"Intention vs. Result: Assesing Our Words and Actions
Zen Buddhist and Mormon share views about what constitutes positive and negative actions.
The adage "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" might lead one to think that it is not what one intends or hopes to accomplish that determines what is ultimately good or bad, but rather the final result.
But according to a local Zen Buddhist teacher and a member of the local Mormon church, one’s true intention decidedly carries more weight in the garden of good and evil.
In the Zen tradition, karma is understood as the positive or negative actions that one takes.
“If someone does good or takes positive action in the world then he or she is helping to contribute to positive things happening in the world," said Sensei Ray Ruzan Cicetti, resident teacher of Zen Buddhism at Empty Bowl Zendo in Morristown. "If one takes negative action, then it results in negative energy being dispersed throughout the world."
But what is positive or good and what is negative or bad?
Cicetti said while intention is extremely important, one must also take responsibility to consider the potential outcome of one’s actions or words.
“You can’t simply proceed with just your belief, that you are engaging in good or positive action, you do need to be aware or try to have some insight into the consequences,” he said.
Mike Crowley, a Morristown attorney and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Morris Township, agrees. “I would say that one’s intention is extremely important, but morally, as well as legally, one must at least try to be aware of the outcome of one’s actions or words.”
He said, for instance, legally, one is sometimes responsible for a negative result or harm done to someone if the person taking the action should have or could have foreseen the negative outcome.
Criminal liability requires both an actus reus, wrongful act, and amens rea, wrongful intention. Civil law, in contrast, holds a person responsible not only for intentional wrongdoing but also for negligent acts or omissions, so long as the resultant harm is reasonably foreseeable, Crowley said.
In the Zen tradition, Cicetti said it is important to do one’s homework before taking an action to help someone or engage in an action intended to be good or positive.
However, if someone truly does something with the best of intentions and it still results in a negative outcome, he said the best they can do is to apologize and learn from their mistakes and move on.
“We all make errors and when we do, we need to heal it and move forward,” Cicetti said.
Crowley said he believes that we all have an internal gauge that guides us if we truly listen. "We commonly refer to that as the conscience, but adherents to my faith believe it is God-given and refer to it as the light of Christ.
“I think often an individual may take an action and sort of convince him or herself that it is the right action, but I think deep in their heart the individual knows what is right and what is wrong,” he said.
Unlike the Tibetan Buddhist tradition that believes that good or bad karma is carried from lifetime to lifetime through reincarnation, the Zen or Mahayana Buddhist tradition believes that there is only now, only the eternal present, according to Cicetti.
Therefore, as long as we keep our intention pure and focused on doing good in the world, we will raise the vibration of the world.
Cicetti and Crowley both believe that when all is said and done, one’s true intention must be the guiding force and the basis upon which someone is judged."