In a world littered with physical and emotional strife and further complicated by sometimes overwhelming personal obligations, we don't always find the time to do exactly what we intend, even on an minor level. We intended to donate to charity but unless we pre-arranged for this in a regimented way such as through payroll deduction, we didn't actually "get to it." We wanted to foster that abandoned and scarred pit bull whose photo broke our hearts on FB, but never got past the hyperlink to the rescue organization in time prevent his euthanasia. We truly did plan to deliver that birthday gift or dinner out for our wheelchair bound grandfather but minor interruptions shifted our priorities. We meant to say "thank you" or "happy birthday" or "I love you ." We mean to act on the love we feel but time is too rascally, always getting away from us. In simple terms, does this make us negligent or "bad?" Or does it present us an opportunity to examine our ethics so we can identify and align with our spiritual beliefs? Does intention count?
In many ways we all confront the ongoing human struggle between intention and deed. We know the proverb "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." The earliest recorded version of this comes from a 12th Century saint, Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote "Hell is full of good intentions or desires." Either way, in this ethical philosophy, we fail when we do not deliver our intention. The great religions address this dilemma, with conflicting conclusions as Islam, Judaism, Buddhism offer distinct positions with slightly overlapping edges.
Islam credits our intentions, with Qu'ran writings promising rewards for intending to do a good deed and that reward muliplying with the completion of the deed. The same applies to harmful actions, but on this continuum there is a weighted difference: if one thinks about hurting another but doesn't act upon it, he is credited for having done a good deed. But the complete surrender to Allah means that Allah sees all and knows our complete intention so all must be undertaken iwth a pure heart. Some people see danger in ritual by rote without entering with a full and willing heart. We must be wholly invested.
Judaism places deed before intention, requiring that mitzvot, or commandments (often mistranslated as “good deeds”) be done, even if it is not fully understood at the time....it can be studied and evaluated later. This applies to Jewish law as written in the Torah, with the belief that even if one doesn't understand the reasons for a ritual or act, completing the act will eventually promote higher spirituality through reflection. This sounds like a gradually awakening state of mindfulness through practice, very Eastern.
Buddhism appears similar to Islam on the action-thought continuum. In both Islam and Buddhism, “right” intention carries its own virtue. While "right action" is an integral part of the 8-fold path, even thoughts alone can incur karma, and a harmful thought, even if unrealized through action, will negatively affect a person's karma. Mindful practice must be used to eliminate the thoughts themselves. That doesn’t mean we should crush or discard them but allow the meditative process to naturally and gradually reduce those negative thoughts, which will lessen in intensity and frequency, ultimately (hopefully) disappearing.
Christianity takes a different approach since it distinguishes itself from other religions by promoting faith over deed; this is emphasized throughout the New Testament and most vehemently presented in Paul's writings. However, Matthew discusses the sacredness of deed performed silently and secretly, teaching that the intimacy of the human-God relationship supersedes the ego's desire for public acknowledgment of good works. Matthew advises, "“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven." This applies to prayer as well, as he teaches us to pray behind closed doors, privately, "for your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."
So how do we translate this thoguht/deed continuum into a metaphysical practice? We are taught that thoughts are "things," that their power yield results. In this light, then, intention does not carry neutral energy. It manifests the reality that takes form in our deeds, which is more potent on an earthly level. The key is to remember that Divine intention empowers earthly movement and we should intend to manifest Light no matter how dim our situation.
Lisa Shaw is a spiritual counselor, animal comunicator, Reiki Master and professor. Her e-b, Illumination: Life Lessons from our Animal Companions is available on Amazon Kindle. Her web site is www.reikidogs.com