Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.


Primordial Wisdom and the Buddhist Free Will Controversy

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

A Role for Primordial Wisdom in the Buddhist Free Will Controversy

Marie Friquegnon
William Paterson University

In Buddhist Perspectives on Free Will (Repetti), I set forth my position on Buddhism and free will in terms of three ways of understanding the issue of freedom in Buddhism. Here I first offer a sketch of that threefold analysis, and then I analyze certain key passages in some of the other essays in that collection through that lens. Each of these three ways of understanding Buddhist conceptions of freedom harmonizes with some of the essays. I then analyze Śāntideva’s view on the acceptability of the action of the bodhisattva who shot a pirate to save 500 people; I contrast that with Śāntarakṣita’s view; and I try to dissolve an apparent contradiction. I then take Śāntideva’s use of upāya (skillful means) in the pirate case and apply it to his position on free will. Lastly, I conclude by suggesting that the way out of some of the discrepancies in the analysis of free will in Buddhism may be resolved by appealing to primordial wisdom as a hypothetical construct, making reference to what appears to be an analogous use of the concept of a hypothetical construct that may be found in Aquinas.
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