Buddhism and The Law of Attraction
Something I often notice is that spiritual people refer to consciousness as infinite, and that thoughts affect reality. Both the New Age Movement and The Secret inform the majority of this view, as does a viral story described as a scientific experiment by Dr. Masaru Emoto. The experiment states that Buddhist monks chanting at a bowl of water or snow causes the snowflakes to appear a beautiful white. It continues that saying hateful words to the snow causes it to be a hideous brown.
At one time, the notion of thoughts and feelings affecting the universe made sense to me. I know the charms and comforts of this worldview as The Secret expounds. Generating positive thoughts can create euphoria and excitement. When we feel that positive results have happened to us, it is easy to ascribe it to our mood. Writing down vision statements and planning out our future can be exhilarating and motivational.
Yet the moment that positive outcomes stop, or a negative outcome happens, it is quick for self hatred and fear to arise. Something or someone must have messed it all up. As a result, practitioners of this view attempt to rearrange the outside world to prevent any negative things from happening. They try to cover the world with leather so its easier for them to travel through life.
I have realized the following from my own experience of having attended a ten day silent meditation retreat. First, when someone insults us or even praises us, we first take in that information through our sense faculties of sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, mind, and so forth. Then, there is a psychosomatic sensation on the body of pleasure, pain, or neutrality. Finally, at the base level we react to that sensation rather than to the outside content.
So, as Eleanor Roosevelt would say, no one can make us feel anything without our consent.
This insight, compared to the alleged experiment, causes great confusion to me. If, upon steadfast observation, we see that the mind functions in this way, why the viral story of the snowflakes and the Buddhist monks? In his forty years of discourses explaining his meditative technique, the Buddha eschewed this notion of thoughts affecting the universe. Indeed, in The Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving, when a student of his, named Sâti, suggested an infinite consciousness, the Buddha repeatedly called him a “foolish man”, causing that student to “[become] silent, unable to reply back, and [he] sat with drooping shoulders and eyes turned down.” It might be the earliest written account in human history of someone getting read to filth.
The Buddha taught to observe sensations and phenomena as they are. As arising, staying for awhile, passing away, lacking any inherent selfhood, and being inherently unsatisfying. The Buddha further taught that consciousness, like all other phenomena, arises and subsides depending on a long list of factors. When we are in the depths of sleep, consciousness subsides; when we are alert, consciousness is present. Consciousness is finite, and cannot directly manipulate outside objects. It can affect it indirectly of course, through causing the movement of limbs to pick up snow and make a snowball, or to cause us to say “Polar vortex!”, but it doesn’t affect quantum squirrel gobbledygook.
Modern notions of thoughts affecting the universe are just our attempts to validate our consumerism.
In the case of Masaru Emoto’s snow experiment, which from a scientific standpoint is unfalsifiable, neither double blind nor peer reviewed, and impossible to replicate, we are just projecting our notions of beauty and aesthetics onto snow. What makes the brown snow ugly and the white snow beautiful? Both are devoid of inherent existence.
When Thich Nhat Hahn refers to interbeing, that everything is interconnected, I think he is referring to something far more mundane and precious than a notion of our thoughts being some quantum physical agents of consumption. We share food. We share the sunshine and we share the rain. We exchange words and concepts. We share a moment in time. We are all suffering, at the gross levels of despair and anger, pride and righteousness, craving and aversion; and at subtle levels that can only be experienced through deep meditation and lovingkindness towards ourselves.
This is why I am so repulsed by the idea of mental vibrations influencing the world. It’s a false, virtual layer that we are adding to an already brilliant world — brilliant in its simplicity and realness. In the quiet of meditation, it becomes possible to experience joy by drinking tea, or just walking. The world, as it is, is already so full of fragile beauty. And to think there are limitless suffering beings out there who cannot experience this simplicity, who in trying to seek happiness cause tremendous harm to themselves and others.
The 99% and the 1%; Feminists and Misogynists; Democrats and Republicans; Muslims and Christians; people who ascribe to the Secret and, yes, even Buddhists; we are all experiencing suffering to varying degrees. It is universal. But we are all in this together, and may we all experience real peace and happiness.