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Navigating Life with 'Right' Intention

As we tend to our ‘Osomji of the mind’, embarking on the path of intentional living, the Buddhist way encourages us to cultivate wisdom and compassion in our journey. In our exploration of the V.I.S.A. L.E.M. C. framework, we delve into the "I" - Right Intention.

Understanding the Foundation: The 4 Noble Truths and the 'Right' Path

A vector image of Buddha sit atop a 4 pith tower, each plinth a Noble Truth. The following text explains each Noble Truth.
  1. The Buddhist concept of dukkha, traditionally translated as suffering, stems from our ‘dis-ease’ with the impermanence of all things. 

  2. This dis-ease manifests as fear, driving us to build personal and societal closed views, fueled by aversions, born from an attachment to the perception of permanence.

  3. We can modify our views and intentions and therefore our behaviours.

  4. The Eightfold Noble Path, V.I.S.A. L.E.M. C, can guide us to explore ways to our liberation.

Image of the 8 spoked dharma wheel. Each spoke is labelled as follows: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Concentration, Right Mindfulness.

‘Right’ View prompts us to examine our biases and modify them towards the ‘Right’ Intention of being open-minded and open-hearted, actioning loving-kindness and compassion across our lives, and our interactions with all things.

Right Intention: A Compass of Compassion

If ‘Right’ View is repeatedly cleaning our glasses to understand interconnectedness and impermanence, then ‘Right’ Intention serves as an internal compass. It guides us to accept things as they are and infuse compassion into all aspects of our journey, enhancing our morality, equanimity, and patience.

The Buddha identified three Right Intentions:

Renouncing ideas of permanency,

Fostering goodwill,

Promoting harmlessness. 

Image of an aged bronze compass. It's case is engraved with the words "Life is a Journey, not a destination."a

The Compass Needle: Aligning with Compassion

The compass needle pivots on your views, leading to action. Jack Kornfeild (an American writer and teacher in the Vipassana movement in American Theravada Buddhism) emphasizes: 

“Buddhist psychology teaches that intention is what makes the pattern of our karma.

Karma, the cause and results of every action,

comes from the heart's intentions and precedes each action.

When our intentions are kind, the karmic result is very different from

when they are greedy or aggressive.”

Nurturing Compassion in Lay-Life

Fostering goodwill involves examining the motives behind our actions, distinguishing between sympathy, empathy, and compassion, and avoiding greed, hate, or illusions of separateness.

Starting with self-reflection, we examine how we treat ourselves and others.

Compassion is a resource for resilience, and you are as deserving of your own compassion as others are.

This might start by noticing how we talk to ourselves when we make mistakes or face challenges. It can remind us to treat ourselves and others in a friendly manner.

Creating space for emotions through practices like the Sacred Pause allows for intentionally compassionate responses.

The Sacred Pause: 3-5 breaths before responding, perhaps having reframed emotions as 'pleasant,' 'unpleasant,' or 'neutral’ rather than seeing them as ‘negative’ or ‘positive’.

Accumulatively, those sacred pauses allow us to grow familiar with the surge of a difficult emotion - boredom, contempt, remorse, shame, and how it travels through the body; layering tensions through recoiling into our dis-ease. Whereas we might usually push these aside, can we pause, and empathize with our experience - recognizing dis-ease and say to ourselves, “This is upsetting” or “This is hard!”, “This is scary!” or “This is painful” or “Ouch! This hurts” or something similar, to acknowledge and care about ourselves. With a sacred pause, we have the room to recognise what we are actually experiencing by asking ourselves “What is the Truth here?” “What lays under this emotion?”. If we don't have the time to investigate we can come back to it later in our journalling.

If we concern ourselves only with the arrays of busyness that our modern lives provide, how do we wisely honour what our emotions are trying to communicate?

And how can we relate to the fact that others also experience dis-ease, and have these multi-layered emotional reactions to it too?

How do we find the drive to advocate skillfully for ourselves and others?

It has been psychology studied that when we are kinder in our own struggles, responding with compassion and kindness, our neurological pathways start to change. We gain space to see the different options open to us, rather than travelling the familiar routes that bring us up against the same obstacles and the same fears.

This also happens when we practice gratitude.

In promoting harmlessness we might try adapting metta for challenging moments:

"May I be kind to myself, in this moment.

May I accept this moment exactly as it is.

May I accept myself exactly as I am in this moment.

May I give myself all the compassion I need.”

Humanist psychologist Carl Rogers said,

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself exactly as I am, then I can change.”

The sacred pauses we allow ourselves nurture equanimity, permitting our morality to guide our actions. Mindful responses rather than habitual reactions. Abiding versus confrontation or avoidance. Easing our grasping at illusive control.

Kyoji, our teacher, says, 

Zen teaches us the importance of being fully present in each moment.

By cultivating mindful awareness, we learn to observe our thoughts and emotions without becoming embroiled in them or pushing them away.” 

The cornerstone of Zen practice is regular meditation (zazen).

It is a training ground to ‘quiet the mind,” observe our thoughts and return to the present moment.

Even the thought of sitting still and ‘doing nothing’ can bring a lot of thoughts and emotions to the surface. So many of us came to our journey with Zen acknowledging that pull to be doing something rather than nothing. Of feeling that ‘me-time’ is selfish. It is natural to feel that. It is one of the first encounters we have with the thing that drives our busyness.

We encourage newcomers to sit for five minutes, to begin with, and to build to 20 minutes over time. Supported by our regular sitting group schedule. All are welcome. We welcome you from wherever you are. Not just where you are physically located, but where you are holistically. Even as regular practitioners we tend to find that the mind is rarely quiet, and that’s ok.


  • What are the driving forces behind my actions? Are they rooted in kindness and a genuine concern for the well-being of myself and others?

  • What emotions have I experienced today, and how did I abide with them?

  • How did I experience the emotions of others?

  • What is the Truth there? What lies under that emotion for me? What might lie under that emotion for the other person?

  • Reflect on the day with 3 gratitudes and 1 intention for progress forward.

The Journey Toward Peace

Right Intention invites vulnerability, and honesty with self, allowing space to honour everyone's ebbs and flows without judgement. 

Creating space for these things allows us to be a calm presence in challenging situations.

The journey of navigating through the murky 'mud' of challenges, with this intentional compass of compassion, is where we learn and grow.

"The way out is in."

"No mud, no lotus."

Thich Nhat Hanh

A white lotus emerges from muddied waters

In closing

Developing ‘Right’ Intention is a transformative journey toward intentional living.

By aligning our internal compass with compassion and wisdom, we not only benefit ourselves but also contribute positively to the interconnected web of life.

Acknowledging the needs of the self is crucial for sustainability on the path of Right Intention.

Compassion involves treating oneself kindly, especially in the face of mistakes or challenges. May your reflections be a voyage into the heart of compassion, guiding you towards a more intentional and heartfelt existence.🙏

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