From the previous discussion of Wise View, we move along the Eightfold Path to contemplate Wise Intention, sometimes referred to as Right Intention. The Buddha describes Wise Intention as a threefold subdivision: the intention of renunciation, the intention of good will, and the intention of harmlessness. Each of these is meant to provide the antidote to their opposing forms of Un-Wise Intention: greed, ill-will, and harmfulness.
In a way, Wise View — that is, the view that sees things as they are — orients us in the direction of freedom and liberation from suffering. It therefore follows that Wise Intention is, in many ways, the fuel that moves us toward that destination of understanding.
“Right intention claims the second place in the path, between right view and the triad of moral factors that begins with right speech, because the mind’s intentional function forms the crucial link connecting our cognitive perspective with our modes of active engagement in the world. On the one side actions always point back to the thoughts from which they spring. Thought is the forerunner of action, directing body and speech, stirring them into activity, using them as its instruments for expressing its aims and ideals.”
– Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Noble Eightfold Path
This week, I’ll consider the intention of renunciation.
For many, the idea of renunciation conjures austere images of monastic living — a desire-less existence unburdened by coarse, ‘worldly’ ambitions and pursuits. And very often, renunciation is equated with some form of ‘giving up’. In the earnest quest for spiritual purity and salvation, many a yogi has renounced many a thing in the hopes of a more transcendent attainment. How often have you heard someone ‘giving up’ any or all of the following: coffee, shopping, Facebook, dairy, sugar, email, gluten, music, movies, cigarettes, and chocolate milk?
Recently, I was listening to a talk by Adyashantiwhere he said something to the effect: People love to renounce all the wrong things. There’s only one thing to renounce on the spiritual journey and that is one’s attachment to or identification with thoughts. That’s it. If you’re willing to let go of your belief and identity with thoughts, Adyashanti encourages us, the whole path unfolds very quickly.
To be sure, this is not the same as getting rid of or stopping one’s thoughts. I’ve discussed this in that past.
Practically speaking, I’ve been working with this in the following way and suggesting that students do the same. I use intentional thought to point to an experience of reality prior to thought. The practice works by simply asking oneself: What is this moment free of thought? Just after posing this question to the mind, there will be a momentary gap, a strange sort of silence, before ordinary thoughts rush back in. The point of this practice is to learn to aesthetically appreciate that momentary gap. Learn to listen to its intimate encounter with the moment. And ultimately, learn to abide within that experience for more substantial periods of time. But that brief window of opening is a significant doorway to the reality of being, unmediated by thought.
So in your yoga or meditation practice, try just dropping that question in from time to time, What is this moment free of thought? And let the intention of renunciation (of thought) gently draw you to a dimension of abiding peace.
Originally published on November 10, 2012