How is dependent-origination different from determinism?

If the world is dependently originated, then how is it different from a type of determinism?

If one’s current choice is determined completely by causes, then what is the need of decision making or effort?

How is this understood?

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It is a matter of context. Determinism as a theory is self-contained whereas dependent-origination in a buddhist context goes along with karma and free will. The distinction between wholesome and unwholesome actions, for instance, wouldn’t make any sense in a purely deteministic context but do make sense taking in account free will and karma.

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If actions in the past completely determined consequences in the future then no one could take action now to end suffering in the future.

If actions now did not determine future consequences (at all) then no one could take action now to end suffering.

If actions cannot determine consequences and non-actions
cannot determine consequences then actions plus non actions cannot determine consequences.

If actions and non actions cannot determine consequences then the negation of this combination (i.e something that is niether actions nor non actions) cannot determine consequences.


Without actions there cannot be said to be consequences of actions.

Where there actions there can be said to be consequences.

This is the basic argument of early buddhism;

That is that relations cannot be “total” relations in the sense of completely:

Determining or

A given entity.

Rather entities may relate to other entities in a dependent form:

Where there are As there must be Bs
In the absense of Bs there is an absense of As

And all this seems to line up very nicely with the contemporary picture from physics, where it is the case that

A photon with a well defined position cannot have a well defined momentum.

So a photon is something that cannot be said to have a position determined by its momentum, nor can it be said to have a momentum determined from its position.

QM is not a deterministic system in the sense that ypu allude to in the OP.

Dependent origination is completely different from determinism.
One’s action results in conditions of future.
But it does not determine his action.
He has free will.
He can choose what he wants even though the result or environment may be constrained by his own former deeds.
His current choice will also change the future environment, so he can change step by step.

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Good question. I’d personally say that, yes, dependent co-arising is a form of determinism, i.e., causal determinism.

Causes and conditions all form the foundation of our experience of the present moment. The question is really how much input ‘we’ have in the process. Our volitions themselves likely have a myriad of causes and conditions, from biology to upbringing and whatever external experiences we experience along the way. So from that POV, it’s difficult to say that there’s some sort of non-conditioned agency that makes unconditioned decisions within the process of dependent co-arising and, hence, making it non-deterministic. If there is one, I’ve yet to personally experience it at any rate.

That said, this process is complex Many of the causes and conditions in the form of kamma — our intentional actions, including those in the present moment — may make this process nonlinear and full of potential feedback loops with past and present actions and results all swirling about and interacting in complicated way, so it may not be a form of hard determinism. Nevertheless, because conditionality seems to suffuse our every experience of the world, it’s quite possibly some form of determinism still.

The key is that present causes, especially our volitional input, can make an impact even if they’re ultimately conditioned, therefore they’re still an important aspect within the process of dependent co-arising and why the Buddha places so much importance upon them—they can be conditioned to the point of realizing the cessation of the mental process of becoming-again (punabhava ).

In essence, within this causally deterministic system you can’t condition or create the unconditioned or even the experience of it, but you can condition an end to conditioning (a moment free from mental acts of attachment and intention), thereby opening up to the experience of the unconditioned already present and hidden in plain sight. Or as the Buddha put it:

"For a person who knows & sees things as they actually are, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May I feel disenchantment.’ It is in the nature of things that a person who knows & sees things as they actually are feels disenchantment.

"For a person who feels disenchantment, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May I grow dispassionate.’ It is in the nature of things that a person who feels disenchantment grows dispassionate.

"For a dispassionate person, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May I realize the knowledge & vision of release.’ It is in the nature of things that a dispassionate person realizes the knowledge & vision of release. (AN 11.2, Thanissaro)

There’s a level of reality that’s intellectually unknowable to us, and we must paradoxically submit to the unknown, rest in it, become one with it by being able to let go of what isn’t ours. In some sense, we’re powerless because there’s a limit to our agency, to what we can will and achieve in this world. We are not free from causality. "When this is, that is. From the arising of this comes the arising of that. “When this isn’t, that isn’t. From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that” (MN 38).

And the lesson for us to somehow learn is that, to achieve a glimpse of ultimate reality, we must set aside all desires and grasping and acts of will, and in the midst of that silent awareness free from our normal experience of space and time and sense of self, we can touch the deathless and become liberated. The unknown is thus known, not through our intellect or striving or act of will, but through a direct experience of, dare I say, divine emptiness in the depths of our heart. Something quite difficult yet effortless to achieve if the conditions are right.

Or some such nonsense like that.

The OP observation is correct, DO is an automatic process so there’s no need to know any thing about it to progress on the path. On the other hand the active side of the path is where effort needs to be applied and where appropriate attention selects constructive from unconstructive input and is composed of the “Wings to Awakening” structures:

“Thus for him, having thus developed the noble eightfold path, the four frames of reference go to the culmination of their development. The four right exertions… the four bases of power… the five faculties… the five strengths… the seven factors for Awakening go to the culmination of their development. [And] for him these two qualities occur in tandem: tranquillity & insight.”

—Majjhima Nikaya 149

They differ in purpose, and how each is applied. For example, with a stretch of imagination, you can use the law of gravity to explain how flowers blossom, but that would not be the best use of the law of gravity.

As such, discerning differences is best served by observing ends. The last link in DO is Jarāmaraṇa, of which the use of determinism constitutes a speculative view. For example, a determinist would agree that birth is the cause or the condition for death, and would believe that this is a point of agreement with Buddha dhamma, but what s/he fails to see is that determinism is the cause of all kind of speculations about the inevitability of death. If everything works through causal links, then discovering the missing link would lead scientists to find a solution to the problem of death, so we should continue to try with the same approach, which makes us feel a degree of control over our destiny and makes the future appear predictable.

Determinists keep on trying because they do not really believe in what they are saying. If everything is predetermined by its causes, then why should we even try.

The fact that “a waterfall” can only happen if there is “water” can be understood as determinism.
The fact that all the possible waterfalls and all the possible waters will be a direct and calculable consequence of the present conditions is what is commonly understood as Determinism.

What comes to be is a mixture between past action/intention and present action/intention. So in a way is both deterministic and un-deterministic.