Sunday, we conclude our formal discussion about one of the Buddha’s suggestions for creating more ease and sanity in our lives. Namely, developing appropriate intentions. To give you a different perspective, I will cast the issue slightly differently this week.
Formally, when the Buddha taught about intention, he characterized three types of intentions that fall on a spectrum based on their wholesomeness. All of our intentions can be viewed through this lens.
- Greed <–> Renunciation
- Ill-will <–> Good will
- Harmfulness <–> Harmlessness
We talked about the first one last week. This week, we will focus on the other two. Good will refers to the quality of friendliness, care, warmth and love that we can have for other beings. It is opposed to the quality of apathy and meanness that basically regards other beings as unworthy of our concern or kind attention. Harmlessness is strongly related to good will, but has a slightly different flavour. Whereas good will comes from a reflection that all beings desire happiness, harmlessness comes from a reflection that all beings desire to be free from suffering. Another word for harmlessness is compassion. It is characterized by our desire to ease the suffering of others. Harmfulness, on the other hand, is characterized by our desires to cause harm to others.
When we start working with the development of these qualities, mindfulness is the key. It has two roles to play. Firstly, mindfulness is what helps us to remember or keep in mind the necessity of evaluating our intentions. Secondly, mindfulness helps us to pause or refrain from acting upon an intention until we can evaluate whether the intention is appropriate or not. It does this by helping us to resist the momentum of our reactivity. For example, you walk out of your house one morning and realize someone has stolen all of the chairs on your front porch. Your reaction to this perception is anger, fear, and a sense of violation. In a perfect world, you are mindful of these things arising and hold them gently, recognizing both that they are natural reactions (i.e., you aren’t bad for having them) AND that allowing them to fuel your next actions (either physical or mental) is not the way forward toward greater ease and sanity. More likely, you get triggered and start creating an angry narrative in your mind about whomever stole the chairs–an action that reinforces the anger and lets it grow hotter. Hopefully, mindfulness eventually steps in to remind us that look carefully at what is happening. We then see that we are nurturing greed, ill-will, and harmfulness rather than renunciation, kindness, and compassion.
For this week, please reflect and think about the issues outlined in this post. For your practice, it would be ideal if each of you could spend 10 minutes at the end of the day reflecting on an instance where your intentions were clearly coloured by the ill-will/kindness spectrum or the harmfulness/compassion spectrum. Please come with examples to share!