The Road to Hell and Deluded Intention
We’ve all heard the saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” What if our good intentions foolishly ruin a relationship or hurt someone? The explanation is quite simple. Good intentions can be mixed with delusion. Then the result will include a measure of good, but the delusion and ignorance involved will also bring suffering.
In one family I know, parents with “good Christian intentions,” cut their daughter and grandchild off without any support because she deliberately had a child without a husband. Unfortunately, the “good” intentions of the parents were more in line with strict Old Testament punishment than with Jesus’ insistent love for the outcast, the sinner, and the poor. The “good” intentions contained delusion about love, anger and a self-centered grasping for control of their daughter. The suffering that resulted has gone on for years.
The delusion about “good” intentions can go deeper yet. Several of my friends were part of the successful campaign begun in the 1970’s to deinstitutionalize mental patients. They proceeded to legally force the courts to order the closing of many of the terrible state hospitals of the time. The state officials promised that the same money would be made available for regular care of these patients in the community. But it didn’t turn out that way. The compassionate intention to close the mental hospitals was not matched by an equally powerful recognition of the long term work needed to create alternative support structures in their place. Often those who were released ended up simply wandering the streets with no real support at all.
At the worst extreme, good intentions can be mixed with profound delusion. Stalin and Mao Tse-tung each claimed good intentions, trying to purge the exploitation of the past, and to enhance the power of the masses. Under their deluded intentions, millions were starved or murdered. To be wise, we have to examine our intention to ensure that it is free from delusion. The ends do not justify the means. If our actions will bring harm to others, even in the service of some “good,” most likely they are deluded. If our actions do not come from a kind heart, from loving courage and compassion, they are deluded. If they are based on “us” and “them,” they stem from delusion. Only to the extent that we act from the wisdom of no separation, understanding how we are woven together, will our intention bring benefit.
This excerpt is taken from the book, “The Wise Heart”