Ken Ward's Thoughts on Buddhism

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Right Intention (Step 2 on the Path)

Right intention is the intention and resolve to give up the causes of suffering, to give up ill-will and to adopt harmlessness. It contrasts with wrong intention, which involves craving for worldly things (wealth, sex, power) and the wish to harm.

On this page:

  1. Mundane Right Intention
  2. Right Intention without taints
  3. Three Aspects of Right Intention
  4. The Path Factors Interrelate
  5. Using Right Intention in Life

Right intention can also be known as "right thought", "right resolve", "right conception", "right aspiration" or "the exertion of our own will to change".

Right Intention is thinking free from craving, ill-will and cruelty. This is called Right Intention.

Another way of saying this is:

Right intention is being resolved on renunciation, on freedom from ill will, on harmlessness: This is called right intention.

That is, right intention is resolving to give up (renounce) craving, replace ill will with loving-kindness, and replace cruelty with harmlessness (compassion).

Right Intention is can be mundane, or without taints.

Mundane Right Intention

Thoughts free from craving, from ill-will, and from cruelty this is called the "Mundane Right Intention," which yields worldly fruits and brings good results. Here, he or she practices Right Intention in order to obtain benefits in this or the next world.

Right Intention without taints

But, when there is thinking and reasoning with the intention of following the path these verbal operations of the mind are called the Right Intention without taints. Right Intention is practiced as meditation, closely linked to developing the Path.  

Three Aspects of Right Intention

There are three aspects of right intention:

  1. the intention of renunciation,
  2. the intention of good will or loving-kindness and
  3. the intention of harmlessness

These three are similar. If we renounce, give up an angry thought or a desire, we do not encourage it, nor do we discourage it. We allow it to be. We can welcome it with loving-kindness, with an open and accepting mind. Of course, we respond to it with harmlessness, so, again, we do not oppose it, or force it in any way. The three are similar in that they involve neither forcing to be, nor forcing not to be. Such a response to thoughts and impulses causes them to dissolve, and sometimes they never arise again.

As a temporary expedient, however, we might use strong will to overcome a defilement.

Of course, we use Right View to view experience in terms of the Four Noble Truths.

These compare with wrong intention:

  1. intention due to desire,
  2. intention due to ill will, and
  3. intention due to harmfulness.

That is we intend to force something to us, drive it away, or do it harm. In the last case, we might draw some evil towards something, or force some good away from it.

The Path Factors Interrelate

Gotama referred to existence as a tangled skein, everything affects everything else. Buddhism is presented in a linear and orderly way, although the different factors, four noble truths, 'steps' on the Path all interrelate. After much practice, the whole can be applied to each part, and in the beginning, we use what we know so far.

Three other Path steps are closely involved with Right-Intention:

  1. right view,
  2. right effort, and
  3. right mindfulness.

Now, in understanding wrong-intention as unskilled, and right-intention as skilled, one practices Right View (Step 1).

In making efforts to overcome unskilled intention, and to arouse right-intention, one practices Right Effort (Step 6).

In overcoming unskilled-intention with attentive mind, and being attentive with right-intention, one practices Right Mindfulness (Step 7).

Using Right Intention in Life

We can use Right Intention towards actions and thoughts. We can apply it before the thought or action comes into being (becoming), as the thought or action changes, and after the action or thought has ended. Sometimes (often), especially during early practice, it is only after the action is completed, or the thought is manifested, that we are mindful what has happened. Practising with actions is often easier.

Actions

An action leads to suffering if it is not generous, good willed (loving kindness), and compassionate or harmless (not cruel)

Before acting, one asks, "Does this action lead to suffering." Obviously, if the answer is, "Yes", then we should avoid doing it.

While performing an action, we should ask the same question, "Does this action lead to suffering?". If so, one should stop doing it.

After performing an action, we ask the question, "Will this action lead to suffering?" and if so, one would confess this action and avoid it in the future.

Of course, we might not ask this exact questions, or any questions. We might just be aware that an action is unskilled (leads to suffering, for us or others, including other sentient beings). Of course, at some time we may need to carefully think about what we do and what we think, and we would probably use language and questions to guide our thinking wisely.