My thoughts on “The Secret” and The Law of Attraction

If you are not familiar with “The Secret”, it’s a modern redaction of the ancient Law of Attraction. I like the way Andreas Buttler, founder of Spiritologie puts it:

“All – and by that I mean actually just that, namely all – that you perceive and experience is exactly that, which you out of yourself, through your own causal thinking create, and indeed right…now!”

So when I see the Law of Attraction, I cannot forget my studies in Theravada Buddhism.

The first problem with the Law of Attraction is it presumes there is a You. The final realization in Buddhism is annicca, or no-self.

The second problem with the law of attraction is the that your thoughts and feelings create your reality. Well, most people are not conscious of what they are thinking subconsciously. And feelings of any sort show that you have fallen down the 12-dependant links of Origination into the Like-Dislike process.

Anyway, I sought sources far wiser than I to further confirm my suspicion and they had some excellent things to say.

Luonnon 1 point

My basic understanding of “The Secret” is that if you want something enough and “ask the universe” for it, you’ll get it. Assuming that summarized reasonably well, then there are two possibilities:

  1. That is basically wrong.
  2. That is basically right, and wanting something is sufficient to more often than not get the object of desire.

The first possibility: If The Secret is basically wrong, that invalidates the practice itself. Unless wanting something is in and of itself good somehow, why do it?

The second possibility: Based on my understanding of Theravada, this scenario would still not be a positive since — as you said — it’s just a form of craving. You want something, you get it, and then what? You don’t dwell in everlasting bliss having gotten the thing, grateful and joyful for the rest of your life; you then find the next thing to want. This next one will probably, based on the hedonic treadmill, be bigger and harder to get. Even if you get exactly what you want over and over and over again, you’ll never be satisfied. There are plenty people far, far richer than we will ever be who can have virtually anything and yet still strive for more or feel that they don’t have enough.

The problem is that none of these acquired things will ever be fundamentally satisfying. Never by chasing toys, status, relationships, or anything else external can you fill the hole. A person actively doing so is just feeding that impulse for more. Even if you could somehow get something that were wholly satisfying in every way, how could you guarantee that you wouldn’t lose it somehow? Would you be able to accept such a loss? If so, then why not skip ahead and accept never having it in the first place?

Buddhism’s approach is to try to minimize the power wants have over your psyche. You can see that you want a thing, understand that it’s just a thought, and let it go. Then, rather than taking this desire as an absolute imperative, a sense of identity, or a quest, you’ll be much more inclined to see things clearly and probably be happier.

WingChunist1 point

Insofar as a “person’s” thoughts create a cause or condition for further becoming, to that extent, our thoughts do shape what we get in the future. See the first two verses of the Dhammapada as well as the entire Iddhipada Samyutta (SN 51). Wholesome desire, chanda, does play a very important role in the teaching. It propels us down the path and is part of the raft that takes us to liberation. Once we do reach liberation, then we can fully jettison even wholesome desire. But until then, it’s a useful tool when guided by the Dhamma.

In the way that I was taught meditation, two of the things I do before a sit is to remind myself why I’m sitting and then make a determination to stick with the method for the duration of the session. These thoughts do not guarantee my sit will be fruitful but it does point the mind in the right direction and raise my success rate.

Where the law of attraction gets its wrong, in my opinion, is that they believe that the desire portion of the Iddhipada is sufficient to get what they want. AN 3.92 talks about how it’s not sufficient for a monk to say “May my mind be released from fermentations through lack of clinging/sustenance today or tomorrow or the next day.” But if they train in the conditions for that by cultivating heightened virtue, mind, and wisdom, then the flowering of liberation will come on its own time.

Also, the standard views of the law of attraction tend to push people toward eternalist viewpoints. They can also lead to incredible guilt and shame. If you internalize the belief that you can manifest anything through sufficient wishing practice, then fail to bring it forth, that means there must be something wrong with you. There’s a whole course industry dedicated to “helping” people improve their manifestation abilities, but it just liberates people’s money from their wallets, in my opinion.

They could take the iddhipada concepts and use quite mundane abilities to get what they want. Say they want a boat. First, they have a desire for a boat. Then they make the intention that they want to achieve that desire. Then they put forth the effort to make the intention manifest. While they are putting forth energy, they investigate the progress and methods they are using to see if they are on the right track.

If they really wanted to develop full-blown psychic abilities for manifestation, they should study and practice the rest of the iddhipada. But one of the sneaky things about it is that if you want to take those abilities far enough to do really crazy things then you have to get really good at jhana (SN 51.20). To get anywhere with that, you have to be practice much of the earlier parts of the teaching. By the time they got to those levels of meditative prowess, their desire for boats probably wouldn’t be there anymore.

Jhana4 1 point

 

All of it.

The Law Of Attraction states that people’s thoughts can directly change the universe, aka “magic”.

If people’s thoughts could directly change the universe there would be no need for The Four Noble Truths.