Karma and the Origin of the Universe

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In our discussion about the issue of free will or choice versus predetermination or determinism, we saw that there are many, many factors that are involved and many pieces of the Buddhist teachings that we have to put together in order to understand what’s going on with this whole issue. Also, we saw that free will implies that there is a “me” that is truly existent, independent from everything else that is going on, and that could then make choices just based on itself, not relying on all the various circumstances, conditions, mental factors, and so on that affect it. We saw this basic fallacy in this way of thinking and that, nevertheless, choices do take place and that they occur based on various habits of not only our manners of behavior, but also of our emotions, both positive and negative. I’m using habits here in a very loose sense.

Our choices could also be influenced by factors that are not connected with our mental continuums, like various external circumstances – the physical circumstances of what’s going on with the weather or in the universe – or the circumstances from the influence of other people – the people that we meet, society in general, governments, and so on. Similarly, the various teachings that we might come in contact with, which also obviously derive from other people’s mental continuums, also have an influence on our choices. In addition, our choices are also influenced by our mental factors of discriminating awareness, indecisive wavering, intention, etc. and our emotions. 

There is no dispute over the fact that, subjectively, we experience making choices every day. The problem is the connotation of our Western concept of choice, which implies an independently existing “me” that is making these choices. So, to understand the whole issue, we need to try to stop approaching it by thinking in terms of an independently existing “me” making choices all on its own, with free will, independently of these external and internal influences.

Not only is free will excluded, but predetermination is also excluded because there is nobody there who’s decided what is going to happen, which is the connotation of predetermination. They’ve decided what we’ll do before we do it. Although a Buddha knows what has not yet happened, what has already happened, and what is presently happening – all of which, of course, are changing constantly, because what is presently-happening is different each moment – nevertheless, the Buddha hasn’t decided what is happening. The Buddha’s omniscience is not omnipotent and able, by its own power, to make things happen independently of the principles of cause and effect. This is very difficult to understand and requires really deep understanding of voidness: voidness of cause and effect, voidness of the three times, and so on. 

We’ve also seen that there are a number of different impulses, some of which are karmic and some of which are not karmic, and they all influence what we do. Karmic impulses include the mental urges that propel our minds in actions in which we exert effort and, in the Vaibhashika and Madhyamaka systems, the physical impulses that are the motion of the body and the utterances of speech that are the methods implemented for causing actions of the body or speech to take place. 

When we looked at the Theravada system, we saw that there are impulses of energy in the constraints regarding the change of the seasons, the growth of seeds into plants, the fact that phenomena affected by causes and conditions change every moment, and the way in which sensory cognition works. These four are non-karmic impulses, but they affect the choices we make when doing something – for instance, the changes in the weather in the winter.

We also saw that Vasubandhu’s Sautrantika presentation makes a clear distinction between exertional impulses and performer impulses. Exertional impulses are karmic and include the mental urges that propel the mental consciousness and its accompanying mental factors in thinking about and deciding to commit an action of the body or speech and the body consciousness and its accompanying mental factors in propelling the body or speech in carrying out the action. These karmic impulses entail endeavor, with an agent wanting and intending to do something and putting effort into it. Performer impulses, on the other hand, are the mental urges that propel the various types of consciousness and their accompanying mental factors in perceiving objects, for instance when seeing something. These impulses are non-karmic.  

Asanga’s Chittamatra presentation is fuller and includes five types of impulses. Observational impulses are the mental urges involved with perception. Performer ones in this system refer to the impulses involved with the elements performing their functions, such as earth supporting something on it and sensory objects functioning as objects of sensory cognition. Transformational impulses are involved when some object transforms into another, such as gold into a piece of jewelry or water into ice. Then attainment impulses are those involved with the attainment of arya pathways of mind. None of these are karmic impulses. The only karmic impulses are exertional impulses, which in this system are the same as in Sautrantika – they are the mental urges that propel the consciousness and its accompanying mental factors in actions of the body, speech and mind, all of which are preceded by an intended aim and entail effort. Only those mental urges are what we’re talking about when we speak of karma in the Sautrantika and Chittamatra systems. 

We also saw that a Buddha, being omniscient, knows all the external and internal variables that affect what we think, say, and do. Buddha sees that everything that happens to us and that affects our behavior does not derive exclusively from our karma. The fact that we meet with external situations and how we experience them is based on our karma, but what happens in the universe is not just based on our individual karma. There are many other factors involved, for instance the non-karmic orders explained in Theravada and the non-karmic impulses explained by Vasubandhu and Asanga.

The Role of the Energy-Winds

Another factor that affects our behavior and what we experience are the various types of energy-wind. Let’s call them “wind” for short. There are several presentations of the role of the winds. In one of his Sautrantika texts, Vasubandhu speaks of the role of wind as one of the four elements – earth, water, fire and wind. He notes that the mental urges involved with karmic actions of the body or speech cause the wind element of the body to actualize the movement of the body or the utterance of speech. It is the wind element that does this, since the nature of energy-wind is motion. 

I believe this is a valid statement even if these mental urges are not considered karmic, as in the Vaibhashika and Madhyamaka systems, which assert that the movements of the body and the utterances of speech are the karmic impulses in actions of the body and speech. In none of these Indian tenet systems, however, are the winds themselves considered types of karma. 

In terms of the Buddhist medical system and its presentation of the five subtle winds, the wind involved with the motion of the body is the diffusive energy-wind and the one involved with the utterances of speech is the ascending energy-wind. The strength of these winds clearly affects the intensity of our behavior. In addition, an imbalance of the winds delineated in the Buddhist medical system is one of the causes of ill health and disease, and our health is yet another variable that affects our behavior.

In terms of the anuttarayoga tantra systems, the subtle winds are the mounts of the subtle mental consciousness and its accompanying mental factors, including the mental urges, in conceptual cognition. Another set of grosser winds are the mounts of various types of sensory consciousness and their accompanying mental factors that a mental urge propels in sense perception. Thus, these winds are connected with what Vasubandhu called “performer impulses.” There is a connection between the functioning of these winds with the mental urges mounted on them and the mental urges propelling the karmic actions of our body and speech. While one mental urge, the karmic exertional one, mounted on diffusive or ascending wind, propels the body consciousness in engaging the body or speech in carrying out the karmic action, another mental urge – namely a performer non-karmic one – mounted on one of the five sensory winds propels the eye consciousness, for instance, in perceiving the basis at which the action is directed. 

The Kalachakra system speaks of the winds of karma. The winds of karma course through the subtle energy-channels of the body and, at various occasions, they pass through one of four creative energy-drops – the energy drops of the awake, dreaming, deep sleep and so-called “fourth” occasions. When doing so, they produce the appearances that arise, like mental holograms, and that we cognize, respectively, while awake, dreaming, in deep sleep and experiencing bliss. These winds of karma are stained with the emotional, cognitive, and karmic obscurations. The karmic obscurations include all the karmic aftermath of the karmic impulses – so, the karmic potentials, karmic tendencies, and constant karmic habits. All three are imputation phenomena on the basis of the conventional “me,” according to Prasangika, and the conventional “me” is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of an individual continuum of five aggregates. 

As these winds of karma, stained with these karmic obscurations, pass through each of the four creative energy-drops, they imbue them, like oil absorbed in a cloth, and give rise to the appearances we cognize, respectively, while awake, dreaming, in deep sleep and experiencing bliss. The karmic potentials and tendencies are responsible for the conventional appearances of the mental holograms of the objects we perceive, and these appearances are produced from the subtle elements of these energy-drops. The constant karmic habits are responsible for the appearance of these objects as having true, self-established existence. Clearly, the appearances that we perceive affect how we behave in response.    

Kalachakra also speaks of winds that are responsible for the motion of the heavenly bodies – the sun, the moon and the planets. The revolution of the heavenly bodies marks the passage of time and, clearly, our age affects what we think, say and do. Kalachakra also presents detailed teachings on astrology. The positions of the heavenly bodies at our birth and their positions, driven by these heavenly winds, during the course of our life mirror the type of body and circumstances in which we are born and what happens and what we do during our lifetime. 

How we fit all these non-karmic influences from the various winds with our karmic impulses is obviously extremely complex and only fully comprehended by a Buddha’s omniscience. But what is clear is that they all play a role in influencing the choices we make concerning what we do.

The Role of the Clear Light Mind

Another factor to consider is the role of the clear light mind discussed in anuttarayoga tantra, mahamudra and dzogchen. What is the relationship of the clear light mind and rigpa, or mind in general, with matter and energy? We can say, for example, that our experience of matter and energy is an appearance of the mind, the clear light mind. That’s one way of saying that, because, according to these tantra teachings, the subtle wind that constitutes the appearance of forms of physical objects – with that appearance being a mental hologram – is the subtlest wind of the clear light mind that has become grosser by connecting with the subtle elements of a subtle body. 

It is possible, of course, to interpret this view of everything coming from the clear light mind in terms of a Chittamatra explanation. Chittamatra asserts that forms of physical objects and the consciousness and accompanying mental factors that cognize these forms all come from the same natal source (rdzas). They all come from a single seed of karma – what we’ve been calling a karmic tendency – which is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of the alayavijnana, foundation consciousness. Although some non-Gelug anuttarayoga tantra systems apply Chittamatra terminology, such as alaya and alayavijnana, to the clear light mind, the clear light mind and the appearances that derive from it do not have the same characteristics as the alayavijnana and appearances in the Chittamatra system. In the context of sutra, Chittamatra does not speak about the clear light mind.

In any case, Chittamatra says that the appearance of a form of physical phenomenon such as a table and the consciousness and accompanying mental factors cognizing that table all come from the same karmic tendency or seed as its natal source. A natal source is like the oven out of which a loaf of bread comes. Like Vaibhashika and Sautrantika, Chittamatra asserts that both a table and a visual consciousness cognizing that table have truly established unimputed existence. Vaibhashika and Sautrantika say that the table has objective existence, external to a mind that cognizes it, that can be established before it is cognized. Its objective existence is established by the fact that it performs a function. Chittamatra refutes that and says that you cannot establish the existence of an objective table separately from the appearance of it as a mental hologram occurring in a cognition of it. It’s not that the appearance of the table and the consciousness cognizing it each come from their own natal sources, with the natal source of the appearance of the table being outside of, or separate from, the consciousness cognizing it. 

Now, this is very different from the Prasangika point of view as explained in the Gelug system. According to Prasangika, nothing has truly established unimputed existence, therefore the issue of whether a truly established, unimputedly existing table can be established as existing before the cognition of it or only in the context of its being cognized is a non-issue. The existence of a table can only be established merely imputedly as merely what a concept and a word for it refers to. From a sutra point of view, the natal source of the appearance of the table is the elements that comprise the table. The consciousness and each of its accompanying mental factors come from their own tendencies as their natal sources. From a tantra point of view, the subtle wind that makes up the mental hologram that is the appearance that we cognize when we see the table is the subtle wind element of our subtle body that the subtlest wind that is the mount of our clear light mind connects with. This is one sense in which Prasangika asserts that all appearances are the play of the clear light mind. Prasangika does not assert that the clear light mind creates material objects. 

To connect this back to our discussion of karma, our compulsive behavior, whether propelled by mental karmic impulses or comprised of physical karmic impulses, is in response to the appearances we perceive, and these appearances also entail certain types of winds. 

Collective Karma and the Formation of the Universe

In general, the structure of the universe, its laws of physics, and so on also affect what we do. To examine this, let’s go back to our discussion of Kalachakra. Kalachakra speaks of the parallel between the external and internal world. Just as we have the motion of the heavenly bodies externally, driven by winds, we also have the motion of the subtle winds in the body, making appearances. Similarly, there is a parallel between the beginningless cycles of the birth, life and death of a universe and the birth, life and death of an individual being. In the case of the universe, its cycles are affected by the collective karma of the beings who will be born in it, and in the case of individual beings, their cycles are affected by their own individual karma. 

In terms of the external world, the universe, Kalachakra speaks of space particles. Space particles are found in many different contexts. They comprise the space between things or are the tiniest component of material objects, being the space between the grosser particles. A single space particle, perhaps like a quantum singularity, is what is left between the collapse of a universe and the formation of another universe. This space particle contains traces – literally “seeds” – of the elements, but with the forces of physics that combine and hold the particles of those elements together not operating in this state. They only start to combine as the result of the effect on them exerted by the collective karmic potential of the beings who will be reborn in the universe that will evolve from them. 

On the level of an individual being, analogous to a space particle is a subtlest creative energy-drop – a subtlest drop for short. At the time of death existence, in between the end of one lifetime and the formation of the next one, a person’s continuum consists of just a clear light mind, the subtlest wind, and a subtlest drop. As in the case of a space particle, this subtlest drop also contains traces of the elements in an uncombined state. They only start to combine to constitute the subtle elements of the next life’s subtle body by means of the effect of the person’s individual karmic potentials. The gross elements of their rebirth body, of course, evolve from the gross elements of the sperm and egg of the parents, if the rebirth is as a human or an animal. 

When we speak of collective karma, we should not think of it as an imputation phenomenon on the basis of a collective unconsciousness that we all share. Collective karma refers to karmic potentials that are imputation phenomena on the conventional “me”s of an enormous number of beings that all have the potential to ripen in a singular set of characteristics of a universe in which they will all be born at some time and share. In that universe there will be winds that drive and regulate the revolution of the heavenly bodies, how long a day and a year are going to be, that there are going to be seasons, day and night, and these sorts of things. The formation and structure of all of that is going to be affected by the collective karma of the beings who will be born in this universe, but the physical substances that make up this universe are going to derive from the traces of the elements in the space atom from which the universe expands as influenced by these beings’ collective karmic potentials. The existence of these traces can only be established as merely what the concepts and names for them refer to. Their existence cannot be established from their own sides. The universe does not exist already inside a space particle, already fixed in how it will appear, just waiting to pop out when affected by collective karma. There’s an intimate relation between matter and energy and mind, but it’s not so straightforward. 

The way His Holiness explains it is that although we could say that the collective karma from clear light mind – and not some universal clear light mind, but from everybody’s individual clear light minds operating together – in a sense helps to shape the universe. We can’t say that collective karma creates the universe out of nothing or out of a space particle, but collective karma affects the shape of the universe. Nevertheless, once a universe starts a cycle of formation, abiding, and collapse, then as Theravada and Asanga explain, non-karmic orders and impulses take over and operate. The example His Holiness always uses is the falling of the leaves from a tree in autumn. At which time each leaf falls, the order in which they fall and where each of them land on the ground are determined by the principles of physics, botany, the weather, and such things. These are not karmic factors.

Of course, we do not exist independently of these external factors. We experience weather, but we don’t create the weather in the most fundamental sense. Now, of course, we affect the weather – the greenhouse effect and stuff like that – so we’re not independent of it. The causal relationship here is very complex, but there are laws of physics and laws of nature and they take over; although the laws of physics and the laws of nature will be, in a sense, shaped by the beings that will be affected by them. However, then they take over, in an impersonal way, to account, for example, for the falling of leaves from a tree. That’s the way His Holiness tries to resolve this real dilemma here of explaining what we experience, without it becoming solipsistic type, where everything is just created out of our minds or out of our karmic potentials. 


Do the people who come at the end of a phase of the universe have input to the beginning? 

Not necessarily. It’s the same thing as saying that all the people who were born in Tibet and suffered under the Chinese occupation were all Tibetans before in previous lifetimes, and it was because of what they did in the past to the Chinese at the time of the Tibetan Emperor Songtsen Gampo that this is happening to them now. No. They could be born from any other place, any other life form, and be born in Tibet at the time of the Chinese takeover. That doesn’t discount the historical causes that have caused what has happened. These are different types of causes. It’s the same thing in terms of the universe. 

Buddhism speaks about countless universes, so it’s not just that there’s one universe. A universe is pretty big – I mean, what we think of as a whole universe. Well, there are a countless number of such universes, and they’re all going through their phases at a different rate. When one universe is expanding, another universe is contracting, and so there’s always a place where mental continuums can take rebirth. It’s not just that there’s an empty eon and everybody is just sort of hanging out in a bardo, or something like that, waiting for the universe to evolve. We would say that the beings who would have the karmic potential to be reborn in that universe share the collective karma that will shape it – and who will not just be reborn in it at the beginning of that universe, because at the beginning there aren’t any beings in a universe; it takes quite a long while before there are beings. A universe has to form first before there can be beings in it, and as a universe is collapsing, there’s going to be another long period without any beings as well. So, we would say that those who would have built up the karmic potential to be born during the whole time when there’s going to be beings in that universe would affect the structure of that universe. 

Then, it becomes a really difficult metaphysical question. How can we say that they have built up the karmic potential for structuring a not-yet-happening universe? To address this question, we have to get into the discussion of the reality of the future. The not-yet-happening universe, like the not-yet-happening tomorrow, is not happening now, but it is an affirmingly knowable phenomenon, and it exists. It exists in a sense that it can be validly known conceptually – for instance, we can think about it and make plans for it. “Exists” doesn’t mean that it is happening now. We have to make the differentiation here between something that is happening now and something that is validly knowable, which often we don’t. For something to exist doesn’t mean that it’s happening now. According to Buddhism, what exists is what can be validly known, and this means known either by valid non-conceptual sensory cognition or by valid inferential conceptual cognition. 

For instance, the no-longer-happening fall of ancient Rome can be validly known, or the no-longer-happening living dinosaurs can be validly known. That doesn’t mean that we can validly see dinosaurs walking around on the Earth now. Presently-happening or presently-living dinosaurs don’t exist and can’t be validly known. However, dinosaurs that are no longer living can be validly known. They are validly knowable by valid inferential cognition based on valid sensory cognition of their bones, which would be their remains. The valid inferential cognition is based on the reason that if there are the bones of some creature, they are the remains produced by a no-longer-living being. 

Now the same thing is true for a not-yet-happening universe. A not-yet-happening universe can be validly known by us conceptually on the basis of valid inferential cognition. So, a not-yet-happening universe does exist in the sense of it being validly knowable based on the fact that all beings have the potential to be born in one. With valid conceptual cognition, however, we can only imagine a rough mental image to represent such a universe; we could not know it in full accurate detail. 

We’ve already discussed in quite a lot of detail how a Buddha knows what is no longer happening and what is not yet happening through valid non-conceptual cognition. There’s no need for us to repeat that now. Please recall our discussion of how cause and effect actually exist, and that at the time of the cause, the result neither truly and findably exists nor truly does not exist. That means that at the time of the cause, when all the affecting variables are complete, the result can be validly inferred by us. Its existence, however, can only be established in terms of what the word or concept “result” refers to on the basis of all the causes and conditions being complete. As such, the result can be validly known at the time of the causes despite the fact that the result is not happening at the time of the cause, nor is it sitting in the cause waiting to pop out. 

In different universes, are there different physical rules or different physical laws? 

We would have to say that probably that could be the case. I mean, if we look at the plane of desirable sensory objects, the plane of ethereal forms, and the plane of formless beings – the so-called desire, form and formless realms – there are different characteristics and different laws operating in each. For example, there’s nothing destructive on the planes of ethereal forms or formless beings, and there are no smell and no taste on the plane of ethereal forms. If that’s the case within this particular universe, why not different planes of existence with different characteristics in other universes? 

Even within this universe, there are so many different planets on which there are undoubtedly life forms and they could be living in environments with many different temperatures and gravities. Even on this planet, the Earth, there are creatures that live under intense pressure at the bottom of the ocean and at extreme temperatures, both hot and cold. There are different elements in which beings live. Some live in water, some in the air, some in the earth. Who knows what else might be possible on different worlds and in different universes? 

Can there be different laws of physics in different universes? Why not, but they would need to be appropriate for supporting rebirths in that universe in forms that could live there. The physical laws of a universe are not inherent, findable “things” in a universe, existing independently of everything. Physical laws and mathematical formulas are just conceptual constructs that help us to understand the operation of a universe. Even within our universe, the scientists are updating, changing and refining their conceptual understandings of the universe all the time. 

Quantum Mechanics and Probability 

I’d like to bring into our discussion of determinism some ideas suggested by quantum mechanics. Although I am not at all well-versed in quantum mechanics and so what I speculate might not be scientifically accurate, but let’s play with some ideas based on it. 

When we ask, “What is something?” something is what a concept or word for it refer to – like a table is what the concept and word “table” refers to. Can we say that actual tables and chairs and things like that exist? Are there tables and chairs? Gelugpas say, conventionally, when we don’t analyze their superficial or deepest truths, there are tables and chairs that perform functions. Well, what does that mean? Is there an undifferentiated sort of mega-soup out there, and when we label it with a concept or word, the objects that those concepts and words refer to then come into true existence and appear? Certainly not. 

What about when quantum mechanics speaks about the location of a particle? It’s not that before perceiving the area where a particle could be located, there’s a certain prescribed number of quantum possibilities, and they’re actually all truly existing out there, and when we perceive the area, then our perception causes the particle to come into true existence and appear in one location. 

Both examples are similar to saying that objects like tables are created by mental labeling. In the case of the particle, it would be created by sense perception and in the case of the table by conceptual labeling, but the point is that in both cases the mind creates it and then it is truly existent. 

We need to eliminate this idea of true existence in terms of the location of a particle. It can’t be that it is truly nowhere and then when we see it, it pops into true existence in one place. It also can’t be that simultaneously it was truly in many places, but we just couldn’t see that, but our looking, by its own power, made it truly in one place and not truly elsewhere. It also can’t be that it was truly only in one place all along and only now we see it.  

Now we need to put that analysis of the location of a particle together with our analysis of karmic results. Is it that there truly exist all the karmic possibilities of what could ripen from our potentials, and then when we meet some circumstance, one karmic possibility then comes into true existence and it happens and we experience it? And so all of these karmic possibilities are actually truly existing somewhere, and Buddha knows them all? Or is it that there’s really only one karmic possibility, like the object is truly only one thing, and when we meet the right triggering circumstance, we find it out as we experience it, and Buddha knew beforehand what was going to happen? These are all fallacies. 

Then what is going on with our experience of the ripenings of our karmic potentials? It’s not so easy, but we have to try to avoid these extremes, because it is true that, simultaneously with seeing something, our limited mind makes an appearance of it as truly existent. 

In terms of the quantum possibilities, how is it that, before looking, a particle is in several places simultaneously, and when we see it, then it’s in one place. The mind has made an appearance, a truly existent appearance of it being in one place, hasn’t it? In a sense, when we put the whole quantum mechanics explanation of things together with the Buddhist teachings, they fit into the description of how our minds make appearances of true existence, which is very interesting. So, we need to transpose that whole discussion of the location of a particle to the discussion of karma and karmic possibilities, and the whole discussion of determinism or free will, and so on. That’s why I say that in our discussion of determinism, free will, what a Buddha sees, what a Buddha knows and so on, it is hard for us to even consider the questions because just the way that we are approaching it implies true existence to the whole system. Do you see the problem here? 

If we speak about choices, it sounds as though the choices truly exist – that there are truly existent choices, and that they’re truly existing as not-yet-happening choices, and now we choose one, and then we make it happen, and then the others are no longer possible. That’s a false way of looking at things, in terms of things having true existence. But as soon as we start to conceive, or just try to ask the question, “Do we have choices?” it implies that the choices truly exist somewhere. They’re not yet happening, and either they are somewhere inherent in the universe, and then they have to just manifest, you know, sort of a Samkhya type of thing, or the whole idea is a bit strange here. That is the connection that we need to make with quantum mechanics. 

There’s no need to go into great detail about quantum mechanics. It’s just that, concerning particles, there’s just a huge probability function of where they are, and since we can’t know the location and the speed at the same time, we can say that they’re simultaneously everywhere. All of these possibilities are truly existent, in a sense, but when we actually look, then we finally locate a particle in one particular place, and so the perceiver interacts with the system. But we need to be very, very careful of how we understand this. 

But let’s not go further in discussing possibilities in terms of particles; let’s talk about them in terms of karma. There’s this limited number of choices given the variables that could affect what we do. It seems to us that they actually truly exist, and now we’re going to choose one. It’s like here are all the things on the menu, and we’re going to choose one, and then that makes it happen. Or did Buddha know there was a menu, and Buddha knew the menu, and Buddha knew beforehand what we’re going to choose? 

In fact, there is no menu. Things don’t exist in that way. Even if we speak in terms of tendencies, or seeds, it’s not that the result is existing already in the seed. That’s because there are so many factors that can affect the ripening of our karmic potentials and tendencies after we’ve done an action – for example, repeating or never repeating the action, regretting or not regretting what we did, purifying it, and so on. Even other people’s prayers can affect, for instance, what’s going to happen in the bardo in terms of our next rebirth. Were all those possibilities already present and truly existent before the ripening occurred? No. 

It still becomes very difficult to know, “What does a Buddha know?” Unfortunately, the answer is we have to become a Buddha before we’ll know what a Buddha knows. That’s not a very comfortable answer, but when we have difficulty answering a question – such as free will, determinism, predetermination, and so on – often the problem is that the concepts involved with asking the question are faulty. 

It goes back to the 14 questions that Buddha didn’t answer; he didn’t specify an answer to them because they were formulated in a way in which no matter what he answered, people would misunderstand. For example, does the universe have a beginning or does it have no beginning? Well, obviously, there are teachings that it has no beginning, but when we’re asking about a truly existent universe, whether we say it has a beginning or no beginning, we’re going to misunderstand it. When we talk about truly existent choices – do we have a choice, or do we have no choice – again, no matter what we answer, it’s going to be misunderstood because we see choices in terms of truly existent choices. It just won’t work.