Is There a Choice?

Video Is there a choice

Do you think, “Of course I have a choice. I am making choices each and every day. Otherwise, how would I be able to run my life?”  Or are you part of the fraction who say, “No, there is no choice.  Everything just happens?”

In today’s video, we are going to look more closely into choices and whether or not they are made.

Click here to watch the video.


Is Everything Incidental?

John asks, “We often feel like we have to engage in a practice, like inquiry into the ten fetters.  Do we simply just find ourselves doing this without choice?  And the voice inside commenting is incidental?”

That’s a good question.

Because the issue here is, is there really no choice? Don’t we have a say in what happens?  Is everything just chance? How?  Is it just rolling along and we don’t have a say? That’s such a tricky question.

So first of all, is there really no choice?  How did this all start?

Did you decide to have this inner drive to awakening? Maybe it started when you came across a book about spirituality. Did you decide to come across this book?

What started the journey for you?  Find out whether it was your choice, or not?

Did I Make the Choice To Go On The Path to Awakening?

For me, it started when I was on a night shift in the hospital as a very young doctor.  I was 26 years old.  It was during my internship in surgery.

A motorcyclist was brought in. He was so badly injured that he had already died when he arrived. We searched his pockets for an identity card. I found it and looked at it. He was born in the very same year I was born.  We were both 26 years old.  And at that moment, I realized that death is actually an upcoming reality, and not an always existing possibility.

And all of a sudden, this question was there,  “And I don’t even know who I am!”

I have no idea where this question came from.  I didn’t choose it.  I didn’t choose to be on a call when this terrible accident happened.  I didn’t tell the motorcyclist to drive the road I drove daily to work that was quite dangerous.

So, no, I didn’t choose this thought, it came up spontaneously.

How Did The Search Start For You?

Some of you told me that you already felt as a child that there was more behind everything.  Did you choose to have this intuition that this can’t be all, that there is more to life?

Was it your choice to have an operation that confronted you with the reality of death?

If you practiced Buddhism or another path for a long time, did you then decide to do something else because you were getting nowhere with your practice?  Did you choose the idea to follow another route?  I know, it sounds awfully fatalistic to say there is no choice.  But if you just look by reason, you find that there wasn’t a choice.

But I Chose My Partner! Did You?

How did you pick your partner?  Did you choose to meet them?  How did you know they live somewhere where you would meet them?  Consider any important life decision.

Your profession, which career did you choose?

You chose that? Did you choose to come across this career possibility? How did you come to know about it?

Then something resonated.  Did you have the intention to feel in sync with this job idea?

No, of course not.  So in this regard, it’s true that life happens.  And there is no “me” that’s holding the reins, saying, okay, left, right.

Choices and The Pleasure Principle

So no, we don’t have a choice.  And yet, choices are being made.  We come across something that resonates with us.  There is an echo.  It feels right.  It sparks something inside of you.

“Wow, that sounds fantastic.  I’d like to do that.”

Usually, choices are made in the direction which feels good.

We are always turning towards what feels good or better.  Even the path to awakening is chosen because it feels like awakening would feel better than how life feels now.  And as you move towards awakening, there are little insights.  And when your mind calms down, it just feels good.

Wanting to Feel Good Propels You Forward On The Path

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, called it the pleasure principle.  It rules our life and even the whole journey to awakening. When you walk the path through the fetters, with each step you’ll feel better and lighter and that keeps you going.

For example, when the self-illusion is seen through, life feels lighter, easier, without so many worries about whether we did something right or wrong and what others think about us.

And the question of self-worth is at least strongly diminished, if not gone.  There is no “me” and nothing to protect, and I don’t have to worry about it.  And having something less to worry about is fantastic.

And that’s with all the fetters.  With each insight, life feels better.  Even when, at first glance, the shift is quite strange.  When you inquire into reality in the fetters 6-8, and you find that reality isn’t what you thought it was, it can feel very weird.  And yet, you will be pulled into the choice to go ahead because it feels better.  We operate on this pleasure principle.  We just go where it’s better.

So this principle works in your favor. But it’s not that you are making the choices.

You might know that scientists found in PET scans that decisions are made up to six seconds before they actually become conscious.  So once you know what you want to do, once the thought is there that I’m going to do this, it has already been decided without your conscious influence.

In The End, The Pleasure Principle Is Left Behind

The Buddha had a word for the Pleasure Principle.  He called it the assumption that we could and should always be happy, satisfactoriness is the traditional term for it.

In the 9th and 10th fetter, even the drive to feel better is left behind.  All resistance to experience disappears, no matter how it feels.  You will be fully at peace with whatever comes your way and be able to respond to it appropriately.

How do you feel about this?

How do you feel when you consider that you are not making the choices in life, that you don’t hold the reins?  Let me know in the comments.

Comments 1

  1. Thanks, this is so clear! Makes sense how pleasure principle is a separate function from desire/aversion.

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