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Free will and Kamma?

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  • Free will and Kamma?

    What is the relationship between free will and Kamma. For example I understand we have the ability to make choices but then at the same time our circumstances are heavily governed by our past actions (kamma). Where is the line? or How much free will do we in fact have in our normal circumstances?

  • #2
    Hi Andrew,

    Our choices are conditioned by processes that are out of control. So there is no free will. There are still choices, but these happen without any "me" influencing them. It only seems as if there is a "me", but this is an illusion.

    In the Buddhist texts another word used often for karma is sankhara. And in SN22.51 for example sankhara are said to be "not me, not mine, not my self" because they can't be controlled.

    Approaching these things from an intellectual view isn't always helpful. It only makes real sense when your ability to control things actually disappears, which is in deep meditation. Otherwise it will always seem like there is an ability to choose. And it is exactly that illusion---thinking we can control things---that causes choices to be karma. An enlightened being still chooses in a sense, but they don't see it as somebody choosing, and therefore it doesn't create karma.

    Karma is often misunderstood in that in governs all we do and choose. But this is too technical a way of thinking about karma. The main reason the Buddha had for teaching karma is to tell that bad actions (karma) lead to bad rebirth, and good actions to good rebirth. It's not about everything being determined or something. That's taking things too far, and may be something from the Abhidhamma or something, but not the Buddha.

    Hope this helps. Again, the main thing is that this might make little sense intellectually. It makes more sense in meditation.

    With kindness,




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