Basics of Buddhism: The Noble Eightfold Path (Step Two)

February 1, 2021   |   25 Comments

Audio-only version is here.
Meditation practice begins at 21:10.

Dear Meditator,

Welcome to the 2nd video in our eight video series on Basics of Buddhism: The Noble Eightfold Path. Each video contains a talk followed by a guided 10-minute meditation practice. If you want to skip ahead to the meditation, by all means! It begins at the 21:10 mark

BTW, I so appreciate the way you are receiving these mini lessons! Thank you for your kind feedback.

As a reminder, the eight steps on the eightfold path fall into three categories:

Wisdom – Right View, Right Intention
Ethical Conduct – Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood
Meditation – Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration

The first step, Right View, was covered two weeks ago. (If you would like to review this talk, you can find it here.)

Today’s talk is on step two, Right Intention. Together, Right View and Right Intention comprise true wisdom.

Among spiritual teachers, self-help authors, and coaches, there has long been an emphasis on the importance of intention. There is a whole universe of thought, dating back, perhaps, to Napolean Hill’s evergreen, Think and Grow Rich (published 1937) to A Course in Miracles (1975), The Secret (2006) and Superattractor (2019) that says one thing: your thoughts and intentions create your universe. It follows, then, that if you “set” your intention in the direction of your dreams (for love, success, world peace, a new car) that thing will then materialize. You know what? I don’t think that’s terrible advice! I say that because as a human being I want those things too: love, success, and world peace are basically the top three. (A new car, not so much, not that there’s anything wrong with that.) When I focus on the possible rather than my dour inner dialogue, my day goes better and, hey, life is complicated and messy. If something works to ease your heart, enrich your world, and bring greater happiness to yourself and others, you should do it.

A word of caution, however, from my own experience with this form of intention setting. It can be quite painful.

The more I try to blot out thoughts that run contrary to my stated intention, the tighter and tinier I feel. I begin to police my mind for party-pooping interlopers such as that will never happen and who are you kidding. I get angry at myself for having such thoughts and run from them, back, hopefully, fearfully, into the arms of happier ones. Instead of resting in perpetual delight with images of my desired life, I find that I’ve made friends with a few select thoughts and enemies out of all the rest. I worry that my so-called negative thoughts are screwing the whole thing up. Self-aggression escalates. It becomes quite claustrophobic.

Interestingly, the Buddhist view says something similar about working with thoughts and intentions but then takes it all in a very different direction. It also points to the great importance of working with your thoughts to avoid being trapped by them, to realize they are malleable, and to choose over and over to rest your mind in joy, love, and truth rather than anger, grasping, or numbness…but then the two schools of thought diverge in (at least) two primary ways.

First, the intention itself. The first school says, visualize/intend what you most desire and it will arise. The second school says, visualize/intend what you most desire so that you can bring more compassion and sanity to the world. That is vastly over-simplified, but points to the basic idea that wanting things for yourself is one thing and wanting perhaps even those same things so that you can liberate yourself and others from suffering is, well, different. Both are fine! But the former has only temporary utility–and tends to blot others out of the dream, rather than include them.

Second, the paths to determining intention are different.  The first path is, quite sensibly, to think about what you really, really super totally want, picture it, feel it, taste it, smell it, and then nail it down in your mind. Return to it over and over, whether through repetitive thought, visualization, or imagining.

The dharmic path to determining intention is almost the opposite. Rather than imagining an ideal future and then aiming at it with everything you’ve got, the suggestion is to relax. Let go. Observe. Feel. Gaze within. And then see what arises. Perhaps your intention in this moment is to help a friend who is upset while in another moment it is to take care of yourself, tell someone you love them (or don’t), put your ideas forward, hold them in reserve, take a walk, go to sleep, call out injustice, join the military, or bust out sobbing. Intentions, in this view, arise in the moment and, when rooted in Right View (seeing things clearly) are accurate, on-point, and wise.

If you feel so moved, experiment with this view of Right Intention for the next few weeks (or the rest of your life). Notice your inner experience within the context of your outer experience, let your mind rest on what is true both within and without and then deduce what you intend now and now and now.

Stay tuned for step #3, Right Speech (my fave!!) in two weeks. It will arrive on February 15.

If you find this free series useful, please forward to anyone you know who may also find it useful. The sign up form is here and the previous videos live on my blog, here.

Thoughts, reflections, doubts, delights? Please leave your comment. I always love to hear from you.

Love, Susan

P.S.. If you want to explore the juncture of spirituality and creativity, please consider joining us for our Meditation and Creativity Retreat Day on February 20th. Participation is limited to OHP Sangha members and you can join here for this and countless other free programs with me. Or not! Up to you! Love you in all cases!

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25 Comments

  • Posted by:  Amy

    Thank you for this teaching and practice. I found your site based on a friend’s recommendation. It fits well with me. I am in a bit of a rough place right now, and wanted to express my gratitude so you know that your offering is helping. Thank you. I really liked the first video on Right View. In this one, I felt I lost the connection between the How to Work with Strong Emotions part of the talk and the Right Intention part of the talk. If you can write a few sentences on how to tie these together, I would appreciate it. Thank you and take care.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Hi Amy. Sorry you’re having a hard time–and glad our paths have crossed at this moment. So hope you continue to find these ancient practices useful.

      I think what I was trying to say about strong emotions and intention is that when we try to determine our intention, it can be accompanied by strong feelings–of hope, fear, desire, disappointment–and that it’s important/useful to notice your emotions as you work with intention. Does this help? Let me know! Warmly, S

    • Posted by:  Pam S

      Thank you for these teachings it is a beginning path for me. I try to listen to your videos each day (best that I can) with hopes of finding that peace within for everyday happenings.

      • Posted by:  Susan Piver

        You are so welcome, Pam. I wish for you all the peace you seek during this time and beyond.

        Thanks for giving yourself a chance to contemplate and practice. Please go at your own pace and be very gentle with yourself as the path unfolds. Warmly, S

  • Posted by:  Michele Sapanaro

    Susan! I love this and I love You!💜. Thanks so much for offering these teachings.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      And I love you too, Michele! So happy we are traveling the path together. xo S

  • Posted by:  Ross Hostetter

    Susan, this was a beautifully articulated teaching, and such a refreshing antidote to all of the new-agey, magical, and narcissistic thinking about intentions that is circulating these days. I experienced your video as a powerful thought adjustment, specifically around the disappointment and grief I’ve been feeling around the lack of commercial success of my novel, Keepers of the Field, that I worked so very hard on and put my whole heart into. https://www.amazon.com/Keepers-Field-Invitation-Unitive-Life/dp/0990301400

    Reframing an afflictive emotion like grief as ‘masked wisdom’ is just so helpful. Grief is masked compassion, I believe, and disappointment a mask for the wisdom to seek and find a new and more right appointment with the suffering of the world.

    Thank you for your work Susan.

    Warm Regards,

    Ross

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      So glad this was helpful. I understand the roller coaster of emotion that can accompany the writing and publication of a written work. Books seem to have a life of their own…so you never know. I hope it will return to you what you seek from having written it. With love, Susan

      • Posted by:  Ross Hostetter

        Thanks Susan. The work has already borne great fruit, just not the economic kind. I’m grateful for what it has already given me. And your right. One never really knows when a seed will spring to life!

        • Posted by:  Susan Piver

          Fingers crossed! And at least you got your work out there…so much more than many can say.

  • Posted by:  Denise

    Merci beaucoup Susan. je ne sais pas si vous parlez français. J’espère que oui. J’apprécie beaucoup vos cours et la méditation avec vous. En cette période si difficile je suis heureuse de vous avoir retrouvée ! J’ai médité avec vous il y a longtemps et j’ai ensuite abandonné. Maintenant j’ai vraiment le goût d’y revenir. Alors merci d’être là. Denise

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Hello, Denise. I don’t speak French, but Google Translate does! Is this accurate?

      “Thank you very much Susan. I don’t know if you speak French. I hope so. I really enjoy your classes and the meditation with you. In this difficult period, I am happy to have found you! I meditated with you a long time ago and then gave up. Now I really want to come back to it. So thank you for being here. Denise”

      I’m so glad we can meditate and study together. To know we are on the same path is encouraging, especially, as you say, during this difficult period. Sending love. Susan

      Google Translate says (I have no idea if this is right!!):

      Je suis si heureux que nous puissions méditer et étudier ensemble. Savoir que nous sommes sur la même voie est encourageant, surtout, comme vous le dites, en cette période difficile. Envoi d’amour. Susan

      • Posted by:  Denise

        Yes, this is it! Again thank you !

        • Posted by:  Susan Piver

          <3!

  • Posted by:  Barbara

    Thank you Susan, i love this dive into the 8fold path. It s good to have a couple weeks to contemplate and practice.
    The ‘strong emotions as masked forms of wisdom’, (i love that), is this the one of three views that you/we are now practising? You hold them, recognize their wisdom part, and then you can sort of use that in the intention you set?

    And with regard to right view: you say we first need right view to actually know what we re dealing with, without your own interpretations and judgements.
    But if we are able to really do that, i think we wouldnt have a lot of anger and anxiety. Right? When you see things as they are, and not through your own coloured or broken lens, where do the strong emotions come from? I hope i make sense!
    Thank you as always, and much lovexx Barbara

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      You always make sense to me.

      “The ‘strong emotions as masked forms of wisdom’, (i love that), is this the one of three views that you/we are now practising? You hold them, recognize their wisdom part, and then you can sort of use that in the intention you set?”

      The answer is yes…and also that the other two views are inextricable from this.

      Right View does not necessarily exclude anger and anxiety. It is a complicated world, very difficult to meet. Anger and anxiety are sometimes habitual and sometimes deeply warranted. In either case, Right View has something to do, perhaps, with the ground from which anger and anxiety spring–as well as your interpretations and judgments. I think it is a matter of sequencing. Something happens. We respond. We label the response. And then we stop, thinking, usually, that our labeled response is the main event. It’s certainly important, but something happens first that precedes our response and label. What is that something? Within that riddle we might find Right View. It doesn’t exclude anything, in fact it might be more accurate to say that it includes everything.

      As far as where do the strong emotions come from, I don’t really know. Each emotion seems to be the result of a perfect storm. Past conditioning, current mood, a recent memory, a coincidental conversation, biology, psychology, the mystery…seem to work like bumper cars, banging and bouncing and arising and departing. This doesn’t mean that our emotions are without meaning; I think they are deeply meaningful. But also quite relative…and ephemeral…and painful…and beautiful. A kaleidoscopic. What are their true value? I don’t know.

      Always love connecting with you. Hope you are well! Much love, S

  • Posted by:  Sandy Betz

    I love this idea of right now and right now and right now. I have often been confused about how difficult emotions come into the picture. This gives me another way to experience them. Feel, do what feels right in the moment and let go…

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      This sounds just right, Sandy. <3 S

  • Posted by:  Farid

    Hi Susan
    Thank you for the teaching. Actually I watch this video several times because there is always a quetion in my mind and that question is :Everybody think that have the right intention, even the most cruel leaders In the world may think what they are doing is for the benifit of their own people . I think that is becuse as we most of the time confused we habitually judge ourselves by our own intention and others by their actions.
    So from what you say I think we should practice to see by heart to have a right view in order to have a right intention, but still there is no guaranty that our action is not harmful to ourselves or others.
    Would you please explain more about that.
    Thank you,
    Farid

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      I appreciate these questions. I don’t have answers beyond the encouragement to continue to pursue them. I agree fully that we should practice to see by heart to have right view and then right intention…this is no guarantee that things will go the way we think they “should” but, according to this view, something positive will be initiated over the longer term. Keep me posted! Warmly, S

  • Posted by:  Paul

    Thank you Susan for the videos and teaching. You have great skill at making the content both thought provoking and grounded in the reality of the world we live in today. I’ve mediated for sometime but only recently developed my “right view” of it being a practice to help me live in the here and now. The simple act of meditating with eyes open has been an important learning from your work. Most of the hear and now they are open. Thanks

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Thanks so much for taking the time to leave this comment, Paul. So happy we are connecting on the path and that “eyes open” is working. It’s a key aspect, for sure. Warmly, S

  • Posted by:  Carlie

    Hi Susan,
    Thank you for your teachings, lovely way to learn the noble truths. So happy to learn from you and to practice with your instructions. This has (again) cleared this up in thinking and understanding. Good to be reminded on contemplating intentions and very grateful to you, blessings.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      So happy we can practice all of this together! With love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Ines

    Thank you so kuch 🙏🏻

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