Free Will and Non-Attachment

Perhaps it is the new year bug that made me think more about the “grander” stuffs in life like happiness, fulfilment, purpose of life, etc. To think of it, although New Year day is just another day, psychologically, it has a profound effect on one’s mind as it serves as a demarcation point and one will want to take advantage of the gap that exists or perceived to exist in this point of demarcation. The truth is anyday is as good as new year day to think about the “grander” things in life.

This post is actually inspired by two different events. The first is a reaction from a friend who read my post on happiness below and the second is a friend’s comment on my Facebook status where I said I hope to have more time to watch 26 movies in a week like I did in my prevous job. Let’s take each of them one at a time.

From the Buddhist viewpoint, true happiness is attained when one attains Nirvana-ship, that is one is no longer subject to the cause and effect that determines rebirth. The way to achieve is via the Eight-Fold Path. The teaching of Non-Attachment is also very important as it is said that our “suffering” is a result of attachment to selfish cravings and desires (The Four Noble Truths).

“This is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination.”

To some people, they will look at Buddhism as a nihilistic philosophical system. For example, if one does not crave for delight and crave for existence etc. what is the joy of living? In my opinion, this argument is flawed because the Buddha did not ask you not to have happiness, not to have sensual pleasure. He merely said that ATTACHMENT to such desires is bad.

In this light, in my post on Happiness below, the key is that one can strive for things that makes one happy but one should not be attached to it. This is so true because things come and go, people live and die, jobs come and go, people get hired and fired, money made and lost. If we are too attached to what makes us happy, when that very thing is no longer there, we will suffer miserably and be unable to recover and the process will ultimately down-spiral, affecting many other things in our life.

Now, on Free Will. In the true Sartrean tradition, we are born to be free and condemned in that we are solely responsible for our actions. Steven R. Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Successful People said the same thing, i.e. there is a gap between cause and effect, that we can choose our actions because there is a gap and as such we are wholly responsible for our own actions.

That is to say, in essence and in all simplicity, ok, I choose this course of action and will bear all consequences. But is real life that simple? For example, a person who needs money to support his family but has to work like a dog to earn that money, is it really that easy for him to say, “Well, dammit, I quit. I will look for another job. Meanwhile I will bear the suffering of my children not having enough to eat at the moment. ”

Of course, no doubts, he has a choice to quit. Of course he can make that decision but given the circumstances, can he REALLY make that decision even if he could have? In real life, there are many circumstances like this where one cannot simply say “I Quit!” because by doing that, one is irresponsible.

This is not to say that one has no control over one’s destiny but it is exactly the balance of this freedom to choose and the call for duty that makes life more complicated and not as easy as philosophical ranting on a piece of paper. There are many people in this world that do not have this freedom of choice, although philosophically, on paper, they do.

So say what they may, dinner still have to be served on the table.

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