One of the oldest Buddhist scriptures, the Dhammapada, states in its opening verses that man is the fruit of his thoughts, and that if he speak or act with an impure heart, then suffering will follow, as surely as the wagon follows the foot of the ox; but if he speak or act with a pure heart, then happiness will pursue him to the very end, even as a shadow.
Our entire future, therefore, is dependent upon the quality of our thinking and aspiration, for however much environment affects our lives, in the final accounting it is the quality of our thoughts and motives which will exert the most enduring influence on our character. We find this same idea imbodied in all the sacred literatures of the world, not least in the Christian scriptures, as witness Jesus' challenging words to the Pharisees:
Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.
O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. — Matthew 12:33-5
There is the whole philosophy of "right living": out of the abundance of the heart — not necessarily the mind — does a man speak and act. But what are thoughts, and where do they come from? Here we touch upon the very core of the mystery of creation, of the evolution of all things, from universes to atoms. Actually our world, the universe itself, was brought forth by a thought — not manufactured out of thin air from nothingness, but a thought born of some divinity. What is a human being, a plant, an animal, or a cosmos? The creation myths of every ancient people tell the selfsame story: that darkness alone filled the boundless infinitude of space while "the universe was still concealed in the Divine Thought and the Divine Bosom" (The Secret Doctrine 1:28). Then with the first thrill of awakening life, when light burst through the darkness of the void, the cosmic intelligence "thought" forth the universe with all its families of entities.
In principle, then, we can say that thoughts are the expressions of entities in manifestation, ranging in development from self-conscious gods using suns and stars as their vehicles, to those still "sleeping" as god-sparks, in the beginning or elemental stages of their evolution. We ourselves may well be the product of the thought-energy of our inner god.
So, as everything is relative, the inspiring thoughts that come to us, seemingly out of nowhere, may in reality be those of some grand entity moving in and through the cosmos. On the other hand, the occasional evil thoughts that may haunt even the very good could be thought-elementals of very lowly origin, unevolved life-sparks, as it were, which are temporarily migrating in the human sphere. Average thoughts which occupy a good deal of our attention are no doubt the thought-energies most natural to us at present because they are having their major experience in the human kingdom.
"Thoughts are things" indeed, for they are elemental beings evolving just as we are; and whereas we may not create them, we shall be held fully accountable for the type of thought-entities we attract, and for the quality of impress we give them. As they pass in and out of our minds, such thought-entities are either benefited by contact with us or degraded — and in this lies our responsibility, not alone to ourselves, but to this host of thought-energies whose destiny we affect. For example, suppose a beautiful thought flashes into our consciousness, but we are too lethargic or self-centered to respond to it. Two things result: we slow down to a degree the evolution of that thought-being and, also, we ourselves lose an opportunity to receive a push upward, possibly a real inspiration. Conversely, when a base thought — really a thought-elemental in a very low stage of growth — tempts us to unworthy action, we don't need to be frightened, but can simply assess it for what it is, and then quietly send it on its way.
When we understand what these thoughts that throng our consciousness represent, not only in themselves but to us as humans in our total evolutionary experience, we can begin to handle more intelligently their presence in our minds. The important point here is that we are not mere victims, but rather self-conscious recipients of thoughts from all planes, by virtue of the fact that we have the power to choose what type of thought-entity shall have dominion over us. It has been well said that we may not be able to prevent the birds from flying over us, but we don't need to let them build nests in our hair!
All thoughts can represent opportunities to us, whether they bear an evil face or a good one. Many of them belong to this present life, but others that impinge upon us are carry-overs from previous lives and are therefore difficult to understand. For none of us is immune from even horrible ones at times, since we human beings have had an aeons-long history and thus have been involved in many experiences that are far below the norm of today. The effects of those thoughts we have largely worked through, but until their power to affect us is completely gone, we still have to deal with the tail of their comet. The more their original force has been dissipated, the milder is their reaction upon us. Each time they come to us we can change our attitude toward them and thereby lessen their ability to throw us off balance.
But we should never cast them aside without examining them; if we do, they will tend to grow stronger in their impact upon our consciousness. To despise bad thoughts is almost as detrimental as to love them, for hate and love are the two forces that will give them strength. By being calm and dispassionate, we rid our system of the poison and the disturbance goes away. The wonderful part of this is that in meeting such thoughts in this manner, their antithesis or complementary quality immediately will be attracted. Just as every color has its complementary shade, so every thought has its polar opposite.
The subtle processes of growth that impel us to move forward on the ladder of evolution will never let us rest. If we use our imagination as well as our reasoning, we shall see that the thoughts that come to us, that flow in and out seemingly involuntarily, are not new. The key to understanding them lies in our getting the long-range view, both of ourselves and of our close and intimate relation to the universe of which we are a vital part. In the many cycles of our earth experience we have touched countless thought-energies, countless life-atoms thrown off by gods, men, animals, plants, and minerals — and no doubt elemental lives as well — as each and every life-spark circulates in and through the cosmos.
In short, the reservoir of thoughts from past lives plus those from our present life is ours to draw upon, enabling the reincarnating ego to attract to itself only that quality and selection of karma that it can handle in a given life. It is the particular circulation of thoughts into which we are born that offers us the karmic stage-setting for our experience in any one life term. And those thought-energies, together with every aspect of our spiritual and physical environment, represent a challenge and a responsibility. Pursuing a regular course of circulation in and through the ocean of consciousness in which we live, they come and go and come and go, just as the air we breathe. The law of attraction and repulsion, of love and hate, of cause and effect, governs throughout from the most material to the divinely spiritual. Therefore the thoughts and ideas that are native to each plane follow the cosmic plan and, as they intersect our consciousness, leave their inevitable mark.
As the old Hebrew proverb says: "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." Not what a man fancies himself to be, but what he is, deep within — this is what makes the indelible impress on his soul, for weal or woe. Education, religious or social backgrounds, are shaping factors, but are not the deciding issues, for man is more than his environment. He is in the very core of his being a divine thought, a cosmic energy, with power to think creatively and thus to carve his destiny as he will.
(From Sunrise magazine, February/March 1999. Copyright © 1999 by Theosophical University Press)