Free will and the world order

Tuesday, 13 May 2014 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Lord Buddha said, ‘If one sees that the world is but an illusion, he or she escapes suffering.’ Lord Buddha’s teachings, in a nutshell, lead to the realisation that there is no experiencer in an experience, no thinker behind the thought, and no doer in the doing. This is the most radical part of the Dhamma that is veiled by most of today’s practices with emphasis on the development of self for a better life! If there is no self, who attains Nibbana? A million dollar question. But the human mind cannot grasp this to find the answer as the mind is the culprit which keeps instituting the self and taking this artificial person on a long sansaric journey. If there is no self, can there be a free will too? Or a person behind a decision making? ‘Of course there is,’ and that would be the immediate reaction of the majority as the entire world order is contingent upon this state, leave alone the ones who are eminent speakers today on personal development, motivation, leadership with the notion that ‘follow Bill Gates, you will become one,’ follow Abdul Kalam and you will be one. Free will The teaching that there is no free will is a harsh version that is now cutting across the world among people searching for peace and happiness that they cannot realise within the framework of self and the world that they have identified to be true. Buddhism is a philosophy that needs to be viewed with an open mind – certainly not by adding more knowledge to what is already gathered though books and sermons. Dr. Seth Schwartz in his article quoted, ‘One of the oldest questions in psychology, and in other fields such as philosophy, is whether humans have a free will.’ In a conventional model of thinking of life, the existence of doer is real and the entire world order is built on this. From the metaphysical perspective, the question is raised ‘What is the point if we cannot choose our own paths?’ Yet from the scientific viewpoint, anything can happen without being caused by another. In psychology, the debate continues as to whether we have free will or not. Deepak Chopra, famous author on spirituality, says: ‘Even when you think you have your life all mapped out, things happen that shape your destiny in ways you might never have imagined.’ So do we have a choice of our thoughts? Thoughts among which decision-making takes place? Or is it a thought that arises to combine the choices of thoughts to establish that there is a person making a decision? Testing the phenomenon Many neuroscientists, fully equipped with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and other brain scanning tools, tested the phenomenon and said: ‘If we can peer into the brain, we can see that there is no ‘agent’ inside the brain making choices.’ John Searle in his publication in 1997 stated consciousness from a biological angle to say that brain is no more free than the liver or the stomach. The most recent study on a well-known personality reveals that the brain had determined a conscious decision a second or two before the decision was actually made. On the other hand, the brain works at lightning speed without prior consciousness; for instance, to swiftly move the hand away when it touches a flame and there is no person taking that decision. In effect a subsequent thought tells you that it is the person who shifted the hand away from the flame. How ironic? Free will has to be accepted in the world order because of obvious reasons. There will be practical issues otherwise. A criminal, if he/she didn’t have a free will, cannot be punished. A child who fails an exam cannot be blamed. The world order is a manmade scenario which changes from time to time assuming what is good and bad. It is like a court of law one day becoming interested in knowing the background of a thief or a prostitute to see why they were dragged into such acts. Life is fragile In search of the freedom, we don’t have much time. Life is fragile. Most live in the fallacy that they are immortal. At least their behaviour says so. The mind masks the fact that one day your body will become weak and will stop functioning, over which humans have no control. If freedom is not found in this life, one needs to come back to fulfil the ‘unfinished’ business. Most interpretations of theistic religions, there are two views viz. compatibilism and libertarianism, but the writer does not wish to get into a theoretical explanations with the notion truth has to be found beyond knowledge and education through an experience which is the only reality in life. Neither Buddha nor Jesus Christ targeted ‘educated’ freedom seekers in their service to humanity. So what’s Lord Buddha’s take on all of this particularly when he says in Kalama Sutta ‘don’t believe in anything until you realise the truth yourself’? What is the truth and who realises it? One needs to analyse with clues or pointers as language cannot offer experiential convincing in spirituality. That is the underpinning line for freedom seekers and that applies to the Buddhists too, whether they want to carry a label or not. Food for thought In the Anaththa Lakkana discourse, Lord Buddha gets the disciples to analyse the self in form, sensation, perception, mental formations and consciousness to see if there is self in this, permanent or otherwise. In that analysis one could also contemplate whether the ‘self’ is a mere thought or stream of thoughts establishing the self all the time. Lord Buddha says you are not an integral, autonomous entity. Can the individual self, or we may call it ego, be a by-product of these aggregates? Food for thought for Buddhists during Vesak. When the ‘me’ collapses, only the suffering would exist. No sufferer. Can the human language explain this? No it cannot, because language is created to explain experiences of five senses interpreted by the mind. The ‘experience without the experiencer’ is a discovery not made by the mind. That is the challenge before the followers of Buddhism to find this truth through self inquiry with an inward journey. Anything else that we see happening in today’s world is only nurturing the self one way or another, prolonging the stay in the imprisonment of mind in this sansaric sojourn. (The writer is a former Diplomatic Officer, currently at the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau and a teacher offering discourses and meditative sessions for tourist groups).

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