Here is part of a talk I gave at the Unitarian Congregation on Sunday, September 21. The entire text is on the Dharma Talk Link above
PURPOSE AND INTENTION
Lets begin by exploring the meaning of purposefulness in Buddhist psychology. Not so differently from our own Western psychology, Buddhist psychology strongly interweaves purpose and intention or cetana. Buddhists see intention as part of the process whereby we construct and maintain our identity. Purpose isn’t something given to us or acquired, the way we acquire opinions from the news. It is how we understand ourselves, how we establish meaning. It emerges from the inner processes of our minds.
Purpose is more than an understanding too. We could see it as a bull’s-eye on a target and intention as the archer’s arrow. Like an arrow on a drawn bow, intention is a potential. Until it is released, it is just a stick of wood hanging in the air. For it to give us satisfaction, it must be converted from potential to activity. Intention must be converted into intentional action.
This is how it relates to our identity.
We all contain many ideas, dreams and fantasies. Purpose will remain in the realm of dreams, and will only provide us with that desire of dreams until we witness ourselves taking action. For it to truly define us, purpose must be where we observe ourselves engaged in intentional and purposeful action.
Some of you may know the Indian term karma. Commonly, this is understood as reward and punishment. As people say, “what goes around comes around”. Unfortunately, this is a completely wrong-headed understanding of the Buddhist term. Karma has nothing to do with cosmic justice or moral principle. Karma means that tendency people have to act the way they have been acting. If you are addicted to watching reality TV, then the more you do that, the more you will continue to do that, and the more you will experiences the consequences that go along with that particular form of time-wasting. Karma isn’t something attached to us that we have to use up. It isn’t something that punishes us by making us reborn as some lower life-form. Karma is more of a momentum of purpose, so when we engage in certain intentional action, we will continue to do so. The Buddhist message is that we will do this and be burdened by the dissatisfaction and sorrow that comes with it, unless we use our mental abilities and physical actions to act differently. This is the reason for the Buddha’s Eight-fold Path teaching.
May you all know peace
Om Namu Amida Butsu