As is true with views, we often don’t know what our intentions are when we act. We are so accustomed to being on auto-pilot through our days that the time needed to reflect on our intentions doesn’t seem to be available.
But, to practice the Buddha’s path, we need to try to know our intentions. This may mean slowing down a bit to see our actions more clearly as they happen. A gradual path of less reactivity and more reflection will help us know our intentions.
The second factor of the 8-fold path is right intention, that is, intention of renunciation, goodwill and harmlessness. Goodwill and harmlessness, and their opposites, are not so hard to discern in our experience, at least after the fact. But renunciation might be the single goal within the Buddha’s teaching that makes the least sense to modern people. What do we think renunciation means?
It might be easier to understand renunciation if we pair it with its opposite — grasping. When we release any form of grasping, we are practicing renunciation. Seeking out, grabbing, and holding onto things, material or immaterial, makes us feel solid and real. Our cultures seem determined to convince us that what we like and what we don’t like define us. Are we simply an accumulation of shifting desires and aversions? Or is there something else?
When we release a moment of wanting, when we let go of “I must have X” or “I can’t stand Y”, what’s left? Renunciation is a less dramatic feeling than grasping, but it is more peaceful and reliable. When our energy is pushing forward to get or reject something, and we notice that, we can practice renunciation by observing, relaxing, and understanding the process of grasping and letting go.
As Thanissaro Bhikkhu says, renunciation is trading candy for gold. We trade immediate, short-lived gratification for a deeper balance and peace.
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 (truthful, harmonious, gentle, meaningful)
4. Right Action (non-harming, non-taking, good conduct in sensual matters)
5. Right Livelihood (legal, peaceful, honest, non-harming)
6. Right Effort (abandon the unwholesome, cultivate the wholesome)
7. Right Mindfulness (body, feeling, mind-states, dhammas)
8. Right Concentration (the four jhanas)