By Ty Phillips
“I didn’t do anything wrong, because I had good intentions, and that’s all that matters.”
We often tell ourselves this, in an order to justify that our intentions were pure. In some cases this may be true. We are often misled by false assumptions and in an attempt at kindness or helpfulness, we cause unintentional harm.
In Buddhism, we call this wrong view. It is part of the Four Noble Truths and is seen as one of the root causes of self inflicted suffering. It is a seemingly simple concept, yet taking the time to sit back and reflect at just how much of our lives are directed by wrong view, will reveal the truth about our intentions.
As a child, I was raised in a conflicted home.
My father was an abuser and my mother was a devoted charismatic (read: just shy of snake handling). I was often exposed to sights and behaviors that I found traumatic, at best. I was expected to speak in tongues, heal by the laying on of hands and to be a shining example of manhood for my father; when I was all of seven years old.
This world view created little more than fear and self doubt. Couple this with an abusive father who came and went on a whim, and I became a very insecure child.
On one such occasion, I was at a signs of the spirit revival. Children and adults alike were prayed over in the hopes that we would begin to speak in tongues or manifest—in some fashion—the power of God.
I was terrified.
As the adults surrounded me, I began to cry and tell them that I was afraid. This lapse in my courage was seen as demonic oppression and I was immediately put into an exorcism ritual. Shouts and prayers of encouragement turned into shouts and prayers to “free this young man from Satan’s grip!” Hands were on my chest and back, hands were on my head and I felt tugged and pushed in every direction.
I fell down into a huddle and tried to withdraw. I hated God, and I hated this place.
Years of this type of strange and bewildering behavior created distaste for anything religious and I turned into an angry and defiant young man. Regardless of all that happened, I know that my mother had good intentions. However, because her intentions were directed by wrong view, they turned out to be harmful.
Much like this story, and maybe not in such a drastic fashion, we justify ourselves. Our intentions are good! We stomp our feet in defiance at criticism and shake our heads in distaste that our help and encouragement is not taken up in open arms and acted upon like it was the word of an almighty God.
As my Buddhist practice began to flourish, I noticed that I often did harmful things, thinking they were well intentioned, because I was being directed by wrong view.
I was caught off guard by how tightly I grasped at cherished beliefs and allowed them to direct my actions. It was often the case that I would refuse to look at or engage any theme that might contradict these cherished beliefs and in so doing, I was creating a cycle of ignorance and suffering; what Buddhists call samsara.
What I was forced to confront in myself and what I hope this article has helped shed light on, is the nature of good intentions vs. wrong view. The truth of that is that if we are acting under false assumptions, our intentions cannot be wholly pure. This may seem judgmental, but I want to assure you that intention is needed and is a must for progress on any path. What we have to uncover in ourselves however, is whether or not our intention is being directed by beliefs or by compassion.
Compassion doesn’t need to reassure a belief.
It is the abandonment of a fixed ego in pursuit of being of benefit to every situation simply for the sake of helping. Beliefs, while at times helpful, are often a rigid sense of self aggrandizement. They build our notions of a fixed ego and often lead us to act in ways that are unhelpful and often harmful.
So, maybe the next time we stop to reassure ourselves that our intentions were good; we instead stop, and look. Was I being directed by what I believe or by what was truly best for this person, regardless of what I believe? Compassion has no faith, no rigidity, and no ego. It is a state of being that is forged in the fires of willing sacrifice for those around us.
With this as our intentions, we quickly become aware that right view isn’t so hard after all.
Editor: Dana Gornall