A Perspective on Karma & Free Will

by Aik Theng Chong, The Buddhist Channel, Sept 10, 2011

Singapore -- It is said, a view into space is at the same time a view into the past. Space is visible time, however visible only in one direction.

We can see worlds which are thousands of light years away and one day we may find out that one of them is our own world, not as it is now but many millions of years ago. If we look into space in a starry night, it is not a universe of the present but that of a past that we are seeing.  It is a universe in which the different parts do not even exist simultaneously though it is seen in the same moment.

As it is now, we are living more in the past than in the present. Our body themselves are actually the visible appearance of our pass consciousness. It is actually materialized karma, the consciousness of past moment of existence made visible.

Karma is but the acting principle of our consciousness, which as effect becomes visible appearance, this appearance is thus essentially ‘past’. The position of the body as the product of a passed consciousness and also as a basis of the present one give rise in us one part that is conscious and subject to our will such as our movement, speech, action and functioning of our mind, and another unconscious part such as the growth and decay of our body.

Our usual and normal reactions are habitual, and are based upon the past, stored up in form of instinct, memory, concept and emotional association. These functions are necessary for our daily existence, even though it forms only the passive side of our life. It made us an individual and become our common inheritance. As long as this inheritance predominates, we are essentially living life preoccupied with the past or the future, both of these attitudes of the mind would also means bondage.

Fortunately, our consciousness can partake in both the present and future if given the opportunity, and can free us from the burden of the past which are subjected to the law of cause and effect and the necessity of retribution. The only part in us that can be raised from the unconscious to consciousness is our breathing. Thus breathing is able to combine the present with the past, the conscious and the unconscious. It is the only function in which we can lay hold of, on what has become and what is becoming and a good starting point for a meditator.

Karma in Buddhism is strictly psychological and not metaphysical. The Buddha said ‘Volition, O monks, is what I call actions’. In other words, when there is intention, there is karmic action which results in the consequences of character forming and determines our inclinations and thus our future actions and reaction. Character thus, is the tendency of our will, form from repeated actions.

Free will is the expression of one’s own will, the will that correspond to one’s own nature. It also presume and includes the idea of individuality or individual character, if it is free, it express the particular character of the individual.
The difference between a law of nature and free will is that one acts automatically and with universal sameness, while the other is conscious and individual. Free will is a relative term. It is the relationship of a conscious individual towards his surrounding or toward a certain situation.

It also means the freedom to express one’s own will according to one’s own nature and insight. It is not a  mechanical reaction, and may or may not follow general laws, but one can modify them and converts them into individual laws. There can be no absolute free will. When necessity from outside coincide with the inner law or nature of the individual, it becomes a truly genuine expression of freedom, of free will itself.

To the Buddhists, Free Will is a freedom inside the limits of Necessity, namely the necessity of retribution based on the Law of Causality. It is the freedom to move within the boundaries of causation, a freedom inside the prison of Dependent Origination.

Life itself is a constant movement towards an issue in final deliverance. It is an evolution of our moral progress. When all good deeds have brought their fruition as in the Law of Karma, final deliverance will be attained in Nirvana. The absolute is reached, causation than become extinct and Free Will, will become an inconsequential factor in one’s