Intention: Skilled & Unskilled

“Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect.”

Anguttara Nikaya 6.63

“‘I am the owner of my actions (kamma), heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir’…

“[This is a fact that] one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained…”

Anguttara Nikaya 5.57

If the road to hell is paved with intentions that are careless, lustful, or mean; then the road to nibbana is also paved with skillful intentions. 

Good intentions are proportionate to their goodness tend toward the pleasurable heavens. This means not all intentions are equal, not all good intentions are especially skillful. Even if a person means well, their actions can often be misplaced and inappropriate for the circumstances resulting in pain, remorse & regret. We often misunderstand the character of our own intentions. For example, we might mistake a mixed intention for an absolutely good one. Then we become disappointed when when our actions yield mixed results. 

It is easy for us to misread the way intentions yield results, such as when the painful results of a bad intention in the past blur the memories of the results of a good intention in the present. So we might even blame our present intention for the pain. Acting together, our own unskillful can lead us to become disillusioned with just the potential of good intentions. When this happens we either grow cynical about them or else simply abandon the care and patience needed to perfect them.

One of the Buddha’s most profound teachings is that our intentions are the main factors fabricating our lives & that they can be mastered just as any other skill. When we subject them qualities of mindfulness, persistence, and discernment we can shape them to a point where they will lead to no self-harming results any circumstance. Through patience & practice, our skillful intentions will lead us to the truest possible happiness. 

To develop our intentions in this way requires a deep level of self-awareness. If we look carefully at the reasons we become disillusioned with good intentions, we”ll notice that they are all the result of delusion: delusion in how we formulate our intentions, delusion in how we perceive our intentions, and delusion in how we are present to their results. Delusion is one of the three main roots for unskillful mental habits, the other two being desire and aversion. These unskillful roots are entangled with skillful roots, mental states free of greed, aversion, and delusion. We can never be fully sure or even aware of our intentions if we are unable to isolate and excise the unskillful roots. Even when a skillful intention seems foremost in the mind, the unskillful roots can quickly send up shoots that blind us as to reality as it is.

About Sensei Mui

Sensei Mui is a Buddhist monk who took formal refuge and bhikkhu ordination as a Theravada monk in Thailand during the early 1970s. Since those days he has both studied and was ordained in multiple Mahayana lineages. Today the main focus of his practice and teaching is from the Pure Land perspective. He currently acts as the Director and Administrator for Hongaku Jodo, an educational and practice oriented organization of Buddhist teachers of Dharma, pure and simple.
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