In this third post of the Noble Eightfold Path, we’ll be discussing Right Intention. This makes up the second part of the wisdom group, and is kin to Right View. While Right View deals with perspective, Right Intention deals with that which precedes action. Intention is defined as a determination to act in a certain way. At getting to the root of wrong intention, we can replace it with a more wholesome type of determination, or more to the point, a better application of thought that moves more in synch with Right View to achieve better outcomes and end suffering.
Our world view, or perspective, is the predecessor of intention. Our focus determines, to a degree, our perceptions of reality. If those perceptions and perspectives are out of balance, we will act out of balance. Our intentions will be coming from a place of confusion instead of clarity. When we have Right View, Right Intention can naturally follow, and manifest in the world through our actions. Intention is the bridge between perspective and action, and forms the basis of our determination in regard to action, or behavior.
There are three parts of Right Intention. Those parts are renunciation, good will, and harmlessness. These are set to counteract desire, ill will, and harmfulness. These counteract each other directly, and you can see which are opposites of which. The following sections will discuss each in detail.
This word conjures up an image of monks and nuns in some cloistered environment, living a life of poverty and chastity. We might think of certain religious sects that don’t celebrate birthdays, or use technology. These images are ingrained in pop culture and the collective psyche, but one need not give up everything in order to become enlightened. While cases of monks and nuns are extreme, renunciation is a tool that can be very effective in negating desire and greed.
Materialistic society is filed with desire. We are constantly bombarded with ads depicting the latest and greatest products and services that can enhance your life, and make you whole. We are sold to almost everywhere we look, be it on billboards, television, in shows and movies, in magazines, book, newspapers, radio, internet, and any other form of media we invent. While advertising sells products and forms a basis for a large segment of our economic model, it also has the propensity to elicit desire, and in some cases, strong desire that can cause suffering.
We are told that we need the latest iPhone, perfume, soap, car, tv, computer, financial product, insurance service, makeup, clothing, entertainment, etc… Our lives would be whole if we just buy the latest fix. This is demonized by some, but it doesn’t have to be. We can live in harmony with capitalism if we don’t let the desire control us and our view of ourselves and the world. We can enjoy all of those things that are available to us without letting the pursuit of those things alter our view of ourselves and of the world. By lessening the pull of those things, we lessen our desire. When we lessen our desires and cravings, we don’t act with the intention of acquiring a constant supply of new things, often to the detriment of ourselves and others. Our happiness begins to come from inside and we realize that we can enjoy things without attaching a need to them.
This way, we can in essence, renounce not the things themselves, but our attachment to and false sense of need of things to make us whole. We renounce the falseness, and replace that with an understanding of our relationship to the latest and greatest products and services that the world has to offer. We can truly enjoy things because we don’t fear losing them, and we don’t measure our status and success in life based on what we have, or how we look. We become more balanced and our behavior mirrors this. Things like greed and envy begin to lessen their part in our lives. Understanding is the key here, not repression.
There is much fear and anger in our society. These things seem to get worse as economic conditions deteriorate. People tend to become isolated and protectionist. While this might serve survival in the short term, good will will serve much better returns long term.
Good will in regard to Right Intention means not harboring bad thoughts toward others. This is often easier said than done, as we are confronted by other people acting out of self-interest daily. This is especially evident on our roads and freeways. Aggressive drivers seem to be everywhere, and can really cause dangerous conditions for no rational reason. For many, driving, especially around aggressive drivers is a trigger into fear and anger. More often than not, our intention is to wish ill will toward the person who is being aggressive. However, this will not end suffering, but can in fact prolong it, or cause new suffering.
By wishing even the worst people good will, we can negate the ill will and negative views that we cast in their direction. This will have the immediate effect of negating the negativity, and intention to harm. Looking at these people with pity can go a long way toward healing yourself of anger and fear. Realizing that they are just people, perhaps a a much earlier stage of realization, can go a long way in giving us the patience to foster good will toward others, even in trying circumstances.
The third division of Right Intention is Harmlessness. This is pretty simple. Do no harm. This means no harm to yourself and no harm to others.
In the context of Right Intention, it means to not have the intention, or resolve, to hurt others or yourself. This includes physical, intellectual, and emotional harm. The intention to make fun of another person is similar to the intention to hit another person, or to insult another persons’ intelligence.
It is important to watch your thoughts, and the emotions that they stir. These emotions lead to intention, which can lead to action. The laws of cause and effect state that when you cause harm, it propagates and returns to you. When you act out of compassion, that compassion goes out into the world and returns to you. Ever action has a certain string of consequences. It’s always better to act out of clear and understood intention, than to just give in to emotion and act out of ignorant intention brought about by ignorant perspective.
By practicing Right Intention, you can begin to negate the harmful effects of bad motives in your life, and the lives of those around you. Witnessing your thoughts helps you to catch these bad habits before they result in action. Right View and Right Intention go hand in hand, and together can provide you a powerful base for self transformation.