On Morality and the Freedom of Will ?

Now, the following excerpt is from B. Alan Wallace’s “Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic“, which, I suggest, gives a practical insight into what the Buddhist ideal of Freedom is, as opposed to what, say, you may consider is the “Western” ideal of Freedom eh ? 🤔


The cultivation of focused attention has a direct and important bearing on morality and the freedom of will. William James asked in this regard, “In what does a moral act consist when reduced to its simplest and most elementary form?” He declared the only answer to be, “it consists in the effort of attention by which we hold fast to an idea which but for that effort of attention would be driven out of the mind by the other psychological tendencies that are there.”

With the development of sustained, vivid attention, one’s awareness may be introspectively focused on one’s own feelings, desires, thoughts, and intentions as they arise from moment to moment. As the Indian arhat Nagasena taught King Milinda, the Buddhist practice of mindfulness entails directing one’s attention to wholesome and unwholesome tendencies and recognizing them as such so as to cultivate the former and reject the latter. Such discerning metacognitive awareness allows for the possibility of freely choosing whether or not to allow a desire to lead to an intention or to allow an intention to result in verbal or physical action. In short, freedom of will depends on the ability to recognize the various impulses that arise involuntarily in the mind [1] and to choose which ones to accept or reject.

Without such introspective monitoring of one’s mental states and processes, the mind is bound to fall under the domination of detrimental habitual conditioning, with the attention compulsively focused on attractive appearances, thereby reinforcing craving, and on disagreeable appearances, thereby reinforcing hostility. Such misguided attention is also prone to lead one to view as permanent what is impermanent, as satisfying what is unsatisfying, and as a self what is not-self. To overcome such delusional ways of viewing reality, one must cultivate meditative quiescence, or shamatha, along with the development of insight, or vipashyana, through the four close applications of mindfulness to the body, feelings, mind, and phenomena. Only through the unification of meditative quiescence and insight is complete freedom gained from mental afflictions and their resultant suffering, and the innate purity of the brightly shining mind revealed.


[1] : Emphasis Added because, experientially speaking, there is no central-controller, like a “self” or a “thinker” or a “decider” or a “do-er” … it just seems like that because one hasn’t penetrated deeply enough into the underlying Psyche !

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