Training and Disciplining Our Thoughts

By Gerhard Fischer

The formation of concepts is essential to life and human development. Thoughts are of fundamental significance as the origin of all things, as in the saying, "What you think, you will become." What is a thought? It is an ensouled energy, an actual being, having persistence, inner cohesion, and life. One of the Mahatma letters says:

every thought of man upon being evolved passes into the inner world and becomes an active entity by associating itself — coalescing, we might term it — with an elemental; that is to say with one of the semi-intelligent forces of the kingdoms. It survives as an active intelligence, a creature of the mind's begetting, for a longer or shorter period proportionate with the original intensity of the cerebral action which generated it. Thus, a good thought is perpetuated as an active beneficent power; an evil one as a maleficent demon. And so man is continually peopling his current in space with a world of his own, crowded with the offsprings of his fancies, desires, impulses, and passions, . . . — Combined Chronology, p. 33

After death, the creator of these thoughts very naturally is attracted to his creation and their creatures, as in Bulwer-Lytton's novel Zanoni. The "Dweller on the Threshold" mentioned there is merely the phantom created by our thoughts and emotions, which we have to overcome on the threshold of higher planes and worlds. This hints at the problems encountered by would-be occultists who try to penetrate spiritual worlds.

The pattern of our thoughts creates our karma, which develops in this sequence: a thought or idea is followed by an action; from an action comes a habit; from habit comes a character; and from a character comes a destiny, an appropriate karma. H. P. Blavatsky describes the process this way in her Esoteric Section Instruction No. 5:

Thought arises before desire. The thought acts on the Brain, the Lower Manas being the agent; the brain acts on the bodily organs, and then desire awakens. It is not the outer stimulus that arouses the bodily organs, but the Brain, impressed by a thought. Wrong thought must therefore be slain, ere desire can be extinguished. . . .
The student must therefore guard his thoughts, regarding them as the generators of action. Five minutes' thought may undo the work of five years. And although the five years' work may be run through more rapidly the second time than it was the first, yet time is lost. — Collected Writings 12:692-3

In the Secret Doctrine Commentary HPB makes another remarkable statement: "Esoterically, thought is more responsible and punishable than act. But exoterically it is the reverse. Therefore, in ordinary human law, an assault is more severely punished than the thought or intention, i.e., the threat, whereas Karmically it is the contrary" (2:43).

This gives us a great deal to reflect upon and provides a reason to think positively. If we ponder current discussions of the endangered immune system of the earth, this statement indicates that not only the physical "immune system" of the earth has to be strengthened and kept healthy, but also its psychic and mental immune system. The thought-atmosphere and astral world, which human beings populate with ugly, hostile, and evil thoughts and images — in short, with mental pollution — need to be purified. Here we must appeal to the media, especially television: much of what enters our cozy homes through the television, for economic purposes, affects the astral atmosphere through the thoughts and feelings of already-too-passive people and promises nothing good for the earth and its inhabitants. Karma is already reacting: we hear daily about increasing violence, wars, and catastrophes. Because every thought, impulse, and emotion is recorded in the substance of the astral light, the so-called akasic records, we are dealing here with universal memory.

How can we train our thoughts? Those easily troubled by other people, situations, destiny, or karma, who entertain antipathy, generally think others are responsible, whether parents, children, teachers, neighbors, or society — perhaps even the gods. They rarely look for the causes within themselves. We all know very well what others should or should not do; yet all the time the causes of this attitude lie in us. However, when we take the trouble to study our habits of thought and why we are influenced by others, we find that even though our aversion to one person can be easily controlled through disciplining our thoughts, soon another person takes the former's place, with our dislike as vehement as ever. This shows that the real problem lies in our individual thought-world. Healing lies in constant reminders that the unpleasant and petty habits and manners of others reveal only our own unpleasant and wrong thoughts and ideas. We have to start by changing our own thought-world. We will then be free and independent. With independence, we need entertain no unfriendly thoughts towards others, even when they make big mistakes or act unjustly. We will still undergo unpleasant circumstances and conditions, but they will not weigh down our minds, because we will have learned to keep our thoughts in order.

How shall we control — that is, educate — our thoughts? The Buddha gave a rule as a favorite teaching to his disciples:

When evil and unworthy thoughts arise in the mind, images of lust, hatred, and infatuation, the disciple must win from these thoughts other and worthy images. When he thus induces other and worthy images in his mind, the unworthy thoughts, the images of lust, hatred, and infatuation cease; and because he has overcome them his inner heart is made firm, tranquil, unified, and strong. — Majjhima Nikaya

We should try, therefore, constantly to think the opposite of any negative thoughts that come to us. This is very difficult, but regular repetition of a creative thought, idea, concept, or image adds to its effectiveness — like waterdrops that wear away the stone — until it becomes a spiritual and material action. A thought, once entertained, can never be called back, but it does not have to be connected with us forever. When, after a negative impulse, we think about noble things, we to a certain extent moderate the evil which caused our wrong thoughts, because the power of thought can induce the mightiest of phenomena.

We all know how hard it is to resist low thoughts, but how very easy it becomes when benevolent, spiritual thoughts take command. Someone once said: "I cannot prevent birds from flying over my head, but I can stop them from building nests in my hair." Every minute each human being has to shape his or her destiny through controlling thought. We cannot, of course, bring about this self-purification of thought and imagination in one lifetime. No thought can hide from the higher law, and there is no escaping repeated rebirths until we learn through trial and error. A transforming process must take place which transmutes the lower thoughts and concepts into powerful higher thought, so that new and splendid vistas are unveiled to our inner eye and our faults are made to serve our higher development. This is training and disciplining our thoughts.

(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 1999. Copyright © 1999 by Theosophical University Press.)


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My friend, after years of selfless devotion to family and those about her, and finally to one who suffered and died from a ravaging disease, succumbed to the exhaustion of nerve and heart energy. There followed a slow, patient recovery. She writes: "now I am hoping to create some kind of a normal giving existence."
Magic lies in the "giving existence." She is not just now creating it. It was created long ago through the love and sacrifice and service along the way. It was active through all the heart-wrenching weary days. Vital and alive too, through the months of her own bodily inertia. The "goal" that seems so obscure is still the guiding star gleaming undaunted within the resolve "to use each day to the best of my ability." Such existence is itself a giving. A living, beneficent "giving existence." — Martha R. Conger