We are now departing from the Four Truths, into the rest of the Eightfold Path. Recall from day 1, that the Fourth Noble Truth is the Eightfold Path, and the First Factor of the Eightfold Path, Right View, refers to the Four Truths.

Now that we have covered the Three Noble Truths, we will dive into the Second Factor of the Eightfold Path. The Pali term samma sankappa is often translated as “Right Thoughts”, though it also means “motivation”, “intention”. There are three kinds of Right Intention/Motivation: renunciation, non-ill-will, harmlessness.


Right Intention/Motivation

And what, bhikkhus, is right intention? Intention of renunciation, intention of non-ill will, intention of harmlessness: this is called right intention.

SN 45.8 - Analysis, Bhikkhu Bodhi translation

Bhikkhus, whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind. If he frequently thinks and ponders upon thoughts of renunciation, he has abandoned the thought of sensual desire(sic) to cultivate the thought of renunciation, and then his mind inclines to thoughts of renunciation. If he frequently thinks and ponders upon thoughts of non-ill will, he has abandoned the thought of ill will to cultivate the thought of non-ill will, and then his mind inclines to thoughts of non-ill will. If he frequently thinks and ponder upon thoughts of non-cruelty, he has abandoned the thought of cruelty to cultivate the thought of non-cruelty, and then his mind inclines to thoughts of non-cruelty.

MN 19 - Two Kinds of Thought, Bhikkhu Bodhi Translation


Three types of Right Intentions or Motivations

The three types of Right Intentions/Motivations are best illustrated and understood through looking at their opposites, the three types of Wrong Intentions/Motivations:

  • kāma - this isn’t “sensual desire”, but rather thoughts or intentions about the world of the five senses. In particular, are you grasping or letting go?
  • byāpada - ill will, malice. Any kind of ill will, even the slightest irritation, can be the cause for wrong Intention.
  • vihimsā - cruelty, ruthlessness. This includes the typical ruthlessness in pursuing certain objectives, but also includes thoughtlessness about the consequences of one’s actions which Hannah Arendt talked about in Eichmann in Jerusalem.

In contrast, the three types of Right Intentions or Motivations are:

  • nekkhamma - renununciation, or letting go. Recall that we covered the four types of letting go in day 5, through generosity, throwing away, being free from things, and not letting things stick to one’s mind.. These are the four ways to practice renunciation.
  • abyāpāda - non-ill will. This is often a synonym for loving kindness, but can also refer to compassion, sympathetic joy, or equanimity (which are all states with non-ill will).
  • avihimsa - non-cruelty, or harmlessness. This could also be thoughtfulness & consideration.Ajahn Brahmali once commented that the opposite of ruthlessness is to be “ruthful”, which means to be “full of ruth”, or to be full of compassion.

Why Right Intention/Motivations Matters I

Ok, so we have covered the three types of Right Intention/Motivations. Why is it important? Because intention is karma. And because what matters is Right Intention, not Good Intentions.It does NOT matter that you have GOOD intentions when doing something: if you cling onto what you heard and saw, and that generates ill will and ruthlessness, you’re making bad kamma.

I personally saw this when I was temporarily in the executive committee of a Buddhist society: I saw my own mind being defiled by my own grasping, to what I heard, and the resulting defilements generated from the events. That caused me to tender my resignation, as I didn’t want to create bad kamma.

So it is not about WHAT you are doing, but HOW you do it.

Why Right Intention/Motivations Matters II

I have verified this with my teacher Ajahn Brahm before.

The Eightfold Path can be summarised as “Right View, followed by acting out Right Motivation (letting go, kindness & gentleness) by body, speech & mind”.



  1. Recall the last time that you did something which caused you a lot of non-sensual happiness. What type of Right Intention/Motivation did you have, as you acted by body speech and mind?

  2. Recall the last time that you did something, which caused a lot of suffering. What type of Wrong Intentions/Motivations did you act with, by body speech and mind?

Orbit Prompts for Review