Free-will and EBT

If life is just a set of conditions, a process, that is extinguished, like a flame, by achieving Nibbana, with no residual, surely logic dictates that the process predetermines the outcome? In other words, once the conditioned process is initiated, the date and time of its extinction are fixed or there is no extinction, so why bother practising the Dhamma.

On the other hand, if there is free-will which is independent of the conditioned process, a free-will that can change the course of the process, what is it outside of the conditioned process that exercises this free-will?

What do the EBT say about free-will, or the non-existence of it?

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You may want to read this thread first:


Thank you Bhante.

I have read the posts that you referenced, but I feel that none of them answered the question. Rather, they expanded on the problems associated with the concept of non-conditioned consciousness interacting with conditioned consciousness and what this means for Nibbana, a subject of great and recent discussion.

This issue does not seem to be addressed with any clarity in the EBT. I am fine with this position, by the way, because knowing or not knowing the answer is not a pre-requisite to the practice of Dhamma.

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I feel like AN 6.38 pretty much answers the question as far as I’m concerned, but yeah… people love to read the suttas in obtuse ways that justify their own ambivalence :joy:

Best of luck in your practice! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:


Venerable. My view is AN 6.38 represents conventional reality but SN 12.17, SN 12.18, SN 45.1 & MN 117 represent the ultimate reality on this matter. In other words, when the following occurs, the can be no free will. :melting_face:

Mendicants, ignorance precedes the attainment of unskillful qualities, with lack of conscience and prudence following along.
Avijjā, bhikkhave, pubbaṅgamā akusalānaṁ dhammānaṁ samāpattiyā, anvadeva ahirikaṁ anottappaṁ.
Wrong view gives rise to wrong thought.
SN 45.1

In this context, right view comes first.
Tatra, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi pubbaṅgamā hoti.
Right view gives rise to right thought.
MN 117

In this case, you’ve got no choice except to practice dhamma have you? The practicing of dhamma is part of the process.

“Venerable sir, this is half of the holy life, that is, good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship.”

“Not so, Ānanda! Not so, Ānanda! This is the entire holy life, Ānanda, that is, good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship. When a bhikkhu has a good friend, a good companion, a good comrade, it is to be expected that he will develop and cultivate the Noble Eightfold Path.
SN 45.2

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I think you may be confusing free-will and volition. They are not the same, although closely related. Volition is very much in the kamma/vipaka loop. Free-will, by definition, is not.

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Exactly my point (not that I agree with the sentiment of destiny). In a conditioned, pre-determined process when you practise would be established at the beginning of the process.

Why would logic dictate that? Could you express your thinking in a syllogism to make the line of reasoning clearer?

I wonder, have you known any case of a Buddhist who claims that the achievement of Nibbāna is something predetermined? Wouldn’t this be like the fatalism of Makkhali Gosāla, wherein a being is freed from suffering merely by transmigrating a certain fixed number of times?


What I was trying to get at, is in your first example you are trying to have it both ways.

Everything is determined.

Except you’ve got free will to not practice dhamma.

So I’m suggesting that there is an error in the question here.

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People create their own karma. They have a large false control here in this Saha World.

Blaming authentic Spirituality for problems created by ordinary men has brought down many Nations and Empires.

Namo Buddhaya.

If you line up a set of dominos, once you push over the first one, the fate of the last one is pre-determined. If one was to argue that something, like the wind, could interfere with the dominos and cause a different outcome, then my question is, what would interfere with Kamma? In this example, even the wind is a condition. A butterfly flaps its wing in Brazil and a Hurricane develops of Japan.

I am not of the view that achievement of Nibbana is predetermined, but I am interested in knowing the EBT foundation for the view that a “the process of existence” ceases like a flame if there is no interference with Kamma. How can the flame go out if there is no interference with the natural law of cause and effect? And, if there is inference, how is this referred to in the text, or not. What is it that interferes with Kamma?

The Natural Law of Cause and Effect can Cause you to become Enlightened, but you are the one practicing Buddhism to put this Law into place!

Then, some say “You are nothing but your karma.”

This is only in effect if you consider all of your actions karma, be they good, bad, Metta, or Enlightened.

I have also not yet found an explanation from EBT circles.

In the past, I have read something regarding this from Orthodox circles.

  • Free-will is the first extreme
  • Determinism is the other extreme
  • There is Conditioned-will (which is the volition or kamma)

Bhante would correct me if I have badly read.


Free will isn’t relevant.

Intentions are produced either by the 3 poisons or lack of 3 poisons.

What determines the lack of 3 poisons is when one is “contaminated” per se, by Supermundane right view.

What determines an agent of volition to continue pursuing Supermundane right view is the incremental observable benefit, lack of stress, that arises as a result of it.

So another way to view it is those fungal slime spores that take the path of least resistance. Suppose 99.99% of the spores take the single path, which would be considered the default natural path, but then every once in a while the ground or surface cracks and a rare hidden path is revealed, then that 0.01% of slime spores will stumble on it as a matter of probability, and if that path is more efficient and less resistant, a larger portion of spores will follow suit.

Free will here is irrelevant. In other words: once you know better, you can’t go back to worse. People don’t choose to be ignorant, and once you’re no longer ignorant, you can’t “unsee”, so there’s no going back from knowing better.

So neither ignorance nor wisdom is a choice.

You don’t. Nibbana is guaranteed from the moment you’re exposed to and understand Supermundane Right view. Whether it takes 1 moment, 1 day, or 7 years/lives is also a matter of faculties and environmental circumstances.

Again, once someone knows better, there’s no going back to ignorance. It’s irreversible.

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The conclusion doesn’t really follow logically from the premise. It’s equally right to ask ‘why bother not practicing the Dhamma’ if life is just a set of conditions.

My impression from the free-will debate is that people really mean a doer, a self which can be given credit for choosing to practice, an entity which is the explanation of ‘why’ one choice was made and not another.

Like, “what’s the point of enlightenment if I can’t use it to flex on those noobs who don’t have the strength of will to do what I did” :stuck_out_tongue: :cowboy_hat_face: :joy: (this is a joke not a claim about attainment)

Edit: As a thought experiment, can a machine have free will? If you don’t think so, but think humans do, you’re probably actually thinking about a self rather than “will” per se.

That’s not what I was suggesting. As I said (in the very next line),

Let me try once again:

In the OP there were two options. The first option was:

Then in that same sentence, following that first option was a question which said:

I’m saying that this sentence:

doesn’t make sense as a question, because the first part of that option is declaring a causal process, whereas the follow up question (after the last comma) is suggesting that there is free will to make the choice not to follow the path. The OP first option is trying to ‘have it’s cake and eat it’. It’s suggesting that you can have free will within a determined process.

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Ah, agreed.

As a side note, it is also possible to have a form choice within determinism, such as using conditions, just like a computer program makes a choice when programmed with an if statement or a switch. Just like a mouse in a maze has a choice within the limited scope.

But this choice is not necessary free will either, as free will would require true random, which physicists like John Bell believe does exist.

But still, just because true random does exist in the universe it doesn’t mean the ego and dukkha are subject to it, just like building a car isn’t subject to true random.


It is precisely volition that “interferes” with kamma. Most of the time volition simply produces new kamma, but it is possible, through asceticism and effacement and discernment and the whole N8P, to come to disown and dis-identify with kamma, thereby transcending it. If it’s not yours, it’s not really kamma anymore in the mundane sense. So, to answer

It is via the cause of a kammic process that intentionally renounces itself that the flame goes out, as it is the “selfing” process of ownership that keeps the flame going. Once the flame goes out permanently, whatever happens after is irrelevant.