“Would anyone care to venture a definition for each of
these three ideas? Thought, Will and Feeling’
At a psychological level we might describe these as
‘thought’ - refers to an idea;
‘feeling’ - that it would be ‘good’ or desirable
if the idea became an actuality;
‘will’ - the
determination to achieve it or make it happen.
Thought, feeling and will may also have metaphysical
aspects. In fact the quote in question comes from
the Secret Doctrine and the psychological aspects are
used by way of analogy to help us appreciate that the
workings of the universe occur from within outwards:
(6.) The Universe is worked and guided from withinoutwards.
As above so it is below, as in heaven so on earth ; and
man — the microcosm and miniature copy of the macrocosm
— is the living witness to this Universal Law and to the
mode of its action. We see that everyexternalmotion,
act, gesture, whether voluntary or mechanical, organic
or mental, is produced and preceded byinternalfeeling
or emotion, will or volition, and thought or mind. As no
outward motion or change, when normal, in man’s external
body can take place unless provoked by an inward
impulse, given through one of the three functions named,
so with the external or manifested Universe. (SD I 274)
There may also be a correspondence between these three
psychological aspects of the personality and the higher
triad in ‘Man’: Atma-Buddhi-Manas.
That’s an interesting question, Gerry. From a
psychological point of view we could put a case that all
three are simply different aspects of the mind. At any
one time, one or other of these aspects appears to take
the lead in causation while the others follow or remain
For example, let’s say that when I think about my
journey to work each morning I realise there is a
shorter route I might plan which would save a lot of
time. I feel that it’s a desirable thing to save
time each morning. I therefore determine (will)
that in future I will travel by the new route.
Here thought led the way, supported by feeling and then
will. The plan could have been to design a house
or a garden or a social policy etc, etc.
But it might happen that while I could plan a shorter
journey to work I much prefer my existing journey
because I like the experience of meeting the people on
the way and the open air of the park I walk through. So
while logically, the shorter route makes sense (perhaps
other people even try to persuade me to take it), at a
feeling level I would much rather take the longer, more
pleasant route and determine that I will stick with that
even though I have to set off to work much earlier.
Here, feeling takes the lead in causation supported by
will, with thought subservient.
Another example of where feeling dominates might be
where out of a feeling of concern or compassion at the
plight of refugees/homeless people I determine (will) to
come up with a plan (thought/idea) that would really
help them in some way. Here, feeling takes the
lead in causation, supported by both will and thought.
For some people, to develop or assert their will over
themselves, or other people, or over nature may be what
is most important in general or in this moment of their
lives. Perhaps, if I were such a person I might plan a
more challenging route to work, or even think about what
would be a more challenging job with plenty obstacles
and difficulties to test my will on a daily basis.
Getting to work is, of course, a trivia example but may
give a general idea of how the three might operate as
three aspects of mind. I suspect that in general the
arising of ‘thought’, ‘feeling’ and ‘will’ form part of
an ongoing process thus it may not be possible to say
with any certainty which ultimately comes first.
Perhaps it is the case for the metaphysical level as
You have put - thought, feeling, and will - in a very
nice context. One thing, though, feeling is not
always necessary preceding an action. I can choose
to take a shortcut to work because it is more efficient
use of my time. This logical conclusion prompts me
to change my habit. All actions are preceded by
thoughts, but it would not happen if the will is
absent. The two elements required in any action are
thought and will.
Thought - activity of the mind.
feeling - kama, or desire mind
will - property of the higher mind
You mentioned these three are aspects of the mind.
Is kama an aspect of the mind or is it something
separate that needs the mind to articulate it?
Hi Barbara - Yes, I see what you are saying.
A person may decide upon a course of action based on
logic and then determine (will) to follow the conclusion
derived from that process. Will translates the
thought into action and we take the shortest route.
Feeling does not play a part between logic and action.
That all makes sense.
Is it ever as straight forward as the examples you and I
have given, I wonder? Suppose we were to ask the
person in your example why being efficient with the use
of their time is important. Would we be satisfied
with the reply, ‘Because not using my time efficiently
is illogical.’? If we wanted to better understand
that person’s behaviour we might ask why theywantordesireto
For all of our examples there may be an ongoing
interconnected chain of thoughts and feelings that
influence what we determine to do. It may not be
as straight forward as we might hope to separate
thought, feeling and will or place them in an unchanging
hierarchy of causation.
I know what you mean, but I’m not sure I would entirely
agree with you that all actions are preceded by thought.
We do sometimes berate ourselves and others for the
negative consequences arising from acting thoughtlessly.
On a more positive note, we may reach out to another
person and hold them out of a feeling of tenderness or
care without thinking about it at all.
You ask, ’Is kama an aspect of the mind or does it
need the mind to articulate it?’ That’s an
interesting question worth exploring. For my part,
I’m just reflecting on this from a psychological
perspective as we experiencethought,feelingandwillin
our daily lives. These three are some of the key
mental factors (saṅkhāras - one of the five skandhas)
which constitute the person during the lifetime.
I guess we probably need to define and/or differentiate
what we mean by the termsfeeling,desireandkamaas
Not all feelings are desires. Desires can be either base
or noble - what’s the difference between an aspiration
and a noble desire, for example? Sometimes desire
and will are said to be two aspects of the same
universal force, one lower the other higher,
respectively. At other times we read, ‘behind will
In the Mahatma Letters to Sinnett there are two
references to kama as volition and will which deserve a
lot of thought:
‘Volition and consciousness are at the same time
self-determining and determined by causes, and the
volition of man his intelligence and consciousness will
awake but when his fourth principle Kama is matured and
completed..’ (Letter no 13, note 6)
‘The whole individuality is centred in the three middle
or 3rd, 4th and 5th principles. During earthly life it
is all in the fourth the centre of energy, volition –
will.’ (Letter no. 13, note 7; Barker ed.)
Thank you, Peter, for your reply. These are big
subjects that required close individual examination for
them to make sense. There are many subtle
currents behind the process of thinking, feeling, and
willing, in addition to the many different kinds
of thoughts, feelings, and will. I think it is
good enough for now.
I suppose the implication of the Buddha's statement is that if we
care to change our lives we must change our thinking. Is this an
ever evolving, ever changing process? Do we ever completely
get our thinking right? Or does it require constant monitoring
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought,”
I believe this translation of the first line of the Dhammapada comes
from Max Muller’s version printed in 1881 and has been often quoted
ever since, particularly over the internet. As you know, those
early translations of asian literature aren’t necessarily accurate.
A more accurate translation of the above line can be found in the
‘Mental phenomena (are) preceded by mind (have) mind as a master,
(are) produced by mind.’ (Trans. K.T.S. Sarao)
‘All experience is preceded by mind, led by mind.’ (Trans.
’All phenomena of existence have mind as their precursor, mind as
their supreme leader, and of mind are they made.’ (Kaviratna)
‘Fore run by mind are mental states, ruled by mind, made by mind.’(Roebuck)
The original meaning is far richer and broader than found in
Muller’s translation, in my view. I suggested in my post below that
thought, feeling and will are three aspects of mind. (see link: http://theosophynexus.com/group/the-art-of-living/forum/topics/them...
) If this is so, then we might see any one of these three aspects
operating or referred to in the initial and later verses of the
Dhammapada, not just thoughts. So, for example, where Muller
carries on using the term ‘thought’ in the next verses, the more
accurate translations refer to mind in general and to feelings.
that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on
our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts
with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never
leaves him. (Muller)
run by mind are mental states, ruled by mind, made by mind. If
you speak or act with a clear mind, happiness follows you, like a
shadow that does not depart.(Roebuck)
abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,' – in those who
harbour such thoughts hatred will never cease. (Muller)
hatred of those who harbour such ill feelings as, ‘He reviled me,
assaulted me, vanquished me and robbed me,” is never appeased.(Kaviratna)
‘Feeling’ as grasping or attachment is also prominent in later
verses. We also find implicit reference to ‘will’ as determination
or steadfastness in various later verses.