Setting Our Intentions
And Beginning Anew
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Dear Still Water Friends,
Like most Americans, I grew up focused on goals and accomplishments. I believed that if I could do this or that, others would approve, I would be rewarded, and I would be happy. Unfortunately, it usually did not work out that way.
The tradition of mindfulness helped broaden my perspective. The Buddha taught that it is not what we do or what we accomplish that creates suffering or happiness, it is how we do it. It is the motivation or intention guiding our actions that is paramount. Our intentions are the driving force of karma, constantly reshaping both our inner world and the outer world we then experience.
With the practice of mindfulness gradually we become better able to recognize our intentions, and over time, we learn to create space between stimulus and response, so that we can alter habitual responses that do not serve us.
Those of us who were taught to approach problems analytically and conceptually discover than identifying intentions requires a different skill set. We must let go of concepts and logic and learn to become attuned to feelings and subtle energies. “Ah, this is the taste of envy.” or “I’ve caught the scent of something, but I'm not yet sure what it is.” If we are lucky, we have others to help us: “You seemed irritated when you said that.”
Once we are able, at least some of the time, to recognize our intentions as they arise, how do we know which ones to encourage and which ones to discourage? Experience can be a guide: been there, done that, don’t want to do it again. Teachers and wisdom traditions can also help us: this is what happens when one’s life is guided by greed. Something inherent in the intentions themselves may also advise us: when this intention is present, does my heart feel closed and rigid, or open and malleable?
I feel motivated to set an intention when I realize that in a certain area of my life, my responses are not in accord with my understanding of what is beneficial. Setting an intention is like remembering in advance: Be careful here – in these circumstances it is easy for me to act out of anger, greed, or fear.
In the Plum Village tradition, practitioners use the Beginning Anew ceremony to reflect on their habitual responses that have created suffering and to set their intentions so that they may respond differently in the future.
This Thursday evening, after our meditation, we will explore the link between intentions and suffering and then read together the Beginning Anew reflections from the ceremony.
You are invited to be with us.
With great respect, we turn towards the conqueror of afflictions,
offering heartfelt words of repentance.
We have lived in forgetfulness for a long time.
As we have not had the opportunity to encounter the Dharma,
our habit energies have led us into suffering.
We have made many mistakes out of unskillfulness.
We have been blinded by our wrong perceptions
for a very long time.
Our heart’s garden is sown with attachment, hatred, and pride.
In us are seeds of killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and lies.
Our everyday deeds and words do damage.
All these wrong actions are obstacles to our peace and joy.
Let us begin anew.
We see that we have been thoughtless,
straying from the path of mindfulness.
We have stored up afflictions and ignorance,
which have brought about so much aversion and sorrow.
There are times we have been weary of life
because we are so full of anxiety.
Because we do not understand others,
we are angry and resentful.
First we try to reason with each other, then we blame.
Every day the suffering increases, making the rift greater.
There are days when we are unwilling to speak to each other,
unwilling to look each other in the face.
And we create internal formations, which last for a long time.
Now we turn to the Three Jewels.
Sincerely recognizing our errors, we bow our heads.
We know so well that in our consciousness
are buried all the wholesome seeds —
seeds of love and understanding and seeds of peace and joy.
But because we do not know how to water them
the wholesome seeds do not sprout fresh and green.
We continue to allow sorrow to overwhelm us
until there is no light in our lives.
When we chase after a distant happiness,
life becomes but a shadow of the reality.
Our mind is occupied by the past,
or worrying about this or that in the future.
We cannot let go of our anger,
and we consider of no value the precious gifts of life
which are already in our hands,
thereby trampling on real happiness.
As month follows month, we are sunk in sorrow.
So now in the precious presence of the Buddha,
fragrant with sandalwood incense,
we recognize our errors and begin anew.
With all our heart we go for refuge,
turning to the Buddhas in the Ten Directions
and all the Bodhisattvas, noble disciples, and self
Very sincerely we recognize our errors
and the mistakes of our wrong judgments.
Please bring the balm of clear water
to pour on the roots of our afflictions.
Please bring the raft of the true teachings
to carry us over the ocean of sorrows.
We vow to live an awakened life,
to practice smiling and conscious breathing,
and to study the teachings, authentically transmitted.
Diligently, we shall live in mindfulness.
We come back to live in the wonderful present,
to plant our heart’s garden with good seeds,
and to make strong foundations of understanding and love.
We vow to train ourselves in mindfulness and concentration,
practicing to look and understand deeply
to be able to see the nature of all that is,
and so to be free of the bonds of birth and death.
We learn to speak lovingly, to be affectionate,
to care for others whether it is early morn or late afternoon,
to bring the roots of joy to many places,
helping people to abandon sorrow,
to respond with deep gratitude
to the kindness of parents, teachers, and friends.
With deep faith we light up the incense of our heart.
We ask the Lord of Compassion to be our protector
on the wonderful path of practice.
We vow to practice diligently,
cultivating the fruits of this path.
[BELL, BELL, BELL]
[From Chanting from the Heart: Buddhist Ceremonies and Daily Practice]