The English word “intention” comes from a Latin root that means stretching or purpose. In Pali, the language of the earliest Buddhist teachings, the expression samma san kappa means wise intention– sometimes also translated as wise thought. This is not the usual brain-spun cognitive thought but purposive or conative thought. Conative thought carries a deeper impulse or yearning, stretches towards something. Ancient Buddhist teaching understood the power of conscious intention to influence views and behavior, and modern science concurs. Both agree that we are conditioned but not completely determined. According to a recent article in Scientific American, “a body of psychological research shows that conscious, purposeful processing of our thoughts really does make a difference to what we do.” Wise intention is that conscious wish to stretch towards something outside the loop of the known.
In Mahayana Buddhism, a bodhisattva is one who has awakened in heart and mind yet consciously intends to stay here in the thick of it all, offering all the kindness and understanding and patience and goodness that flows from the fully melted state of awakening to all the rest of us. Yet in a very real sense we are all bodhisattva’s in training, all capable of stretching and softening and opening towards what we deeply love.
“Sometimes you hear a voice through the door
calling you, as fish out of water
hear the waves, or a hunting falcon hears the drums. Come back. Come back.
This turning toward what you deeply love saves you.”
Tracy Cochran, the editorial director of Parabola Magazine will lead a session in mindfulness meditation at The Rubin Museum on August 19th and on September 23rd between 1:00 – 1:45 p.m. For details, please visit The Rubin Museum.