Right intention, part 2

The three components of right intention are:
— intention of renunciation
— intention of goodwill
— intention of harmlessness

Intention of renunciation was addressed in the previous post.

Intention of goodwill has to do with counteracting or mitigating whatever ill-will we harbor.

The remedy to ill-will that the Buddha recommends is cultivating metta (boundless loving-friendliness). We can’t force metta, but we can analyze our way into it: Do we want to be happy? Is there any reason to think that others don’t want the same thing? Can we put ourselves into another person’s shoes and recall that happiness and safety is what they want? Are they different from us in this regard? Isn’t my desire exactly the same as his or hers?

The intention of harmlessness is related to the intention of good will. While goodwill is cultivated through the practice of metta, harmlessness is cultivated through the practice of compassion. When we see suffering clearly, we want to relieve it.

We may have intentions (or daydreams) of harming other beings, sometimes humans, but also the dog that barks all night, the giant spider in our closet, the bird that poops in our hair, or the mosquito that bites us. When thoughts of harming are in our minds, we have an opportunity to see their negative effects on us. Often those thoughts are harming only us – their object never knows what’s happening in our mind.

We can develop our own strategies for dealing with thoughts of harming. If we remember that everyone suffers, each in her/his own way, we may be able to bring ourselves round to thoughts of compassion, for the “other” and for ourselves. This is the most wholesome response, but if we can’t manage it, then we can at least try to refrain from acting on thoughts of harming through our words or deeds.

We can start the day by consciously setting our intentions. First, we can recognize that sometime today, desires will come up, and that we will have choices about whether to allow those desires to drive our actions or not. We can form the intention to take care with our desires and at least consider setting aside the ones that we can see will lead us down a road better left untaken.

Second, we can confirm our internal desire for kindness and friendliness. If we hold metta in our hearts, it will uplift us and make it harder for feelings of ill-will to gain a foothold.

Third, we can resolve to see suffering where there is suffering – in ourselves and others. If we recognize pain as pain, our natural compassion will rise to meet it.

With these three intentions – renunciation, good will and harmlessness – as our steering mechanism, we are sure to stay on the path. They also serve as an excellent guide to our next path factor: right speech.

The factors of the eight-fold path are:

1. Right View (of the ownership of action)
2. Right Intention (renunciation, goodwill, harmlessness)
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration

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Filed under The 8-fold path

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