The Will-Inference


The mechanism of living seems to be based on the notion that what sentient beings do is due to an act of volition on the part of each such phenomenal object.

It is obvious, however, that they react rather than act, and that their living is conditioned by instinct, habit, fashion, and propaganda. Their way of life is primarily a series of reflexes, which leaves a limited scope for deliberate and considered action; that is, purposeful action which, superficially considered, might appear to be the result of volition, or what is called an act of will.

Nevertheless 'volition' is only an inference, for, search as we may, we can find no entity to exercise it. All we can find is an impulse which appears to be an expression of the notion of 'I'. It would seem to be unjustifiable to assume that such an impulse could be capable of affecting the inexorable chain of causation or, alternatively, the process of manifestation which produces apparent events, unless itself it were an element of one or of the other.



Volition, then, would seem to be an illusory inference, a mere demonstration on the part of an energised I-concept, resulting either in frustration or fulfilment and thereby being the source and explanation of the notion of karma. Sentient beings are entirely 'lived' as such, as has often been noted by philosophers and endorsed by metaphysicians, and the psycho-somatic phenomenon is inexorably subject to causation. That is why sentient beings as such, as the Buddha is credited with stating and re-stating in the Diamond Sutra, are not as entities. That, also, is why, since as phenomena thay are not, noumenally - though they cannot be as entities or as anything objective - nevertheless, they are as noumenon.

And noumenon, by definition being integrally devoid of any trace-element of objectivity, is not, cannot be, in any sense whatever - since all forms of being must necessarily be objective. Here language fails us and must be left behind like the raft that has carried us across the river. All we can say is something such as 'this, which is all that sentient beings are, itself is not'.

If this is not understood it will appear unsatisfying but, if understood, it will appear luminous and revelatory, and for the obvious reason that the understanding is 'itself' this noumenon which we are.

But here the eternal reminder is necessary: phenomena which, as the term asserts, we appear to be, are nothing but noumenon, and noumenon, which is all that we are, though as such itself is not, is as phenomena (as its appearance).

'Volition', therefore, though it is not - is only an appearance phenomenally - is noumenally and may be regarded as an objectivisation of noumenality. As such we know it as buddhi or prajna, as intuitional inseeing and, knowing it, it is ourselves, all that we are, which - in the knowing of it - we are knowing, for this which we are is this knowing of it.

All very simple, evidently, until you try to objectify it in words.


Definition of Volition

Perhaps the question of volition may be most readily understood just by asking who there is to exercise volition and who there is to experience the results of it.

Phenomenally there is an apparent cause, which can be called ego-volition, and a psychic effect, which may be fulfilment or which may be frustration.

The effect of conditioned 'volition' is the result of causes of which the volition is a mediate effect-cause, and an apparent psycho-somatic apparatus experiences that effect.

And as regards that 'volition' which is non-volition, wu wei or bodhi, the ultimate effect is integration.

In order that there might be volition and the result of volition there would need to be an entity to exercise the one and to suffer the other. If it is found that there are no such entities then no such thing as volition can exist other than as a concept.

Noumenally there is no volition - because there is no I.
Phenomenally spontaneity alone is non-volitional.

But by understanding what volition is not, the way may be found to be open whereby that 'volition' which is non-volition may liberate us, as apparent objects, from the bondage which is due to that identification with an objectivisation, which we have never been, are not, and never could be.



Living non-volitionally is a contradiction in terms (unless it implies being 'lived').

Not reacting to events as a result of understanding this is living non-volitionally (or being 'lived').

Intellectual understanding is a conditioned cause. Intuitional understanding might be a non-mediate cause.

For cause and effect are divided in Time, but Intemporally they are one.

(© HKU Press, 1965)

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