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In my thought existence is so humongous; we are nothing as individual when compared with the whole. We are comparable to the grain of sand, floating in a river. The grain of sand has two options--struggle against the flow of river or float freely with joy-- it has freedom to choose.

What is Buddha's way?

I believe following the strict code of conduct, like the one in monasteries - abstain from natural desires of lust or greed, can't enjoy pleasure even if they are in your reach. It is the way of struggle. It's painful, If enlightenment wasn't there as fruit to be got after this self-torture, no one would even bother to become a monk. While the way of Zen -- which isn't independent from Buddhism -- is certainly of another kind, to go with the flow it's joyous ride.

Out of them which way did Buddha preferred? Do modern Buddhists have any common opinion about it?

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  • Flow with the flow
    – User 29449
    Jan 15 at 7:31

6 Answers 6

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At least be constantly aware of the nature of existence. If you are aware of the nature of existence then there is no struggle because that is the Truth.

There are three marks of existence:

  1. All conditioned phenomena are impermanent.
  2. All conditioned phenomena are suffering.
  3. All conditioned and unconditioned phenomena are not self.
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In SN1.1, a female deva asked the Buddha how he crossed over the flood (go beyond samsara). The Buddha give an interesting reply. He said he did not stay still nor did he push forward and by so doing crossed over the flood.

It is the attachment to the body and the five senses (i.e. the five aggregates) with the accompanying pleasures and displeasures that characterized the flood or samsara as we know it. During the time of the Buddha, some renunciants realize that the attachment to sensual pleasure eventually caused suffering when the object of attachment is gone or when an object of aversion invades the senses. So, they tried to deny themselves any sensual delight through strict ascetism. They were under the impression that this form of self-torture would win them liberation from both pleasure and pain.

But the Buddha realized that going with the flow (what the world has to offer) or against the flow (denying and resisting everything that the world has to offer) was never going to be the solution. The root of the problem was always the mind and its attachments. To address these attachments, we have to recognize the value that we assign to the objects of attachment. When we see that these objects (e.g. wealth, fame, gain and pleasures) are inherently problematic (does not endure, is not-self or within our control and comes with lots of drawbacks), their perceived value began to drop. When their perceived value falls, our attachment too begin to diminishes.

This practice is an active process that happens with each waking moment. If we don’t actively see how our perceptions, feeling, thoughts and consciousness react in each contact and after every encounter with the world, we will passively revert to our habitual assigning of likes and dislikes, flowing along or against i.e. assigning perceived value without awareness. Perhaps this passive, habitual way of perceiving, feeling and thinking is what the world called free will. But will it lead to liberation of the mind? Or is it instead making us creatures of habits and fools?

Forcing the mind to actively examine and re-examine what is worthy and unworthy of attaching seems like going against the flow. But it is on the basis that there is something better and more worthy than anything the world has to offer. Is this true? Ehipassiko.

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    This answer is a good one, explaining SN 1.1.
    – ruben2020
    Jan 16 at 12:43
  • @ruben2020 thanks for the link. I hope readers will follow the link to read it. It is very informative.
    – Desmon
    Jan 16 at 14:04
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Firstly, enlightenment is not the fruit of a painful path. Enlightenment is the fruit of a path of non-sensual pleasure, i.e., meditative concentration, calm & bliss. This path of non-sensual pleasure is called 'The Middle Way' (SN 56.11).

Also, to go with the flow is both not a joyous ride & not related to any type of Buddhism.

As for freewill, it does not exist in Buddhism. Buddhism teaches the will is dependent upon ignorance, or otherwise, wisdom. For example, AN 9.7 says it is impossible for an Arahant (Fully Enlightened) to perform certain types of unwholesome actions. Therefore, an Arahant does not have freewill.

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  • Then what is "right freedom" for an Arahant? MN117: Sammādiṭṭhissa, bhikkhave, sammāsaṅkappo pahoti, sammāsaṅkappassa sammāvācā pahoti, sammāvācassa sammākammanto pahoti, sammākammantassa sammāājīvo pahot i, sammāājīvassa sammāvāyāmo pahoti, sammāvāyāmassa sammāsati pahoti, sammāsatissa sammāsamādhi pahoti, sammāsamādhissa sammāñāṇaṁ pahoti, sammāñāṇassa sammāv imutti pahoti.
    – OyaMist
    Jan 16 at 16:13
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    freedom from defilements & suffering Jan 16 at 20:43
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    "As for freewill, it does not exist in Buddhism." - you cannot just make up your own definitions like I do...you should base your statements on common intellectual property
    – blue_ego
    Jan 21 at 14:07
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Neither. Instead, the Buddha taught the middle way between over-indulgence in sensual pleasures and self-mortification.

“Bhikkhus, these two extremes should not be followed by one who has gone forth into homelessness. What two? The pursuit of sensual happiness in sensual pleasures, which is low, vulgar, the way of worldlings, ignoble, unbeneficial; and the pursuit of self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, unbeneficial. Without veering towards either of these extremes, the Tathagata has awakened to the middle way, which gives rise to vision, which gives rise to knowledge, which leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.
SN 56.11

"Going against the flow" has another reference in the suttas.

This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: "Suppose a man was being carried along by the flow of a river, lovely & alluring. And then another man with good eyesight, standing on the bank, on seeing him would say: 'My good man, even though you are being carried along by the flow of a river, lovely & alluring, further down from here is a pool with waves & whirlpools, with monsters & demons. On reaching that pool you will suffer death or death-like pain.' Then the first man, on hearing the words of the second man, would make an effort with his hands & feet to go against the flow.

"I have given you this simile to illustrate a meaning. The meaning is this: the flow of the river stands for craving. Lovely & alluring stands for the six internal sense-media. The pool further down stands for the five lower fetters. The waves stand for anger & distress. The whirlpools stand for the five strings of sensuality. The monsters & demons stand for the opposite sex. Against the flow stands for renunciation. Making an effort with hands & feet stands for the arousing of persistence. The man with good eyesight standing on the bank stands for the Tathagata, worthy & rightly self-awakened."
Iti 109

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There's a questionable dichotomy here between:

  • going with the flow, which is presented as a kind of libidinous surrender, and…
  • opposing the flow, which is offered as a sort of fruitless ascetic denialism.

I'd argue instead that the proper distinction is between using the flow and being used by it (or perhaps mastering the flow or being subject to it). Both abject surrender and strict opposition are at odds with the dharma; both lend themselves to craving and attachment. The point of practice isn't to abstain for the sake of abstaining. Practice teaches what it feels like to be without ego, so that when we go forward we can do without ego.

There's a passage from the daodejing that's useful:

The way is like the bending of a bow. The high is lowered, and the low is raised. If the string is too long, it is shortened; If there is not enough, it is made longer.

The thing to remember is that the purpose of bending a bow is to send an arrow. It's not an empty exercise. People want things always to rise and never to fall, and that makes their inner bow clumsy, weak, and ineffectual. It feeds dukkha and tanhā. Sitting on the cushion we learn to bend the bow properly. Rising from the cushion we launch an arrow.

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If we can agree that free will involves volition:

SN22.79 “And why, bhikkhus, do you call them volitional formations? ‘They construct the conditioned,’ bhikkhus, therefore they are called volitional formations. And what is the conditioned that they construct? They construct conditioned form as form; they construct conditioned feeling as feeling; they construct conditioned perception as perception; they construct conditioned volitional formations as volitional formations; they construct conditioned consciousness as consciousness. ‘They construct the conditioned,’ bhikkhus, therefore they are called volitional formations.

I prefer to read the suttas and see for myself.

MN80:16.11: In the same way, let a sensible person come—neither devious nor deceitful, a person of integrity. I teach and instruct them.
MN80:16.12: Practicing as instructed they will soon know and see for themselves,
MN80:16.13: ‘So this is how to be rightly released from the bond, that is, the bond of ignorance.’”

Many of us do the same. We do so because the suttas show different flavors teaching for different people. So the choice you make will depend on what you read in the suttas. Indeed, the question you are asking relates to this:

AN3.21:2.1: “Reverend Saviṭṭha, these three people are found in the world.
AN3.21:2.2: What three?
AN3.21:2.3: The direct witness, the one attained to view, and the one freed by faith.
AN3.21:2.4: These are the three people found in the world.
AN3.21:2.5: Of these three people, who do you believe to be the finest?”

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  • The Sujato translations of SN 22.79 appears wrong. Jan 14 at 22:58
  • Thank you. The word "choices" is perhaps divisive. Updated answer with Ven. Bodhi's translation.The point here is to get people to read and study the suttas.
    – OyaMist
    Jan 16 at 16:04
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    Thanissaro's appears the most accurate. Jan 16 at 20:42

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