Read the new & improved version of this post: The Eightfold Path: Right Thought
Right Thought is the second Wisdom practice of the Eightfold Path and arises directly from Right Understanding. Right Thought is also sometimes called Right Intention and is about getting rid of thoughts and intentions that can cause suffering, either for yourself or others.
When we begin meditation and sit for the first time to watch our thoughts, it can be a great shock. Our minds are busy places. We spend much of our time immersed in reliving the past and/or worrying or fantasising about the future. We’re rarely present in the here and now. We sleepwalk through our days, following well-worn paths, thinking the same thoughts and having the same conversations over and over. It’s a wonder we don’t bump into the furniture or end up under a bus.
Most of our thinking is based on habits laid down at an early age: habits learnt from parents, siblings and peers, but also from our schooling and exposure to TV and the internet. These habits condition our behaviour for good or ill and we are rarely aware of their influence.
The practice of Right Thought means looking into these habits of thinking, watching them and learning how they affect us. At first it is enough to accept them as they are. You may even find some of them dissolving over time without any effort. Sometimes seeing the futility or redundancy of a habit is enough and you’ll find you no longer wish to act or think that way anymore.
Ultimately, the intention is to be free of all habits of thought that prevent Right Understanding, or the seeing of reality as it is. If we wish to be free of suffering then we must intend that freedom. You have to want to be free, because that simple desire will motivate you to practice. This is the heart of Bodhicitta.
If your intentions towards others arise from negative feelings or thoughts, you will cause much suffering, not only to others but also to yourself. Of course, it works the other way too: others may have harmful intentions towards you, or you may find yourself in an environment that is not conducive to happiness.
Cultivating Right Thinking will help you set the right intentions towards others regardless of the environment in which you find yourself. This can be achieved through practising mindfulness of your thought process and developing a general attitude of good will and harmlessness towards others, or Bodhicitta.
Bodhicitta is the intention to awaken to your Buddha nature in order to help others to do the same. As you work on Right Thought your understanding of reality will grow and deepen, allowing you to bring happiness and liberation to others. After all, if it is true that we are all secret Buddhas who are not yet aware of our true identity, then compassion and understanding become the only humane or ethical response to unskilful behaviour, whether in yourself or others.
Next time: Right Speech
Read the new version of this series here: Eightfold Path Series
Image: Hand in Hand