Right Intention and Minimalism

We need to stop making excuses, face reality, and begin to end suffering so we can find happiness.

A revised version of this essay is collected in the book Eightfold Minimalism: Essays from A Minimalist Abroad, now available from Amazon.

The second component of wisdom, and the second element of the Noble Eightfold Path, is Right Intention. This is fairly straightforward; it’s about making sure that our actions are moral and ethical. When we know what the right thing to do is, we do it. We don’t make excuses for why we didn’t do it, and we don’t try to bend the rules to make them fit our desires. We make decisions and plan our actions guided by Right Intention.

In Buddhism this is actually where the renunciation of worldly things comes in. Monks and nuns get rid of material possessions that might causes temptation. They all shave their heads to eliminate vanity, and they all own the same robes and sandals so that no one begins to think that they’re better than anyone else. By getting rid of stuff, they’re making room for spiritual development.

We don’t need to go to this extreme as minimalists, of course, but there are aspects of ethics and morality around what we own that we need to consider. Is it moral to have more than we need, if we live in a community where there is poverty and hunger? Many of us become vegetarians because we have ethical concerns about how animals are raised for meat. We often try to learn about the source of our goods, to insure that the workers who made them were treated fairly. We need to know that our stuff hasn’t been a source of suffering.

Because not causing suffering, whether it’s our own or someone else’s, is at the heart of Right Intention. When you’re able to apply wisdom and see the world as it is, you’re able to see all of the ways that you’re hurting yourself and those around you. Right Intention is knowing when to stop. Rid yourself not only of stuff, but thoughts, habits, and other behaviors that you know are harmful and hurtful.

Right Intention

When we get into the nuts and bolts of minimalism, this is often the hardest part. We know that we don’t need stuff. We know that we don’t need so many events on our schedules. We know that we don’t need inward-facing people spewing toxic behaviors all over our lives. We know what’s hurting us. We know what we need to get rid of, and what we need to make more space for. We need to admit it. We need to be honest about it. We need to stop making excuses, face reality, and begin to end suffering so we can find happiness.

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