Tuesday, August 09, 2005


I meditate. I don't usually talk about it here because I don't really want my blog persona to become overladen with too many associations (I mean, there's already the eccentric cat thing going on) and because, well, what's to say? But as a meditator, I participate in a local sangha, and as part of this participation I often hear what's known as a dharma talk. A few days ago, the topic of the dharma talk was intention, and it's intention that I want to blog about.

One of the reasons I'm interested in Buddhist discourse is because it's so laden with attention to emotion. Mindfulness or insight meditation is all about watching, paying attention to "what comes up" in the body. And what often comes up, of course, are reactions to stimuli, reactions that are either positive, negative, or neutral. Anyway, according to Buddhist psychology, all actions are preceded by intention. When I first heard this, my immediate sceptical reaction was to think, well, hardly. Ha--As if we intend everything we do!--my post-humanistic not-self scoffed. But the person delivering the dharma talk parsed out intention in this way:

in: toward
tendere: to stretch (as in tendon)

To stretch toward. A movement, bodily motivated. Intention as affective rather than rational. Useful image: the stretching of a tendon. Stretching toward, but often not noticed until the action is completed. Maybe never rationally acknowledged. But intended--affectively motivated--all the same.

1 comment:

chris said...

Most often I think about intention when an action is unrealized or when an action is completed only partially. "He was well-intentioned" or "He meant well" are accompanying utterances that come to mind.
Buddhist discourse, it seems, offers a perspective that hasn't occurred to me. It's interesting that when i think of intention it's related to a Judeo-Christian discourse: i intend to perform a good and descent act b/c of how it may (or may not) benefit me in the long run. By "long run" i mostly mean karma (what goes around may come back to bite you in the ass; or it may be more pleasant), but the whole after-life thing is also a part of my (sub)consciousness...