The Buddha’s Eightfold Path can be divided into three sections: sīla (ethical behavior), samādhi (mental development), and paññā (wisdom). [BTW, you can look up a summary of the eightfold path anytime in the listing on the right of the home page.] While we can do specific practices to increase our ethical behavior and mental training, we could think of wisdom as the result of those developmental efforts. And then our wisdom moves us more deeply into training in the other two categories. The process is more circular or holographic than linear; like a three-legged stool where all three legs are equally important.
The companion to Right View in the “wisdom” part of the eightfold path is Right Intention (Sammā Saṅkappa). View is about the attitude we carry, and intention is the link between our ideas and how we behave. Sammā Saṅkappa is sometimes translated as Right Resolve or Right Thought and has to do with our functioning motivations. When we work with Right Intention, we direct mindfulness to what our intentions are as we act, speak, and think.
Right intention has to do with training our thoughts towards humility, kindness, and an awareness of others’ (and our own) vulnerability. These are summarized as:
1. Intention of renunciation
2. Intention of good will
3. Intention of harmlessness
It might be a useful exercise to think about the opposites of these intentions, i.e., an intention of greed or sensual satisfaction, hatred, and cruelty. Most of us are not usually at either extreme of any of these polarities, but we could try to gauge whether we can move towards the more wholesome intentions and to consciously flag the unwholesome ones for investigation when they come up.
Our intentions form the aiming skill of the heart; they propel and guide what we do. Some people say that every action has an intention behind it, conscious or unconscious. Habit patterns can be a powerful driver of our actions. Part of our work is to bring more of our intentions into consciousness so we can work with them.
Gregory Kramer talks about three levels of intention being nested: our overarching intention, episodic intention, and momentary intention. The example he uses is to remember the overarching intention when the episodic or momentary level pulls in the opposite direction. Say you have the habit of doing some physical movement every day, but getting started is always hard. We are successful when we remember why we developed this habit and that if we avoid it, we will feel less good than if we overcome some initial resistance. The same applies to a meditation practice; even if there’s reluctance at the start, we’re unlikely to regret sitting down to meditate, no matter how briefly.