Right Intention

I just finished the section on right intention in Bhikkhu Nānamoli’s The Life of the Buddha. It is a short section that is comprised of a few passages from the Sutras commenting on what right intention is.  But in these short passages, so much of our practice is contained!

Before I sat down to read this section, I was definitely anxious.  Anxious from having moved and still in the slow process of sorting and cleaning, from feelings of not having completed enough work on my own research, and from feeling like the moments of the day were slipping away from me.  These background feelings were affecting how I judged and perceived and treated myself and those around me!  In this context, I sat down and read the following:

[They] do not choose for their own affliction, for others’ affliction, or for the affliction of both.

In my context, in that moment, I was overcome with feelings that were affecting my actions.  But, this passage helped to open a space.  The feelings kept arising, persisting, growing, and passing away, but what I didn’t see in that moment is that my actions in response to those feelings were my choice – at least insofar as I didn’t choose to act differently.  The option to act in a more wholesome way was there, but I didn’t see it.  And in that blindness, I let habitual action take hold.

I am always surprised when I read short passages from the Sutras such as this one.  The message is so simple.  There is nothing hidden behind it, no secret message that comes later – just the simple message to move in a kinder, more wholesome direction.  The real difficulty is not in the message, but in the practice – not just the momentary practice of right intention when things feel like they are falling apart, but in the continuous practice of the Dhamma each moment of our lives!

May this message find each of you doing well today!  And if you are caught in a storm, may your practice sustain you and shelter you as you watch the rains!

(Note: the section on right intention is in Bhikkhu Nānamoli’s The Life of the Buddha, page 237.)

5 thoughts on “Right Intention”

  1. I love this portion: “The option to act in a more wholesome way was there, but I didn’t see it. And in that blindness, I let habitual action take hold.” That reads like beautiful poetry!

    To think of our (re)actions as “habits” is such a gentle, nonjudgmental way of reflecting on ourselves and others. Who doesn’t have habits, right? Then, perhaps, we can see more and more what those habits are and aren’t.

    Thanks for the post!

    1. Thank you for the comment! And the kind words about the post!

      I appreciate your reformulation of “action” into “(re)action”. That word captures the spirit of the comments I was relating. Haju Sunim, my teacher back in Ann Arbor, talks about our habit energies and how practice helps us wake up to them. Habitual action, habitual energies, whatever they are – they are definitely something we all have, as you say!

      Here’s to working to see them clearly for what they are! Thank you again and have a good week ahead!

  2. Hi Kusa! That’s so fascinating: how our practice helps us to wake up to our habit energies. It’s such a different focus/approach/attitude from our usual problem-fixation and problem-solving ways (at least in my experience of American culture), where we often look for answers and hard conclusions. We can be so solution-oriented that we may bypass or ignore the entire process happening inside ourselves. We can take for granted the process that is us. And then spend so much of our lives chasing after perfect situations/conditions that will finally bring us peace and happiness.

    You’ve given me much to fascinate on. Thanks again!

  3. I’m frequently surprised at how directly and simply the Buddha spoke on these matters.

    This reveals how my mind makes complexity – over and over.

    1. At the moment when I was reading the quoted passage above, I think the simplicity cut through my crazed fantasies like a knife!

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