Right Intention – Emptiness of Clinging

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Right Intention develops the true meaning of emptiness: to empty oneself of clinging.

It is the cultivation of moment-to-moment mindfulness of the Eightfold Path that develops release from clinging and a mind of lasting peace. Release from clinging is the condition that the Buddha described as awakened, and a mind of lasting peace is the quality of mind of an awakened human being.

Throughout the Pali Canon Right Intention is described as a cause, a condition, and a quality of mind. As one factor of the Eightfold Path, the Buddha describes Right View in conjunction with Right Intention as the initial understanding and action necessary for the development of the other factors of the path:

“And how is Right View the forerunner (for further development)? With Right View one understands wrong intention as wrong intention and Right Intention as Right Intention. Wrong intention is holding the intention for constant sensory fulfillment, for ill will and being harmful. Right Intention is the intention to abandon wrong intention and develop and maintain Right Intention. This is Right Effort (the sixth factor of the Eightfold Path). Being mindful to abandon wrong intention and develop and maintain Right Intention is Right Mindfulness (the seventh factor of the Eightfold Path). These three qualities of Right View, Right Effort and Right Mindfulness inform and support Right Intention.” [1]

As the second factor of the Eightfold Path Right Intention is clearly the cause for the condition  of awakening. Following Right View, Right Intention provides the motivation for Right Effort and points the mind to Right Mindfulness, to hold in mind the abandonment of clinging to objects and views.

Later developments and accommodations (or dismissal) to the Eightfold Path to allow for the substitution of the intention of becoming a Bodhisatta (Bodhisattva, Skt.) fail to develop the cause of the condition of awakening. The Buddha consistently describes awakening as “unbound” or “released” from clinging to objects and views.

In the Devedhavitakka Sutta the Buddha teaches the assembled monks that without Right Intention, the intention to recognize and renounce clinging, the mind remains confused and split between an altruistic goal but lacking the heightened wisdom developed through mindful recognition and renunciation of clinging: “Monks, prior to my awakening, when I was an unawakened Bodhisatta, I thought I could continue to divide my thinking. I continued thinking intended on sensuality, ill-will and harmfulness and thinking intended on renunciation, good-will and harmlessness.

“As I remained mindful and well-concentrated thinking with the intention of clinging arose in me. I now recognized that thinking with the intention of clinging has arisen in me. Thinking with the intention of clinging brings suffering for me and others. This thinking can only lead to more ignorance and does not develop unbinding (from clinging).

“As I noticed that wrong intention develops more suffering, wrong intention subsided. Subsequently, when wrong intention arose in me I simply abandoned it. [2]

Even altruistic intentions can lead to further confusion and suffering, as the Buddha teaches here, if there continues a clinging view lacking wisdom. Developing a view of self attached to impermanent concepts must eventually be recognized as founded in wrong intention and abandoned if developing as an awakened human being is to be realized.

In the Anguttara Nikaya the Buddha teaches that being mindful of Right Intention to awaken will benefit all beings: “Practicing the Dhamma for one’s own benefit and for others is to be praised.” [3]

Being mindful of Right Intention to awaken with the understanding that, like the Buddha, an awakened human being can then assist others in ending suffering is noble engagement with the Dhamma. The Buddha did not send monks out to teach the Dhamma until they had awakened. Once awakened, teaching the Buddha’s Dhamma was simply an expression of their awakening.

In the Majjhima Nikaya the Buddha teaches his son Rahula that in thought, word and deed one should be mindful of Right Intention: “In thought, word and deed always be mindful of the consequences. Will the consequences be painful or will they develop unbinding? If, through mindfulness, you know your thoughts, words and deeds will lead to further confusion and suffering, you should abandon them. If, through mindfulness, you know that your thoughts words and deeds will develop peaceful consequences developing unbinding you may continue.” [4]

With the quality of mind of Right Intention informing thoughts, words and deeds, living within the framework of the Eightfold Path becomes possible and effective.

In the Samyutta Nikaya the Buddha succinctly teaches Right Intention as “being mindful of the Right Intention to recognize and renounce clinging, to remain free from ill-will and to remain harmless. This is Right Intention.” [5]

Right Intention is emphasized throughout the Pali Canon and is the motivation for Dhamma practice. Without the cultivation of Right Intention, practice can easily be distracted and lose focus of the Buddha’s stated goal of the Dhamma: to abandon clinging to all objects and views.

Being mindful of Right Intention, holding in mind the strong resolve to abandon clinging, will directly develop the quality of mind of equanimity. With nothing attached to there is nothing to afflict or agitate the mind. Unbound, one remains in peace and lasting happiness.

 

  1. Majjhima Nikaya  117
  2. Majjhima Nikaya  19
  3. Anguttara Nikaya 7.64
  4. Majjhima Nikaya  61
  5. Samyutta Nikaya 45.8

My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made contextual edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

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