Learning & Practice

Free Will, Karma, Interdependent Co-Arising, Sila, Self-Awareness, Self-Cultivation, and Freedom

This lesson is an excerpt from a Saturday Drop-In. Because it is related the concepts explored in this class, I thought that I would helpful to share it with this group.

Talk Transcript (word-for-word from the recording):

In this practice, we're trying to really know ourselves. We're trying to discover how it is that you, we as individuals are put together in any given moment, how we're relating to this experience of our life. And. And what we're doing. And we're really cultivating through this repetitive seeing and understanding of who we are. We're doing that enough to be able to shape our heart and mind and our life in ways that are helpful, that are healthy.

It's a nice thing to contemplate this question of free will. We talk about karma at rim and sometimes when we talk about karma, it can feel like we're just at the whim of things of our past events or how we relate to things. And it can feel like we don't have a lot of choice. But that's opposite of what this tradition is trying to reveal to us. So there are three views. In this tradition that if we hold on to or think about too much, that they can limit our ability to be present and the kind of fulfill what this practice is asking us to fulfill.

And these three things are the belief, the view that everything is predetermined. And this means that we're just these beings who are here on this earth and whether it's through a divine intervention or some other reason, just this cascade of cause and effect that we don't have free will.

And whatever we think, whatever we do whatever's happening in the world has somehow been predetermined by either just the natural unfolding of things, or by by some kind of outside force in this tradition, because we're trying to cultivate a certain amount of self knowledge and self empowerment. This tradition says maybe not hold on to that view so rigidly. Because if we think that everything's predetermined, why are we practicing anyway? You know what's the point of all of this? So one thing that a lot of these things these three things that I'll talk about sometimes they they take that drive away. If we feel like something's predetermined, it takes that, that drive away to actually have responsibility for ourself.

Another common idea of karma is that you get what you deserve. You did this and the repercussions of that will happen. If you do good, then good will happen if you do bad than bad will happen. And if we feel like we're caught in that predetermination with karmic choice then that's a misunderstanding of karma. And we think about it too much and we let it shape our views and our approach. It limits our capacity to be more awake.

The next one, the third one is. Everything is free will. There's no real set order of things necessarily. And we can do unwholesome things here and get rich. Maybe mean good, it's whatever, there's no karma there. There's no, repercussions there. And we see that we made the choice and, or whatever, and that there's this, that everything is determined by whatever we're thinking in this moment. And that's considered an unhealthy on beneficial view. If we hold too tightly onto that.

When we look at those three different categories, it's easy to get a little frustrated or confused with this practice. Because, if it's not all pre determined. If there isn't, this kind of reward and punishment system that we're part of. And if it's not just free, will. What's the alternative?

What else has there, what is there? And this speaks to the scientific approach of this practice and also this invitation to practice and this, it's sometimes coined as the middle way, the middle path. That there that there's something in between all extremes. And, usually the things that are in between all of these extremes start to include the holistic nature of things. So if we look with a kind of inquisitive, honest mind and attitude, we start to see more possibilities.

So karma as it is understood in this tradition. And when I say this tradition, early Buddhist tradition, the essence of the Buddha Dharma. Karma is intention. Karma is when we think in an intentional way and our words, and our actions, and our thoughts are acted upon according to that and an intention they pull and they shape. What we think of next, what we feel, what we do, how we approach things. And this karma is sometimes called action, and the fruit of our action. And an example is if we really practice kindness we really practice creating safety in our own heart and mind. And, know, we make it an, a priority. It's an intentional priority that we act on. The more we act on that, the more kind we're going to be. The more we practice greed or self selfishness. And the more we. We approach the world like that. That's what we shape and incline our mind to be. So karma represents intentional decision.

It means what we do shapes and inclines our heart and mind. Karma is part. And this is where we can find an answer to those three confusing views. Karma is part of a greater order karma as part of something called interdependent co arising, which means cause and effect, but cause and effect in that. All causes and all effects are related to a greater whole. If we look out into the world, we can see that all of it has been born out of infinite amount of interrelated causes and conditions.

And so we can look at these two things, karma in codependent origination, on the surface, we can say we know spring will come after winter. It's predetermined. We know that and just by studying the laws of how things are interrelated together, it can feel like there's a certain amount of kind of predetermination happening. And there is but when we apply the rule, the principle of karma with the principle of interdependent co-arising we can see. In this moment, our choice, our volition, what we want to do, what we want to think, how we want to act, how we respond. We can see that to a large degree, how we feel and think in any given moment has been conditioned by prior moments.

Compliments are a funny thing. We can receive a compliment and we can receive it with happiness, or we can receive it with doubt and or some multiple other things. And so someone gives us a compliment. We might feel happy and at peace, or we might feel insecure. How was that determined? It was determined by our past relationship to compliments, the kind of compliments we received, how we were when we received them. How we chose intentionally to respond is based off of all of that kind of conditioning and past choice.

There's a really interesting aspect. And that is, of course everything happened due to causes and conditions. And we might have even responded in that moment out of that kind of habitual conditioning, but there's also something else magic that happens if we show up with presence, stability, calm, clarity. We can see how things were shaped. We can see how we became in this moment. And then suddenly we have this opportunity to choose otherwise. We can see, and then we can say, huh? I took that compliment like really hard. They were just complimenting, but I went into this downward spiral about it, and isn't that interesting.

So in that moment, based off of kind of our prior understanding of cause and effect, and in all of this stuff, we suddenly have this ability to choose. Where did it come from? Sure. Some conditioning. Some karmic inclination. But regardless what we choose in this moment has the ability to shape not only new possibilities, but it has the opportunity to shape all this interdependent core arising and this karmic conditioning.

So we can say maybe we've been walking around angry or frustrated or in our own head and seeing things and from our likes and dislikes in a strong way, in a particular way. And we've just been going about our day like that our days. And at one point we, we wake up, we see, huh? This hurts, this isn't helpful to to those I care about or myself and suddenly we have this opportunity to choose, and our choices is relative to the conditions that we're in.

So we might say I'm going to, instead of being preoccupied with all of this stuff, I'm going to choose something else I'm going to choose. Something that relates to this practice , and try to respond in a way that's different. And we just, in that response, along with the volitional effort, we just changed the causes of conditions. We just changed our heart and mind. We just changed that inclination.

And so we just interject it our free choice by rising above our chronic karmic conditioning and seeing how we relate to the greater whole inside or outside. And we're able to change things inside and out in our life. So this points to another aspect called Sila. And Sila that means wholesome response or integrity or morality or ethics.

If intention or volition karma, is interrelated with choice and inaction. If we see that we apply our right intention traditionally to to nourish what is healthy into, let go of things that are unhealthy. And then this falls into the realm of kind of morality. Of ethics of wholesomeness versus unwholesome newness of cultivating wellbeing instead of cultivating ill being.

And so embedded in this choice, in this tradition, in our karmic inclination and our interdependent co rising the cause and effect of the world. When we're awake. When we have choice, this practice asks us to remember what is wholesome? What is healthy? What is beneficial? And to understand, and to see what is wholesome and beneficial. It requires us to see how we've been responding to see how that response is. Is connected to our everyday life and to see where we have choice. And when we have choice, if we can choose to shape things in a way that is wholesome is beneficial.

In this tradition, we talk about great wisdom in great compassion. A great wisdom is the wisdom that understands that we have this opportunity of choice. But it also understands the limitations of that choice based off of the conditions that are there outside and inside.

The compassion part understands that when we do act, it should be acting in a way that is healthy. But in order to see, what is healthy choice, healthy response, healthy freedom. This is where the hard work comes in. And the hard work is training ourselves to understand, to discover ourselves to create the environment through meditation and through mindful living. To be able to counter that, that false belief that this is predetermined. How I am. Or this is, Oh, I shouldn't have done that. I don't deserve to be happy or whatever, all of this stuff, or, this is divine will or whatever. Instead we want to. Interject a kind of self knowledge, a self discovery to understand who we are in relationship to what we're doing. And through meditation practice and mindful living, so much of our practice is becoming aware of the the way that we've been shaped.

Then after self discovery, there's the self cultivation. So we discover, this is how I am in this moment. Oh, it's hard. I, Oh, I see my parents' parenting skill show up here, in this situation. Boy, does that show up? Yeah, I understand this is, yeah, this is how things have been conditioned. But wait, I have this intention to be better than this- to be more healthy than this. And then that based off of that care and that understanding, then we do the work of cultivation. How I can see how when a happens triggers my B reactivity, which triggers the C. I was going to say shit show, but it triggers that. And so the cultivation is I need to work on this. I need to see when I'm triggered like this. I need to see that this kind of clinging, and this reactivity based off of these kinds of conditions, and try to do the best I can to cultivate otherwise.

And this leads to freedom. To wellbeing. This position in this freedom goes full circle back. I have the ability to see my karmic conditioning. I can have this ability to see the series of causes and effects, and I have the freedom to choose what is healthy in this moment more. Readily. And that's what the practice brings to us.

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