

sunflowerThe Design Argument

One of the most frequently used arguments for God’s existence is the design argument, sometimes also known as the Teleological Argument (from the Greek word “telos” which means “purpose”). This states that if we look around us at the natural world we cannot help noticing how everything in it is suited to the function it performs: everything bears evidence of having been designed. This is supposed to demonstrate the existence of a Creator. If, for example, we examine the human eye, we see how its minute parts all fit together, each part cleverly suited to what it was apparently made for: seeing. Continue reading

Aquinas’s Five proofs of God’s existence

aquinasThe first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is moved is moved by another, for nothing can be moved except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is moved; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Continue reading