Question: “How does buddhism explain consciousness and free will?”
I could probably write a couple of books on consciousness. Buddhist Psychology and the study of consciousness is extremely vast, so I won’t say much, but I do recommend eventually studying the topic. Warning though, unless you’ve been studying Buddhism for some time, I do not recommend touching the topic yet. It’ll just cause major confusion and doubt.
But I will say a few words. Consciousness in Buddhism is one of the “main” topics of study. It is the consciousness that is reborn from life to life. In Buddhism, we study the Eight Consciousnesses. The first five consciousnesses are our senses (eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and body), the sixth is the mind. The seventh consciousness is the “mixing pot.” It’s where the previous six consciousnesses meet. It is our seventh consciousness that manages our thoughts, speech, and actions. And the outcome and effects of those thoughts, speech, and actions are stored in our eight consciousness, hence it is called the “store consciousness.” The eight consciousness is what moves with us from one form of life onto another.
I think that’s as simple of an explanation I could give without going into a full essay! Moving on.
Free will. Well, it’s free. However, our decisions are determined by our karma of our past and present life. So even though we may say, “I am my own person and I do what I want,” the things that you do is governed by your karma. For example, because of our “not the best karma,” we were born and grew up in a poor neighborhood. Maybe we grew up surrounded by drugs and gangs. So our mind is being conditioned that buying and selling drugs and crimes is just normal and part of life. We are making these decisions. Now assume because of our “good karma,” we are born and grew up in a middle upper class neighborhood. We were raised by educated and successful parents. We went to good schools and now have a good job. Again, our mind is being conditioned according to this environment. So we may see things like drugs and gangs bad, and avoid any sort of crime. We are making the decisions to avoid them.
So I believe free will and karma go hand-in-hand. One if because of the other. BUT, just because we grew up rich or poor doesn’t mean we make the right or wrong decisions. Poor doesn’t equal criminal and rich doesn’t equal successful. We can always change our circumstances. If we are poor, we can get ourselves out of poverty with hard work and diligence. We can work our way out and up.
Only we are responsible for our own decisions. We may be influenced slightly according to our karma and environment, but ultimately the decision is ours. Free will is ours.
Smile and be well!