By John Lee Pendall
“I wish someone would kick him in shin,” is an example of not Right/Skillful/Wise Intention/Thought/Resolve. I think it’s funny how we’ve never gotten together and settled on definitive translations for this stuff.
According to the B-Man in SN 45.8, Right Intention, er, Resolve is: “Being resolved on renunciation, on freedom from ill-will, on harmlessness.” Basically, that means wanting to not be a jerk. The renunciation part takes some unpacking. Renunciation is nekkhamma, which etymologically means, “Lack of sensual desire.” It’s actually phrased as nekkhamma-chanda: the desire to not desire sensual pleasures. Hooray for meta-cognition!
So, what the hell is a sensual pleasure? Basically, it’s the giant list of precepts that monastics abide by like: sex, music, dancing, quality bedding, big meals, etc.” Abstaining from such things is only part of the Path; the core of it is in not desiring them to begin with. So, wanting to not want to hear a great song or sleep on a nice bed is, traditionally, part of Right Intention.
But, let’s be realistic: that’s unrealistic. Most of us taking the Living the 8 challenge aren’t monastics. While there’s something that can be said for getting the whole renunciant experience, it just isn’t practical for most of us. To abide by Right Livelihood, for instance, most of us would have to quit our jobs—which I’m all for if you’re willing to pay me.
To me, renunciation is only feasible if we’re 1) renouncing self-centeredness, or 2) renouncing extremes of any form. The traditional Path was a Middle Way when it was paved 2,500 years ago. These days, hedonism and desire are so commonplace that, if we go ultra-traditionalist, we’re falling into an extreme. So, I think that renunciation can only be defined by the individual, and that this definition can change over time.
Right Intention is actually supported by three other Folds: View, Effort, and Mindfulness. Right View is the blueprint, Mindfulness is remembering to refer to the blueprint, and Effort is building the house.
These three are actually at work in all the Folds. Right Intention means that we’re planning on using this house for the benefit of all beings, not just for ourselves. The house represents your life. Skillful Intention is what makes this work a labor of love rather than a tedious battle uphill.
Really, Right Intention is about asking ourselves, “Is what I’m about to do selfish or selfless? Is it fueled by wisdom, compassion and equanimity, or greed, anger, and ignorance?” If the motivation is selfless, compassionate, and equanimous, then it’s Right Intention. If it’s selfish or permeated by anger, hatred, worry, greed, or ignorance, then it’s Wrong Intention. Intentions shape our lives because intention is the main agonist behind our habits and conditioning (karma).
Intention is closely tied with the fourth aggregate: volition.
Volition is our urge to do something. If I have an unpleasant itch on my foot and the urge to scratch it, that urge to scratch it is volition. If my motivation to scratch it is filled with irritation, then that’s Wrong Intention; if it isn’t, then it’s neutral. If I’m meditating with the intention to save all beings from suffering, and I want to relieve that itch so that I won’t be distracted from that aim, then that’s Right Intention.
Being mindful of Right Intention means being aware of our emotions. Emotions exist to direct our behavior. Whenever there’s pride, greed, hatred, frustration, worry, envy, etc. there’s bound to be Wrong Intention since Right Intention is an antidote to those feelings.
The Metta Sutta is basically a recipe for cooking Right Intention. Whenever there’s friendliness, joy, compassion, and equanimity there’s Right Intention. So, whenever we’re aware that there’s a Wrong Intention present, it’s recommended that we do a little metta or Four Immeasurables meditation.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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He has a B.S. in psychology and lives between two cornfields in rural Illinois. His errant knowledge base covers Buddhism, philosophy, psychology, astronomy, theology, music theory, and quoting lines from movies.
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