Appropriate Intention – Refining Intent

By Wayne Sensei (Ren Cheng)

To follow the Eightfold Path toward the alleviation of suffering we must recognize there is Appropriate Intent and Appropriate Intention.

Intention matters. We must be self-aware of our intention because the “why” we do something directly affects how we are and how we want to be. The intention behind an act arises from the conscious and unconscious mind being unified while an act without intention arises from the unconscious. One is done with thought as to what the encompassing karmic effects may be; the other is cause without any regard to effect. Engaged Buddhist recognize that they are responsible for their actions in either instance. We are not absolved of responsibility because an action was unintentional . . . they are still OUR actions. Appropriate intention is performing good acts with good intent. Compassion, greed, anger, love, fear, concern are examples of what can motivate us. Being mindful of motivation we can weed out those negative motives that might be behind some of our actions. We cannot choose between good acts and good intention, we must perform good acts with good intention.

Intention is the motive that makes up the foundation of our view, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration. It is the WHY we do what we do. It is engaging in pre-meditation before action takes place. This can be days of thought, seconds of consideration, or seem spontaneous in one who has developed an unconscious mind that parallels the conscious mind. It is telling that pre-meditation is a synonym for intention. In Buddhist practice meditation is how we train the mind toward thinking in a manner that promotes positive and harmonious solutions to issues we encounter.

Intention is the WHY in the equation: intention + intent = karmic consequence.

Intent matters. We must be self-aware of our intent because the “how” we do something directly affects how we are and how we want to be. Intent is the action taken with intention. The best of intentions can have negative results without sincere intent, without meaningful action. The unconsious mind can turn an act of selflessness into one of “what is in it for me” if negative behavioral dispostions are allowed to take control. We must develop and practice a continual conscious awareness of intent so we ensure the positive is always preferenced, so that bad habits and dispostions that may be in the unconscious mind don’t arise. Engaging in good because it is expected or because we feel we have to is not appropriate intent. Engaging in good because we’ll get a reward or recognition is not appropriate intent. Good actions derived with negative intent will engender negative karmic consequences.

Intent is the HOW in the equation: intention + intent = karmic consequence. Appropriate intent is performing good acts with good intent. Sincerity, meaningfulness, and determination are examples of what must lay at the core of our actions. We cannot choose between positive acts and positive intent, we must perform positive acts with positive intent.

Engaging Intent and Intention

Engaging intent and intention is not situational. There is little that is dogmatic in Buddhist philosophy and practice, intent and intention must be seen that way. Why we act and how we act must have a foundation of conscious thought and conscious action because we are responsible for what we do, intentional or not. We create karmic consequences in either case and as Buddhists our goal, our intention must arise from positive dispostions and habits, our intent must be sincere and meaningful. We must “take control” of the intentional karma we can control.

Making the equation – intention + intent = karmic consequence – a part of our conscious thought process can guide us toward appropriate intent/intention, eventually making it a spontaneous part of our conscious and unconscious thinking. Refining generosity, tolerance, morality requires our intention that our actions be of service to others, our intent to be sincere and diligent in those pursuits. Intention that is focused on encompassing and corrective actions that promote harmony, happiness and health combined with intent that is sincere and driven by positive habits and dispostions will lead to karmic consequences likely to result in human flourishing.

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