Thursday, 9 April 2009

The Intention of Motive

I have found the practice of questioning motivations and intentions in the daily tasks of life to be both beneficial and profound. Even questioning the small, seemingly meaningless choices and actions we take is a helpful exercise for those who wish to see what really drives us, creates karma and excretes suffering.

The second step of the Buddha's eight fold path is known as right intention or right motive. When he used the word right, he did not mean it in a sense of being correct, but rather meaning to be favorable to awakening. How can we see the truth of this world as it really is, when our minds are clouded in a thick fog of intentions, motivations, desires and ego? Perhaps we can begin to lift this fog, little by little by studying our intentions and watching our motives of mind.

It has become very difficult in our modern lives to find time for formal meditation or even mindful reflection. The piles of information we need to survive in this relative material world grows larger year after year, until our thoughts are consumed by the day to day activities of life. However, it is possible to form a practice of watching our intentions and asking ourselves, "why am I doing this" or "why am I saying this” on a daily basis, moment after moment. The point is not to try and change or intentions, the point is to watch. Our minds, as my Zen Master would say, will straighten themselves out a small step at a time.

In time, what you find in the actions we take or the words we speak probably will surprise you. For me, I could start to see how selfish I was being. I could see how things like boredom or fear steered my actions and choices. I started to understand how all this suffering and pain I felt was not other dependant, but with a solitary mind arose within me. I found out as well the absolute necessity to be truthful and honest with myself. We all tend to lie to ourselves, to justify why do or don't do certain things. We lie, even though deep down, we know the truth and we choose to ignore it in favor of fulfillment of some motive or desire.

I am no professional teacher, so use caution and good judgment when starting or trying anything new. This is a good rule to follow before taking anyone's word as gospel, even from trained teachers. You are the final authority on all matters and no one else is responsible for your thoughts and actions. Your mind is your domain and only you can make the effort to begin to see the world as it really is rather than how we want it to be.

Maybe we can see that right intention or pure motive is really no motive at all. Is it possible to free our minds completely in this modern age with all its complexities and detail? Perhaps not, but wouldn't it be worth it to look and see for yourself?

Understanding is not learned, but only realized.

“To study Buddhism is to study ourselves. To study ourselves is to forget ourselves.”
~Dogen Zenji


  1. Another great post, Kyle.

    I fear I am not altogether sure if there is a "truth of this world as it already is," divorced from our cloud-covered mind.

    We're dragged about by our emotions, but that's not so fully bad as it sounds. We have good emotions and, thus, instincts, galore. And these push us into actions that, looking back, were wise or necessary.

    We are, at least, a network of rather-fixed traits, usually all the ones that we would want for ourself.

    I think your program of watching yourself is a good one. I try to do that, too, though I remain a jerk -- though a better jerk than I used to be.

    I find, for me, it's especially helpful for me to monitor my reactions to things, as opposed to actions. I'm too easily annoyed and festidious, and then I monitor my later sulking and reproofing myself for first being annoyed or festidious.

  2. Thank you, Tom.!I always appreciate you taking the time to read my posts and adding comments and suggestions. It is always nice to have feedback which helps me become a better writer and gain better understanding.

    I think you are correct, by saying “the truth of the world as it really is” implies something that is a static or definable thing. I see there is what I think is true and then there is what we may call absolute truth, which can not be held as an object of mind or an idea and can not be defined. Truth is such a loaded word and my wording may not be the best.

    I agree as well about our emotions, I don’t see them as good or bad. I think our emotions, like the rest of our dualistic view has two sides. They can help us, say, in a life threatening situation or conversely put us into a difficult or uncomfortable predicament. Many of our emotional reactions are ‘hard wired’ and I think fighting them is probably counter productive. Possibly, to help we as human beings live a happier existence, seeing how our emotions put us into situations that cause suffering is important.

    A jerk? HA! I don’t think so. I actually had to look up the word fastidious.

    Thanks again for the kind words and wise perspective!

  3. The closest thing I can find to "truth of this world as it already is" is a direction. Truth and illusion are inseparable, yet we can move in the direction of illusion or the direction of truth. We can move in each direction indefinitely. That's how I see it at the moment at least.

  4. I like the term direction. I think it is a better word for that of what is pointed to. Maybe there is the difference between the word "already" which infers time and the word "really".