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A Buddhist View of Free Will: Beyond Determinism and Indeterminism

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While the question of free will does not figure as prominently in Buddhist writings as it does in western theology, philosophy, and psychology, it is a topic that was addressed in the earliest Buddhist writings. According to these accounts, for pragmatic and ethical reasons, the Buddha rejected both determinism and indeterminism as understood at that time. Rather than asking the metaphysical question of whether already humans have free will, Buddhist tradition takes a more pragmatic approach, exploring ways in which we can acquire greater freedom to make wise choices that are truly conducive to our own and others' genuine well-being. One key to achieving such freedom is the cultivation of attentional skills so that one can deliberately focus one's attention with continuity and clarity on one's chosen object. A second theme is the cultivation of insight into the manner in which our own attitudes shape experience, allowing for the possibility of altering not only the way we experience events in the present, but also how we are influenced by our memories of the past. Finally, the Great Perfection school of Tibetan Buddhism emphasizes the realization of the deepest dimension of consciousness -- pristine awareness -- which transcends the nexus of causality. This is regarded as the ultimate source of freedom and the ultimate nature of human identity

Document Type: Research Article

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Publication date: January 1, 2011


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