Thursday 2 December 2004

the significance of intention

PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTIONS TODAY. What is the significance of “intention?” World belief systems hold it in contrary terms.

We’ve heard the proverb – attributed to Samuel Johnson but apparently having deeper historical roots – that “The road to hell is paved with good intention.” To the Western mind, this is also interpreted quite often in a related proverb “actions speak louder than words.”

However, many Buddhists believe that intention (especially when pure and focused) is as great as action or word – perhaps even more great. In fact, intention is at the heart of Buddhist practice and the seeker’s path to Nirvana.

If our hearts are filled with good intention, and we struggle sometimes to carry those intentions through effectively, does that mean we are paving our path to hell, or merely stumbling a bit along our path to enlightenment? Are our intentions meaningless? Finally, which is more important: Intent, deed, or word?

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 04:53 | Comments (36)

Comments (36)

  1. Though one could often not function without the other, I think–in the end–it’s the deed that’s the most influencial, and therefor the most relevant. From what I understand, that’s also what Buddhism is about: not only having good intentions, but actually putting them to use.

    Of course, the fact that the deed carries the largest impact says nothing about whether this has possitive or negative output. I think that’s where intention comes into play.

    Word is overrated. (j/k)

  2. haven’t really looked into the “official” interpretation of “The road to hell is paved with good intention”, but to me that always referred to good, but misguided and misinformed intentions (e.g. a country deciding what’s best for another country, and sending in armed forces “with good intention” – bringing democracy, which surely must be a good thing – but without considering the repercussions). so, really, i don’t find a relevance with the “actions speak louder than words” one at all.
    intention is only meaningless if it’s never carried out. sure, i may have a wonderful plan for world peace in my head, but if i don’t translate it into action (or at least words to somebody who can then take action), it’s meaningless.

  3. Intention is indeed powerfull. However actual intention, if pure and focussed, will call for action as well as arrange for the world to align itself with fulfilling the intention.
    Often times what people say to be their intention is in fact a lie. It could be something they would ‘like to see happening’ which is distinct from an intention. This would be the so called ‘good intention’ which does not call for action because it is not an intention.
    If we struggle carrying through our intentions effectively, we may be lying about our intentions, or confusing it with wishes.

    Intention is created in language (word) and calls forth action (deed).
    Action without intention causes struggle.

  4. The Walrus or the Carpenter?

    I say they were both very unpleasant characters.

  5. You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

    -Matthew 5:27-8

    It’s not just Buddhism. 😉 Motives can be just as important as the actions themselves, but as others have pointed out, you can’t really morally evaluate one without the other.

    An enemy may do good deeds for me so that he can earn my trust to betray me later. At the same time, someone who wants to be my friend but is consistently inconsiderate is no good, either, and in fact, the actions would cause me to doubt the validity of their intentions.

    What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

    – James 2:14-17

    I think we as Westerners put more weight on actions because actions are empirically verifiable, while it is almost impossible to really know someone’s true intentions.

  6. The only true measure of intention is deeds. I may say that my intention is noble, but unless I act on that intention, my intention is not strong enough to truly matter.

    Words and deeds can be recorded, and measured. Intention is merely a shadow of a thought, and without substance.

  7. The truth is that we don’t know these things. “Pity me Lord because I am poor and destitute” is more than a catchphrase for bigots.

    Russ is right: we could measure intention by deeds.
    But the fact is: as st. Paul said: “Even though the desire to do good is in me, I am still not able to do it. I don’t do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do”

    The fact is: we do not live, we are LIVED.
    We don’t dwell with what we declare (intentions) and our actions (deeds) ESCAPE us in intentions and consequences both.

    We are born with a challenge, the Oedipus: if in that very moment it ignites we could, in that very instant, realize how illusory it is, if we would realize it is a FICTIONAL script, then we could keep this event to keep copany wioth us throughout our lives, and by the agency of that successful momentuum, we could infallibly break all the codes of all the fictions that encroach upon us and force us to believe in fictional scripts.

    But the fact is, we don’t.
    So we go on believing in metaphors. We do not struggle with things, but with our identification with their interpretations.

    We are all believers. I’m neither pro or against abort or instance, but now just this example comes to my mind. There was this woman strongly advocating against abort on tv. She spake for one hour. I started wondering: why she attaches all this significance to this. I mean, I understand it can have importance, but why SO much?

    Then, suddnely, she said something: “we cannot give up our roles of Mothers”.
    There we go, I got it: she was not concernedd with abort, what inspired her was the image of the Holy Mother: THAT was what she was concerned with preserving.

    We live symbolically – better, we do not live symbolically, we ARE LIVED by symbols.

    Thus we are not truly accountable for our actions and deeds: we are the first ones too often to have no clue what compels us on their shores.

  8. Alberto has it going on! At the risk of sounding trite, “All things are relative…” If we stop wondering whether IT (intent, words, action) is RIGHT, and begin to have situational awareness and, yes, emotional intelligence, we will begin to feel human. There are no formulas for moral correctness, only instincts. “Use the force, Luke.”

  9. Wanna know about intention? Read Wayne Dyer’s “The Power of Intention”. However, you don’t know how to swim because you read about it in a book. One must experience it. Also a Buddhist expression….something like “it does not exist until one experience it directly..”

  10. Intent is subjective, and defines the current state of your subjective environment; the rest is just a matter of working out the details. To thine own self be true.

  11. “I recon to mentally kick the butt of whoever threw that rock or intended to”
    Bubba 12:32-04 outside the Roadkill Cafe and Lug Nut Hut. Skunk Hollow, Oklahoma

  12. The key is in what we believe. Is there an absolute truth, or is “truth” itself an illusion?

    If, as I believe, there is an absolute truth, then I need to bend my will and intention to conform to that absolute. As I understand it, scripture teaches that it is the Word of an unchanging, infallible God. If that is true, then THAT is truth. Anything else is insubtantial and meaningless.
    King Solomon said it well in Ecclesiastes. “…all is vanity…”.

    To believe that there is no absolute or universal truth eats away the foundation of social order. If your “truth” says it is okay to kill me, then it is okay. This is the basis of anarchy! In proverbs, that same King Solomon said, “Every man (or woman) does what is right in their own eyes, but the end thereof is the way of death”.

    Intention is in effect our personal, inner truth. Yet, if we do not act on that truth, it is meaningless to us and we are shown to lack personal integrity to our own conviction.

  13. yep and it was the intention and integrity of “good christians” that put smallpox in the blankets that killed two thirds of some of the populations of my ancestors.

  14. Okay, let’s not let this very interesting conversation degrade into a religious disagreement. I think there’s an example of just about every major religion in the world intending and acting on perceived truths that have disrupted the social order in very extreme ways. How that relates to intent versus word versus deed is complex, but it isn’t the point here and is best left for other forums.

    I posed these questions not to discuss what is truth, or what is right and wrong per se, but how we as individuals perceive intention, word, and action.

  15. Thank You Shareen. that was how i was trying to figure out how to make a statement -Zen like -that speaks to each individual about those three perceptions. I got causht up in my own culturally learned prejudice. sorry folks.

  16. brrr, it sickens me to see all of you bastards quoting the bible in ref. to absoulte truth. Intent, deed, or word is just labels used to protect the in-group. Spend some time outside the in-group and the content will change (or you’ll run home in horror). What’s funny is that americans now live in horror at home 🙂

  17. Interpreting all things under the lens of the group, is called socialism. You do not exist as a human being, you only exist as a paw, if not a chattel, at disposal of the group, which is the only entity allowed to have a personality.

    It has a name and it is socialism, or communism (in commune=body group=group).

    The fact is, Marx introduced something called historical materialism: all gets interpreted after the social group. You don’t live as an individual but as an indistinguishable and expendible part of the swarm.

    Thus there are persons that read and interpret ALL in terms of the group, invariably. And these are the persons best equipped to be racists. And these are the persons best equipped to find the death of the others “funny”, for the others do not actually exist as persons.

    For these mass-individuals, all is simple, all is “just” – “just this”, “just that”. What else could be there to say or to focus upon, in the freudian anal reality of an immense mass cloaca where unshaped masses revel? It’s a necrophile world where only “bastards” exist – an euphemism to signify the nullification into the inorganic as the only ultimate threshold they truly believe in.

    It is just a matter of the group: for them if you live in group x you think x, if you move to group y, you think y.
    But that this is the way _these_ persons behave, and not an ontological predicament about mankinde, is something that never crosses their minds.
    You can only credit the others with what you yourself have.

    That a person in group x may think y, is something that escapes their imagination for the very simple reason that they never dared, in their group x, to raise their voices to say y. And their dissenting courage is indeed very prudent and not brave: they dissent only in those earth quarters where they are sure they risk nothing, so to be acclaimed by the more restricted totem group in which they spend all the actuality of their lives.

    You live at the level of the anthill, the anthill totem: but if you believe in a group world, you have castrated yourself of whatever chance of being credible as an independent thinker.
    Who believes in the individual, can love the group too. But who believes in the group, has signed his/her own dismissal as a byproduct of his/her own group forgeries in just WHATEVER opinion he/she expresses.

  18. Well as Ray Poore, 58 year old amateur human being, previous two tour combat medic in Viet Nam, Primary Care Physician Assistant in underserved areas in the US, Mexico, and Central America, having worked for years with the homeless, the cast offs, My intent was from childhood to be someone and do what i thought was “good” in the world that I knew, the words i learned and the the ones i then used , I tried to match to the deeds that i did, or actions as you might call them, In the end facing death from cancer of the brain it does not function as well as i wish, however I say – it is a long way from intent for each person to the words they then use and the actions they then undertake, it does not matter how others judge you, it is you who judge yourself in the end, My grandmother who raised me most of my childhood, she was labeled a “crazy old Indian woman” because she was considered “uncivilized/ taught me to “listen to what they say, then look at what they do” before i made up my mind about anyones integrity and to apply that to myself. sorry to go on, however that is the point. Translation from intent to word to action or deed. it is different for each of us. IN the end we die alone with only what image we have of how our lives have been spent. Did we have what our gut tells us was “good” intent, did we speak our true mind or opinion, did we have integrity to those words in the scope of our actions? as we discover just where the thoughts we have that form our intention and words, things can and will change there as will our actions. Death is the only one that cannot be rectified or worked out either inside of our own minds or with others. enough blabbing . this is my very last post on your web site. Brain damage makes clear translation of my thoughts to words difficult and i truly find that people hate you for living very long after a death sentece and soon tire or having to deal with you. LOL. that is absolutely true. and for those who think i am a phoney, that is my real name, long time acquaintance of Molly, long time. My life has been of no consequence, it is not anyones fault but mine, Those of you who managed to get a very good education and live in the upper ranks of the society consider yourselves blessed. Those of you who relish being snobs because of your station and education, oh well, “sheer plod makes plow downzillion shine” spelling may be off on that old Gerard Manly Hopkins quote. I am afraid that the sine on a dirt clod is all i leave. Ha. go in peace be kind to yourselves, because no one else may do that in reality.

  19. The thesaurus I use (daily ‘cos after 50 years I still don’t understand English) has intent as (1)absorbed, alert, attentive, commiited, concentrated, determined, eager, earnest, engrossed, fixed, industrious, intense, occupied, piercing, preoccupied, rapt, resolute, resolved, steadfast, steady, watchful, wrapped up, (2) Hellbent (3) aim, design, design, goal, intention… oh I could go on. For me the meaning becomes clear. An intention is working to a goal. If the goal fails, the intent, whilst admirable, has also failed. I want to give up smoking. I haven’t. My need (want) has failed. I intend to give up smoking. Haven’t yet. Ergo, my intention to give up smoking has failed. Intent has a defineable goal.

  20. My intent with this comment is to say that our dear brain damaged Ray made more sense with his simple words than Ola or Alberto, sorry Ola and Alberto but you confused the living daylights out of me. And I hope Ray realises that he is precious in God’s eyes and when everything is all worked out the God of the Bible promises he will be resurrected. I hope my good intentions had good results.

  21. Ray writes “Those of you who managed to get a very good education and live in the upper ranks of the society”.
    Now, to be clear, i don’t feel myself called in, but given Tanya’s comment (which is ok to me) I want to stress a point just to be clear -not because it was necessary to stress it. Just to be clear.

    Good education and high society do not go together: that is, the former does not derive necessary from the latter – on the contrary, it’s rather frequent that in high “ranks” of society you find quite unlearned persons that had just a lucky strike and did nothing to deserve it. Models in high fashion earn millions, and they are as dork and unlearned most of the times as any girl in her 19.

    As for education, longing for self improvement is not a social issue, and is not done to gain social marks in the social ladder. It is making a disservice to all the geniuses of history that provided us with intellectual food while they STARVED in a tiny flat, thinking so.

    If one doesn’t want to be ignorant, knowledge is not there to make of him or her a dandy or a sophisticated lady. Being intellectually curious and having read books is not mark of social distinction in the upper classes.

    AS for me, I am unemployed -just to state where in the social ladder I station- and yet I have a longing for knowledge, and I could not conceive my life without reading some Shakspeare, some Bible in latin, st. Augustine, Balzac, Maupassant, Hemingway, Prevert and Steinbeck.

    This does not mean one ranks high in “society”. If there is something high society cannot stand and reputes immensely dangerous for its settlement, it is _precisely_ an intellectual guy.

  22. I read also : “In the end facing death from cancer of the brain it does not function as well as i wish”.
    I don’t see the relation with the thread, but I know what you’re talking of. I can prove it: glyoblastoma in the 4th degree. It took my mother.

    As for leaving a mark in life, it is a topic that engorsses us all but I think that roman emperor has the answer, Marcus Aurelius: in his “Meditationes” he wrote:

    He who has a vehement desire for posthumous fame does not consider
    that every one of those who remember him will himself also die very
    soon; then again also they who have succeeded them, until the whole
    remembrance shall have been extinguished as it is transmitted through
    men who foolishly admire and perish. But suppose that those who will
    remember are even immortal, and that the remembrance will be immortal,
    what then is this to thee?

    Throwing away then all things, hold to these only which are few; and
    besides bear in mind that every man lives only this present time,
    which is an indivisible point, and that all the rest of his life is
    either past or it is uncertain. Short then is the time which every
    man lives, and small the nook of the earth where he lives; and short
    too the longest posthumous fame, and even this only continued by a
    succession of poor human beings, who will very soon die, and who know
    not even themselves, much less him who died long ago.

  23. i said i would not retrun, but ALberto you missed my point totally and i wont argue any more. there are some folks who did not die in the horrible war i fougt and experienced “first hand” . there are those that went to school and got an education, i did not equate the two “rich and educated” ????? I do have brain cancer. so go to whaterver private hell you call your own. i dont need some bloated intellectual telling me i am full of crap. story close, i am gone. good thing i am paraplegic. I ask for no pity neither jerk. go pull someone elses chain. mark me up one of the ignorant ones that make “sound and fury” bye.

  24. i have lost my cool too many times lately, morphine drip does that to you i appologize to Molly and all. i sould not vist blogs. in fact i think i dont need to incite anyone anymore because i can not deal with my brain malfunctions. sorry Molly and everyone. and i was dirt poor all my life, ha. even when i went to school lived in an elevator shaft one time and then in an old car. just for albetertos score card. but that dont matter. that i appologize and am closing out my internet account does. time to just be ill physically and mentally yes oh yes , we all will get that way sooner or later

  25. Blogs are meant for discussion if one posts. I don’t deal with you like the guy with brain cancer when you’re here: though if _you_ decide freely to raise the topic, one can answer in the line with the topic.
    I deal with you like with anyone else. Blogs are for thoughts, if all we have to say is to call crap those who respond with a reasoning to a post, I just then don’t see the point with posting to a blog.

    It is not a matter of being intellectual – it is that if we do not articulate our thoughts then we could just confine ourselves to write for 200 pages what Jack Nicholson was writing in Kubrick’s “Shining”:

    So I guess the following makwes more sense to you, and won’t be intgellectual crap any longer, will it?


  26. Hey come ON people. Respect my blog and each other please. Don’t make a good discussion personal – even if the issues are emotional or heated. And please don’t spam me with multiple lines of crap. Alberto, I’ve edited your post because I don’t need 100 lines of “all work and no play” blah blah blah. Have some respect here. I’m giving you lots of leeway to have free discourse, so please give me the decency to not essentially spam a discussion. And for the record, I can vouch for Ray, I’ve known him over 20 years and he’s telling the truth about his experiences and his relationship to me. I’m not saying that just because a person is ill and dying or made moody by their medications means it’s still right that they become confrontational on a blog, but let’s find the love here, okay? It’d sure make me feel better.

    Thanks. Molly

  27. ciao Molly, I was aware that 30 lines of the same thing was suitable to be seen as spam. I’m not that unexperienced lol. And I was also aware you could edit it.

    The significance of the repetition for 30 lines was that we can also confine ourselves to say things that are not “intellectualism”: they look like those 30 lines then: senseless – that was the meaning, Molly: and you found it senseless because being senseless was __exactly__ what they were meant to convey when we resign intellectuality. So there was a PURPOSE.

    As for Ray we don’t have any personal discussion, though he seems to have found in me a virtual sense of enmity which is not there.

    In my perception we are doing exactly what a blog is for: taking intellectual inputs to express our opinions about it – for if we would not want this we would neither open nor visit a blog I guess.

    Unfortunately it seems that it is possible to say things like “whatever private hell you call your own” and see this pass as a feat of normal discourse, whereas the post by me that gained that response was passed as insulting. Upside down, plain & simply, dear Molly.

    Now in that post, talking of respect, the “private hell you call your own” was this:
    “glyoblastoma in the 4th degree”

    That is not a bad word, that is a medical term for the most aggressive type of brain cancer. And that was what my mother died of after 2 years of odissey and surgeries from Hannover to Verona.

    It was stated to express UNDERSTANDING for Ray – an OBVIOUS thing and yet a fact that him has missed, but with a brain disease it’s normal, and that yet you missed too.

    Now it is possible that you, Molly, find that my virtual shoulders have to be broad and that if somebody calls what my mother died of as “crap” or as “private hell of your own”, I should not be supposed as having a sensitiveness of my own and that I should disregard the fact that my attempt to prove my empaty, gained to my personal odissey with brain cancer only disrepectful dismissals.

    But if we have reached that shore, I find as much unconvenient that my posts, where you find NOT ONE term of abuse, get questioned, whereas those where we are called
    “you bastards” (addressed to ALL – and NOT edited)
    “bloated intellectual”
    go without ONE PEEP by you Molly… That’s a fact, not speculation.

    It never happened before, that a quotation by Marcus Aurelius gets qualified as crap and perceived as an hostile act of “bloat”.

    It is meant to say that our personal griefs have been already experienced by other persons, and that we can still find a meaning in them, or a consolation in seeing how better intellects than ours (case in point a man of experience: a roman emperor!) dealt with the SAME thing. Ray was speaking of leaving a mark in life, Marcus Aurelius responds that it makes little sense to yearn for the consideration of middle men “who know
    not even themselves, much less him who died long ago”.

    That’s Marcus Aurelius. And it is meant to provide a sense of human participation with a human experience. How it can be read as an ATTACK is beyond logics, frankly….

    That such a quotation or that my _previous_ posts can be qualified as lacking of respect is objectively absurd.

    You can edit this now, and leave unedited the others.

    But as for the leeway that you gave me, I did not suspect I was taking something from you without paying, beacuse blogs grow also after the intellectual contributions of the others, and you won’t find mine as the most trivial or less thoughtful provided here.

    Though, in whatever case, your generous leeway is something I won’t take from you any longer – with a caveat: when I say I go I don’t do like all the others do, here included: when I say I go, I do go.
    Thank you for having implicitly called the cancer of my mother as a boring crap that was taking your leeway: probably only the cancer of those we know matter, and the fact I did not respond eye by eye, tooth by tooth, crap by crap, term of abuse by term of abuse deluded you into the idea that it was NOT my FREE and ADULT choice not to do it, but that I was not doing it beacsue I was guilty of something.
    Bad guesswork.

    Nice blog anyway. It’s just the moderation of it that makes no sense.
    Goodbye, and keep editing wherever you see NO bad word 🙂 or just do not post my last post,


  28. Alberto: there has obviously been much misunderstanding here for which I am sorry – perhaps my moderation technique (which is usually to stay out of such a discussion) wasn’t helpful, but I only wanted to encourage everyone to chill out and get rid of the multiple lines of repetition.

    For the record, my own father died of a glioblastoma which caused him to have violent, disturbed behavior for years until finally one day he fell down in the streets of New York City, when the ambulance reached him they found him to be completely alert but in that instance he had lost all ability to speak, and would never be able to form a sentence for the remaining year of his life.

    Interestingly enough, this entire discussion has turned into the very example of the power of words and actions when an individual’s intent is not clearly communicated to others.

  29. Nothing beats Internet philosophers, but someone should beat them.

  30. I would rather speak about Intentionality as about Intention, look for

    J.R. Searle – Intentionality : An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind.

    Intention is only a part of. I like his approach to action and language through his concept of intentionality. The directions in which intentionality works, toward world, or toward mind and how they are mapping to each other is highly interessting.

    Its only a suggestion 🙂

  31. “haven’t really looked into the “official” interpretation of “The road to hell is paved with good intention”, but to me that always referred to good, but misguided and misinformed intentions”

    It’s a common misapprehension. Johnson actually meant having the intention to do something but never carrying that intention out, as the context of his comment shows.

    This is a frequent problem with quotations – they’re misunderstood, particularly when they’re taken out of context – and also particularly when language changes. Most people have no idea what Johnson meant when he said that “patriotism” was “the last refuge of the scoundrel”. Even Boswell seems a little puzzled this one, perhaps forgetting that the term could also have a very specific meaning – the one caught in Johnson’s comment to him, “I hope your patriotic friends will not be there.”

  32. ALberto and others will be happy to know that they informed me one of the units of plasma i was given last brain surgery was later found contamined by the variant of the human form of degenerative nerve disease. Being mentally incompetent is better than having a degree in philosophy or psychology. I NEVER raised religious issues, but cultural ones. the same ones that became evident in Iraq, in ignoring the genocide in Africa and other countries unless it is a “natural” disaster. Rale on Ray, Redneck values are not only confined to the culturally prejudiced of occupied North America, but of all the countries of the world where Ethnocentrism and avoidance of doing anything but make philosophcal statements about the evil acts in the world give comfort to such people.

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