The Law of Attraction
In 2008 I sold my first book to Beyond Words publishing. They'd just been bought by Simon and Schuster after phenomenal overnight success with the now infamous, "The Secret." I'd looked at "The Secret" when it came out and thought it was really hokey. This wasn't new material, after all. It was derivative of the so-called, "New Thought" movement of the late 1800s, early 1900s. The ideas are varied, but what I take from it is that our minds are responsible for our well being. In other words, we create our situation. This throws a wrench into the notion that our fate is determined by a deity, which lends itself nicely to the basic ideas of Buddhism.
The view that we can fix ourselves by adjusting our thinking is definitely not new to psychology either. In undergraduate and graduate school I studied both the Cognitive and Behavioral Psychologies. The former holds that mental health can be improved by changing the way we frame reality. Behaviorists are more inclined to say that thought mattered less, but that our learned behaviors are what cause our happiness or suffering. Behavior modification programs aim at retraining our brains to learn new behaviors based on reward and punishment schedules.
For many years prior to college, I studied Emmet Fox's, "The Mental Equivalent," and "As a Man Thinketh," by James Allen. There was also, "Think and Grow Rich," by Napolean Hill, which I read when I was a budding young retail salesperson. All of these books made the same points as "The Secret": As ye sow, so shall ye reap, which is a King James Bible quote.
The way that Fox and other Metaphysical Christians saw it, if we placed our thoughts on God, we'd benefit. God has all power, so when we turn to "Him," we of course place our thoughts on a higher plane. The practice was one of prayer, scriptural study or, as AA co-founder Bill Wilson put it, "a raising of the heart and mind to God." This one makes the most sense to me. I feel that if we can align ourselves with a power greater than ourselves, we have a chance to change. But self-worth and the feeling that we deserve abundance is key. No matter how much we believe in a power, if we don't feel worthy, we'll get what we feel we deserve.
And that ain't much.
What's Buddha Got to Do with it?
Thoughts have power. But do all thoughts have equal power? What's required to give more power to one kind of thought and less to other kinds?
Buddha would say that any thoughts, even the most subtle, deep unconscious ones, have an effect. But the juicy ones are those that we fuel with our intentions, ignite with our actions and keep burning with our relative satisfaction. For example, if we plan to hurt someone, then go harm them somehow, maybe with a whack upside the head, then are super proud of ourselves for doing so, we create a very powerful seed of negative karma. This seed will one day (no one knows when) sprout, grow into a tree and bear fruit. That takes secondary causes, such as soil, moisture, sunlight. Karmic seeds lie dormant until secondary conditions arise.
Conversely, if we want to make someone feel good, set about a course of action to achieve that, did it and subsequently feel great about it, we also create a seed, albeit a different kind, called good karma or merit. Buddhist practitioners do a lot of things to collect merits, like saving bugs and blessing food (and all the beings killed in it's production). We also do things like meditation on death, cultivating the intention to have compassion for all beings and dedicating our merits to the benefit of all beings.
On the grossest level then, three things make up our experience: intention, action, satisfaction. The Buddhist path is about removing all of our ignorance, so the practices go deep into meditations that root out the original causes of suffering to the point where there are none left. This is called liberation, from a Buddhist perspective. So even though we might work for many lifetimes on the grosser levels, we eventually have to meditate and purify at the most secret and most subtle levels of our mind stream to completely eradicate all causes of suffering.
You can see that Buddhist analysis goes into some pretty deep levels of power that even our most subtle thoughts have in our lives. The reason is that while there's still a cause left, even a tiny trace remaining, one little cause can lead to a nuclear reaction of bigger, more powerful effects. First there's nothing, then a chain reaction causes the Big Bang. One cause can lead to a universe. So Buddha would have us eradicate even the most minute traces of negative causes, because with secondary conditions, they will grow.
From the Buddhist perspective then, the law of attraction or power of positive thinking has enormous, monumental consequences. This isn't just about creating abundance, losing weight or finding our soulmate. Those are important to our relative condition, but are considered mundane concerns, which eventually lead us to more suffering. The ultimate goal of the Buddha is to end all suffering. That said, it's important to have a good situation while we're here on the planet.
The LOA and The Buddha
The Law of Attraction (LOA) is nothing more than a repackaged version of the Law of Karma. Karma means cause. All causes have effects. Effects have further causes. There are too many to keep track of, so our minds tend to try to draw straight lines from Cause A to Cause B. Ah, if only life weren't so complex. Maybe then we could understand it better. Some people jump to conclusions about karma. They cry, "Sure, blame the victims," and feel that if we say the LOA and/or LOK are valid, then the babies born with AIDS must deserve it somehow and, well, we'd be beasts if we held such beliefs. But karma isn't about belief. It's about evidence. And the evidentiary tributaries can only be followed within the individual psyche. Unless we're omniscient, we simply can't know the karma of anyone but ourselves. And even that is a multi-lifetime meditation journey, according to the Buddha.
Addiction and Recovery
As a practicing Buddhist in Recovery, I think of addiction in terms of Dharma (any spiritual teaching but for our purposes, Buddhist teachings). Buddha said that attachment is our main problem. We all have attachments. Addiction is what I consider attachment gone wild. When we're merely attached, Buddha would say that we're sowing seeds that will lead to further suffering for ourselves. When we're attached at a level that causes the people around us to suffer, we've got a problem. We might drink too much, which looks socially acceptable on some levels. More so than porn addiction, gambling, eating disorders. But they're all manifestations of the same types of causes. Mainly, we don't feel satisfied, so we try to take something or do something that satiates us. But addiction is a brain disease, and when we're addicted, our brains don't produce the happy chemicals that we need to maintain a balanced, healthy life. Satiation doesn't ever really satisfy us. The hallmark of addiction is that unquenchable thirst. Thirst of course can mean a desire for any object, person, situation or event.
From the perspective of the Law of Attraction, it would be better to turn our thirst to abundance, love and joy. From a Buddhist perspective, we'd take that thirst to focus on the happiness of other beings. From a recovery view, we might say, "We have to give it away to keep it." You can see that all of these systems compliment each other.
I've worked the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous for over 30 years. They are an excellent way to upgrade our thought vibrations to a higher energetic level which helps us be more free of the need for our attachments. But there is a lot of room for improvement. Many 12-steppers are stuck recycling low self-esteem, poor self-care and not much in the way of self-improvement beyond being sober. I think we can do better. If we can be open to try some additional tools, we can be great examples for those who are struggling with addictions.
For more on what I do to integrate all of these tools, I invite you to try my free eCourse, Get Abundant Energy in 10 Days. It's free. It's awesome, and you can take it at your own pace.
I welcome your comments and experiences below. It would also be awesome if you could share this post. Keep up with my work at the12stepbuddhist.com.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.