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