Buddha's Teachings: The Eightfold Path - 2. Right Intention (Samma Sankappa)
by Joost Leeflang
For this month, I was asked to write about Samma Sankappa, the second element of the Noble Eightfold Path. It is sometimes called Right Thinking, or Right Thought. Bhikkhu Bodhi translates it as ‘Right Intention’. In my role as CEO of the Delight Group, the current situation is an interesting time to look at the right intention. Let’s first start with an explanation.
What is the right intention?
This explanation by Bhikkhu Bodhi helped me to understand what should be the right intentions to guide us through this period. He writes:
"When the Buddha was striving for deliverance, meditating in the forest, he found that his thoughts could be distributed into two different classes. In one he put thoughts of desire, ill will, and harmfulness, in the other, thoughts of renunciation, goodwill, and harmlessness. Whenever he noticed thoughts of the first kind arise in him, he understood that those thoughts lead to harm for oneself and others, obstruct wisdom and lead away from Nibbana [Nirvana]."
What I see at Delight Yoga is that everything starts with awareness. The first time I attended an office-meeting I was very pleasantly surprised that, apart from sitting on a small cushion, we started the meeting with meditation. At Delight Yoga, this is just a normal weekly check-in to reconnect with ourselves and each other. I could truly feel the presence and connection of all participants. From there, we share and connect from a place of truth, goodwill and harmlessness.
This creates a communal understanding of what right intention we have, that is, taking care of the whole community: the students, teachers, hosts, the office-team, the suppliers, partners and even the shareholders. We all interact in different ways and forms and I feel that each should be entitled to walk their own path. If we can do that together without judgement and force, and rather with goodwill and harmlessness, this intention feels right.
The right intention in the current situation
Reading the explanation of the right intention, I was drawn to the word ‘renunciation’. Should one sell their worldly goods and live as a Hermit? Should one forget about the money side of the world to be able to follow the right intention? We live in a system and culture where money is a measurement of gain and status. They say “Money makes the world go round”, or rather, the absence stops it. In our case, the latter is recently a more frequent thought than the first, as we have, like many others, been closed since Mid March.
During the beginning of this crisis, Delight Yoga was the most wonderful environment to be in. The intention was to keep taking care of the community at large and weathering the storm together. However, when the storm endured, I could see that we were suffering. For some, it was the inability to see what would be next, for others the uncertainty of what was to come, but for many, the thing that prevailed most was the loss of interpersonal connection as this was closest to the intention of taking care of the community. With the growing absence of funds, my concern was very much about the longevity of Delight. Circumstances changed rapidly and it forced us all to adjust almost daily. We had to find new ways again and again, to sustain Delight Yoga. Bhikkhu Bodhi writes:
“The unwholesome thought is like a rotten peg lodged in the mind; the wholesome thought is like a new peg suitable to replace it. The actual contemplation functions as the hammer used to drive out the old peg with the new one. The work of driving in the new peg is practise — practising again and again, as often as is necessary to reach success. The Buddha gives us his assurance that the victory can be achieved. He says that whatever one reflects upon frequently becomes the inclination of the mind.”
It might be in my name ‘Leeflang,’ but for me, longevity is an essential part of the right intention. It is taking care of the past, the now and the future. It is living ‘with’ the earth and not ‘on’ it - Native Indians in their rituals and traditions are displaying this thought so eminently. So staying true to these roots where Delight Yoga has been founded on, we had to:
1) take care of the past by staying true to our intention of taking care of the community;
2) take care of the now by acknowledging the current situation and growing absence of funds;
3) take care of the future by adjusting to the circumstances to sustain Delight Yoga.
By doing this with the whole team, I feel that we have found a way to set the right intention in the current situation. The support of the whole Delight community is overwhelming. Be it: the members who stayed with us during the last few months; the teachers who reinvented themselves to become online teachers; the suppliers and landlords who trust us and provide relief; and the team who instantly became movie directors, online experts, painters, outdoor location scouts and had to re-adapt to the changing situation again and again. My gratitude for this is enormous.
Back to a New 'Normal'
With the re-opening in the foreseeable future, it starts to feel that we will be able to get back to ‘normal’ again. But I think we all feel that this new ‘normal’ will be different from what we have known before. A lot of good things will come back and also some new wonderful ones will appear. But a change it will be. One thing is for certain and here to stay, we will keep the right intention of taking care of the community as this situation has shown us more than ever that we couldn’t have done this without the support and care of each other.
“Do good to others and good will come to you.”
With gratitude and love,
As humans, we inherently look for a sense of belonging in our lives; we want to feel connected to each other and ourselves. The pursuit of this connection is a fundamental part of our human experience and reveals itself in the formation of communities. Through my experience, I learned that people thrive with other people and collectively they hold the power to transform any vision into reality.