Welcome to my blog---an eyes-open, no-holds-barred exploration of life through the combined prism of mindfulness and metaphysics. A member of the Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Association, I lecture at the NSW Institute of Psychiatry to mental health workers and also work as a lawyer and Unitarian minister. My interests include the psychology of religion, addiction recovery, the teachings of J. Krishnamurti, Buddhism, Humanism, and John Anderson's realist philosophy.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
NEW THOUGHT---BUDDHIST STYLE
This blog is lovingly dedicated to the memory of H Geo Paul (1902-2002) [pictured below]
whose thoughts were forever new.
Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
- Frank Outlaw, attrib.
One of the most important religious movements in the United States of America in the 20th century was the non-creedal and very liberal New Thought movement, which developed throughout the United States and, shortly thereafter, Great Britain towards the end of the 19th century in the form of a revival of Neoplatonism.
'New Thought' is not to be confused with the 'New Age' movement, with which it has some features in common. (I have a fair bit of respect for New Thought because it has a strong, solid philosophical underpinning. I have almost total disrespect for the New Age movement because it contains so much irrational silliness and superstition. Some of its silliness is little better, and may even be worse, than that of traditional religion.)
Now, the term 'New Thought' came into vogue in 1895 and was used as the title of a magazine published for a time in MelroseMA to describe a 'new thought' about life. Finding the space for ‘alternative religion’ the New Thought movement was particularly strong in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s and had an enormous influence on religion and religious thinking in the United States. Indeed, there are still lots of New Thought churches and centres in many countries including Australia. (I was for a time a chaplain and the president of a Unity centre in metropolitan Sydney and I have also been a member of other New Thought groups.)
New Thought, which has no creed or dogma, has been defined by one of its leading exponents Dr Ernest Holmes (a Divine Science minister and the founder of Religious Science) as ‘a system of thought which affirms the unity of God with man, the perfection of all life, and the immortality and eternity of the individual soul forever expanding.’ New Thought constantly re-invents itself, thus remaining forever 'new,' even if its message remains substantially the same. New Thought author and attorney Abel Leighton Allen had this to say in his book The Message of New Thought:
New Thought is not, as many believe, a name or expression employed to define any fixed system of thought, philosophy, or religion, but is a term used to convey the idea of growing or developing thought. In considering this subject, the word 'New' should be duly and freely emphasized, because the expression 'New Thought' relates only to what is new and progressive.
Even those who are not familiar with the words 'New Thought' or the 'New Thought Movement' as such have generally had some exposure to its ideas and teachings in one form or another. Recent bestselling books such as The Secret [also a DVD] and The Power, as well as the continued popularity of self-help authors and personalities such as Louise Hay and Dr Wayne Dyer, prove that there is still quite a strong interest in the ideas promulgated by the ‘New Thoughters.’ Yes, there is something eternal in the thought, 'What we think, we become [or are]' (cf Prov 23:7). Even actor Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher offers us some New Thought wisdom (more-or-less the words set out above attributed to Frank Outlaw) in the recent film The Iron Lady:
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Unitarian and Transcendentalist, who wrote, 'A man is what he thinks all day long,' is regarded by many as the spiritual father of New Thought, although the roots of New Thought go way back to Buddha and Plato. (It was the latter who said, 'Take charge of your thoughts. You can do what you will with them.' I will get back to the Buddha later on.) Actually, New Thought is as old as humanity. In the words of New Thought poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox, ‘This is the "new" religion; yet it is older than the universe. It is God's own thought put into practical form.’
Idealism asserts that everything exists in or to minds ... or as 'Mind.' New Thought, at least in most of its incarnations, is a form of what is known as 'objective idealism.' The latter postulates the existence of an objective world (so-called ‘matter’) but which is mental (that is, non-materialistic). Unlike ‘subjective idealism,’ objective idealism asserts that the objective world is independent of the human knower, because it belongs (for want of a better word) to one Absolute Mind (‘Mind’), the absolute knower. All individual minds are simply manifestations of the one 'Master Mind.' In the words of Ernest Holmes, 'Man lives in a mind that presses in upon him from all sides with infinite possibilities, with infinite creative power.' That being the case, says Holmes, 'To think is to create.' (New Thoughters assert that 'the Word' (in the form of our thoughts and images) is always 'made flesh' (that is, made manifest in our daily lives) [cf Jn 1:14].)
The system of religious thought known as Christian Science – which has a fair bit in common with New Thought (having a more-or-less common origin) – is a form of subjective idealism. Most of the New Thought denominations and systems of thought have their philosophical underpinning in objective idealism.
However, if any one person may be said to have been the founder of the movement it was Phineas P Quimby (pictured left), a Maine clockmaker, inventor and hypnotist. Yes, Quimby is generally recognized as the ‘Father of New Thought.’
Known as a metaphysical healer, Quimby's experiences and practices of mental healing were the real beginnings of and foundation for New Thought. Perhaps even more importantly, Quimby was, in the words of the nondenominational New Thought minister and renowned Quimby scholar Dr Ervin Seale, 'the modern world's first true psychoanalyst.'
Some 150 years ago Quimby, who was not a formally educated man, taught that 'the explanation is the cure,' and he demonstrated that the human body moves as it is moved upon by the mind. That is, the body acts as it is acted upon, and becomes, in effect, a mirror of one's mind – a most important discovery. Quimby's system of healing was, at least in part, a metaphysical form of insight-oriented psychotherapy (together with autosuggestion), and he paved the way for the whole field of modern psychosomatic medicine.
As a sidelight, Quimby used the phrase ‘Christian Science’ as early as 1863. In fact, a Presbyterian minister by the name of William Adams had previously used the term ‘Christian Science’ before Quimby in his book The Elements of Christian Science (1st ed, 1850; later ed, 1857). Mary Baker Eddy [pictured right] (of Christian Science fame) claimed to have ‘discovered’ Christian Science in 1866---by a strange coincidence less than a month after Quimby's death.The matter went to the courts, the suit being won by Eddy but only because Quimby’s son George would not permit what were later published as The Quimby Manuscripts to be taken to court because the other party to the proceedings (a former student of Eddy’s) was impecunious. However, when the Quimby manuscripts were eventually published it became perfectly clear – to almost everyone except Christian Scientists – that Eddy not only got all of her essential ideas from Quimby (a 'very unlearned man,' in her later revised assessment of the man) she was also guilty of ... (gulp) plagiarism.Eddy also copied extensively from the writings of the German idealist philosopher Hegel. In fact, in the 1875 edition of Eddy's Science and Health there are 33 pages verbatim and 100 pages in substance from Dr Francis Leiber's manuscript entitled ‘The Metaphysical Religion of Hegel’ (written in November 1865, and copied in April 1866) to which Eddy had access.
Consistent with their peculiar system of mental practice, adherents of Christian Science simply refuse to accept as reality the objective truth of the foregoing, for even to speculate about the matters---the bona fides of Mrs Eddy and the authenticity of Science and Health---would be to attribute to 'error' an authority which, for Christian Scientists, it does not actually possess. Know this. Christian Science is dying, but its followers, not believing in death, will never admit it---at least not publicly. However, more than a few of them have acknowledged it privately to me in conversations I've had with them about their system of healing and their Church. That reminds me of a joke of sorts ...
The First Reader in a Christian Science church was talking to a member of his church. ‘And how is your husband today?’ ‘I'm afraid he's very ill.’ ‘No, no,’ corrected the First Reader, ‘You really shouldn't say that - you should say that he's under the impression that he's very ill.’ The woman nods in agreement, ‘Yes, I'll remember next time.’ A few weeks later the First Reader saw the woman again. ‘And how is your husband at the moment?’ ‘Well’, she replied, ‘he's under the impression that he's dead.’
All jokes aside, there is a very real connection between Mrs Eddy (whose wise admonition to 'stand porter at the door of thought' is worth remembering forever) and the New Thought movement in that much of New Thought filtered down through Eddy by reason that one of her former pupils, Emma Curtis Hopkins [pictured left] (known as the ‘Teacher of Teachers’), after breaking from Eddy, then transmitted her ideas and methods to certain students who would later become the founders (and 'teachers') of all of the major New Thought denominations, centres and schools. Hopkins wrote, 'When we are spiritual, we do not try to bring great things to pass, yet they come to pass. The most wonderful achievements of mankind have been brought to pass by confidence in some wonder-working unseen power.'
New Thought affirms the 'original goodness' of human beings as opposed to the traditional Christian ideas of 'original sin' and 'total depravity.' Yes, each one of us is the 'Son,' or the manifestation of God, and as God is All-Good, we cannot be otherwise. New Thought also affirms that the mental conditions ('state of Mind') always precedes the material order. Heaven, then earth. 'Mind before matter.' That is said to be the 'Law of the Universe' ... a universe founded by Divine Intelligence upon Principle (Law, Order and System) ... and the Divine Life is the power and energy that sustains and maintains the universe's boundless, amazing operation.
I love these words of Dr Ernest Holmes: 'There is a Power for Good in the Universe greater than you are and you can use it!' He would say those words in every one of his radio and TV broadcasts. For me, those words capture the essence and wonder of New Thought. The 'power for good' is a 'power-not-oneself' ... and it is a power which makes all things new! Here is a YouTube video of Dr Ernest Holmes taken from a 1956 episode of his program This Thing Called Life:
New Thought is not so much an organization as it is a point of view. As such, New Thought is a practically oriented metaphysical spirituality that promotes fullness of all aspects of living, through constructive thinking, meditation and various other ways of practising or realizing the presence of God, whilst affirming the possibility of curing disease by purely mental means. (Unlike Christian Science, New Thought does not renounce the very existence of disease. Also, whereas Christian Science has a central authority and is absolute in doctrinal form, New Thought has no central authority and is of a free and individualistic spirit.)
As respects the idea of ‘God,’ H Emilie Cady (pictured right), a Unity writer and teacher of great renown, writes:
God is not a being or person having life, intelligence, love, power.God is that invisible, intangible, but very real, something we call life. God is perfect love and infinite power. God is the total of these, the total of all good, whether manifested or unexpressed.
Then there's this. Unity cofounder Charles Fillmore said, 'God is the silent voice that speaks into visibility all the life there is.' Well, I don’t know about you, but these ideas certainly make a lot more sense to me than the traditional theism of the three major Abrahamic religions. As mentioned, New Thought has no creed, but if it had one, it would be this: 'There is only One Presence and One Power active in the universe and in my life – God, the Good, Omnipotent.' Powerful words ... with life-changing power!
Now, the essence of mindfulness is stay fully awake and fully present from one moment to the next. New Thought (Divine Science) minister, Dr Joseph Murphy (pictured left), saw God as the ‘Eternal Now’ – a concept which I find very appealing. Another famous New Thought (also Divine Science) minister, Dr Emmet Fox, referred to that loving and strengthening Presence as the ‘All-ness of God.’ Again, that makes sense to me, as does the idea that each one of us – indeed, every thing – is a channel of Divine expression. There is only Life, and all things are interconnected parts of Life's Self-Expression. Yes, New Thought affirms the unity of all life.
Call it what you will, there is only One Presence, and that Presence is forever manifesting itself as your life experience. So, the action of the present moment, from one moment to the next, is the very Ground of Being in which we all life and move and have our being (cf Acts 17:28). In addition, there is a 'Pattern' (or 'Divine Ideal') in every person – yes, hid in every man, woman and child – a Pattern woven in wisdom, its threads ages old, its life lying in the eternal. This Pattern is ... the 'Perfect Me.'
New Thought affirms the so-called ‘Law of Cause and Effect’ – that is, as we sow, so shall we reap (cf Gal:6:7) – and, in that regard, asserts that ‘thoughts are things’ which manifest as our experience. In the words of the great New Thought writer James Allen (As a Man Thinketh), 'Every thought you think is a force sent out.' Further, 'Mind is the arbiter of life; it is the creator and shaper of conditions, and the recipient of its own results.' Personally, I think that can be taken too far. I would like very much to think that we are made or unmade entirely by ourselves, but I think the late Allen Saunders made a valid point when he (allegedly) said, 'Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.' (Yes, John Lennon later wrote almost the very same words.)
In other words, despite what New Thoughters assert, our 'environment' is not entirely – or even substantially – of our own making. Bad things still happen ... even to the 'best' New Thoughters. Take, for example, the Divine Science minister, teacher, international lecturer and writer Dr Harry Gaze (pictured right). Now, Dr Gaze had written a book called How to Live Forever, which states, 'There's no mystery about long life in the flesh – only ignorance.' Well, Dr Gaze lectured frequently on his favourite subject – that is, living forever. In 1959 he agreed to give two lectures on physical immortality at Robert H Bitzer's Hollywood Church of Religious Science. He didn’t show up for the second lecture. The attendees were all waiting and wondering where their esteemed lecturer was. Unfortunately, there had been a motor vehicle accident, and Dr Gaze, who had been a passenger en route to the church, would die in the aftermath of that accident. He never gave that second lecture. Quite ironic ... but still very sad.
Nevertheless, no matter what happens to us, we are still the sovereign of our own thoughts, and we can control our thoughts. Further, our thoughts need not control us. Also, I agree with the old Oriental maxim, 'What we think upon grows.' In other words, it is, in the words of James Allen, 'in the nature of mind to create its own conditions, and to choose the states in which it shall dwell.' Yes, we are powerless over much that happens to us in life ... but we can still choose our mental states. Never forget that!
Now, I embrace what I refer to as ‘Buddhist New Thought.’ New Thought is an idealism. Buddhism is realism. I think you need both. At its cheery best (or worst), New Thought has an air of unreality about it. When I read something to the effect that evil, sickness and disease 'have no reality in Ultimate Reality' or 'have no reality, in reality, but have an existence in unreality' (the latter being the choice words of the English New Thoughter and mystic Henry Thomas Hamblin), I cringe---indeed, I despair---and I am reminded of what Shopenhauer thought of optimism – 'not merely absurd, but also [a] bitter mockery of the unspeakable suffering of humanity.' Hmmm. At least Shakyamuni Buddha recognised, as the veryFirst Noble Truth, that unsatisfactoriness (or suffering) is part - and often a very big part - of our lives. New Thought has one foot on the ground. Christian Science has none. It can't even admit the real existence of ground ... or feet!
What, you may ask, is ‘Buddhist New Thought’? Well, the Buddha was quite a New Thoughter himself---perhaps its first leading exponent and apologist. He said, 'We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make our world.' (Very much New Thought!) More specifically, the Buddha also said this:
Whatever suffering arises
Has a reaction as its cause.
If all reactions cease to be
Then there is no more suffering.
It’s like this. We experience a ‘sensation,’ which may be physical or mental. If we react to that sensation with ‘liking’ or ‘disliking’ – that is, with craving, attachment or aversion – that is karma. The word karma means 'action' – in this case, mental action in the form of a mindless, involuntary reaction to some input. The result? Pain, suffering or distress. However, if, on the other hand, we simply allow ourselves to be dispassionately and choicelessly aware of the sensation, then there is no ‘cause’ to produce any pain, suffering or distress. In other words, no reaction, no cause … and no effect. 'Like attracts like.'
So, Buddhism takes the cause-and-effect process back one step earlier. In traditional metaphysics (especially New Thought), the primary emphasis is on avoiding negative thinking and the like. In that regard, it is asserted by New Thoughters that as negative thoughts lead to negative results, so positive thoughts will inevitably lead to positive results – an obvious but debatable proposition. However, if we go back a step, and when something happens we simply do not allow a reaction (eg disliking) to arise in the first place – in other words, we simply let the sensation (input) be – then there will be no opportunity for any negative thought to arise at all.
That is the way the so-called 'law' of karma really works ... and Buddhism makes that very clear. Thatis the way to mindfully ‘work’ the Law of Cause and Effect (or 'sowing and reaping').
I call this system of thought and practice ‘Buddhist New Thought,’ but the same basic ideas can be found in 'mainstream' New Thought as well as in other spiritual and metaphysical philosophies. This, in the words of James Allen, is the truly important thing: 'Put away self-delusion; behold yourself as you are.' Both Buddhism and New Thought teach that happiness inheres in right conditions of mind, and unhappiness springs from a wrong condition of mind.
The 'good news' is that if you are painstaking about 'working' this system of mental cultivation you can, by virtue of your buddha nature (or innate potential), achieve enlightenment in this very lifetime.
Now, that is a 'new thought' ... even if it's not all that new.
P.S. For those who may be interested, there is a Japanese New Thought organisation Seicho-No-Ie, which has drawn from New Thought, Christianity, Buddhism and Shintoism. Here is its website. New Thought ideas and teachings (along with numerous other ideas from the above mentioned religions as well as elements of Theosophy) can also be found in the Happy Science movement which has also come out of Japan in recent years. Here is its Oceania website. IEJ.
Ernest Holmes Video Courtesy of United Centers for Spiritual Living The Iron Lady Copyright TheWeinstein Company All Rights Reserved