Originally Published: April 9, 2013 by remingtoncooney |
As I mentioned in my last post, I began to study philosophy at the time that I was beginning to rise out of a very low point in my life. Philosophy became an outlet for this intense questioning process that had begun during my early teens. All my dissatisfaction was able to be channelled into the bigger questions that my classmates were now asking: questions about existence, the nature of being, the theory of knowledge, the meaning of love, and ethical dilemmas. But the one topic that I found most fascinating was that of free will versus determinism – the questioning of whether we are indeed free agents within our own lives.
I found this topic interesting because I wanted to know how instrumental I was in manifesting my own reality, and also, how much this had to do with the depression I so recently experienced. Was I destined to feel that way? Or was it something that I brought on myself? Am I destined to do something in-particular in life? Or is it all completely up to me? In other words, am I solely in charge of my life’s purpose, or is there something else deciding it for me? I spent many hours contemplating this topic and ended up writing my IB extended essay on a thesis with the basic premise that one is both pre-determined, and simultaneously, possesses free will.
I now see that Taoist thought can be applied to this juxtaposing theory, which in philosophy is known as ‘compatibilism.’ Remember how Taoist philosophy thrives on paradoxes? Well, let me explain the compatibilist theory that I conceived, through a Taoist’s eyes:
Recapping, we know that The Tao translates to ‘The Way,’ but it can also be translated as ‘path’ or ‘road.’
A determinist would believe there is only one path or way, and we are pre-determined to walk it right from birth. Therefore, it would not be necessary to find ‘the Way,’ and because of this, life would be very boring. The determinist argument always gets people down because if it were to be true, we would only be puppets in life’s play, with something greater than us always pulling the strings.
Alternatively, a libertarianist (believer in free-will) would believe that life has an infinite number of paths and we are completely in charge of whatever path we choose to walk.
My belief (compatibilist) is that within our lives we all have one set path or ‘Way’ that aligns most harmoniously to our being, and each person’s path is completely unique. Hence, finding the path we align to most, is a creative process of self-discovery. Even so, we are free to walk any of the other paths that are opportune in our life, but all these other paths won’t align as congenially to our being as this one ‘Way.’ Perhaps I could describe it as there being many ways but only one ‘Great Way.’ In Zen Buddhism, this Great Way is known as the ‘Buddha Way.’
I also believe that there are certain events in our life that are pre-determined. For example, we are all pre-determined to die and when and where are also pre-determined factors. Furthermore, many (but not all!) relationships in our lives are pre-determined meetings. But the sandwich that you will eat tomorrow, that is not pre-determined. This was my extended essay thesis in a nut-shell.
To reiterate, there are many roads we can walk, but only one Great Way or great road that we must find. Along this Great Way are certain pre-determined events, but not all events in our lives are pre-determined. This is all getting a little complicated (as philosophy tends to be), and no doubt you can probably pick multiple loops-holes in this theory. So, in good Taoist fashion, let me offer an analogy that will simplify it all:
We are all actors in life’s great play. We have all been assigned individual roles and we all have individual scripts to adhere to. If we want this play to go smoothly, we have to follow our scripts accordingly.
Within life’s great play are multiple cues for each actor. And what happens when an actor misses their cue? The play becomes staggered and everything becomes out of sync. So a Taoist in this play would aim to follow his/her cues as accurately, smoothly, and attentively as possible. We are all thrust into this play without choice, but once we are in this play we do have a choice. We can choose to adhere to the script that we have been given, or we can choose to rip it up and walk out (that being said, all death – including suicide – is a pre-determined factor). In life’s great play, we may choose to half-heartedly act our role, to mumble our lines, and just go through the motions. In contrast, we can choose to re-invent the script; to make it our own; to put life and passion into it – to act with vigor. However, what many of us tend to do is trail off from our script. We lose focus (aka get out of the present moment), and then all of a sudden we start missing our cues.
Life is constantly throwing us cues that are intended to make our journey along the Way a smooth and harmonious one. Following life’s cues comes from tuning into the Tao; tuning into the messages that our surroundings are sending us. It’s amazing what can happen when you take a walk in a forest and just allow yourself to be still. So many of the cues you’ve missed begin to show up.
Following life’s cues comes from doing two simple things: becoming present and aware (mindful). A good actor will never lose their centered presence and awareness when acting in a play, otherwise they will miss their cues. In life’s great play, we must also strive to do the same.