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You see, there is only one constant, one universal, it is the only real truth: causality. Action. Reaction. Cause and effect. (...) Choice is an illusion, created between those with power, and those without. (...) Beneath our poised appearance, the truth is we are completely out of control. Causality. There is no escape from it, we are forever slaves to it.

-- The Merovingian, The Matrix Reloaded

I've read/listened somewhere that the illusion of control and choice is a source of suffering. Does the Buddhist see it in a unyielding manner as the Merovingian?

Does different groups of Buddhism view this point differently?

EDIT:

Please complement your answers. Beyond the views on causality (deterministic or stochastic perception) how these views relate to suffering? Is there relation between suffering and how someone perceives choice? The misunderstanding of causality and control can produce suffering?

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If I could be as bold as to identify the viewpoint of Buddhism in terms of western philosophy, I would say Buddhist position on free will is close to that of Compatibilism (see the Wikipedia entry).

Basically, on one hand, the universe can be seen as deterministic. On the other hand, our choice-making is what objectively leads to our outcomes, so even if our choices are metaphysically determined by various factors, bad choices still lead to bad results, and good choices -- to good results.

From this perspective, Buddhism provides a way to escape the inherent dominance of the deterministic universe, through exercising control over your mind. Because our experience of existence is 100% assembled by the mind, we have leverage over our experience.

In Buddhist philosophy it is not the illusion of control that is the source of suffering, it is the clinging to something that you think is supposed to be a certain way while in fact it is not. Basically, clinging to illusions.

The entirety of Buddhist path can be seen as the quest for Freedom through mastery of mind. "Mastery" means, as my Zen Master says, to operate mind, instead of letting mind operate you.

  • If your choices are metaphysically determined, there is no true freedom. The person who escapes the deterministic universe is merely being determined by a higher force which other people have not been lucky enough to receive. Essentially the same as the Calvinism tradition in Christianity. There is no true compatibilist position, compatibilism is an illusion. – yters Sep 28 '14 at 18:17
  • If you choose to think so ;) – Andrei Volkov Sep 28 '14 at 18:27
  • But seriously, your consideration above is at kindergarten level, the level of objectified logic. You take your mental constructs and assume them to fully express the ontological. But in reality, "ontological" is infinitely multifaceted. Buddhism goes far beyond simplistic single-faceted metaphysics. As my Zen Master said, learn to operate your mind, instead of letting your mind operate you. – Andrei Volkov Sep 28 '14 at 18:41
  • Right, if you don't want to care about logic and consistency, anything goes. But, if we are dealing with logic here, then what I say is correct. Of course, you can just insult me instead of responding to my point :) I guess us kindergarteners deal with logic and reason, and adults just deal in insults.... – yters Oct 4 '14 at 1:48
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    Yes, the way you rushed to dismiss a 2600 years old living philosophical tradition you know virtually nothing about as "essentially the same as the Calvinism", is nothing but childish. Your conclusion that deterministic universe is incompatible with freedom is based on your (implied) assumption that freedom means an agent capable of action independent of any cause. But Buddhism operates in a different frame of reference, phenomenological, rather than mechanistic. From phenomenological perspective, experience of freedom is freedom, because experience covers 100% of our ... er... experience :) – Andrei Volkov Oct 4 '14 at 2:06
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causality. Action. Reaction. Cause and effect

This is agreeable with Theravada Buddhism. This is dealt in dependent origination

Choice is an illusion, created between those with power, and those without

Not relevant. As there is no one with absolute power nor are we puppets to some external force.

Having said this. We do have some degree of choice in the present moment, which has some degree of influence on the future which hence some level of influence of the future.

the truth is we are completely out of control

Do not aggree. We have some degree of control but not absolute control (Anatta nature, marks of existence), i.e., fuzzy, stochastic and complex.

Causality. There is no escape from it, we are forever slaves to it.

Do not agree.

By understanding cause and effect (dependent origination) you can break out of this vicious circle and attain Nirvana. You are at Nirvana when you break the cycle of dependent origination, hence free from cause and effect.

Also cause and effect in Buddhism is more like:

Hence we not completely enslaved nor are we completely free from it. We have some degree of choice but not absolute choice. (Refer to marks of existence)

Is there relation between suffering and how someone perceives choice?

Also any form of perception clouds your view of reality. So any perception regarding choice also results in misery as you are looking through coloured glass (See Moha and Avidyā in the 3 unwholesome roots).

  • Even though your "we are somewhat free" position is not ultimately satisfying, for practical purposes this is a great answer, +1. – Andrei Volkov Sep 28 '14 at 17:19
  • @Suminda Is it because of karma that you say we don't have total control? – dmsp Sep 29 '14 at 11:47
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    Annatha nature of existence. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Sep 29 '14 at 11:49
  • Why don't you give that reason in the answer then? That makes it more easier to grasp what you say :) – dmsp Sep 29 '14 at 12:00
  • OK edited it. See if it is OK now. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Sep 29 '14 at 12:21
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This says,

In this way, the Buddha points to one of the most distinctive features of his own teaching on kamma: that the present experience of pleasure and pain is a combined result of both past and present actions. This seemingly small addition to the notion of kamma plays an enormous role in allowing for the exercise of free will and the possibility of putting an end to suffering before the effects of all past actions have ripened. In other words, this addition is what makes Buddhist practice possible, and makes it possible for a person who has completed the practice to survive and teach it with full authority to others. For more on these points, see the articles, "Karma," "A Refuge in Skillful Action," and "Five Piles of Bricks"; see also the Introduction to The Wings to Awakening, along with the introductions to the sections on Skillfulness and Kamma & the Ending of Kamma in that book.

I think the summary is that, although the past affects the present, and the present affects the future, nevertheless we can also choose (control ourselves) in the present, which affects the extent to which we're liberated now.

I looked through the hyperlinks quoted above; and what seemed to me the most relevant snippet/extract/highlight from each links were:

  • Kamma

    So, instead of promoting resigned powerlessness, the early Buddhist notion of karma focused on the liberating potential of what the mind is doing with every moment. Who you are — what you come from — is not anywhere near as important as the mind's motives for what it is doing right now. Even though the past may account for many of the inequalities we see in life, our measure as human beings is not the hand we've been dealt, for that hand can change at any moment. We take our own measure by how well we play the hand we've got. If you're suffering, you try not to continue the unskillful mental habits that would keep that particular karmic feedback going. If you see that other people are suffering, and you're in a position to help, you focus not on their karmic past but your karmic opportunity in the present: Someday you may find yourself in the same predicament that they're in now, so here's your opportunity to act in the way you'd like them to act toward you when that day comes.

    This belief that one's dignity is measured, not by one's past, but by one's present actions, flew right in the face of the Indian traditions of caste-based hierarchies, and explains why early Buddhists had such a field day poking fun at the pretensions and mythology of the brahmans. As the Buddha pointed out, a brahman could be a superior person not because he came out of a brahman womb, but only if he acted with truly skillful intentions.

  • Skillfulness

    The most basic lesson he learned was that mental skills can be developed.

  • The Khandhas

    Instead, it quotes him as saying that to define yourself in any way is to limit yourself, and that the question, "What am I?" is best ignored. This suggests that he formulated the concept of the khandhas to answer other, different questions. If, as meditators, we want to make the best use of this concept, we should look at what those original questions were, and determine how they apply to our practice.

  • The Awakening

    After trying several false paths, including formless mental absorptions and physical austerities, he happened on the path that eventually worked: bringing the mind into the present by focusing it on the breath and then making a calm, mindful analysis of the processes of the mind as they presented themselves directly to his immediate awareness. Seeing these processes as inconstant, stressful, and not-self, he abandoned his sense of identification with them. This caused them to disband, and what remained was Deathlessness (amata-dhamma), beyond the dimensions of time and space. This was the happiness for which he had been seeking.

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As I understand it, the teaching is that the simple picture of "cause and effect" that dominates the western / scientific view is a fiction, because every cause has many effects and every effect has many causes. With this in mind, the notion of personal choice is seen to be, perhaps too simple to be explanatory. Choicelessness is therefore also untrue, and so with anything "personal". It all unravels in the light of awareness.

The questioner asked how this influences / brings about suffering. Pushing on a door which is locked, or opens the other way, will produce suffering. Wrong ideas about anything will inevitably lead to choices that do more harm than good. Does this answer the question?

I referred to the above noted Wikipedia article on Prattiyasamutpada for this analysis. This stuff need not be so complicated! Nor need anyone judge others. - Peace

  • I like the question's reference to The Matrix movies. I call a person who is (somewhat) free of ego but with the point of view of a Self, a "Neo". – user2341 Nov 7 '14 at 13:13
  • "Does this answer the question?" My doubt is wether choice itself is a source of suffering. Trying to always make the correct choices, or make the most correct choices can produce suffering? Trying to bend causality does produce suffering? – eric Mar 9 '15 at 22:38

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