In Buddhism we are encouraged to make the right choices, make the right effort, keep morality etc. it feels like our future is open. Kamma also points to that direction. The future will be created according to our actions!

On the other hand, on several occasions, the Buddha spoke about the future as if it were predetermined. A few examples: Person A will become a Buddha, true Dhamma will be replaced, people will live only 10 years, Maitreya Buddha will come etc.

It can be confusing! Is the future open? Do we know that some things will happen no matter what? Are they irreversible?

8 Answers 8


I think the best answer to this is in the concept of "noble silence" which is often described when the Buddha was asked such questions. Basically what it comes down to is, are you looking for answers to a lot of philosophical questions? If that's your main interest, then go to grad school in philosophy. On the other hand, if you're looking for guidance in a system of mental (and, sometimes, body) techniques that help you lighten up, not take yourself and your drama so seriously, and be kinder to other people, then buddhism may be able to provide that for you. As with everything else, though, there are no guarantees in life.

Now, hopefully that serves as a caveat that there isn't such a thing as a definitive buddhist answer to such metaphysical questions, (or a definitive answer, period) but I'll provide my own best shot at an answer. Free will and determinism don't have to be black and white. You feel like you could freely choose to walk any direction you want at the next moment, but actually you can't choose to walk straight up or down. There are some choices you get to make, and others that are constrained by causes and conditions. From a buddhist perspective, walking up and down is less important than the inner psychological constraints on your freedom that occur from your own afflictive emotions (klesha). So in some sense, you could say that the purpose of Buddhist practice is to help you move farther towards free will by dissolving or otherwise getting past the inter constraints of karma in your own mind, and in your chain of dependent origination.

  • Dear Friend, despite the beautiful text about Buddhist practices, I think you didn't touch the point very much, maybe you could elaborate more, please let me be clear that I am not look for philosophical questions or complex einsten theories here, Im discussing Buddhist texts and their consequences, so I think it can be classified as a Buddhist talk, anyway thanks for the answer
    – konrad01
    Aug 19, 2014 at 11:34

Let's say you're studying pottery and throwing a vase on the potter's wheel. Your teacher comes over and says "Too thin. This will collapse in the kiln."

The teacher has not predetermined the destruction of your pot, merely used his accrued experience and skill to predict an outcome.

Presumably the Buddha knew enough to predict who would be a future Buddha, how many future lifetimes they would have, how many centuries the dhamma would last after his death, etc.


This is definitely one of those things you'll need to figure out by yourself:

  • Are there events that happen without cause?
  • If every event happens due to a cause, can universe be nondeterministic?
  • Why is making choices critically important, whether the universe is deterministic or not?
  • What is the difference between absolute and relative perspective?
  • If universe was indeed deterministic why would Buddha still be a vocal opponent of fatalism?

DN 2 The Fruits of the Contemplative Life

Makkhali Gosala said ... There is nothing self-caused, nothing other-caused, nothing human-caused. There is no strength, no effort, no human energy, no human endeavor. All living beings, all life, all beings, all souls are powerless, devoid of strength, devoid of effort. Subject to the changes of fate, serendipity, and nature ...

AN 3.135 A blanket made of hair

Bhikkhus, ... of various recluses, Makkhali's view is the most miserable. Bhikkhus, Makkhali the foolish man is of this view: There is no action, there is nothing done, there is no effort.
Bhikkhus, a net thrown at the mouth of the river ensnares many fish, to their ill fate, unpleasantness and disaster in the same manner Makkhali the foolish man's net entices many sentient beings, to their ill fate, unpleasantness and disaster.

What matters most in Buddhism is not a metaphysical declaration ("there is free will!", "there is no free will!"), but the practical implications of adopting it. In sutras, Buddha often explains what happens to people who view things one way or another.

What would happen if we were to absolutely deny free will? Would we even try to improve our condition? Hardly!

What would happen if we were to absolutely affirm free will? Would we realize that people sometimes act not because they choose so, but under toxic influence of an emotion? Probably not. Would we understand how our choices are always influenced by the environment, and decide to avoid those influences that are harmful, and to increase exposure to beneficial influences? Unlikely.

That's why in Buddhism, we prefer to avoid making blanket statements like there is or there is no free will. We say: there is karma, our future depends on our past AND on decisions made in the present. If this was not so, we would not be able to end the suffering of samsara. On the other hand, we don't make an error of considering the so-called "subject" an independent entity, either. The world is a continuous network of causes/effects, with no gap between "inner" and "outer", BUT it is still up to every single practitioner (an "I") to make choices towards healthier life and cessation of suffering.


Do we know that some things will happen no matter what?

Indeed we do! We are all going to die one day, no matter what! Humans and animals age, no matter what! If a person dies with craving/ignorance still present in the mind, he/she will be born again, no matter what! If a person commits one of the 5 great sins, he/she can't attain Nibbana within the same life and will be born in hell the next life, no matter what! If a person becomes Sothapanna, he/she will attain Nibbana within 7 lives, no matter what! The world will come to an end one day, no matter what! Likewise, if a Bodhisattva gets the confirmation from a Buddha that he will become a Buddha in the future, it will happen no matter what!

If there are irreversible causes present for something to happen, you can't prevent it from happening. But that doesn't mean all causes are irreversible. So for certain things, the future is written in stone. Others you can change or influence.


It is useful to believe that we do have self will to the degree that we have the capacity to do wrong. We can feed our negative energies like sloth, torpor, ill will, anger etc. By not doing wrong we automatically do right. Which is why the sila is a list of prohibitions or inactions, and not a list of mandatory actions.

A notable feature of spiritual growth is the dropping away of self will. If one no longer thinks in terms of "I", that is really good progress. That is not an argument for a magical or fatalistic world view however.

Self will is only one of the several variables determining any outcome.

Sitting in meditation is a simple but good example. There are times when one desires a specific meditative state, puts in the necessary effort to attain it, and it has come to nought, the mind simply won't cooperate. There are other times when one has been scarcely seated in any deep concentration and the meditation automatically pays dividends beyond belief.

Ordinary mortals can predict the future too. Almanacs predict the time of sunrise with a knowledge of astronomy. Any of us can predict rain when we see a stormy sky. However in most walks of life we don't know what's going to happen next because we are ignorant of so many causes and conditions.

Buddhas and arhats predict the future by possessing an understanding of all the variables of reality. There is no magic.

The future depends on causes and conditions, if the dependant conditions change, the future changes.


In my opinion as Buddhism accepts the law of karma or 'what you saw is what you will reap' principle, it accepts the notion of free will. Destiny is created by the person himself.


A very good question,here is the answer.

First thing about the future as to Buddhism is that it is not completely fixed or completely open.

Here's an example...

If you toss a coin you know

  • It is going to fall down to earth
  • It could give either "Head" or "Tail"


The coin falling down is the fixed future,the coin is influenced by a natural force that we call gravity.So without any doubt and even before it happens you can say that the coin is going to fall.This is the technique used by Lord Buddha when predicting fixed future (Looking at the variables of an event an use logic and the reach of Buddha's mind to predict the conclusion).


But you can't predict the side of the coin whether it is going to be "Head" or "Tail".Now you see some room for action.This is when a Lord Buddha change the future events.When it is possible to make a positive change in a chain of events.

Let me provide some examples to the above (A) and (B) to make things more clear.

Example for (A)

If you see the story of "Devadatta thero" (the one who wanted to harm the life of Lord Buddha) you see a very good example for (A).

One day the question was asked from lord Buddha "Why Lord Buddha didn't helped Devadatta thero to become better."

Lord Buddha said "I wanted to help,i looked for any opportunity tosave him from what he would do.But it was clear that there is no helping Devadatta."

Here lord Buddha had to accept the future.

Example for (B)

When Lord Buddha saw that "Angulimaala" (The one who killed people to collect fingers) is about to kill his mother who will enter the forest to see him.Lord Buddha went there and stopped it.This event caused a nice chain reaction ("Angulimaala" became the famous "Angulimaala arahant").

This is a good example to a "Modifiable future".

So the conclusion is....

Future is not fully fixed or fully open.There is free will. But free will also make no difference (see how "Devadatta thero" time and time again to harm lord Buddha using his free will and choice,His free will did not make any difference).

Future is not predetermined.Some events are in a possibility that is so unchangeable,this is what causes the Fixed future.But some events are with certain variables that can be exploited to make a positive change in the events to occur,This makes the changeable future.

If you have any questions regarding the answer please leave a comment.

May triple gems bless you!


The Buddha taught the Middle Way. The Middle Way is free of the concepts of "free will" and "determinism". Both are true. Both are untrue. And yes it is confusing, but when one walks down the path of the Middle Way one has to leave their ideas and attachments of labels like "free will" behind. This is highly stressed in Zen. Zen practitioners use koans to help them transcend the unease and confusion of nonattachment to labels and ideas. "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" is one of the most widely known koan. Either way, being confused is a great state to be at.

I am studying equanimity (upeksha) right now. My zen teacher calls equanimity "letting go". Upeksha means equanimity, nonattachment, nondiscrimination,even-mindedness, or letting go. Upa means "over,"and iksh means "to look." You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other.

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