View and intention

“From the Buddhist perspective, the cognitive and purposive sides of the mind do not remain isolated in separate compartments but intertwine and interact in close correlation. Emotional predilections influence views, and views determine predilections.” (All quotes today from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/waytoend.html#ch3)

This quote from Bhikkhu Bodhi summarises the relationship between the first two elements of the Buddha’s 8-fold path. Our views form our intentions and our intentions reinforce our views.

The second factor of the path is called in Pali samma sankappa, which we will translate as “right intention.” The term is sometimes translated as “right thought,” a rendering that can be accepted if we add the proviso that in the present context the word “thought” refers specifically to the purposive or conative aspect of mental activity, the cognitive aspect being covered by the first factor, right view. It would be artificial, however, to insist too strongly on the division between these two functions. From the Buddhist perspective, the cognitive and purposive sides of the mind do not remain isolated in separate compartments but intertwine and interact in close correlation. Emotional predilections influence views, and views determine predilections. Thus a penetrating view of the nature of existence, gained through deep reflection and validated through investigation, brings with it a restructuring of values which sets the mind moving towards goals commensurate with the new vision. The application of mind needed to achieve those goals is what is meant by right intention.

Another way to say this is that we put our beliefs into action, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unconsciously. The work of the second step on the path is to bring this process into awareness, to recognize the basis in view of our intentional actions, and to see how the trajectory of our actions reinforces our perspective on ourselves and the world.

As with all parts of the 8-fold path, bringing our attention to the issue is 80% of the work. We do not naturally keep track of why we are doing what we do. It just seems to happen. But if we look closely enough we see that the way we interact with people, the attitude with which we approach a task or duty, even the flavor of our thoughts, all reflect an inner conviction, a view of how things are.

The Buddha helpfully divides right intention into three categories:
– the intention of renunciation (addressing intentions of sensual desire)
– the intention of good will (addressing intentions of ill will), and
– the intention of harmlessness (addressing harmful intentions)

We’ll have a look at each of these in coming posts.

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