Free Will vs. Determinism

I’m in a slightly philosophical mood, so I thought I would offer my two cents on this age-old debate.

“Is there free will or is everything determined?” First of all, why does it matter? What difference does it make?

Well, if there is no free will, can we really hold people accountable for their actions? If everything happens deterministically, why is there so much suffering? Does it mean there is no God, only the indifferent mechanisms of nature? Or has God written in all this suffering for reasons only He can imagine?

On the other hand, if there is free will, how does that fit into our scientific world-view? Does free will mean there is an eternal soul which isn’t bound by material reality?

I want this question to be existential rather than intellectual. The debate can go on forever, but it all comes down to two observations: we appear to have free choice and science appears to explain the whole universe as rigid, determinstic cause-and-effect.

Now, both of these appearances aren’t as solid as they seem. We can take some time to observe how our personalities, moods, and ways of behaving are influenced by the world around us. We’re very used to looking at the world from a self-centered perspective, but a holistic perspective always shows how everything is interdependent and mutually defining. The teeth of the fox define the legs of the hare, so to speak. The hare may say “it is my choice to run!” but if the fox wasn’t giving chase, the hare would likely not feel the pressure to make that choice. Nevertheless, the perception of freedom still stands. No amount of intellectual wriggling makes it go away.

On the scientific end, there’s a little room for non-deterministic interpretations of the latest and greatest physics discoveries.

What really interests me is the impact on the individual. If everything is determined, it’s easy to throw up your hands and say: “What’s the use in trying? Free will is just an illusion anyway.” On the other hand, if everyone has free will, it’s easy to judge and condemn and discard external circumstances by saying: “They still had free will!”

I don’t really like either of these extremes. I would rather have this conundrum be an impetus to personal growth. So I accept free will: I am free to move toward happiness or suffering. I know that attachment to transitory pleasures ultimately throws my mind off balance and brings suffering. I know that practicing detachment, acceptance and compassion is sometimes difficult in the short term, but always rewarding in the long run. So I have free will–when I feel the greatest pressure to capitulate to desires that don’t serve me, I face the greatest potential for self-transcendence. And others have free will too–we should compassionately challenge each other to be the best we can be.

On the other hand, I accept determinism. We have free will–we do what we can to make the world a better place. But determinism is real–our efforts will always encounter natural limitations. The world operates by cause and effect, violence breeds violence and ignorance breeds ignorance. We can’t really hold others responsible for choosing hate when they’ve never known love. We can’t condemn the greed of others when they’ve never known the abundance of true happiness. And we have this duality within ourselves too. Every person who has ever lived has inherited the good and the bad. We could find someone to blame, but they could find someone to blame, who could find someone else to blame, and so on and on and on without beginning. Determinism doesn’t allow that there is a beginning, because determinism is the world of the great circle–the wheel of suffering. There is no first cause, but there is a process which unravels the cycles of suffering. If we find that we are shifting from the cycle of suffering to the cycle of liberation, then we have inherited the great gift of the saints.

Contemplating this duality of free will and determinism is a gateway into the balance of paradox. We are called to be accepting and discriminating… accept the world as it is, but always move toward what you perceive as the highest good. It means to judge without being judgmental…

But ultimately, one of them has to be true, right?

I think it’s more likely that they both miss the mark.


San Fran & Beyond

Buddha Blessing

A handful of photos of some lovely scenes in San Francisco. Today was a beautiful day of sunshine and Spring, the sort of day that kisses you on top of the head in the middle of January. San Francisco is lovely by virtue of its trees and subtle smiling Buddhas and the angels I’m sure are floating here and there waiting to be invited in.

To enjoy noble friendship, to drink the purity of nature, to bear witness to the beauty of life… we are truly blessed!


Spiritual Electronica for Grown-Up Kids (feat. Green Tea)

Light of the Dragon

What is a sannyasin?

“Sannyas is basically a rebellion about all structures, hence the difficulty to define. Sannyas is a way of living life unstructuredly. A sannyasin is one who no longer lives in the past or through the past; who lives in the moment, hence, is unpredictable.

A sannyasin is not only free, he is freedom. It is living rebellion.

Sannyas is exploration, not a program. When you become a sannyasin I initiate you into freedom, and into nothing else. It is great responsibility to be free, because then you have nothing to lean upon. Except your own inner being, your own consciousness, you have nothing as a prop, as a support. I take all your props and supports away; I leave you alone, I leave you utterly alone. In that aloneness… the flower of sannyas. That aloneness blooms on its own accord into the flower of sannyas.

Sannyas is characterlessness. It has no morality; it is not immoral, it is amoral. Or, it has a higher morality that never comes from the outside but comes from within. It does not allow any imposition from the outside, because all impositions from the outside convert you into serfs, into slaves. And my effort is to give you dignity, glory. My effort here is to give you splendor.

This is not revolution, this is rebellion. Revolution is social, collective; rebellion is individual. We are not interested in giving any structure to the society. Enough of the structures! Let all structures go. We want individuals in the world –moving freely, moving consciously, of course. And their responsibility comes through their own consciousness. They behave rightly not because they are trying to follow certain commandments; they behave rightly, they behave accurately, because they care.

Do you know, this word accurate comes from care. The word accurate in its root means to care about. When you care about something you are accurate. If you care about somebody, you are accurate in your relationship.

A sannyasin is one who cares about himself, and naturally cares about everybody else –because you cannot be happy alone. You can only be happy in a happy world, in a happy climate. If everybody is crying and weeping and is in misery, it is very, very difficult for you to be happy. So one who cares about happiness –about his own happiness –becomes careful about everybody else’s happiness, because happiness happens only in a happy climate. But this care is not because of any dogma. It is there because you love, and the first love, naturally, is the love for yourself. Then other loves follow.

Other efforts have failed because they were mind-oriented. They were based in the thinking process, they were conclusions of the mind. Sannyas is not a conclusion of the mind. Sannyas is not thought-oriented; it has no roots in thinking. Sannyas is insightfulness; it is meditation, not mind. It is rooted in joy, not in thought. It is rooted in celebration, not in thinking. It is rooted in that awareness where thoughts are not found. It is not a choice: it is not a choice between two thoughts, it is the dropping of all thoughts. It is living out of nothingness.”


The StarChild Sings


I spent all day putting together this song and I spent half of the day giggling ecstatically… I’m really happy with the way it turned out.

It’s twelve minutes long, but I spent a good four or five hours listening to it without getting bored. Man, that was a lot of fun! I hope listening to it fills you with all the delightful sensations I felt making it.

With love,