Excerpt from Living in Blue Sky Mind (Diedrichs): What We Mean to Do
What We Mean to Do
Right Intention (sometimes called Right Thought) relates to what and how we think. We are most concerned with the part of our thinking that always wants something (which, as humans, is most of our thinking). Buddha said that what we think (and say and do) is what we are. If we think, talk, and act in mean, selfish, and hurtful ways, we find difficulty coming into our lives. If we think, talk, and act in kind and loving ways, we find happiness coming into our lives. Buddha described it as “a shadow that never leaves us."
Intention is our true nature trying to come out. It is our inner compass. If we are mindful or aware of our thoughts, we see the nature of our intent. We choose whether it is good or bad, helpful or hurtful.
With Right Intention, we promise to be good, and mainly do three things:
- be aware that we always want things and can take them or leave them;
- renounce or give up those things that our thinking always wants; and
- become loving and kind by renouncing our anger, meanness, and hatred and not doing anything that hurts living beings.
I have said that I kill insects. My intention is to not hurt living things. I am aware of my intention, and I try to stop killing.
Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh supports our practice of Right Intention by suggesting that at the time we become aware of our intention to do something, we ask ourselves two questions: “Am I sure?” and “What am I doing?”
If I had practiced Right Intention at the time that I thought about throwing the water balloon against our neighbors’ house, the situation might have unfolded differently. I might have asked myself, “Am I sure?” and “What am I doing?” I might have thought better of the plan. I might have answered my mother’s question with, “Yes, Mom, I broke the window. I am sorry, and I will pay for it.” Of course, I cannot possibly know what might have happened in the past. I can only reframe my experience in light of my current awareness and use my insight to guide my practice of Right Intention.
What, as Buddha said, is the shadow that never leaves us?
How can we even know what our intention is?
What did Thich Nhat Hahn mean by “Am I sure?”