The Eightfold Path Pt. 2: Right Intention

Well, it’s taken longer than expected to get this article written but after much thought, reflection and intention here it is.

Right intention, to me, is one of the most pivotal parts of the Eightfold Path. One of the points in the teaching here is renunciation. This doesn’t mean going off into the woods or the mountains, it’s quite the opposite.

The word renunciation may scare some people. The word renunciation is defined as “The act or an instance of renouncing”, meaning to not hold onto something, to rid oneself of something. Some folks may think this means to get rid of everything we have and go live in the woods somewhere with a burlap sack as our only possession. This is far from the case.

Renunciation, from the Eightfold Path perspective, is a good thing. It refers to giving up the things that we grasp onto, the things that hold us back and cause us to suffer. For instance, especially for most of us Western folk, our clinging to the need to accumulate things. If we can manage to separate ourselves from our material lives, to renounce the need to accumulate, we suffer less.

For some, the need to have the newest fashion, for fashions sake, is a big pull. If we don’t have the newest sweater or designer handbag, we cause our-self to suffer. We feel bad because our best friend has it and we don’t, we suffer. This is why renunciation is important, because if we can separate ourselves from this “need to purchase and accumulate” we suffer less. We become our own person as well, which may not be the most Buddhist of ideas since we are supposed to all be the same, but I believe by not following the herd we can think for ourselves. Thinking for yourself, and investigating things on our own, to me, is the biggest form of renunciation.

Right intention isn’t just about renunciation though, the key word is pretty obvious, it’s all about intention. We all have the intention, when stepping on this path, to follow it the best we can. For those of who didn’t have the immediate connection with a teacher or guide we learned about this path with the help of books, mp3 talks and chats online with fellow practitioners. Our intention was there and hopefully still is.

Renunciation isn’t the only part of Right Intention though, there are various factors. One of the others is good will, and that is self explanatory. We aren’t just doing this for ourselves, we are here to do this dharma work in the hopes we can make things around us better. We all hear the rather cliche “may all beings be free, may the all be happy…” all the time, but seriously, that’s what we are doing here. Buddha set this thing in motion, told us all the way to free ourselves from suffering. But he didn’t stop there, it was his intention, as it is hopefully for you, to help spread the message so others can become free.

What are your thoughts on Right Intention (which could also be called Right Understanding)??


  1. Hmm… I guess what I’m trying to say about renunciation could be misread, but your points are on point as well Richard.

    What I am really trying to say, which you reiterated, it’s all about intention. The renunciation I was talking about is renouncing the things that cause that intention to be held back. Such as greed, hatred and ignorance. By renouncing those things, having the right intention helps us gain the opposite– generosity, compassion and wisdom.

  2. I’m not sure I agree with you Nate, but maybe I am misreading.

    First, when we say there is Right Intention, there is the implication there is Wrong Intention. And intention really boils down to our reason for doing something, what outcomes, perhaps, we expect. Which brings me to Thanissaro Bikkhu’s discussion on intentions, “The Road to Nirvana is Paved with Skillful Intentions.” And that is, having the discernment to know if our intentions behind an act are really skillful. Renunciation may be necessary to be able to have a clearer idea of what our true intentions might be, but then again, I tend to doubt that.

    If I skillfully reflect on my intentions, as the Buddha instructed Rahula, then I don’t necessarily need to be renunciate as well, do I?

    This is a very good topic for contemplation. How do I know if my intentions are skillful? By what means do I evaluate them? And is renunciation necessary? Am I renouncing the future when my intentions are skillful? Is that what you mean? If I have no vested interest in the outcome, then I have renounced any connection with it. But if I have no vested interest in any outcome, how can I be of benefit to other beings?

    If RD Lange were around, he would call this a royal knot.

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