I've heard this quote in a few places, attributed to the Buddha. Prominently, Tara Brach uses it. It varies sometimes:

  • "Everything rests on the tip of one's motivation."
  • “Everything rests on the point of intention.”

But the gist is always the same.

  1. Where in the Tripiṭaka (or elsewhere) does this quote originate?
  2. How can we understand this quote? What is this "tip of intention"? Is it perhaps translated from mano, as in 'intending mind', or some link in the chain of dependent origination, or something else?
  • In particular I am thinking about this discussion of Pali translations of consciousness, intention and mind: discourse.suttacentral.net/t/… Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 15:05
  • the start of the adage 'everything rests...' is ironic, it's just the opposite - intending that is..
    – blue_ego
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 13:31

5 Answers 5


It may be helpful to study AN3.61, in which the Buddha teaches us to be careful about thoughts concerning "everything":

AN3.61:1.1: “Mendicants, these three sectarian tenets—as pursued, pressed, and grilled by the astute—when taken to their conclusion, end with inaction.
AN3.61:1.2: What three?
AN3.61:1.3: There are some ascetics and brahmins who have this doctrine and view:
> AN3.61:1.4: ‘Everything this individual experiences—pleasurable, painful, or neutral—is because of past deeds.’
AN3.61:1.5: There are some ascetics and brahmins who have this doctrine and view:
AN3.61:1.6: ‘Everything this individual experiences—pleasurable, painful, or neutral—is because of the Lord God’s creation.’
AN3.61:1.7: There are some ascetics and brahmins who have this doctrine and view:
AN3.61:1.8: ‘Everything this individual experiences—pleasurable, painful, or neutral—has no cause or reason.’

In this case, thinking that past deeds are motivated by intention/motivation, we can see that we have to be wary of falling into inaction. Inaction is not a path. Neither is intention.

It is perhaps more important to ask about skillful intention. Intention can be skillful or unskillful. And only skillful intention leads us along the Noble Eightfold Path. AN10.217 discusses skillful intention.

AN10.217:19.3: There are three kinds of successful mental action that have skillful intention, with happiness as their outcome and result.
AN10.217:20.1: And what are the three kinds of successful bodily action?
AN10.217:20.2: It’s when a certain person gives up killing living creatures. They renounce the rod and the sword. They’re scrupulous and kind, living full of compassion for all living beings.

Interestingly, the tip of intention can also be focused on emptiness. A really good meditation intent on emptiness is taught in MN121.

MN121:4.2: There is only this that is not emptiness, namely, the oneness dependent on the mendicant Saṅgha.
MN121:4.3: In the same way, a mendicant—ignoring the perception of the village and the perception of people—focuses on the oneness dependent on the perception of wilderness.

  • 1
    If you can add your comment to my answer in your answer, I'll uptick.
    – user17652
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 17:02
  • MN121 is indeed quite amazing.
    – OyaMist
    Commented Nov 19, 2022 at 2:21
  • 2
    I'm going to mark this one as the correct answer just for the sheer quantity of references, but I do also very much appreciate @Max's answer. Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 16:34

I don't know where that quote originates from, but in reference to intention, it sort of works like this...

Firstly, intention is a potential in the mind which doesn't fully engage until it is expressed through one or all of three mediums, in those cases intention then becomes kamma, which simply means action from which something is put together in the world. Those three mediums are voice, physical actions and thoughts and are sometimes referred to as sankharas often translated as intentions, which may or may not be helpful. It becomes problematic when fragmenting this into a process, due to determining where the intention lies. The punchline is that it lies nowhere, that is the illusion. At best, one could say that intentions are self-ideas that lose themselves to gross feelings, but we have to speak about it as though it is 'something' to look for, so that one can see it is not actually there.

That potential (intention) is made up of a few things: firstly, something has to colour or impede a sense organ. Let's say someone walked into your room and this person caused you some upset several weeks ago. Your eye points towards that person, and in that instant of connection, there is a subtle sensation. Baked inside that sensation is an interpretation or a perception, but it is not intelligible to the conscious mind, therefore it bypasses the objective reasoning attributes of the mind and kickstarts those familiar gross feelings like irritation. In this particular scenario, the sensation has an aversive quality to it, which fires up irritation. This may then lead you to perform an action: perhaps you'll shout at them (speech); perhaps you'll stick your middle finger up at them (actions); or perhaps you'll think nasty things about them (thoughts).

This largely unseen sensation/perception boots up a gross feeling like irritation or anger. It is inside those feelings where a person seems to emerge, simply because we didn't look closely at what was happening in the body. For most people, these subtle sensations/perceptions are lingering just on the periphery of their awareness, so one meanders through life responding unconsciously to these subtle sensations, and wonders why they suffer so much.

The fascinating thing about this is, when one tries to find who owns those sensations and their resulting actions, there is nobody there. I remember when that collapsed for me. I was looking into this person who thought he was angry; I persistently looked in and around the anger, and one day, the illusion broke apart. There was no such thing as intention. That was fetters 4 & 5. Those two fetters create such incredible kamma, it's actually quite astonishing! They are the rebirthing fetters. In the Theravada scheme, having broken those two, one is then seen as a non-returner, as no more rebirthing kamma can be created, so severing fetters 4 & 5 stops a lot of suffering.

The idea that there is somebody there is the illusion, and how do we define an illusion? Something that initially appears to be there, but which isn't. That is why the Buddha said, "form is like a glob of foam, feeling a bubble, perception a mirage, intention a banana tree [hollow and empty,] consciousness a magic trick.

  • 1
    @yellow-saint- yes, it becomes quite a conundrum, doesn't it? I'll be honest with you, I don't know of many people who can slice through fetters 4 & 5 in that way. It had taken me 3 months of daily looking, but there needed to be a strong feeling (anger) and what appeared to be an intention to act upon those strong feelings. That's the best time to catch the illusion, when it is front and centre and thus visible. Right intention is a practice-based system called the eightfold path, but even this is stripped of its systematization as one finds their own spontaneity and does their own thing.
    – user17652
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 8:37
  • 2
    A really good meditation intent on emptiness is taught in MN121. > MN121:3.6: Now, as before, I usually practice the meditation on emptiness. > MN121:4.2: There is only this that is not emptiness, namely, the oneness dependent on the mendicant Saṅgha.
    – OyaMist
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 13:11
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    Crikey! Nice one @OyaMist. Another relevant excerpt regarding intention: "a mendicant... focuses on the oneness dependent on the signless immersion of the heart... They understand: ‘Even this signless immersion of the heart is produced by choices and intentions.’ 11.5They understand: ‘But whatever is produced by choices and intentions is impermanent and liable to cessation.’ 11.6Knowing and seeing like this, their mind is freed from the defilements of sensuality, desire to be reborn, and ignorance. 11.7When they’re freed, they know they’re freed." Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 14:12
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    From The Wisdom of Imperfection: "the Tibetan practice of Chöd (literally “to cut off”) during which a meditator would go to a particularly frightening place, like a cremation ground, and deliberately generate a state of fear so that the vivid sense of “I” would arise. Once this vivid feeling of “I” was generated, the meditator would look it directly in the face, so to speak, and recognize its completely fabricated nature. Recognizing that this “I” had no true existence would directly cut through ego-grasping (hence the name Chöd ), releasing the mind from the emotional distress of the fear" Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 20:50
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    Book reference: google.co.uk/books/edition/The_Wisdom_of_Imperfection/… Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 20:51

Here's a quote which is quite similar

“chandamūlakā, āvuso, sabbe dhammā.” - All things are rooted in desire.

You can find it here : https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an10/an10.058.than.html

Also :

"Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect."


i agree with that because intention is like subtle form of craving for future becoming. even to think of intention as a cohesive force for the self rings true. a self gets things done, keeps promises, has reassurance, delivers pleasure and relief. but i can't imagine escaping this kind of stress when the 5 hindrances are prominent. in fact, it seems that intention keeps those hindrances at bay or out of sight - i will deal with my afflicted self tomorrow, i promise to unbind later, much later

then there's the sense of control too, knowing how things will turn out. but in a way it's rather risky and uncertain, because it's just some heuristic from past experiences. i'm putting a lot on the line for this unbinding business (doubt hindrance)...

or having done a lot of karma, one might intend "to be a permanent fixture". that might lead to a view such as "the cosmos (god) is the self". then you give all the glory to god, but who am i to offer all the glory?

so it seems intention can be involved in the process of forming view (sankhara). learning own views by watching intention (unfulfilled desire). so perhaps that is what is meant by resting on...that is to contemplate or balance our desire.

“The supreme viewpoint external (to the Dhamma) is this: ‘I should not be and it should not occur to me; I will not be; it will not occur to me.’”— AN 10:29

  • I think there's a lot in this answer! Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 15:07

While all of the submitted answers are good (and I can find no reference to this being said by the Buddha either), my mind points me to a simple, and easily found meaning which relates directly to his teachings.

The phrases refer to the importance of intention in the generation of karma. As this answer tries to show, the same act can either generate positive or negative karma. "Everything rests on the tip of intention".

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    It becomes quite shocking for some to make this realisation, that nobody is there intending to do anything. If fact, some people will avoid it by all costs, the fear debilitates their mind... they understand: ‘But whatever is produced by choices and intentions is impermanent and liable to cessation.’ Knowing and seeing like this, their mind is freed from the defilements of sensuality, desire to be reborn, and ignorance.
    – user17652
    Commented Nov 19, 2022 at 12:11

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