March 7, 2012

Right Intention: Surrender & Be Kind.

Photo: Tony the Misfit

Very little grows on jagged rock.
Be ground.
Be crumbled
so wildflowers will grow up where you are.
You’ve been stony for too many years.
Try something different.

{part two of eightfold path series}

Right intention is the second aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path. (Learn about the first aspect, right view.) The Buddha explained right intention as threefold: the intention of renunciation, the intention of goodwill and the intention of harmlessness… as opposed to three parallel kinds of wrong intention, those governed by desire, ill will and  harmfulness.

The Intention of Renunciation

The Pali word for renunciation means “to go forth.” To proceed on the path of awakening. Renunciation is not a matter of giving up our desires, but rather radically changing our perspective so that the desires no longer bind us. In other words, renunciation is letting go. Not merely repressing desires (which never works) but rather letting go of clinging — to the solid ego-identity, addictions, bad habits, detrimental relationships, belligerent self-talk, and so forth.
Renunciation is constantly accepting what is. This doesn’t usually happen overnight. What do we do with unskillful thoughts and intentions in the meantime? Practice with them. Can we see and accept the fact that we’re clinging? If so, can we relax, even just a little bit? That would be a superb place to begin.

The Intention of Goodwill

Cultivation of goodwill means giving love free of craving and attachment. This is also known as metta.

The purest intention is bodhichitta, the wish to realize enlightenment for the sake of others.

For the ultimate benefit of all beings without exception,
throughout this and all my lifetimes,
I dedicate myself to the practice and realization of enlightenment.
Sentient beings are numberless: I vow to liberate them.
Delusions are inexhaustible: I vow to transcend them.
Dharma teachings are boundless: I vow to master them.
The Buddha’s enlightened way is unsurpassable: I vow to embody it.
~Bodhisattva Vows

Of course, we humans have mixed intentions and emotions. For example, upon receiving the news that a friend is getting married to a wonderful person or getting a big promotion, we may feel both joy and envy. We need to honor both the parts of ourselves that are open and the parts that are not (yet).

The Intention of Harmlessness

In “mathematical” terms, suffering equals pain times resistance. Where there’s lots of resistance to painful sensations or situations, there’s a plethora of suffering. No resistance equals no suffering. And yet, we all resist most unpleasant things, most of the time.

With this in mind, we can cultivate and emit compassion for all beings, including ourselves. When we put ourselves in another’s shoes, empathy arises quite naturally. Over the eons, we’ve gone from only caring about blood ties, to religious brethren, to fellow countrymen and women… the next step is care for all sentient beings and Mother Earth herself. I wonder, can we build a truly empathic civilization? When? How?

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for upcoming posts on the other six aspects of the Eightfold Path.

“Practicing charity and compassion without attachment is the way to reaching the Highest Perfect Wisdom, to becoming a living buddha.” ~ Diamond Sutra


Editor: Kate Bartolotta.

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