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Right Intention Right Thinking
Right Intention is the practical expression of Right Thinking. Right Intention is being mindful, holding in mind, the intention to recognize and abandon clinging to objects, events, views, and ideas. The Buddha’s original and direct teachings show that the common problem of dukkha, the unsatisfactory nature of life that gives rise to all manner of confusion and suffering, originates in clinging rooted in ignorance.
Much adaptations have been made to the original teachings of the Buddha due to wrong intention. Ignoring the direction that Right View brings, Right Intention is also ignored. In the Digha Nikaya (DN 22) the Buddha presents the purpose of his teachings: “And what is right view? Knowledge with regard to stress, knowledge with regard to the origination of stress, knowledge with regard to the cessation of stress, knowledge with regard to the path leading to the cessation of stress (the Eightfold Path). This is called right view.”
Initial Right View is accepting that one does not have knowledge of stress, its origination, or the path that leads to cessation. Developing the Eightfold Path requires developing Right View and recognizing and abandoning any views that are rooted in craving and clinging to a self-referential ego-self.
It is at this point that clinging to an ego-personality demands accommodations, adaptations, and often complete dismissal of the Buddha’s teachings. This occurred during the Buddha’s time and within his own sangha, and continues to this day. Another word used by the Buddha to describe a self-referential ego-self is “Anatta.” Often misunderstood and misapplied to imply “no-self,” the Buddha uses the word anatta to teach that what is commonly viewed as a “self” is anatta, not a self. As it views rooted in ignorance (of self) any views that would further establish ignorant views can only lead to more confusion, delusion and suffering.
As the teachings of the Buddha spread from a small corner of Northern India, the Buddha’s original teachings were adapted and accommodated to fit cultural demands and individual views that would establish a “self” in concepts, views, and ideas into this altered “dharma.”.
There is a strong belief (wrong view) that the Buddha’s teachings should be adapted and accommodated to fit any view. Many will point to the accommodations and adaptations that have been made to the Buddha’s original teachings as proof that Buddhism must be adapted to fit any view that arises. In other words, due to wrong views giving rise to an accommodated Buddhism, the Buddha’s original teachings should continue to be further altered.
In the West, despite the lack of state sponsored or influenced religion, the same adaptations to Buddhism to accommodate the influences of technological and theoretical science and modern pop psychology has occurred. Even the well-entrenched adapted forms of Buddhism have been further adapted to fit these new Western views.
This has led to a very complicated “thicket of views” that many use to justify the many contradictory and often antagonistic views of modern Buddhism. The argument is that since no one can know for certain what the Buddha actually taught, than it is an individual view that determines “Buddhist” practice.This not only a modern occurrence. There was a strong desire during the Buddha’s teaching career to accommodate his teachings to fit individual or cultural views. The Buddha consistently stated the simple and direct purpose of his teaching:”Both formerly & now, it is only dukkha that I describe, and the cessation of dukkha (stress)” (Samyutta Nikaya 22.86)
Of course, anyone can accommodate Buddhism and call it “dharma.” Often the argument is made that modern problems are so complex or immediate that the original teachings are no longer relevant. This view can only arise from a hardened view determined to protect an ego-personality while presenting the appearance of practicing modern Buddhism. Even a simple inquiry into The Four Noble Truths will show the profound relevance that these truths, first presented 2,600 years ago, have to modern human life.
The problems of modern human life and their causes are described in the first two noble truths. The possibility of a solution and the path developing the solution are described in the third and fourth noble truths.
Jambukhadika the Wanderer asked the Buddha “What is the path, what is the practice for the full comprehension of these forms of stressfulness?” The Buddha replied “Precisely this Noble Eightfold Path, my friend — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is the path, this is the practice for the full comprehension of these forms of stressfulness.” (Samyutta Nikaya 38.14)
An important question to ask here is what, or who, is holding the view of a “modern” Buddhism and what modern Buddhism should look like? What are the motivations and intentions underlying the need to adapt, alter, and further accommodate the Buddha’s direct teachings?
It took Siddartha Gotama approximately 6 years of intense study and practice with some of the most advanced “spiritual” teachers of his time to understand that awakening was not a process of additional acquisition of “spiritual” experience or intellectual knowledge. Through his severe ascetic practices he developed what he described as a “middle way” between extreme views rooted in ignorance. He knew that accommodating the prevailing “dharmas” of his time would only lead to more confusion and suffering as they were all rooted in ignorance.
From great frustration arising from the physical and emotional results of his ineffective search, Siddartha generated the intention, the Right Intention, to abandon all impermanent and ignorant views and ideas he had acquired. With Right Intention he sat in Jhana meditation determined to remain in meditation until he awakened. A human being, through his own Right Intention, became a Buddha. He would spend the next 45 years of his life teaching how all human beings could awaken as he had.
During meditation, as Samadhi, non-distraction, deepened, Siddartha clearly experienced the results of wrong view arising from ignorance. He gained true insight into Dukkha. As a direct result of his non-distracted mind-state, Siddartha was able to refine his thinking. He understood that the solution to the problem of dukkha, of disappointment, confusion, and suffering, was not to be found with yet another “spiritual” philosophy focused on external expressions of concepts arising from acquired temporary views. He also now understood that these hardened acquired views were rooted in ignorance and that freedom from confusion and suffering required abandoning all ignorant views.
From his profound understanding and unbound compassion, he taught that his Dhamma was as unique and precious as a rare jewel. He consistently avoided comparison or reconciliation to prevalent and widely accepted “dharmas.”
Right Intention (Pali: Samma Sankappo) is occasionally translated to Right Thinking. Being mindful of the Right Intention to abandon all clinging inclines the mind to continually consider, rather than ignore, clinging the ego-personality to objects, views, and ideas.
The Buddha taught Four Noble Truths. He taught how to develop understanding of dukkha and release from clinging, how to “practice”and develop the Eightfold Path. In his own words, he taught “the understanding of dukkha and the cessation of dukkha, nothing more.”
The Eightfold Path is a path that develops a refined way of thinking, free of the demands of an ego-personality for constant distraction and constant establishment of the ego in every thought that occurs. The Buddha teaches through Dependent Origination that the belief that anatta is a self is rooted in ignorance that results in the confusion and suffering known as dukkha.
Right Intention is being mindful of the ego-personality’s need to constantly establish itself in every object, event, view, and idea. Anatta refuses to have a thought that is not self-referential and does not continue to establish itself. This is very subtle and understanding this one point is the refined thinking that the Buddha achieved.
For those that want to actually develop understanding and release through the Buddha’s Dhamma, Right Intention shows that one must be willing to recognize and abandon the demands of an ego-personality’s insistence on accommodating the Buddha’s teachings to allow for further establishment of anatta as part of “Buddhist” practice. Developing understanding requires the refinement of thought. The refinement of thought is developed with Jhana meditation within the framework of the Eightfold Path.
The process of refining thought is antagonistic to anatta as anatta seeks to establish itself in each thought that occurs. This constant vigilance to “see” itself in all thoughts is the constant distraction arising from clinging mind. Anatta refuses to abandon any “container” for itself, including the conceptual “containers” of accommodated “Buddhism.” As all experiences are impermanent the continual attempt at maintaining anatta results in constant tension and continual distraction. This constant vigilance of anatta maintains the inherent attachment to the disappointing nature of experience. This constant vigilance of anatta is the distraction of Dukkha that is maintained in the constant demand for an accommodated Buddhism.
The deep concentration developed through Jhana meditation directly interrupts clinging-mind’s desire to remain distracted by interrupting clinging one thought to the next. Within the framework of the Eightfold Path, this is clearly seen through true insight. Once clearly seenn clinging can be quickly abandoned. This is true and useful insight.
Many modern adaptations to the Buddha’s teachings present awakening as a process that takes “limitless eons” to awaken, or seek to project the ego into a type of Buddhist heaven or an inner “Buddha nature.” These adaptations arise from the need to establish anatta within “Buddhist” practice rather than understanding that it is anatta that is to be recognized and abandoned.
“Buddhist” practice can and will take on any form that anatta demands in order to continue to establish itself in all impermanent objects, events, views, and ideas. The original teachings of the Buddha present a simple Eightfold Path to directly recognize the manipulations of anatta, not-self, in establishing and maintaining the only environment that can accommodate the ego-personality. Anatta requires anicca, impermanence, as its environment to provide the distraction necessary to ignore what is obvious to a non-distracted mind: Dukkha originates from a clinging mind rooted in ignorance and is continued through maintaining ignorance through distraction by relentless clinging to objects, events, views, and ideas used to define anatta. This is known as discursive thinking, or wrong thinking rooted in ignorance.
The simple choice, difficult to anatta, is to whole-heartedly engage in a teaching that has been proven to develop awakening or continue to be driven by the anatta’s need for existence and continue wandering in delusion, in samsara.
The Buddha taught a simple and direct method so that any human being could develop understanding and release in their present lifetime. The Eightfold Path needs no accommodation or adaptation in order to be effective or relevant. The first two Noble Truths continue as Noble Truths and the third and fourth Noble Truths continue to provide for cessation of Dukkha and release from clinging.
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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 Acharya Buddharakkhita, 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 edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.
Becoming-Buddha.com and Dhamma articles and recordings by John Haspel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.