Right Intention in Buddhism – The Second Spoke of the Wheel

Right Intention in Buddhism

right intention

The second branch of the Eight-fold Path is called Right Intention in Buddhism or “Right Thought” as it is sometimes called. Right Intention together with Right View are needed to cultivate wisdom (prajna).  The Pali term for this is “Samma Sankappa”, with the word Sankappa roughly translated as “purpose, intention, resolves, aspiration, motivation”.

Keep in mind that although I use the word “right” to translate the word “samma”, ‘right’ doesn’t refer to a moral value but rather refers to that which is consistent with the Dharma (teachings of the Buddha).

You need both Right View and Right Intention if we are to have the motivation and  aspire to realize Nirvana.  Our thoughts  and intentions shape our perspective and shape the world itself, and our actions (karma) arise from our thoughts and intentions as well.

The Buddha’s words on this (Dhammapada 1-20; translated by Thomas Byrom, Shambhala Publications):

“We are what we think,
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

We are what we think
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness with follow you
As your shadow, unshakable”

This is also a good description of karma (cause and effect) where every thought, intention, and action have everything to do with where we go in life.  Everything is subject to causation, no exceptions.

The Three Kinds of Right Intention in Buddhism

right intention in buddhism

  1. The intention of renunciation, which counters the intention of desire/craving
  2. The intention of good will or loving-kindness, which counters the intention of ill will
  3. The intention of harmlessness, which counters the intention of harmfulness

In other words, when we renounce an angry thought or desire we don’t try to force it away from “ourselves” but rather we observe it without judgement, allowing it to be, and then direct loving-kindness toward it.

If we have the Right Intentions of renunciation and goodwill, then we can cultivate the intention of harmlessness.

As we continue to walk the Eight-fold Path, we develop a mindfulness of our intentions that we can use as a base to build ethics and morals in ourselves (Right Action, Right Speech, Right

And then as we observe ourselves we begin to see that thought can even precede and influence our intentions which is part of the reason why we can call this branch both “Right Thought” and “Right Intention”.

How Do We Implement Right Intention/Thought in our Daily Lives?

We can ask ourselves a few questions every day which will help us to be mindful of our thoughts and behaviors.

right intention in buddhism


  1. Before following through on any course of action, stop and pause, then ask yourself “Am I sure that it won’t harm others?”
  2. Stay mindful of your body and bring your attention back to it throughout the day
  3. Be mindful of your habit patterns throughout the day and direct loving-kindness toward them
  4. Cultivate Bodhicitta or the selfless wish to attain enlightenment for the sake of all living beings.

I hope you enjoyed this article on Right Intention in Buddhism and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Right Intention in Buddhism – The Second Spoke of the Wheel

  1. Maurice says:

    Properly used your imaging within your website. I like the topic you chose as well.
    I can really see this is your driving force and something that you truly stand behind.

    The usage of the video is also very good and strenghens your written text. It makes it more engaging and interesting for people that are non buddhist. Very well done in my opinion

  2. Martin says:

    I love the composition of the article, great job! You illustrate the whole topic which is awesome: that picture of the wheel really helps me put your article into context. Even though it’s quite a complex topic, you present it in a concise way and make it very accessable. Again, wonderful article. Keep up the great work!

  3. Richard U says:

    Thanks for this wonderful post it is really inspiring.

    I believe in God. And this is very inspiring. Just like power of positive thinking. And if i may quote Napoleon Hill “What ever a mind of man can think and conceive, that it can achieve”. so is this topic.

    The way of Buddha is wonderful and takes dedication and i am sure you know your onions very well.

    Great article and well put and i like how you side loads up quickly.

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Richard,

      Thanks for the comment! Yes, positive thinking is definitely a big part of Right Thought and some of these things are also mentioned in the 10 Commandments as well.

  4. Tar says:

    Hello there. I would like to know what Pali is? Is it a language that relates to the religion? I’ve never heard of the word before.

    On the subject about three kinds, the intentions which were pointed out.

    It’s great that it was described completely to the extent that a certain intention applies to a certain scenario.

    Nice mnemonics on the term THINK. Logically, it makes sense as to whether is it right and worth saying it.

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Tar,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Pali is an ancient Indian language, native to India. The earliest Buddhist texts were written down in this language and are known as the Pali Canon or Tipitaka (Ti “three” pitaka “baskets”)

  5. NemiraB says:

    Hello, thanks for informing article regarding Right Intention in buddhism.
    I think that what you explained here, correlates with other big thinkers and writers. I think that Earl Nightingale read Buddha’s teachings too, because he emphasizes everywhere in his books that thoughts are things.
    I guess that when we do not have enough patience, we can not realize why we do not achieve our goals. If we have disturbance in our heads and mind is not clear, our thoughts are scattered.
    We can not concentrate and observe quality of thinking.
    It is as circle.We rush wanting something fast. We think just for few days with interruptions and later we complain why we are in the same place.
    Calming ming with ancient techniques such as meditation, it lets us to gather our thoughts in one place and control them.
    Your article perfectly shows why we need take care of our thoughts. When we free our minds, we can focus on our goals and dreams, being able to act as it is best for us.
    Thanks for good read, Nemira.

  6. Raul says:

    How nice it is to wake up in the morning with such great article.

    It reminds me of gentleness and calm amidst this crazy world. It reminds me of the saying “If you have nothing good to say, don’t speak at all.” This article highlights the importance of thinking first before we speak with other people. And that the words that must come out of our lips should always be gentle and kind. Moreover, I thought if we are gentle, we become better persons inside too.

    Thanks for the article. Keeps me grounded and humble.

    • Ian H says:

      Thanks for the comment!

      Yes, “if you have nothing good to say then say nothing at all” is a good way to begin to put this principle into practice.

  7. Maxx says:

    Overall I found your site construct is very nice and the layout very presented.

    I like the way you describe the three kinds of Right Intention in Buddhism and ways that we need implement right Intention in our Daily Lives.

    I will definitely bookmark your site and share to my networks.

    Keep up the good work.

    Thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *