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  1. 1. NEW THOUGHT---BUDDHIST STYLE By The Rev. Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Minister, Sydney Unitarian Chalice Circle, Sydney NSW Australia Member Pastor, Unitarian Ministries International, Maine USA DEDICATION This paper is lovingly dedicated to the memory of H Geo Paul (1902-2002) whose thoughts wereforever new Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. - Frank Outlaw, attrib.One of the most important religious movements in the United States of America in the20th century was the non-creedal and very liberal New Thought movement, whichdeveloped throughout the United States and, shortly thereafter, Great Britain towardsthe end of the 19th century in the form of a revival of Neoplatonism.New Thought is not to be confused with the New Age movement, with which ithas some features in common. (I have a fair bit of respect for New Thought because ithas a strong, solid philosophical underpinning. I have almost total disrespect for theNew Age movement because it contains so much irrational silliness and superstition.Some of its silliness is little better, and may even be worse, than that of traditionalreligion.)Now, the term New Thought came into vogue in 1895 and was used as the title of amagazine published for a time in Melrose MA to describe a new thought about life.Finding the space for ‘alternative religion’ the New Thought movement was particularlystrong in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s and had an enormous influence on religion andreligious thinking in the United States. Indeed, there are still lots of New Thoughtchurches and centres in many countries including Australia. (I was for a time a chaplainand the president of a Unity centre in metropolitan Sydney and I have also been amember of other New Thought groups.)New Thought, which has no creed or dogma, has been defined by one of its leadingexponents Dr Ernest Holmes (a Divine Science minister and the founder of ReligiousScience) as ‘a system of thought which affirms the unity of God with man, the perfectionof all life, and the immortality and eternity of the individual soul forever expanding.’ New 1
  2. 2. Thought constantly re-invents itself, thus remaining forever new, even if its messageremains substantially the same. New Thought author and attorney Abel Leighton Allenhad this to say in his book The Message of New Thought: New Thought is not, as many believe, a name or expression employed to define any fixed system of thought, philosophy, or religion, but is a term used to convey the idea of growing or developing thought. In considering this subject, the word New should be duly and freely emphasized, because the expression New Thought relates only to what is new and progressive.Even those who are not familiar with the words New Thought or the New ThoughtMovement as such have generally had some exposure to its ideas and teachings in oneform or another. Recent bestselling books such as The Secret [also a DVD] and ThePower, as well as the continued popularity of self-help authors and personalities suchas Louise Hay and Dr Wayne Dyer, prove that there is still quite a strong interest in theideas promulgated by the ‘New Thoughters.’ Yes, there is something eternal in thethought, What we think, we become [or are] (cfProv 23:7).Ralph Waldo Emerson, Unitarian and Transcendentalist, who wrote, A man is what hethinks all day long, is regarded by many as the spiritual father of New Thought,although the roots of New Thought go way back to Buddha and Plato. (It was the latterwho said, Take charge of your thoughts. You can do what you will with them. I will getback to the Buddha later on.) Actually, New Thought is as old as humanity. In the wordsof New Thought poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox, ‘This is the "new" religion; yet it is older thanthe universe. It is Gods own thought put into practical form.’Idealism asserts that everything exists in or to minds ... or as Mind. New Thought, atleast in most of its incarnations, is a form of what is known as objective idealism. Thelatter postulates the existence of an objective world (so-called ‘matter’) but which ismental (that is, non-materialistic). Unlike ‘subjective idealism,’ objective idealism assertsthat the objective world is independent of the human knower, because it belongs (forwant of a better word) to one Absolute Mind (‘Mind’), the absolute knower. All individualminds are simply manifestations of the one Master Mind. In the words of ErnestHolmes, Man lives in a mind that presses in upon him from all sides with infinitepossibilities, with infinite creative power. That being the case, says Holmes, To think isto create. (New Thoughters assert that the Word (in the form of our thoughts andimages) is always made flesh (that is, made manifest in our daily lives) [cfJn 1:14].)The system of religious thought known as Christian Science – which has a fair bit incommon with New Thought (having a more-or-less common origin) – is a form ofsubjective idealism. Most of the New Thought denominations and systems of thoughthave their philosophical underpinning in objective idealism. 2
  3. 3. However, if any one person may be said to have been the founder of the movement itwas Phineas P Quimby, a Maine clockmaker, inventor and hypnotist. Yes, Quimby isgenerally recognized as the ‘Father of New Thought.’Known as a metaphysical healer, Quimbys experiences and practices of mental healingwere the real beginnings of and foundation for New Thought. Perhaps even moreimportantly, Quimby was, in the words of the nondenominational New Thought ministerand renowned Quimby scholar Dr Ervin Seale, the modern worlds first truepsychoanalyst.Some 150 years ago Quimby, who was not a formally educated man, taught that theexplanation is the cure, and he demonstrated that the human body moves as it ismoved upon by the mind. That is, the body acts as it is acted upon, and becomes, ineffect, a mirror of ones mind – a most important discovery. Quimbys system of healingwas, at least in part, a metaphysical form of insight-oriented psychotherapy (togetherwith autosuggestion), and he paved the way for the whole field of modernpsychosomatic medicine.As a sidelight, Quimby used the phrase ‘Christian Science’ as early as 1863. In fact, aPresbyterian minister by the name of William Adams had previously used the term‘Christian Science’ before Quimby in his book The Elements of Christian Science (1sted, 1850; later ed, 1857). Mary Baker Eddy (of Christian Science fame) claimed to have‘discovered’ Christian Science in 1866---by a strange coincidence less than a monthafter Quimbys death. The matter went to the courts, the suit being won by Eddy butonly because Quimby’s son George would not permit what were later published as TheQuimby Manuscripts to be taken to court because the other party to the proceedings (aformer student of Eddy’s) was impecunious. However, when the Quimby manuscriptswere eventually published it became perfectly clear – to almost everyone exceptChristian Scientists – that Eddy not only got all of her essential ideas from Quimby (avery unlearned man, in her later revised assessment of the man) she was also guilty of... (gulp) plagiarism. Eddy also copied extensively from the writings of the Germanidealist philosopher Hegel. In fact, in the 1875 edition of Eddys Science and Healththere are 33 pages verbatim and 100 pages in substance from Dr Francis Leibersmanuscript entitled ‘The Metaphysical Religion of Hegel’ (written in November 1865,and copied in April 1866) to which Eddy had access.Consistent with their peculiar system of mental practice, adherents of Christian Sciencesimply refuse to accept as reality the objective truth of the foregoing, for even tospeculate about the matters---the bona fides of Mrs Eddy and the authenticity ofScience and Health---would be to attribute to error an authority which, for ChristianScientists, it does not actually possess. Know this. Christian Science is dying, but itsfollowers, not believing in death, will never admit it---at least not publicly. However,more than a few of them have acknowledged it privately to me in conversations Ive hadwith them about their system of healing and their Church. That reminds me of a joke ofsorts ... 3
  4. 4. The First Reader in a Christian Science church was talking to a member of his church. ‘And how is your husband today?’ ‘Im afraid hes very ill.’ ‘No, no,’ corrected the First Reader, ‘You really shouldnt say that - you should say that hes under the impression that hes very ill.’ The woman nods in agreement, ‘Yes, Ill remember next time.’ A few weeks later the First Reader saw the woman again. ‘And how is your husband at the moment?’ ‘Well’, she replied, ‘hes under the impression that hes dead.’All jokes aside, there is a very real connection between Mrs Eddy (whose wiseadmonition to stand porter at the door of thought is worth remembering forever) andthe New Thought movement in that much of New Thought filtered down through Eddyby reason that one of her former pupils, Emma Curtis Hopkins (known as the ‘Teacherof Teachers’), after breaking from Eddy, then transmitted her ideas and methods tocertain students who would later become the founders (and teachers) of all of themajor New Thought denominations, centres and schools. Hopkins wrote, When we arespiritual, we do not try to bring great things to pass, yet they come to pass. The mostwonderful achievements of mankind have been brought to pass by confidence in somewonder-working unseen power.New Thought affirms the original goodness of human beings as opposed to thetraditional Christian ideas of original sin and total depravity. Yes, each one of us is theSon, or the manifestation of God, and as God is All-Good, we cannot be otherwise.New Thought also affirms that the mental conditions (state of Mind) always precedesthe material order. Heaven, then earth.Mind before matter. That is said to be the Lawof the Universe ... a universe founded by Divine Intelligence upon Principle (Law, Orderand System) ... and the Divine Life is the power and energy that sustains and maintainsthe universes boundless, amazing operation.I love these words of Dr Ernest Holmes: There is a Power for Good in the Universegreater than you are and you can use it! He would say those words in every one of hisradio and TV broadcasts. For me, those words capture the essence and wonder of NewThought. The power for good is a power-not-oneself ... and it is a power which makesall things new!New Thought is not so much an organization as it is a point of view. As such, NewThought is a practically oriented metaphysical spirituality that promotes fullness of allaspects of living, through constructive thinking, meditation and various other ways ofpractising or realizing the presence of God, whilst affirming the possibility of curingdisease by purely mental means. (Unlike Christian Science, New Thought does notrenounce the very existence of disease. Also, whereas Christian Science has a centralauthority and is absolute in doctrinal form, New Thought has no central authority and isof a free and individualistic spirit.)As respects the idea of ‘God,’ H Emilie Cady, a Unity writer and teacher of greatrenown, writes: 4
  5. 5. God is not a being or person having life, intelligence, love, power. God is that invisible, intangible, but very real, something we call life. God is perfect love and infinite power. God is the total of these, the total of all good, whether manifested or unexpressed.Then theres this. Unity cofounder Charles Fillmore said, God is the silent voice thatspeaks into visibility all the life there is. Well, I don’t know about you, butthese ideas certainly make a lot more sense to me than the traditional theism of thethree major Abrahamic religions. As mentioned, New Thought has no creed, but if it hadone, it would be this: There is only One Presence and One Power active in the universeand in my life – God, the Good, Omnipotent. Powerful words ... with life-changingpower!Now, the essence of mindfulness is stay fully awake and fully present from one momentto the next. New Thought (Divine Science) minister, Dr Joseph Murphy, saw God as the‘Eternal Now’ – a concept which I find very appealing. Another famous New Thought(also Divine Science) minister, DrEmmet Fox, referred to that loving and strengtheningPresence as the ‘All-ness of God.’ Again, that makes sense to me, as does the idea thateach one of us – indeed, every thing – is a channel of Divine expression. There is onlyLife, and all things are interconnected parts of Lifes Self-Expression. Yes, New Thoughtaffirms the unity of all life.Call it what you will, there is only One Presence, and that Presence is forevermanifesting itself as your life experience. So, the action of the present moment, fromone moment to the next, is the very Ground of Being in which we all life and move andhave our being (cf Acts 17:28). In addition, there is a Pattern (or Divine Ideal) in everyperson – yes, hid in every man, woman and child – a Pattern woven in wisdom, itsthreads ages old, its life lying in the eternal. This Pattern is ... the Perfect Me.New Thought affirms the so-called ‘Law of Cause and Effect’ – that is, as we sow, soshall we reap (cf Gal:6:7) – and, in that regard, asserts that ‘thoughts are things’ whichmanifest as our experience. In the words of the great New Thought writer JamesAllen (As a Man Thinketh), Every thought you think is a force sent out. Further, Mind isthe arbiter of life; it is the creator and shaper of conditions, and the recipient of its ownresults. Personally, I think that can be taken too far. I would like very much to think thatwe are made or unmade entirely by ourselves, but I think the late Allen Saunders madea valid point when he (allegedly) said, Life is what happens to us while we are makingother plans. (Yes, John Lennon later wrote almost the very same words.)In other words, despite what New Thoughters assert, our environment is not entirely –or even substantially – of our own making. Bad things still happen ... even to the bestNew Thoughters. Take, for example, the Divine Science minister, teacher, internationallecturer and writer Dr Harry Gaze. Now, Dr Gaze had written a book called How to LiveForever, which states, Theres no mystery about long life in the flesh – only ignorance.Well, Dr Gaze lectured frequently on his favourite subject – that is, living forever. In 5
  6. 6. 1959 he agreed to give two lectures on physical immortality at Robert HBitzers Hollywood Church of Religious Science. He didn’t show up for the secondlecture. The attendees were all waiting and wondering where their esteemedlecturer was. Unfortunately, there had been a motor vehicle accident, and Dr Gaze, whohad been a passenger en route to the church, would die in the aftermath of thataccident. He never gave that second lecture. Quite ironic ... but still very sad.Nevertheless, no matter what happens to us, we are still the sovereign of our ownthoughts, and we can control our thoughts. Further, our thoughts need not control us.Also, I agree with the old Oriental maxim, What we think upon grows. In other words, itis, in the words of James Allen, in the nature of mind to create its own conditions, andto choose the states in which it shall dwell. Yes, we are powerless over much thathappens to us in life ... but we can still choose our mental states. Never forget that!Now, I embrace what I refer to as ‘Buddhist New Thought.’ New Thought is an idealism.Buddhism is realism. I think you need both. At its cheery best (or worst), New Thoughthas an air of unreality about it. When I read something to the effect that evil, sicknessand disease have no reality in Ultimate Reality or have no reality, in reality, but havean existence in unreality (the latter being the choice words of the English NewThoughter and mystic Henry Thomas Hamblin), I cringe---indeed, I despair---and I amreminded of what Shopenhauer thought of optimism – not merely absurd, but also [a]bitter mockery of the unspeakable suffering of humanity. Hmmm. At least ShakyamuniBuddharecognised, as the veryFirst Noble Truth, that unsatisfactoriness (or suffering) ispart - and often a very big part - of our lives. New Thought has one foot on the ground.Christian Science has none. It cant even admit the real existence of ground ... or feet!What, you may ask, is ‘Buddhist New Thought’? Well, the Buddha was quite a NewThoughter himself---perhaps its first leading exponent and apologist. He said, We arewhat we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make ourworld. (Very much New Thought!) More specifically, the Buddha also said this: Whatever suffering arises Has a reaction as its cause. If all reactions cease to be Then there is no more suffering.It’s like this. We experience a ‘sensation,’ which may be physical or mental. If we reactto that sensation with ‘liking’ or ‘disliking’ – that is, with craving, attachment or aversion– that is karma. The word karma means action – in this case, mental action in the formof a mindless, involuntary reaction to some input. The result? Pain, suffering or distress.However, if, on the other hand, we simply allow ourselves to be dispassionately andchoicelessly aware of the sensation, then there is no ‘cause’ to produce any pain,suffering or distress. In other words, no reaction, no cause … and no effect. Likeattracts like. 6
  7. 7. So, Buddhism takes the cause-and-effect process back one step earlier. In traditionalmetaphysics (especially New Thought), the primary emphasis is on avoiding negativethinking and the like. In that regard, it is asserted by New Thoughters that as negativethoughts lead to negative results, so positive thoughts will inevitably lead to positiveresults – an obvious but debatable proposition. However, if we go back a step, andwhen something happens we simply do not allow a reaction (eg disliking) to arise in thefirst place – in other words, we simply let the sensation (input) be – then there will be noopportunity for any negative thought to arise at all.That is the way the so-called law of karma really works ... and Buddhism makes thatvery clear. That is the way to mindfully ‘work’ the Law of Cause and Effect (or sowingand reaping).I call this system of thought and practice ‘Buddhist New Thought,’ but the same basicideas can be found in mainstream New Thought as well as in other spiritual andmetaphysical philosophies. This, in the words of James Allen, is the truly importantthing: Put away self-delusion; behold yourself as you are. Both Buddhism and NewThought teach that happiness inheres in right conditions of mind, and unhappinesssprings from a wrong condition of mind.The good news is that if you are painstaking about working this system of mentalcultivation you can, by virtue of your buddha nature (or innate potential), achieveenlightenment in this very lifetime.Now, that is a new thought ... even if its not all that new.P.S. For those who may be interested, there is a Japanese New Thought organisationSeicho-No-Ie, which has drawn from New Thought, Christianity, Buddhism and Shintoism. Here is itswebsite. New Thought ideas and teachings (along with numerous other ideas from the abovementioned religions as well as elements of Theosophy) can also be found in the Happy Sciencemovement which has also come out of Japan in recent years. Here is its Oceania website. IEJ. -oo0oo- 7