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I'm just trying to understand the concept of anatta better here. Buddhism tells me there is the concept of no-self (anatta), and even the so called conditional self is actually an illusion that arises out of my ignorance (correct me if I'm wrong).

But psychology tells me on the other hand, that there exists something called Volition or Will. From Wikipedia:

Volition or will is the cognitive process by which an individual decides on and commits to a particular course of action.

So you see, there needs to be an individual or self who needs to take the decision or make the will, so to speak. As a practical example, I decide to lift my hand right now, and lo and behold! my hand is lifted instantly. So, who is this decision-maker or will-maker that made the decision of lifting the hand? You say there is no self?

Now saying that the conditional self made the decision is not something I'm going to buy. How can anything as lowly as an illusion, decides to take control of things and make an impact on the real world? It is just an illusion after all. That's the reason I'm unable to bring anatta in sync with this practicality of life, however hard I try. Please care explain how do you explain volition if anatta is a reality?

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    see also the other topics tagged free-will – ChrisW Feb 20 '15 at 0:07
  • ...and also: what is the precise meaning of anatta – Thiago Feb 20 '15 at 1:35
  • ...and also, how permanent is an individual will/self after 20,40,60,80,... years of life? – Gottfried Helms Feb 20 '15 at 12:39
  • @GottfriedHelms - An argument could be made that since rebirth is a truism under Buddhism, my will in this current birth, would be the same as my will in the next birth, because in both cases, it would be willing based on the same conditional self (though the conditions or aggregates themselves might change in the course of a rebirth). – Shinu Jacob Feb 20 '15 at 14:21
  • However hard you try, except the Buddha's recommend path will not understand what anatta or willing is not belong to you., – Shrawaka Oct 16 '15 at 12:26

14 Answers 14

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decision-maker or will-maker are words, that is not what is actually happening but if you think words describe ultimate reality you get into this trap "decision is made therefore there is a maker, logic". It is logical but the word " Decision" would not be useful if trying to describe the position and properties of every particle in the universe, that would be a more accurate description of what is happening. In example "2+2=4" logical, try mix 2 ml alcohol + 2ml alcohol and it you wont get 4ml alcohol, some will evaporate. Words are useful but only conventionally, next thing you will think that because universe seems to be created there must be a creator. It is a misunderstanding of what words are and communication in general.

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"I'm just trying to understand the concept of anatta better here. Buddhism tells me there is the concept of no-self (anatta) [...] (correct me if I'm wrong)."

I'll quote @suminda's sucint description of anatta here:

Saying there is no self is a bit of a mistranslation or abbreviated translation. A better translation would be "there is nothing you can take as me, mine or self, which is permanent, non changing and persistent;"

When the suttas (and, consequently, the Buddha) speak of anatta, often they understand atta/self to be:

  • a fixed/unchanging essence
  • an eternal essence
  • an essence that is never dukkha
  • an essence that is under your complete control

In summary, Buddha's doctrine teaches how to observe every single aspect of yourself raising and ceasing, and under which conditions they do so. At the end, one comes to the conclusion that every aspect of what constitutes "him/her self" is conditioned: raises and ceases under certain conditions. Therefore, in summary, one concludes nothing possessing all the features above can be found.

As illustration, Nagasena and King Milinda debate:

[...] "How then did you come on foot, or on a mount?"

"I did not come, Sir, on foot, but on a chariot."

"If you have come on a chariot, then please explain to me what a chariot is. Is the pole the chariot?"

"No, Reverend Sir!"

"Is then the axle the chariot?" No.."Is it then the wheels, or the framework, of the flag-staff, or the yoke, or the reins, or the goad-stick?"..."Then is it the combination of poke, axle, wheels, framework, flag-staff, yoke, reins, and goad which is the "chariot"?"... "Then, is this "chariot" outside the combination of poke, axle, wheels, framework, flag-staff, yoke, reins and goad?"

"No, Reverend Sir!"

"Then, ask as I may, I can discover no chariot at all. This "chariot" is just a mere sound. But what is the real chariot? Your Majesty has told a lie, has spoken a falsehood! There is really no chariot!

-- Milinda Panha

Above, Nagasena is alluding to an "essence of the chariot", and showing there isn't one, as an analogy. It's said "illusion" because it's easy to believe something inside is unchanging, etc. Naturally, we say "you" and "I" and "myself", as this is useful and understandable in the day-to-day. And I'm pretty sure I'm writing this right now (or, to be more precise, the experience of writing this text right now is been felt). This is no illusion.

"But psychology tells me on the other hand, that there exists something called Volition or Will."

Buddhism psychology also refers to volition, calling it cetanā. In general, it is grouped in the saṅkhāra-khandha.

"So you see, there needs to be an individual or self who needs to take the decision or make the will, so to speak."

It's not necessarily true that an individual (unchanging, etc) self needs to be. It is quite possible for a composition of ephemeral "things" (of which "volition" can be a part of, as well as a nervous system, and so on) connected to each other, to interact and, in this interaction, things happen -- and complex behavior appear. (Biologists and computer scientists are no strangers to systems "that have no core", composed by simple parts, but exhibit complex behavior).

[Edit] "As a practical example, I decide to lift my hand right now, and lo and behold! my hand is lifted instantly" In the comments: "what was the decision to lift the arm right now conditioned or caused by?"

I understand that our (unenlightened) volitions, individually (like writing this text), are caused by delusions, desires and aversions -- and perhaps "habits" which is also a placeholder for subtler or deeper kinds of desires and aversions. With the cessation of the specific desires/aversions (by their consummation or extinguished otherwise) there is the cessation of the specific volition. In the Buddha's words:

"Monks, these three are causes for the origination of actions. Which three? Greed is a cause for the origination of actions. Aversion is a cause for the origination of actions. Delusion is a cause for the origination of actions.

-- Nidana Sutta: Causes AN 3.33

The above actions are said to "generate kamma fruits". That is, they are seeds that are capable of germinate, to come to fruition.

"What about an Arahant?", you ask. As far as the texts go, an Arahant still possesses the 5 aggregates, and naturally still perform actions. Supposedly, these are directed by volitions. However, it is said such actions are not "tainted" and have a distinct quality due to the "cool down" of his deepest clinging and cravings. There is no desire for "having" or "becoming". In the same sutta above, the Buddha continues:

"Now, these three are [further] causes for the origination of actions. Which three? Non-greed is a cause for the origination of actions. Non-aversion is a cause for the origination of actions. Non-delusion is a cause for the origination of actions.

"Any action performed with non-greed — born of non-greed, caused by non-greed, originating from non-greed: When greed is gone, that action is thus abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising.

Finally, in a higher perspective, the general form of the paṭiccasamuppāda formula has kamma volition (or, more specifically, saṅkhāra*) conditioned by ignorance -- that is, with the cessation of ignorance, there is the cessation of saṅkhāra. I understand this is not about a specific volition like raising an arm, but all volitions [whose kamma may come to fruition].

(*)Note this saṅkhāra is not considered to be the same as saṅkhāra-khanda mentioned above

"So, who is this decision-maker or will-maker? You say there is no self?"

One way of seeing it is that there is decision as a product of interacting processes. I guess one is free to call volition the decision-maker on his own. But, according to Buddhism, regarding that volition/"decision-maker" possessing the features in the list above is a faulty view, and under careful scrutiny, it should show it's true nature (perhaps just as atoms, under careful scrutiny, were shown to be not atomic at all).

  • Excellent answer Thiago, Sir. Regarding decision as a product of interacting processes, I would like to ask you about the hand parable I've mentioned elsewhere on this thread: Suppose I (the conditioned-self) decided to lift my hand right now. If the I is conditioned, then what was the decision to lift the arm right now conditioned or caused by? (Karma or just randomness or what?). – Shinu Jacob Feb 20 '15 at 5:29
  • As a corollary to my hand parable, suppose, instead of me, a hypothetical arahant decides to lift his hand right now. Since he has zero karma and nothing conditioned now, where would the decision come from? Or are you saying that he won't be able to lift the hand at all out of his free will? – Shinu Jacob Feb 20 '15 at 5:31
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    You are hungry so you decide to eat. You ate chinese food yesterday, so you feel like eating something else today. You remember that you don't have much food left at home, so you go to a nearby restaurant. The decisions you made to lift yourself to the restaurant and eat, is dependent on your mental formations (thoughts, memories etc.). You think it's free will because nobody forced you to do it, but it was conditioned by past experiences. – ruben2020 Feb 20 '15 at 6:13
  • @ShinuJacob I edited to incorporate some explanations for these questions. – Thiago Feb 20 '15 at 8:23
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    @ShinuJacob btw, is not that an Arahant has "zero karma". If he is a living sentient being, he still carries the 5 aggregates, and he is well equipped with volition. His aggregates are said to be "his past karma" and these past karma still come to fruition as long as he does not reaches parinirvana. But his volition is not tainted, so his current actions (current karma) are said to not come to fruition in the future. – Thiago Feb 20 '15 at 8:40
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I will try to prove that volitional formations are no proof of Self.

Volition is one of the few things conditional Self is made up of.

Is Volitional formations permanent or impermanent ? It is impermanent. You can show free will now but you will be thrown into situations where you will have no free will. There will be times when things will not happen according to your will. When you have free will you will say " I have found myself" and when you will have no free will you will say " I have lost myself".Clearly presence of free will is no sign of self because you can exist even without the presence of free will.

Is what is impermanent cause of suffering? Yes it is cause of suffering.

Is what is impermanent ,cause of suffering and changeable fit to be regarded as 'Me, mine or myself'? No.

Therefore any kind of volitional formation whatsoever, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, all volitional formations should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: 'This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.'

Now saying that the conditional self made the decision is not something I'm going to buy. How can anything as lowly as an illusion, decides to take control of things and make an impact on the real world? It is just an illusion after all. That's the reason I'm unable to bring anatta in sync with this practicality of life, however hard I try. Please care explain how do you explain volition if anatta is a reality?

You will have to admit that the conditional self made the decision when it can. Illusion is not lowly. And the world is not as real as you think. I will explain below.

As far my understanding goes all phenomenon are transitory. World is a phenomenon.Whatever had a beginning must have an end. The world had a beginning and therefore it must have an end.Therefore world is an illusion too because eventually it will pass away like an error or illusion or like a dream.

World is also the cause of suffering.

World is also nonself.

Therefore saying that a "lowly" illusion of Self is causing an impact on "real" world is wrong.

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How can anything as lowly as an illusion, decides to take control of things and make an impact on the real world? It is just an illusion after all. That's the reason I'm unable to bring anatta in sync with this practicality of life, however hard I try.

I don't see why an illusion can't be in control of things. Please allow me to quote William James, a highly regarded psychologist from past century:

We perceive, for instance, that the door is open, and we rise and shut it; we perceive some raisins in a dish before us, and extend our hand and carry one of them to our mouth without interrupting the conversation; or, when lying in bed, we suddenly think that we shall be late for breakfast, and instantly we get up with no particular exertion or resolve. All the ingrained procedures by which life is carried on—the manners and customs, dressing and undressing, acts of salutation, etc.— are executed in this semi-automatic way unhesitatingly and efficiently, the very outermost margin of consciousness seeming to be concerned in them, while the focus may be occupied with widely different things. -The Will, William James

If all the actions that involve volition can happen without volition as well, can volition be assumed to exist and be only under the control of a self ? This is in reference to your question:

So you see, there needs to be an individual or self who needs to take the decision or make the will, so to speak. As a practical example, I decide to lift my hand right now, and lo and behold! my hand is lifted instantly. So, who is this decision-maker or will-maker that made the decision of lifting the hand? You say there is no self?

I'm going to quote William James again... Its an excellent analysis, my advice is to read the whole piece for (non-buddhist) commentary on volition and self.

One object, by its presence, makes us act: another object checks our action. Feelings aroused and ideas suggested by objects sway us one way and another: emotions complicate the game by their mutual inhibitive effects, the higher abolishing the lower or perhaps being itself swept away. The life in all this becomes prudential and moral; but the psychologic agents in the drama may be described, you see, as nothing but the 'ideas' themselves,—ideas for the whole system of which what we call the 'soul' or 'character' or 'will' of the person is nothing but a collective name. As Hume said, the ideas are themselves the actors, the stage, the theatre, the spectators, and the play. -The Will, William James

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If anatta is a reality, then how do you explain Volition or Will?

The doctrine of Anatta is very deep and cannot be fully understood by the intellect.

If you like to understand what this is about, you would have to do insight meditation. When observing mental and physical phenomena as they arise and pass away in the mind and body, Anatta will eventually be realized, i.e. if one practices correctly and diligently.

Intellectually one can understand Anatta as being the uncontrollable and ungovernable nature of conditioned phenomena. One does not have any control over phenomena. Pleasant feelings or formations will not stay, just because one wants them to stay. Likewise, unpleasant feelings or formations will not go away, just because one wants them to go away.

The idea of an experiencing entity, a Self or an inner core, is nothing but a mental formation itself.

There is no thinker behind the thought.

This will as mentioned before, only become clear when practicing insight meditation. We can use a simile of the ocean. Let's go to a place where the ocean is many kilometers deep. Anatta is on the bottom of the ocean. Intellectually one can only swim (understand) a few meters down but experientially one can swim all the way down to the bottom. The experiental knowledge (Paññā) is gained in insight meditation.

There is a mental and a physical stream. Volition is part of the mental stream, namely the Mind or the 4th aggregate, i.e. the aggregate of mental formations.

Ultimately, there are volitions but there is no person or self doing them. There is nobody home. The house is empty.

For reading material, I would recommend "A Discourse on the Anattalakkhana Sutta", by Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw. He explains very well the different aspects of Anatta and he incorporates insight meditation into the discourse, meaning that the way to read this discourse, is to read a bit, then meditate, then read, then meditate.

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As I was told by my teacher:

To see in 3D you have to look from two places at once.

From one perspective, "I" make choices, "I" act, and "I" experience results. This is a flat view.

From another perspective, there is no free-will and the universe is deterministic. Therefore, we need to surrender to things as they are. This is a flat view.

The 3D view is not like the two flat views overlapped on each other, it's not like either of them, but it's not different from them either. It is 3D!

Once you have attained this 3D view you can make all sorts of flat projections of it. (Note: this 3D view is not Enlightenment, only right view)

Exactly because the universe is deterministic, our future depends on choices we make now. It is important to make good choices.

In practical sense, in real life, we always have choice! One stuck in habitual victim role denies having the choice and resorts to blaming the circumstances. Enlightened master exercises the choice for the benefit of all.

At the very least, even if our freedom is very constricted, we always have the choice of perspective. Because our subjective experience depends on our perspective, we can control the experience.

The way this usually goes in Buddhism is:

  1. Stage one. Mountains are mountains & rivers are rivers. We are contained by the flat view of "I" vs. "world". We learn to control our mind by practicing the five precepts and the four right efforts. We practice shamatha-style meditation. We overcome attraction.
  2. Stage two. Mountains are not mountains, rivers are not rivers. We disconnect from the unwholesome flat view and adopt the Buddhism's wholesome (but provisional) flat view: anatta, skandhas, shunyata. We deconstruct our ego and practice shikantaza. We overcome aversion.
  3. Stage three. Mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers. We transcend the two views and attain the 3D view - freedom from any single perspective based on vision of things as they are. We overcome ignorance.
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Volition although is general interpreted as intention. In Buddhist context, volition however includes both conscious and unconscious will. Volition itself is dependent on various conditions and factors, like the phenomenal appearance (material forms visible or non visible to naked eyes; contact-feelings (sensory receptors); perceptions (imagery/non imagery thoughts); volition formation (Conscious (willed intent) or unconscious (residual habits); and cognitive faculty (Identification, discrimination, registering, conceptual, belief systems). The major factor of the formation of volition is ignorance (oblivious to the nature s law of impermanence, the truth of non-substantial essence or individuality (ego) in all thingy. Ignorance gave rise to a deep longing (dukkha), expresses in the craving or aversion of continuing existence or non existence. Volition that arises without mindfulness is propelled by ignorance is (Sankhara/habitual pattern). With awareness, the Karmic chain causes of volition is therefore broken; does not arise and even if it does due to residual past conditioning, it is seen as such without attachment, therefore liberation is possible.Those disciples of the Buddha who attained liberation all comes to this noble realization "The doing mode (Spiritual searching) is done with, the purification process has been established, there is no longer volition cause for future birthing" (birthing refers to the birthing of ego).

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So you see, there needs to be an individual or self who needs to take the decision or make the will, so to speak. As a practical example, I decide to lift my hand right now, and lo and behold! my hand is lifted instantly. So, who is this decision-maker or will-maker that made the decision of lifting the hand? You say there is no self?

Self arose within you and moved your hand.

Now saying that the conditional self made the decision is not something I'm going to buy. How can anything as lowly as an illusion, decides to take control of things and make an impact on the real world? It is just an illusion after all. That's the reason I'm unable to bring anatta in sync with this practicality of life, however hard I try. Please care explain how do you explain volition if anatta is a reality?

When self arose within you, the world arose outside you.

Your self arose within you, because your will to arise the self arose within you first.

Who or what wanted to arise the will to arise the self within you? This cannot be answered with our minds. It can only be experienced:

When you completely stop wanting, nothing arises. When nothing arises perception of non-perception is perceived. When you stop wanting even that perception of non-perception, perception stops. When perception stops, you will experience "who or what" is the one wanting to arise the self within you.

When you experience "who or what" is the one wanting to arise the self within you, you will experience the same "who or what" arising the world outside you. You will see why you become into this world, why you become what you become. You will see how you invented birth, happiness, suffering, death. You will see. You will know. Suffering will end and your purpose will be done.

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First, does Buddhism teach free will? If not (and I've seen enough to suggest that this is a tenable interpretation), then there's no problem.

However, if Buddhism teaches free will, then what does it mean by anatta?

If by anatta it means to let go of the self (with no ontological commitments made to it one way or another), then there is no problem.

However, if by anatta it means no self, then what is it denying? The existence of a permanent, independent self.

Denying a permanent self has no implications on free will.

Denying an independent self has implications on free will, but no more than the implications we accept when we acknowledge that external circumstances can influence our decisions.

Hope this helps :)

  • I love this if - then format. – user2341 Jun 13 '15 at 17:08
  • @nocomprende thanks! I had to adopt this format because there were so many ifs and or buts that I couldn't give a linear answer :) – R. Barzell Jun 13 '15 at 17:35
  • Divide and conquer. Cut the Gordian knot. – user2341 Jun 13 '15 at 17:51
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Buddhism tells me there is the concept of no-self (anatta)

The Buddha never said there is NO SELF.He rejects annihilationism. When confronted with direct questions such as "Is there a Self?" The Buddha chooses to remain silent.It's not that there is no self but what we call "self" is not what we perceive it to be.

the so called conditional self is actually an illusion

No it is not.The conditioned self is not an illusion.It's the unconditioned self that is.When we think that we are not conditioned by anything.That "I" is permanent.This ego is permanent.This is the illusion.

Volition or will is the cognitive process by which an individual decides on and commits to a particular course of action.So you see, there needs to be an individual or self who needs to take the decision or make the will, so to speak.

Yes you are right.Self created voalition.But what created self?Ignorance.Delusion.

The Self believes it is separate,solid and permanent self.And while maintaining this status it creates samsara.

As a practical example, I decide to lift my hand right now, and lo and behold! my hand is lifted instantly. So, who is this decision-maker or will-maker? You say there is no self?

The will maker is you.You are the Ego.

Use the ego.You.Me.I. to follow the Eight Noble Path.When you(the ego) have created the right conditions for insight to arise.Release will be experienced.Liberation.From what?From the ego.You see suffering will always be here.It's the person whose suffering that goes away.This is why Arahants,feel physical pain,get sick and die but whose bothered?

Now saying that the conditional self made the decision is not something I'm going to buy.

Voalition IS conditioned.It was triggered by something else no matter how subtle.You get to see this when you practice meditation.

How can anything as lowly as an illusion, decides to take control of things and make an impact on the real world? It is just an illusion after all.

A schizophrenic decides to jump of a building because he thought he was being chased by monsters.This is an illusion.But the jump is real.We don't even have to go this far.Just say you are suspicious of someone meaning you harm,have no concrete proof,and yet in your mind you imagine (illusitory) that they must be plotting something when in fact they are not,you churn this over and over in your head,when you meet them chances are your going to be guarded or harbour even subtle antagonism or may even "do" something unwholesome.This action is real.But it was driven by something that is not real.And has no basis in the truth.Our actions are not based on whether something is ultimately true or not.It's based on how we perceive things.

Please care explain how do you explain volition if anatta is a reality?

You can't.Voalition can't be explained if anatta is a reality.So why are we still experiencing voalition?Because we have not experienced anatta as a reality.We understand it theoretically.The problem is we haven't realised it.As long as we haven't realised it voalition will always be around.

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Any perception of notion of self will not match reality 100% hence will be unsatisfactory. Through meditation you should get rid of this perception of self as this is the source of misery. If you keep pondering of self or non self at an intellectual or philosophical level you still dealing with concepts and perceptions, so this is not something you should ponder on as it feeds into a particular perception or notion which results in misery.

If you react with craving and attachment towards any sensation volitional formation will follow (Saṅkhāra). E.g. you have a perception of self and you hear a sound. You can perceive that some one is scolding me. To this you can react with anger and create volitional formation / Karma. If your perception of self is completely removed then you do not need to react through you know that some one is verbally abusing you but you do not take it personally.

Any perception will give you a yard stick to measure the disparity from reality since the 3 universal characteristics means any perception will never be right 100%.

In you mind's eye there should be no will maker or notion of self as this will not enable you to look at the world in a detached way without taking things personally.

Just my brief 2C to complement couple of already very good answers.

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    Excellent answer, sir. If you react with craving and attachment towards any sensation volitional formation will follow: I now understand what the purpose of denying a permanent self was in Buddhism - the disillusionment of these incorrect volition formations. After all, all social ills and violence today are ultimately the results of these incorrect volition formations! Just think how much better will this place be, if all incorrect volition formations stop happening! – Shinu Jacob Feb 21 '15 at 9:42
  • Good that you liked it! – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Feb 21 '15 at 10:04
  • Also Self-compassion might be of interest. Also follow the references in the foot note. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Feb 21 '15 at 13:34
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If decision making is a self, why do you regret certain decisions you have made? You should be able to make all good decisions in life. Why is decision making affected by craving, aversion and ignorance? If it is a self, you should be able to disassociate it from the 3 roots of evil, at will. But you can't! That is something you need to practice and cultivate. If volition is a self, why can't you make it not cause Kamma Vipaka(consequences). Ultimately, a decision is a thought that falls under Sankhara. The 4th of the 5 aggregates. If that thought is a self, you should be able to stop it from vanishing. But you can't!

But psychology and Wikipedia tells me that there needs to be an individual or self - paraphrasing

Maybe according to psychology and Wikipedia. But not according to Buddhism. According to Buddhism there are 4 false views of self.

  1. Owner
  2. Dweller
  3. Doer
  4. Experiencer

Thinking that decision making is a self, belongs to the 'Doer' category. There is decision making, but there's no decision maker. It's similar with experiencing. There is experiencing, but there's no experiencer. The notions of decision maker and experiencer are caused due to not seeing the deciding as deciding or experiencing as experiencing and taking them as self. In other words, due to ignorance.

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    I don't recall seeing the 4 false views of self before - very nice. – user2341 Jun 13 '15 at 17:10
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To reuse my other answer to another question.

Buddha's teaching is that there is a non-permanent self that "emerges", as a result of the dependency on the inter-working of the five aggregates of form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. Each of these five aggregates also have dependencies. This is what is meant by the Buddha's statement, "all conditioned things are impermanent", in other words, all these things that have dependencies are not permanent.

However, there is no single self that is the charioteer or agent of the five aggregates. Imagine you hurt your hand and say "I hurt myself". But if your hand is chopped off, does your self disappear? No. So, applying this one by one, you realize that your self is neither form, feeling, perception, mental formations or consciousness. But beyond this, there is nothing more to yourself. That is what is meant by the Buddha's statement, "all phenomena is not self". Anatta refers to "not self" not "no self".

This is just an overly-generalized summary. More info can be found on the topic of dependent origination.

Now about free will: You are hungry so you decide to eat. You ate chinese food yesterday, so you feel like eating something else today. You remember that you don't have much food left at home, so you go to a nearby restaurant. You haven't visited a particular restaurant for some time, so you decide to visit it. The decisions you made to lift yourself from the couch to go to the restaurant and eat, is dependent on your mental formations (thoughts, memories etc.). You think it's free will because nobody forced you to do it and you decided yourself, but it was actually conditioned by past experiences.

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Anatta means that there is no permanent self, not that there is no self at all. That would be just silly and contradict observation. Imagine the self as a car. Every day one part of the car is replaced with another. One day the right headlight, the other day the windscreen, the third day the rear left wheel. And so on. At some point, all the pieces of the car have changed, but can you say exactly when the first car changed into the second? You can't, but at the same time you can't claim that the car you end with is the same as the car you began with. Similarly, just think about yourself when you were five years old. Was it you, was it another version of you, or was it another person, with different tastes, making different choices?

The key point is that self and will are conditioned phenomena subject to change, to birth, to death. So the decision-maker and the will-maker are conditioned, constructed phenomena subject to change, birth, death. There is some uncanny science going on that shows that sometimes we make decisions before we are aware of having made them. Who is the will-maker now? The real illusion is not that there is a conditional self or not, but that we are in power.

  • "The key point is that self and will are conditioned phenomena subject to change, to birth, to death." Absolutely agreed, but I think calling conditioned self and consciousness an illusion is again contradicting observation, sounds like a loaded missile hurrying towards its destination is an illusion - at least call it a force, it hurts real humans no illusory humans!. Buddha compares all conditioned things to an illusion in SN 22.95? – Shinu Jacob Feb 20 '15 at 0:17
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    See my edit. The illusion is believing that the ego is immutable, that it is unconditioned, and that it is in power. In SN 22.95 the Buddha was talking to Bhikkus, i.e. people looking for the ultimate reality of things, and explaining that conditioned phenomena are unreliable because they are ever-changing. But no one (apart from Derrida perhaps) denies that a brick is always a brick! – Alessandro Macilenti Feb 20 '15 at 0:25
  • The illusion is believing that the ego is immutable, that it is unconditioned, and that it is in power. In that case I would like to ask you a question in turn: Suppose I (conditioned-self) decide to lift my hand right now. If the I is conditioned, then what was the decision to lift the arm right now conditioned or affected by? (Karma or just randomness or what?) – Shinu Jacob Feb 20 '15 at 1:13
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    Mostly by the fact that you have an arm with muscles and nerves, that you are awake, and that your brain is not damaged, and by the fact that you want to show that you can. Were not these conditions in place, you wouldn't be able to move it. Moreover, if someone attached electrodes to your brain, they'd probably find that the impulse to move it came earlier than you were aware of it. – Alessandro Macilenti Feb 20 '15 at 1:18

protected by Lanka Oct 24 '15 at 14:41

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