Most of us see the value in positive thinking, in not letting negativity cripple our ability to enjoy life. However, positive thinking is often the false self in the context of P-B trying to convince itself that all is right with the human community and human behavior; or it can be the false self creating the delusion that life is something other than it is. The assumption is that if we would all stop our self-indulgent, petulant and peevish behavior, we can achieve happiness and success, success in the world of form and illusion that is.
The danger is that if the message of our self-appointed modern gurus and mistranslated genuine mystics is not truly profound we may waste valuable time trying to reach the moon in a balloon. We do not mean to disrespect Andrew Cohen, Tony Robbins and certainly not Siddhartha Guatama but the task before humanity is one of survival and transcending suffering. We must demand the truth as well as pragmatic and effective practices. The stakes are too high to follow the pied pipers who play sweet, lilting melodies but who are headed in the wrong direction.
In any case Anthony Robbins and Gautama the Buddha needn’t be offended because our quotes are taken from an imaginary interview written by Andrew Cohen in his magazine What is Enlightenment?
Moderator (Cohen): “So let me start with you Tony. I have three questions. The first one is about how we can better ourselves. Every body wants to know how they can be the best they can be. What advice can you give us?”
Robbins: (a portion of his response) “Come up with a clear plan for how you want to change your life—physically, emotionally and intellectually. Think about your career, your relationships, your hobbies—what would you like to be different? The most important thing is taking massive action to change your life into the life of your dreams today.”
Our comment: The hype and hyperbole are obvious here but so is the lack of awareness. If you’re reading this book you already know that whatever Robbins means by “massive action,” Self-transformation is not about “doing” a lot but about doing much less. Secondly, he is focusing on changing the “form” of one’s life rather than the life “inside.”
Hyper-masculine terms like “massive” and phrases like “no pain, no gain” border on the psycho-pathological condition called megalomania closely related to the power and control energy center of the false self with its fantasies of power, wealth and omnipotence. The illusion of P-B turns reality upside-down and those that seek power, wealth and omnipotence unconsciously fear they are weak, poor and powerless to control their lives. And in P-B, that is precisely what they are.
Authentic power is to be found in restraint, humility and compassion; true power is always found in the courage to respond rather than react. Our self-destructive behaviors are not hard to see we just don’t want to acknowledge them. If we did, we would have to take responsibility for them and face the inescapable imperative to change our story, our identity and our behaviors.
Buddha (Cohen): “And in order to succeed in becoming liberated in this way, we must put the Dharma (spiritual teachings) into practice with all of our hearts. That means making the noble effort to develop a strong moral foundation in the very core of who we are.”
Our comment: A strong moral foundation doesn’t need to be developed in the core of who we are, it is the core (True self) of who we are. We don’t need religious precepts or ‘thou shalt nots” to modify our behavior—they don’t work anyway. What does work is a daily practice that modifies our behavior. By resisting the temptations to react to the afflictive emotions of the false self and instead responding to the naturally “moral” or compassionate behavior that is our True or authentic self, we remain in the present moment. The Ten Commandments and the Buddhist Eightfold Path put the cart before the horse. This is the reason religion has failed so miserably in changing self-destructive human behaviors.
Buddha: “Upon that strong foundation [morality] we must strive to overcome lifetimes of ignorance by learning how to transcend our conditioned minds through the deep practice of meditation.”
Our comment: The practice of meditation according to the “real” Buddha was to “experience the nature of Reality.” This means to live in the Now where the common human experience of duality and other illusions are not present. The Great Insight of Oneness or the worldview of Simple Reality is what Buddha meant. As far as working with the conditioned mind that requires making our entire life a meditation by choosing response over our conditioned reactions each moment of every day—it is a life-long practice.
Moderator: Tony, my second question is about goodness. How can we become better people? Caring people? Less selfish and more giving to others?
Our comment: See previous paragraph.
Robbins: “I believe it is essential that we are progressing in the most important areas of our lives. Whether it is our intimate relationships, our work, our finances, our physical health and wellbeing, and also our spirituality. To be happy we need to know without any doubt that we are developing, we’re moving, we’re growing.”
Our comment: Robbins seemed to add spirituality as a kind of afterthought but it is a vague label that means different things to different people. All of the things mentioned by Robbins have nothing to do with happiness but are all delusional goals of a false self obsessed with pursuits dictated by the paradigm into which we were all born. We all have a scripted identity that drives behaviors that are designed to keep our existential fear at bay. Most people don’t know what happiness is or how to obtain it. Spirituality means different things to different people but rarely does it mean living in the present moment and choosing response over reaction in an expression of compassion.
Robbins: “Also, people who know that they’re developing in the most important ways almost always experience a deep sense of gratitude. They know what it takes to grow and don’t take it for granted. And finally, gratitude inspires us to help others, to serve others, in the same way that others have helped us. So I believe that “good” people are happy people and happy people are grateful people.”
Our comment: Amen to that!
Moderator: “Thank you so much for that Tony. You have helped me to see how I need to get more serious about and focused on my own development. Instead of merely experiencing life. I need to get into the driver’s seat and put my foot on the gas!”
Moderator: “Master Gautama, how would you respond to the question of how we can become better, more caring loving, “good” people.”
Buddha: “Friends, what you call “goodness” is already your true nature! Loving-kindness, compassion, and generosity flow naturally and spontaneously from the heart and mind of one that has been liberated from ignorance, egotism, and selfishness. What is ignorance? Ignorance is the belief that you are separate! In order to become a “good” person, a kind person, a loving person, you need to see through the illusion of a separate existence. And in order to do that, you need to meditate deeply on two fundamental truths about reality. The first is the profound recognition of the ultimately empty nature of all phenomena in existence.”
Our comment: Excellent! Just to clarify, emptiness is just another mostly Eastern way of speaking about the illusion of form. Form is too ephemeral to be a part of ultimate Reality and is a subjective projection of each individual and therefore has no fixed and certainly no universal meaning.
Buddha: “The second is the interconnected nature of all things seen and unseen, known and unknown. When you meditate with such intensity that your mind becomes translucent, you will see directly for yourself what I’m pointing to: the ultimate nature of reality is an empty luminosity—an ungraspable mystery that silences the mind and opens the heart. “Goodness” flows from the one who has realized this truth.”
Our comment: The realization of Oneness is most definitely the place we must all start in our process of awakening and is the answer to The First Great Question, Where Am I? The Second and Third Great Questions (Who Am I? Why Am I Here?) must also be responded to in a profound way if so-called “enlightenment” is to be realized.
Moderator: “Master Guatama, thank you so much for that—I feel like my mind is going quiet! But before it shuts down altogether, I need to ask my final question to both of you.”
Moderator: “Tony, now that you’ve clarified what it means to better ourselves and also how we can become a good person, I have one more query. What does it mean for each and every one of us to be on our edge—to live on the very edge of our potential?”
Robbins: “Well I think in many ways I’ve already answered this question. First of all, to be on our edge means that we are evolving in the most important areas of our lives. And second, to live on our edge, to me, has to mean that we’ve stopped living selfishly. To put it simply, if we’re on our edge, we’re helping to change the world.”
Our comment: All laudable goals to be sure.
Moderator: “Thanks Tony. Gautama?
Buddha: “I agree wholeheartedly with the great one Robbins! I would say that to be on our edge and to live on our edge means that we are either aspiring Buddhas and Bodhisattvas or fully realized Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Remember, such individuals incarnate for the sake of others. They are no longer in this world merely for their own benefit. Such illumined ones are here solely to bring the light of higher awareness into this world so that more and more of us can awaken.”
Our comment: Self-styled gurus can get flowery and abstract in their descriptions of what human beings are capable of attaining in terms of behavioral change. First, we are not in any way dependent on Buddhas or Bodhisattvas for our awakening experience. Awakening itself is nothing more than practicing the restraint of not reacting when triggered by our false-self conditioning. When we keep control of our afflictive emotions and are able to respond, we find ourselves in the present moment which is the “Heaven on earth” promised by any teacher or prophet worthy of the name.
Beware of teachers with worldviews containing angels, devils, saviors, reincarnation, spirits, UFO’s, etc. We are responsible, totally responsible, for our own so-called salvation and the work involved is straightforward, simple and possible for any mentally healthy person. Positive thinking as practiced by most people today is less involved with Self-transformation than it is with being a way to avoid acknowledging our suffering and embarking on an authentic transformational process.
To conclude making the distinction between Simple Reality and the illusion inherent in so-called positive thinking, it would be helpful to widen the P-B context. When did the collective false self in America begin to toy with adopting a more positive attitude as part of our national “success formula?”
“Every day, in every way I am getting better and better.” French psychotherapist Emile Coue (1857-1926) coined this phrase which he called “auto suggestion,” and it became a fad in the U.S. during the 1920s. But the history of positive thinking began much earlier with New England mesmerist P. P. Quimby (1802-1866). Quimby felt that priests and doctors were two of the worst sources of negative thinking. “The two most dangerous in the happiness of man are priests and doctors. These two classes are the foundation of more misery than all other evils.”
A branch of positive thinking called “New Thought” evolved from the teachings of Quimby and his students such as Mary Baker Eddy the founder of Christian Science. Other institutional bastions of positive thinking or New Thought include Charles and Myrtl Fillmore, founders of the Unity School of Christianity; Nona and Alethea Brooks, the founders of Divine Science; and Ernest Holmes, the founder of Science of Mind.
A more recent advocate of positive thinking in the lineage that produced Tony Robbins was Dale Carnegie (1888-1955) who wrote the phenomenal best seller How to Win Friends and Influence People. We conclude our brief history with the British Judge Thomas Troward who became the most influential theorist of American New Thought. “The inner self [or Mind] brings about whatever results the conscious mind desires.”
We have come full circle from a New England mesmerist, to a French optimist, ending with a British metaphysician. Why haven’t the healers, psychotherapists, religions, opportunists and glad-handers been able to influence authentic behavioral change among Americans eager for success and relief from their suffering? Continue reading more essays; the answer will be found there.
Like many other profound insights, the participation of the conscious and Self-reliant individual in the act of Creation can be altered and watered-down to accommodate the anxiety of the false self. In the example in this essay, so-called positive thinking is used to distract people from the illusion of their existential suffering caused by identifying with their body, mind and emotions. The illusion is that one can experience great success by pursuing plenty, pleasure and power by imagining a glorious body, incisive mind and pleasurable emotional experiences. Fantasy, fantasy, all is fantasy and the outcome is anything but happiness.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry:
Who Am I? The Second Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality
Where Am I? The First Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality
Simple Reality: The Key to Serenity and Survival