I used to get pretty confused by these two definitions, seeing them as similar and yet been reminded repeatedly they are totally different. The answers I got did not fulfill my needs, and so the mind is consistently on the alert trying to understand the two.
Inquisitiveness is one of the characteristic of wisdom and thus when a question is posed to the mind, it will naturally incline to a solution, without me needing to give it an answer. By giving it an answer I am only resolving the question at the same level where it comes from, making the question seems meaningless.
And it only dawn upon me recent in the retreat that both respond and reaction are indeed different. But before I come into defining them I would suggest to see every experience as either a cause or an effect (result). We can’t do anything to the effect as it has already arisen. Neither can we do anything to the cause of that effect. But what we can do is to set a new cause for the effect to take place. Thus to undo a similar situation in the future, it is imperative that we learn to recognize what are the causes to the effect that took place, making us wiser not to repeat it again. On the other hand it is also imperative to recognize what are the cause(s) that brought about joyful effect so that we are able to create or condition them to occur.
Observe that everything which we experience within our sense doors are all effects. They are results of the immediate past for experience to take place. You can also say that the effect is also the cause for another experience to take place in the immediate future. In other words, experience is effect from the past and cause for the future.
Another way of seeing cause and effect is on the subject and object level. If I am the subject, all experiences outside are objects for me to experience. When I am angry, my object is at someone outside there (if I am been triggered by him/her). If my target is on the outside, which is the object, I am reacting to the situation. If my attention is on the inside, which is the subject, I am responding to the situation. Reaction, which we normally referred as irrational, is truly irrational in the sense that it target on the effect – a unworthy action that is pointless. It is like barking on the wrong tree.
On the other hand when I give attention to my anger, I am responding to the cause of the effect, which is truly what I am experiencing, what I am feeling. I can only experience anger but I can’t experience someone making me angry – the former is a feeling, the latter a thought in the form of a story. When I am responding to the anger, I am no longer in the story or thought, but instead on what is true to me at this moment – I take full responsibility to what is occurring in my space instead of getting someone to be responsible of my anger.
From this observation and understanding which I realized from my recent retreat, I am confident to say that response comes from wisdom, whereas reaction comes from the ego. I finally come to peace with these two words. :)
Have you discovered the beginning, then, so that you are seeking the end? For where the beginning is, the end will be. Fortunate is the one who stands at the beginning: That one will know the end and will not taste death.