Home » Features » Should We Simply Act Upon ‘Good’ Intentions?

It is will [intention],
O monks, that I call karma [created];
having willed [intended], one acts
through body, speech, and mind.

– The Buddha (Nibbedhika Sutta: A.III.415)

It is often taught that good (skilful; wholesome; positive) or bad (unskilful; unwholesome; negative) karma is created from corresponding intentions that spur actions. Should not the consequences be crucial too, in determining if the karma created is good or bad? For example, a drunkard who made a mess was let go of, instead of reported to the police. A few years later, he committed drunken manslaughter. The ‘non-reporter’ seemed to have had good intention when letting him go, though the consequences seemed not good. Did he create good or bad karma then? How do we answer if we emphasise on having good intentions only?

Well, having good intentions precisely means wanting to create good consequences. It is impossible to have intentions that can be considered good without wanting good consequences. Intentions not bent on good consequences are not considered good. In fact, they are either neutral or evil in nature. If there is no intention to do good or evil, there is no good or bad karma created, even despite action. However, if there is wilful negligence to NOT do what should be done, this willing is intentional, thus creating karma accordingly.

On the drunkard’s case, it is not so straightforward as to whether not reporting him was right or wrong. Not reporting seemed to be with good intentions, but there was surely also some uncertainty of the consequences. The giving of chance turned out to be a miscalculated risk. The murder was at most somewhat correlated, but not directly caused by not being reported, as he had years to change, but did not treasure the chance given. Generally, troublesome drunkards unable to register reason should be reported – so that firm lessons are learnt when sober.

So, the non-reporting was with compassion but without wisdom. In this sense, the intention was only ‘kind of good’, but not good enough as it lacked wisdom. Lacking adequate compassion and wisdom, mixed karma is often created, that is neither totally good nor bad, with different weightage of each. Good intentions are the best when expressing compassion with wisdom. Compassion motivates the good act, while wisdom ensures its results are good. Without compassion, one will not do good at all, while without wisdom, one will not do good well enough. Thus we should keep nurturing both compassion and wisdom. In fact, skilful means is possible only as expression of their synergy.

With the best of compassion and wisdom,
may we have the best of intentions
that inspire the best of thoughts,
speech and actions for the best of results.

– Stonepeace | Books

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https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2009/10/the-old-young-monks-who-killed-saved-ants
Does Being Unthoughtful Create Negative Karma?
https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2015/12/does-being-unthoughful-create-negative-karma
Do Good Intentions Excuse Bad Results?
https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2014/05/do-good-intentions-excuse-bad-results
Does Thinking Something Bad Create Bad Karma?
https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2011/02/does-thinking-something-bad-create-bad-karma
How Inaction Might Be Evil
https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2010/08/how-inaction-might-be-evil
Should You Harm Others To Clear Their Bad Karma?
https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2012/11/should-you-harm-others-to-clear-their-bad-karma

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