Supremacy of Intention

A Simple Common Morality Across All Religions

Supremacy of Intention

Intention is the driving force behind our behavior in the world. As conscious and self-aware beings, we have the power to make conscious decisions, and these decisions matter a lot—not just for ourselves, but for the world around us. This is why religious teachers throughout the ages have urged us to take note of what our intentions are, what we would like them to be, and how to go about changing them. We all have some innate sense of the supremacy of intentions—that a purposeful transgression against ourselves or others is different from an accident. As fallible creatures, we all make mistakes. Sometimes we end up causing harm even though our intentions are good. But if we act out of love, our actions are driven from within us and hence will be in consonance with cosmic purpose. If we seek what is lovable in others, for instance, we will find it easier to love. We are limited in our ability to love everyone literally and practically, but we are not limited in intention and imagination.

Additional Quotes

Lieh Tzu
Daoist sage

“Your actions produce reactions that follow you like shadows. Just as a tall person’s shadow is tall and a short person’s shadow is short, ugly words will produce ugly echoes, and good intentions will produce good reactions. For every action there is a reaction, and for every cause there is an effect.”

Norton 368-69

“Seeing is one thing;
Looking is another.
If both come together,
That is god.

If you look for an elephant,
He comes as an elephant.
If you look for a tree,
He’s a tree.
If you look for a mountain,
He’ll be a mountain.
God is what you have in your mind.

If you look for empty space,
He appears as space.
If you look for an ocean,
He’ll be an ocean.
If you look for a city,
He will come as a city.
God is what you have in your mind.

If you think of the god on the hill,
Married to the goddess,
That’s who you’ll see.
What you look for
Is the god in you.
What you see
Is the god out there.
God is what you have in your mind.”

The Qur'an
Islamic scripture

“He will not call you to account for oaths you have uttered unintentionally, but He will call you to account for what you mean in your hearts. God is most forgiving and forbearing.”

The Upanishads
Hindu scripture

“Intention is clearly greater than the mind, for it is only after a man has formed an intention that he makes up his mind; after that, he vocalizes his speech—and he vocalizes it to articulate a name. The vedic formulas are contained in the name, and rites, in vedic formulas. Now, intention (samkalpa) is the point of convergence of all these things; intention is their essence (atman); and on intention they are based.”

Baha'i leader

“One must see in every human being only that which is worthy of praise. When this is done, one can be a friend to the whole human race. If, however, we look at the people from the standpoint of their faults, then being a friend to them is a formidable task…Thus it is incumbent upon us, when we direct our gaze toward other people, to see where they excel, not where they fail.”

J.A. Wheeler
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“[John] Wheeler argued for a view that he came to call the ‘participatory universe’: observers participate in creating the reality they measure. As Wheeler argued, a physicist’s decision to measure a particle’s position rather than its momentum changes the objective properties of the real world.”

Todd Tremlin
Scholar of religion
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“As full-access strategic agents, supernatural beings are represented not only as knowing everything that is important but also maintaining a moral perspective on human behavior. Around the world, gods are consistently represented as concerned with the morally relevant aspects of social interaction, attentive to people’s inner attitudes and outward behaviors.”

The Hebrew Bible
Jewish scripture

“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”

Yuki Miyamoto
Ethicist and scholar of religion

“Karma dictates certain conditions over which we have no control—when and where we are born, for instance—but within that situation we are presented with choices.”

The New Testament
Christian scripture

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

The Analects
Confucian Text

“Just desire the good for yourself and the common people will be good. The virtue of the gentleman is like wind; the virtue of the small man is like grass. Let the wind blow over the grass and it is sure to bend.”

Arthur Zajonc
American Physicist
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“It is clear within all traditions, Eastern or Western, that initially our thoughts are not under our direction. Early on and throughout our practice it is, therefore, essential to school our thinking to come more and more under our control. The first exercise is aimed at the mastery of thinking and particularly of voluntary attention. Specifically, it is both revealing and helpful to concentrate on an extremely simple object such as a pin, paper clip, or pencil. The more insignificant the object, the better it serves the purposes of the exercise. Since the object lacks inherent interest, the attention we give it is entirely the result of our decision and effort.”

Ilya Prigogine
Russian Chemist
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“Whatever we call reality, it is revealed to us only through the active construction in which we participate.”

Robert C. Fuller
Scholar of psychology and religion
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“It is surely true that evolution constructed brains designed to solve problems of causality in the physical domain (the domain of parts). This should not, however, blind us to the fact that evolution also selected for the family of emotions (e.g., joy and interest) to which wonder belongs. Wonder is also part of our organism’s efforts to detect agency, but it does so by seeking the intentionality of a greater whole…Indeed, some of the highest intellectual accomplishments of which humans are capable require the construction of hypothetical “higher orders” of existence.”

Jill Bolte Taylor
Harvard neuroscientist
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“Our minds are highly sophisticated ‘seek and ye shall find’ instruments. We are designed to focus in on whatever we are looking for. If I seek red in the world then I will find it everywhere.”

The Qur'an
Islamic scripture

“You who believe, eat the good things We have provided for you and be grateful to God, if it is Him that you worship. He has only forbidden you carrion, blood, pig’s meat, and animals over which any name other than God’s has been invoked. But if anyone is forced to eat such things by hunger, rather than desire or excess, he commits no sin: God is most merciful and forgiving.”