Is there an absolute Will?

My friend Geir Isene has written this article ‘On Will.’

According to this article the idea of will essentially depends on the idea of choice. But what is not clear is who or what is this thing called ‘I’, which makes the choice. The whole logic of this article depends on the underlying assumption that there is a spiritual element called ‘I’, which is absolute, permanent and independent in itself.

That is an assumption, which I do not see challenged in the western philosophy. But I do see it challenged in the Eastern philosophy. If there is no absolute, permanent and independent ‘I’ then there is no absolute, permanent and independent power to make choice; and there is no absolute, permanent and independent will – even potentially.

According to Buddhist philosophy, what we call a ‘being’ or an ‘individual’, or ‘I’ is only a convenient name or a label given to the combination of ever-changing physical and mental forces or energies. They are all impermanent, all constantly changing. They are not the same for two consecutive moments. Here A is not equal to A. They are in a flux of momentary arising and disappearing.

One thing disappears, conditioning the appearance of the next in a series of cause and effect. There is no unchanging substance in them. There is nothing behind them that can be called a permanent Self, individuality, or anything that can in reality be called ‘I’. But when these physical and mental aggregates which are interdependent are working together in combination as a physio-psychological machine, we get the idea of ‘I’. But this is only a false idea of self. There is no other ‘being’ or ‘I’, standing behind these aggregates.

There is no unmoving mover behind the movement. It is only movement. It is not correct to say that life is moving, but life is movement itself. Life and movement are not two different things. In other words, there is no thinker behind the thought. Thought itself is the thinker. If you move the thought, there is no thinker to be found. Here we cannot fail to notice how this Buddhist view is diametrically opposed to the Cartesian cogito ergo sum: ‘I think, therefore I am.’

Everything in the physical universe is relative to each other. According to Buddhism, this is the case with everything in the spiritual universe as well. There is nothing absolute… not even the soul.

The Absolute Truth is that there is nothing absolute in the world, that everything is relative, conditioned and impermanent, and that there is no unchanging, everlasting, absolute substance like Self, Soul, or Ātman within or without. – Buddha

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Comments

  • vinaire  On July 19, 2012 at 6:44 PM

    Isene:
    “1. For a system to be deterministic, its underlying rules must be consistent.
    2. For a system to be deterministic, its underlying rules must be complete.
    3. No system of rules can be both complete and consistent per Godels Incompleteness Theorems.
    4. Thus, no system can be deterministic.”

    .

    Vinaire: (Please see…)

    Gödel and Determinism

    .

  • freebeeing  On July 22, 2012 at 7:05 AM

    “Thought itself is the thinker.”

    How so? This does not make sense to me.

    • vinaire  On July 22, 2012 at 7:24 AM

      Take a good look at what is behind thought that thinks. It is really up to you to find out.

      .

    • Chris Thompson  On July 22, 2012 at 7:39 AM

      Like a bubbling brook. For the purpose of this example, there is no bubbling brooker.

  • freebeeing  On July 22, 2012 at 1:43 PM

    What is observing the thought?

    • vinaire  On July 22, 2012 at 2:35 PM

      It’s either the thought itself, or it is unknowable. What is your thought about it?

      .

  • freebeeing  On July 22, 2012 at 7:47 PM

    Thought can observe thought. But one can also observe that thought is observing thought. The Spirtual Being is the ultimate observer – it is not thought, it is the source of all things

    • Chris Thompson  On July 24, 2012 at 11:34 PM

      @ freebeing: With respect, that is the standard declaration however hard to prove. As your personal reality, if that is workable for you and gives your mind ease, then congratulations. As an objective reality, not so much. Subjective declarations, no matter how artistic, remain in the realm of subjective reality and do not seem to bleed over into the objective universe except that they come out of the mind in unbreakable steps — “no shortcuts allowed” seems to be the mantra of the physical universe.

  • vinaire  On July 22, 2012 at 8:14 PM

    We have been discussing what a spiritual being is, for a while, on this blog. It is not something that is permanent.

    The being or SELF seems to be a label for ‘center of consciousness’ which is similar to the ‘center of gravity’. Please see

    https://vinaire.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/godel-and-determinism/#comment-3873

    So this abstract idea of being actually refers to a resultant of mental and spiritual energies and forces. It is nothing in itself. Please see here for details.

    THE STRUCTURE OF “I”

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    • freebeeing  On July 22, 2012 at 8:57 PM

      “There is no unmoving mover behind the movement. It is only movement. It is not correct to say that life is moving, but life is movement itself. Life and movement are not two different things. In other words, there is no thinker behind the thought. Thought itself is the thinker. If you move the thought, there is no thinker to be found. Here we cannot fail to notice how this Buddhist view is diametrically opposed to the Cartesian cogito ergo sum: ‘I think, therefore I am.’”

      What proof of this do you have? This is “belief” or speculation on the part of Buddhists and yourself.

      Permanent – is a time-based concept. Time is an illusion.

      Certainly identity is always changing. Vinaire will die, the being that is being Vinaire never dies. Why do you even bother with such pursuits if you are just a temporary thought?

      You deny spiritual existence?

  • vinaire  On July 22, 2012 at 9:13 PM

    I have no proof. You have to follow your own intuition. Please see,

    Absolutism and Philosophy

    Well, I disagree that the being that is being Vinaire never dies, because, according to my understanding, any beingness is in a flux. Nothing permanent passes one moment to the next.

    I do not deny spiritual existence. I simply think that physical and spiritual are different aspects of the same system.

    .

  • vinaire  On July 25, 2012 at 10:24 AM

    Geir Isene:
    “While the physical universe is total effect, free will is cause. Although free will makes choices by its own volition, its choice may be swayed by its experiences, which are the result of its choices.”

    Vinaire:
    I do not think so. Physical universe and free will seems to be part of a single overall system. They do not seem not to be independent of each other.

    .

  • vinaire  On July 25, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    Geir Isene:
    “A feedback mechanism is then seen as free will chooses its own experiences and is then affected by them. This may lead to free will apparently losing control of its will by association with the physical universe and believing it has less free will. It will then act less free, less cause. To change this feedback mechanism, free will can be persuaded, perhaps by another free will, to believe it is more cause and less effect and thereby bring the situation under the power of will once again.”

    Vinaire:
    Persuasion is simply an attempt to reconfigure the constitution of the self. Reconfiguration of constitution of self is possible only through looking, recognizing and leveling the inconsistencies. No belief would work.

    .

  • vinaire  On July 25, 2012 at 10:57 AM

    Geir Isene:
    “Any persuasion masked as a solution will do as long as free will believes the solution presented will work and as long as the solution aligns with physical universe laws to the degree that the individual believes in those laws. This may explain how many people are helped by a wide plethora of practices aimed at bettering the individual. It may also explain the placebo effect.”

    Vinaire:
    There would never be any permanent solution based just on belief. The situation would inevitably revert. This is because belief acts as an additive. It does not dissolve the inconsistencies.

    .

  • Rizwan  On September 20, 2013 at 12:01 AM

    Vinay, I may be too late to reply on this blog that is over a year old. But I would like to say that it is disheartening and discouraging from more than one viewpoints to know that there is nothing permanent as “I”.

    1. The immediate message one receives from this is that he/she is mortal – He/she ceases to exist in any form at some point – I am not sure if it is at body’s death or later.

    2. This implies that emotions of people don’t matter at all. There are only emotions, there is no one behind who feels them. What we think we feel is an apparency or just a manifestation of something “happening”. This also implies that there is nothing wrong with people with unfortunate conditions in their lives. There is nothing to be sorry about them.

    3. There is no motivation to be good or ethical person, nor there is any motivation to keep from unethical acts (sins). Just as there is no thinker behind the thought, there is no doer behind the deed. This opens the door for the sinners to commit their sins with no regrets.

    4. This also does not explain the fact that Buddha himself had recalled his life in previous bodies.

    Are there more articles further in this series that may answer my questions? Or have I misunderstood this concept of “impermanence of I”?

    • vinaire  On September 20, 2013 at 5:19 AM

      I agree that it is very disheartening to discover an argument that goes totally against what one has firmly believed all one’s life. It was a shock to me to discover that there is no permanent ‘I’. But, then, I got to see it as the truth.

      This is similar to the truth of “uniform motion.” One cannot say that with certainty what one’s uniform velocity is. Whether it is ‘0’ or ‘c’, no differentiation can be made.

      These things are counter-intuitive because generally one does not look at them closely enough. Let’s take up your points one at a time.

      (1) One wants to be immortal. What does that mean? What is that element that you wish to persist? The universe is always changing, yet the universe also seems to have been persisting for ever. As long as something exists, regardless of what it is, the universe also exists. It is a matter of how one views oneself – as the universe, or as an impermanent part of it. Please keep in mind that both physical and spiritual are apects of this universe.

      (2) Happiness and misery are conditions that keep changing. Good and bad are opinions that also keep changing from person to person. Things like emotions matter but only from a relative point of view. Space and time matters only when there is perception of relative motion. When there is no relative motion there is no perception of either space or time.

      (3) When one is living in the relative world there is definitely the motivation to be a good or ethical person because one suffers from one’s sins. All perception depends on relativity. Please don’t confuse the apathy in the relative world with the freedom that comes from knowledge. From the absolute viewpoint of knowledge the ideas of ethical and unethical vanish because one is always acting with mindfulness.

      (4) If a memory persists from one life to another, just like karma (incomplete cycle of action) persists from one life to another, that does not mean that ‘I’ needs to persist. Please see

      https://vinaire.me/2012/09/30/souls-between-lives-dark-energy-matter/

      .

  • Rizwan  On September 20, 2013 at 11:48 PM

    Thanks, I went through “SOULS, BETWEEN-LIVES, DARK ENERGY & MATTER” as well. I see that one point of conversation here leads to many branches of questions in each cycle of question/answer. So I will stick to only those points that stand out in this context of my previous questions.

    1. I view myself as spiritual part of the universe, not as the universe. I thought that spiritual part is permanent.

    2. Here I was actually thinking about an example of people whose lives are not happy due to physiological birth defects, not just mental. Since the soul is impermanent (in fact it doesn’t even exist – its existence is an apparency) such individuals are not going to experience life in a good body again ever. It is someone else who may have a good body with their memories. I feel like an eternal injustice here.

    However, from “… Between-Lives…” article, if the soul of a person is discrete, though dissolved in space, then it seems to me like it is the same individual in another body when he takes another body. That satisfies me because the identity is preserved. But if it is to be thought of as a mixed pool of indiscrete “souls”, a piece of which adopts a new body, then the new body potentially has a pieces of souls of multiple individuals at the same time, and could inherit partial memories of multiple different people. Then the new identify is not the same as the identity of the souls inherited. Points 11, 12 and 13 of this article seems to point this is the case.

    3. “… One suffers from one’s sins.” But we know there are many people in the world who do not suffer from their sins. They are happy with it (unless you say that their suffering is not apparent to us). My question is if “I” is impermanent, if one suffers due to the deeds of past life, who suffers due to whose sins? That is again injustice – unless you say that the one who suffers feels that he is the same identity as the one who committed sins in a past life (assuming the sufferer can recall his past life), in which case the suffering is justified.

    4. “… memory persists and karma persists from one life to another, and “I” does not persist.” Let me say this: As per your hypothesis, which started making sense to me, I does not exist in the first place in order to persist. What exists is only the apparency of I in one life, and apparency of another I in the next life, and the two “apparencies of I’s” seem to be the same for the next life person due to carried over memories and carried over karma.
    ———–
    Would like to share my experience when my grand father died. I remember a deep thought that ran through my mind – “Where could my grandpa be right now?” I looked into the open space with trees and mountains and up in the sky and thought to myself, “Grandpa is spread in this whole space.” I had this thought despite the religious indoctrination we had that a person remains in the grave and experiences heaven or hell until the Day Of Judgement. Your article reminded me of this incident. Seems like what is inherent in the human mind can’t be erased by indoctrination.
    ————

    Though I did not yet read all your articles, much of it makes sense to me. The impermanence of I also makes sense, but I don’t like the fact that “I” is not living when not in a body. Does it at least have thoughts when not in a body, I wonder.

    • vinaire  On September 21, 2013 at 9:22 AM

      (1) The univrese is a single reality. Any categorization of it as ‘spritual’ or ‘physical’ is there for the purpose of understanding. But that categorization is arbitrary and not something permanent. There is no spirit that is separate from the body. A feeling of exteriorization is just that… a feeling in a live body.

      (2) Justice is an expectation. When that expectation is thwarted then there is a cry of injustice. Animals do not expect justice nor do they cry against injustice of the jungle. They make the best out of the situation they are in. They are usually very sane. Humans have created God out of their expectations. They are primarily influenced by their expectations.

      The “between lives” article basically looks at the fact that a new body is made up of existing atoms and molecules. It therefore posits that a new soul is made up of existing pictures and considerations. Here pictures and considerations are being looked upon as “atoms and molecules” in the mental and spiritual realm.

      (3) I believe that the law of Karma is always active. A karma is an incomplete cycle of action that is waiting to be completed. The consequences of an incomplete cycle of action are always there. I see happiness and suffering as certain configurations of mental and physical forces and energies. ‘I’ is like the “center of mass” of these mental and physical forces and energies.

      (4) ‘I” exists like the ‘center of mass’ exists. If the object changes in its configuration, its center of mass may also shift accordingly. Thus, the ‘I’ is shifting from moment to moment as there are changes in mental and physical forces and energies associated with it. So, ‘I’ persists while also changing from moment to moment. There may be a big shift in ‘I’ from life in one body to life in another body. It is not the same ‘I’.

      Thank you for sharing your memory of the event of your grandfarther passing away. The whole purpose of mindfulness is to overcome past indoctrination.

      .

      • Chris Thompson  On September 22, 2013 at 1:10 AM

        This is quite a good synopsis.

      • Rizwan  On September 22, 2013 at 8:39 AM

        Thanks Vinay, I am still swaying back and forth though the ideas here make sense.

        “Justice is an expectation” – ok, that sounds right and feels right. (You put things in a shockingly simple way, I like that.) But doesn’t Karma come into picture here? If one, say X, had a “problem-body” to live with his whole life, and he wished for a normal body like others, wouldn’t that be an incomplete cycle of action in his mind?

        After X dies, and Y is born in a “good-body”, assuming that Y has X’s memories. If Y recalls those memories, would he feel like he was X in the past life? (though we know the soul that was in X is not the same as the soul that was in Y.)

        If he does, It looks like X’s wish is fulfilled. However, it bothers me that Y is not the same individual as X. But, if Y has all the mental energies and forces from X, then it sounds to me like the Y has the same soul that X had. But if Y has partial mental forces from X and partial mental forces from another individual Z, then it may not be the same soul.

        • vinaire  On September 22, 2013 at 3:16 PM

          Karma is essentially a very complex cycle of action that is moving forward towards its completion in slow motion. There is a sense of inevitability associated with it. If that cycle is hindered then all kind of repercussions result from it. Again those repercussions force the movement of that cycle toward its completion.

          For example, a person borrows some money. To complete that cycle the debt needs to be discharged. If it is not discharged as it was agreed upon then various repercussions come about. This cycle continues to influence all those associated with it, one way or another, until that debt is discharged.

          Parents raise their children with care. Children owe their parents for that care. When parents are old and vulnerable they need care. Children have to pay that debt to their parents to complete the cycle. If that doesn’t happen, and such cycles start to build up. then the social order starts to break down.

          The example you provide conatins expectations and the idea of injustice. That is not the true cycle. The actual cycle is that of variations in the chromosomes that bring about a certain person. If you look objectively, there are physical atoms and molecules that go into the construction of the body. Then there are also spiritual “atoms” and “molecules” that go into the construction of the soul. There are infinite number of permutations and combinations in which all these factors combine to produce a person.

          So, a person is what he is. His memories are what they are. Memories are part of the current configuration of body and soul. One has to make the best out of the cards dealt to him, rather than trying to figure out why he is the way he is. Is this the result of some karma? Yes. But that karma is beyond that one person. It is a karma at a much larger, universal level.

          So, what can a person do about it? Can he straighten out the universal karma? It is like saying, “Can a cell straighten out the whole organism?”

          I think the answer is yes. I think that was what Buddha was trying to do. It is like a cell straightening out itself and the other cells around it, and this action then spreading out like a chain reaction reaching the level of the whole organism.

          For Buddha this “straightening out” was “mindfulness.” Mindfulness helps round up cycles toward completion. As smaller cycles get completed, the bigger cyles, of which they were a part, get completed, and then still bigger cycles get completed and so on. The universal karma is a very complex cycle.

          I came up with the above observation just now, so I have to look at it more thoroughly. But I hope this makes some sense.

          .

    • Chris Thompson  On September 22, 2013 at 1:05 AM

      Rizwan, I hope you continue in this direction of discovery and that you come to pleasing terms with yourself on these issues you are describing. ~Chris

  • Rizwan  On September 21, 2013 at 6:58 AM

    Vinay, Another question that comes up is this:

    When a person attains the knowledge of spiritual progress towards Nirvana, the freedom from cycles of birth and death, he has an inherent urge to share it with every one in the world to help them, which is what Buddha did and other philosophers did which gave rise to groups of thousands of people practising their methods.

    My imagination was that, as each individual attains Nirvana, or moves closer to Nirvana, the world becomes a better place due to the fact that it increases the ratio of number of “cleared” minds on the planet (or in the universe) to the number of “uncleared” minds. This should give rise to the entire planet becoming more and more ethical gradually and at one point, not needing any police, law and order, to maintain peace among all the populations in the world. The world becoming united is a possibility in such conditions.

    If the souls just vanish once they get Nirvana, none of those things can happen and it is not of any good for the people on earth that anybody attains Nirvana. So this doesn’t go well with the fact that they just don’t exist after Nirvana. How can this be explained?

    • vinaire  On September 21, 2013 at 9:54 AM

      Buddhas have attained nirvana. They are no longer there. But the knowledge they gave us will continue to be there, as it is part of the very fabric of this universe.

      • Rizwan  On September 22, 2013 at 8:56 AM

        So what we are left with is the knowledge the buddhas gave us. We have that knowledge for 2500 years (or may be even longer than that, that I don’t know of).

        Isn’t Desire one of the components of Dukkha, that keeps one from attaining Nirvana? If so, can anyone attain absolute Nirvana as long as they have a desire to make this world a better place, or a desire to make sure the knowledge is introduced into all the minds. So how can they just attain Nirvana and vanish away when the rest are still suffering here. Their attaining Nirvana does not improve the conditions here – that is my point. We had the knowledge before their Nirvana, and we have the knowledge after their Nirvana – there is no difference there.

        So my imagination is that the buddhas can go extremely close to Nirvana with the exception of a desire to help everyone else along the path, even if takes many, many generations for that to happen. Thus improving the conditions here.

        • vinaire  On September 22, 2013 at 3:51 PM

          Dukkha is as defined by Buddha in THE FIRST NOBLE TRUTH.

          The first Noble Truth of Buddha points to dukkha as something that needs to be understood. The term dukkha contains the ordinary meaning of ‘suffering’, but in addition it also includes deeper ideas, such as, ‘imperfection’, ‘impermanence’, ‘emptiness’, and ‘insubstantiality’. The way to happiness starts with a complete understanding of this term dukkha.

          The arising of Dukkha is defined by Buddha in THE SECOND NOBLE TRUTH.

          “As long as there is this ‘thirst’ to be and to become, the cycle of continuity (samsāra) goes on. It can stop only when its driving force, this ‘thirst’, is cut off through wisdom which sees Reality, Truth, Nirvāna.”

          So, the reason for Dukkha is much more specific than what you are alluding to in your post.

          .

  • Rizwan  On September 25, 2013 at 11:18 PM

    Thanks Vinay, I went through the two Noble Truths a couple of times. So the cause for Dukkha is not just desire, but desire to be, or become something, or derive sense-pleasures. And I was referring to the desire to help others on the path of Nirvana.

    However, I find it hard to accept that a buddha would just attain Nirvana never to return back though I am sure the buddha has the desire that everyone walk the same path – which is why I had asked that question.

    • vinaire  On September 26, 2013 at 5:33 AM

      What do you mean?

      Buddha is there in the person who is being mindful and following the eight-fold path.

      .

      • Rizwan  On September 26, 2013 at 10:04 PM

        Yes, now I get it.

        All the while, when I had accepted the statements that there is no soul behind the mental forces and energies, due to habit of old thinking there is a soul, I had been asking why buddhas don’t return. Well, there is nothing to return!

        This is how I get it now. A person IS a combination of all those 5 aggregates. (He doesn’t HAVE a combination of the aggregates.) Upon erasing mental formations (or As-Ising them), the aggregates vanish. If the individual is a combination of those aggregates, it is the person himself that is being vanished piece-by-piece by as-ising the mental formations. This is how I had understood before. But it is the habit of old thinking that made me wonder why buddhas don’t return. Is my understanding now correct? Close to being correct? Or far from being correct?

        By the way, with this understanding of a human being, a person, I think the word “individual” cannot be applied to a person, because he is a combination of many other ‘components’. Those components may not be individuals either.

        • vinaire  On September 27, 2013 at 1:20 AM

          A person is as individual, as the ‘center of mass’ of an object is “individual”.

          .

        • Chris Thompson  On September 27, 2013 at 2:28 AM

          I surely do like your model and analogy of center of mass.

          You bringing up the time scale a few times lately got me thinking that there may yet be some mileage to get from EMR as tone. Maybe not just in thescientology way, but in the disturbance in space, condensate etc.

        • Chris Thompson  On September 27, 2013 at 2:30 AM

          I like that I thought to use the word molt. LOL

    • Chris Thompson  On September 26, 2013 at 7:15 AM

      It is difficult to discuss attaining Nirvana with ambition. Desire to help others see one’s own correct, true path is ambitious and is where religion begins. Relaxing and letting our minds run without hindrance – possibly through practicing KHTK – can help demonstrate this to ourselves. It seems to me that we can try to help others relax but I do not think we can help them “attain Nirvana.” For instance, when my children go to bed, I do not tell them to sleep, I tell them to think nice thoughts and remember something nice that happened that day or think about something nice that they hope will happen tomorrow.

      • vinaire  On September 26, 2013 at 7:26 AM

        Beautiful and practical!

        .

      • Rizwan  On September 26, 2013 at 10:19 PM

        That sounds correct, Chris. “Desire to help others see one’s own correct, true path is ambitious and is where religion begins.” That is how every religion in history was created. I need to make some time for KHTK in my life.

        Though I understood the facts here, I still don’t like the fact that those who attain Nirvana don’t exist any more to return. I have not come to terms with it yet.

        • Chris Thompson  On September 27, 2013 at 2:23 AM

          Thank you Rizwan. Molting is not a comfortable process, but neither has been learning to play the guitar. But what we practice at we get better at and so it goes. When it becomes apparent to me that a thought or new idea is making me uncomfortable, I try to welcome that discomfort and embrace it. I seem to learn the most about myself at times like that.

          I sure do wish you well as you ask yourself hard questions.

    • vinaire  On September 26, 2013 at 7:30 AM

      Buddha was a Teacher. He was not a Pusher. He let the knowledge be out there. He let his knowledge be known. Those who came to him he provided guidance through teaching.

      Ultimately, it is up to a person to improve himself or herself. If a person wants to improve he or she can find the knowledge of Buddha to achieve that purpose.

      .

    • vinaire  On September 26, 2013 at 7:34 AM

      Hubbard was a Pusher. He was not a thorough researcher and reliable teacher. He did not make himself available to answer people’s questions.

      .

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