Appropriate intention (also called appropriate thought) is nothing less than the Buddha’s prescription for what should serve as the fundamental intentions of all of our volitional actions. Last week we talked about karma and how it is different in the Buddha’s view than it is in the “instant karma” view of modern culture. In short, there is no force out there watching actions waiting to reward or punish. Instead, like a garden, if you plant a tomato seed (assuming the right conditions) you get a tomato. And there’s no way to make that seed provide you with a carrot. In the same way, the vast and interconnected seeds of our actions will bear fruit eventually. Appropriate intention is an area for growth in that it helps us grow a garden filled with ease and sanity.
Typically, appropriate intention is divided into three sub-categories. The first intention that we should foster and cultivate if our goal is ease and sanity is the intention for renunciation. Stop. Seriously stop. Reflect. What just happened in your mind and body when you read the world renunciation? Many of us in the west have a really negative view of renunciation. So we may also want to think about it as simplification, clarification, and appreciation. So taking those four words together, what does an intention for renunciation look like in everyday modern life? What I would like from you this week is for you to answer that question: “what does an intention for renunciation look like in everyday modern life?”
Here’re a few things to get you started:
- What do I need to be happy in my life?
- What is my relationship to material things?
- Does feeling a strong craving for something feel good?
- How does renunciation relate to conservation of resources?
- What do I tend to accumulate in my life? (Note this doesn’t have to be material possessions, it can be experiences, titles, praise, pity parties, etc.)
Sunday we will continue with our exploration of the eight areas for growth that, when cultivated, lead toward greater ease and sanity in our life. The Buddha outlined them in the 4th of his Ennobling Truths. Specifically, we will begin a multi-week exploration of “appropriate intention.” But before we begin, here’s a review of the whole project.
Remember that we organized the eight areas for growth into three categories of trainings to make practising them easier. The three categories are:
- Ethics (Sila) which consists of appropriate action, appropriate speech, and appropriate livelihood.
- Wisdom (Panna) which consists of appropriate worldview and appropriate intention.
- Meditation (Samadhi) which consists of appropriate effort, appropriate mindfulness, and appropriate concentration.
Please recall that in this framework the word “appropriate” is used. Sometimes you’ll hear the words “right” “wise” or “correct” used instead. Appropriate is a word that implies a goal. A phillips head screwdriver is not the appropriate screwdriver for accessing a flat-head screw. It doesn’t mean that a phillips head screwdriver is wrong in some way. Just that it’s not “right” for the goal at hand. We should ask, then, what is the goal of the Buddha’s teachings listed above. Basically, the goal is greater ease and sanity in our lives. The goal is to flourish as a human being here.
Once again we come upon this really compelling (and sometimes very frustrating) idea of dhamma ehipassiko, which translated to English means something like “come and see for yourself.” In other words, the eight areas for growth are not commandments that we need to follow, nor are they meant necessarily as characteristics of being a good person. Instead, the Buddha is saying, “If your goal is greater ease and happiness in your life, in my experience these are the eight aspects of your life that you should try cultivating. But don’t take my word for it. Invite them into the very centre of your life and see what happens!”
One final thing to remember is that these eight growth points are portable, as in they can be applied to your life whatever your circumstances. If you are a construction worker, a professional ballet dancer, a barista, a middle-management worker, unemployed you can work on these things. Your gender, race, politics, or age don’t matter. You can find ways of porting any and all of these eight points into your life.
For this week’s discussion, I’ll ask you to come prepared to chat about the following question. What is it that you think is the cause of human suffering, discontent, or upset? I encourage you to look for internal causes rather than external ones. For example, if the power goes off in your house, the external cause might be a storm, vandalism, or Hydro error. Nonetheless, you’ll likely feel some upset about the situation – what mental states/attitudes are present that condition your feelings/thoughts about the power going out?
Please come prepared to talk about this.
Ian & Annamarie.
We’ll be ‘closed’ for the holidays this weekend. We hope you have a lovely long weekend.
Annamarie & Ian
Sangha – we won’t be meeting this Sunday because it is Mother’s Day. See you on the 17th.