Theosophy is the remedy for what ails mankind.

What are the causes that lead to the circumstances of our lives?  How can we affect change in the right direction? How do we steer the ship of our lives? Theosophy teaches that it all begins in thought.

A wonderful little article written by James Allen, the inspirational philosophical writer of the late 19th century, called the Thought Factor in Acheivement is a good place for us to begin our discussion of the "Art of Living".  So we will consider some passages that come from both his article and from the small book that it comes from "As a Man Thinketh".

"Man's mind may likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed-seeds will fall therein, and will continue to produce their kind.

Just as a gardener cultivates his plot, keeping it free from weeds, and growing the flowers and fruits which he requires, so may a man tend the garden of his mind, weeding out all the wrong, useless, and impure thoughts, and cultivating toward perfection the flowers and fruits of right, useful, and pure thoughts. By pursuing this process, a man sooner or later discovers that he is the master-gardener of his soul, the director of his life. He also reveals within himself, the laws of thought, and and understands, with ever-increasing accuracy, how the thought-forces and mind elements operate in the shaping of his character, circumstances and destiny."

Your comments and questions please.

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Thanks for the invite Gerry. I enjoyed reading this. Your first questions reminded me of the poem Invictus "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul." Is there an easy way to weed? Little ones are easy to pull, but those long stalks that root themselves, seem to need a shovel to dig out. :)     

Thanks for the thanks.  This idea that we change our lives by changing our thoughts reminds me of one of the key ideas we learn from the Secret Doctrine.  "Life works from within, without."

Can we think of examples of weeds that need removing?

I was being a bit silly when I wrote this. I was thinking about how on Sunday I was physically pulling weeds all day from my yards and came across one that just didn’t want to budge. It was so deep rooted, thick with pretty flowers on it to disguise or blend in with the scenery, that people might just bypass it. I still cannot get it with a shovel, that’s how deep it is. Yet it corresponded pretty well with this.

Yes, I believe we can all put our thoughts together and come up with a page. One good one I can think to start with would be self-doubt. In my limited view, this could be at various degrees for each and everyone of us. So when you come across the root of the existing thought, it will most likely differ for each person. Some may be able to work through it quickly, but lets say the root stemmed from being abused as a child, they might not be able to pull that one so quickly, but one ponders on it and how they can weed it out, and why would they even want to hold on to something so terrible. Then it hits them, the awareness of the collective Karma throughout their lifetimes, not that one really remembers their lives, but that we are reaping what we have sowed from previous lives, and we are standing, right in the spot to change it or learn from that lesson and move on. Its quite shocking to think what kind of person you might of been in a previous life. Which seems to be, to me right now, a harsher reality than anything that has happened in this life, which gives me a whole other perspective. Sorry for the rant :)

It seems that we may not be able to prevent something terrible or painful  from happening to us in every event we encounter in our lives.  But we could, theoretically choose how we will respond to it. This is perhaps where the good gardener analogy comes in.

Yes, of course, how else would we know the difference from what is good and what is terrible. Theoretically and through practical means we can change the whole outlook on it. Viewed more as a learning curve in what we needed to learn in this life, like learning how to forgive. Sometimes (for me) just acknowledging the root of an issue, (or going to the depths of it) and now being able to see a flip side to it, there is only one way to go from that place (the root, the bottom) and thats up. Even if you have to slowly pull at that weed for a bit. Sometimes just a small adjustment is needed to see it differently, in my limited view.   

One thing I've noticed from gardening is that when the first bit of the sprout begins to show above the soil it can often be difficult to tell which are the plants you intended to grow and which are the weeds. As they continue to grow, the differences between them begins to show - different shaped leaves, different colors, etc.. But even then, it takes some knowledge of plants to know which to pluck out and which to let grow.

I've noticed the same thing with thoughts. Some thoughts I don't immediately recognize as 'weeds' will at first seem noble, but what they end up producing is quite the opposite.

So my main question here is: how can we get better at identifying which thoughts to follow and which to 'cut out at the root'? What are the markers of a 'weed thought'?

"So my main question here is: how can we get better at identifying which thoughts to follow and which to 'cut out at the root'?  What are the markers of a 'weed thought'?"

I wonder if it is a matter of knowing oneself.  Unlike a gardener, seeing plants from the outside, we have an advantage in the sense that we see our intents from the inside.  Thoughts at times are just extensions of our motives, which emanate from our character. There are occasions where our thoughts emerge with benevolence, but our ego steps in and turns it into a selfish plan.   It takes vigilance and a habit of observation to identify and follow the causes.

It is interesting to see how much reactive thinking, chitta, we do throughout the day as opposed to intentional thinking.   The former involves (largely) desire, the latter will.  Sometimes, our thoughts do not even come from us but from the outside and trying to trace it to the source is very difficult.  The elementals (atomic lives) that embody our thoughts determine the qualities of our thoughts; it could originate from kama manas or higher manas.  The more we can discern the substances of various planes, the easier it is for us to know the quality of different thoughts.   




That's very helpful, Barbara.   I think your imagery of the ego  'emanating thoughts' and of  'thoughts emerging' from us is very apt and insightful.

As for unintentional thinking vs directed thinking - it reminds me of something Christmas Humphreys (theosophist and buddhist) wrote:  'Few people think, but most people think they do.'

Do we have thoughts or do our thoughts have us?

The axiom - as a man thinketh in his heart so is he - underlines the power of thinking.   At the root of all our actions are our thoughts.  Somewhere in the teachings, it says if we learn to control our thoughts, we control our desires.  Thoughts precede desires.  The Yoga sutras divides thinking into five categories, right thoughts, wrong thoughts, sleep, imagination, and memory.   Reactive thoughts, an activity of the solar plexus, belong to the group of wrong thoughts.  Since we reside most of the times in the lower planes, kama-manas control our lives.   Intentional thoughts, generated from a higher plane, are more powerful.   It is very humbling to remember, that the universe or everything we see around us, are essentially thoughts of the cosmic entities. 


Thank you Barbaram, I am grateful you shared this. It brought to my attention how we can get out of the lower planes and wrong thoughts.

Barb you make a good point.  It is hard to desire a thing if one is not thinking about it.  The lower mind gravitates to what is pleasurable, what it "likes"  We can choose to refocus so to speak.  But this takes effort and discipline and time.  But if enough"practice" occurs we will find that a difference is made.  Motivation is important too, we are told.  Do we engage in this reform to escape pain alone, or for acclaim or to gain attention?  If the motivation is self help alone then the energy cannot be very great.  But if the object is high,say to benefit others or contribute to the larger good then deeper energies are tapped, we are told. 

I've learned that without weeds I would pay no attention to the upkeep of my garden.

I think the only way to discern, at its root, a weed from what could be a pretty flower, would be to experience it directly. The analogy extends from meeting a new love interest to having children (neither of which I have haha). We do not know the outcome until it has grown to futility or fruition. No matter what someone tells us about our garden, based on their knowledge or ignorance thereof, we can only grow things we ourselves choose to plant based on right knowledge and right action (Gita 5). Sometimes the prettiest of plants are poisons and we are the weeds!

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Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on February 24, 2013 at 9:31pm

Also some plants start ugly and turn into something extremely beautiful like Matilija Poppy or many of the Eucalyptuses.  It seems like the key idea here is to choose what we plant.  All too often we are planting the seed thoughts of others rather than something we have considered and chosen ourselves.

From James Allen beginning to the article "The Thought Factor in Achievement"

"All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts. In a justly ordered universe, where loss of equipoise would mean total destruction, individual responsibility must be absolute. A man's weakness and strength, purity and impurity, are his own, and not another man's; they are brought about by himself, and not by another; and they can only be altered by himself, never by another. His condition is also his own, and not another man's. His suffering and his happiness are evolved from within. As he thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.

A strong man cannot help a weaker unless that weaker is willing to be helped, and even then the weak man must become strong of himself; he must, by his own efforts, develop the strength which he admires in another. None but himself can alter his condition.

It has been usual for men to think and to say, "Many men are slaves because one is an oppressor; let us hate the oppressor." Now, however, there is amongst an increasing few a tendency to reverse this judgment, and to say, "One man is an oppressor because many are slaves; let us despise the slaves."

The truth is that oppressor and slave are co-operators in ignorance, and, while seeming to afflict each other, are in reality afflicting themselves. A perfect Knowledge perceives the action of law in the weakness of the oppressed and the misapplied power of the oppressor; a perfect Love, seeing the suffering, which both states entail, condemns neither; a perfect Compassion embraces both oppressor and oppressed.

He who has conquered weakness, and has put away all selfish thoughts, belongs neither to oppressor nor oppressed. He is free.

A man can only rise, conquer, and achieve by lifting up his thoughts. He can only remain weak, and abject, and miserable by refusing to lift up his thoughts."

Your Thoughts, Comments and Questions Please.

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Ha, James Allen, one of my favorite authors!

Nice excerpt, thanks Gerry.

Thank you for these references.   Thank you for the thank you.

What does this mean? 

A strong man cannot help a weaker unless that weaker is willing to be helped, and even then the weak man must become strong of himself; he must, by his own efforts, develop the strength which he admires in another. None but himself can alter his condition.

I experience this quite a lot working as a health coach. There is a lot one can do to help another - give good advice, counter a habitual tendency of thought in them, provide them with good information, encourage them, etc.. But ultimately if they don't find the strength to act on all of that, the power of the coach is rather impotent. It's always a shared journey and each has a role to play. One can reach down to help someone take their next step up the mountainside, but even with your help they still need to put one foot in front of the other.

So I think it's very true that "none but himself can alter his condition", but it's also true that others can help create an environment in which it becomes easier for that person to do it.

Reminds me of that old saying: "never try to teach a pig to sing: it'll frustrate you and annoy the pig." ;) The student needs to be receptive to the teacher and both willing and interested in learning.

It seems like one of the first take-aways from this passage is to start paying more attention to where and what the mind in doing.   Why do we find this so hard to do?

I think Patanjali (in his Yoga aphorisms pp. 2-4) with W.Q. Judge's comments hits the nail on the head.

(The modifications of the thinking principle refers to our lower mind involved with the world we perceive.)

2. “Concentration, or Yoga, is the hindering of the modifications of the thinking principle.”

In other words, the want of concentration of thought is due to the fact that the mind—here called "the thinking principle"—is subject to constant modifications by reason of its being diffused over a multiplicity of subjects. So "concentration" is equivalent to the correction of a tendency to, diffuseness, and to the obtaining of what the Hindus call "one-pointedness," or the power to apply the mind, at any moment, to the consideration of a single point of thought, to the exclusion of all else.

Upon this Aphorism the method of the system hinges. The reason for the absence of concentration at any time is, that the mind is modified by every subject and object that comes before it; it is, as it were, transformed into that subject or object. The mind, therefore, is not the supreme or highest power; it is only a function, an instrument with which the soul works, feels sublunary things, and experiences. The brain, however, must not be confounded with the mind, for the brain is in its turn but an instrument for the mind. It therefore follows that the mind has a plane of its own, distinct from the soul and the brain, and what is to be learned is, to use the will, which is also a distinct power from the mind and brain, in such a way that instead of permitting the mind to turn from one subject or object to another just as they may move it, we shall apply it as a servant at any time and for as long a period as we wish, to the consideration of whatever we have decided upon.

3. “At the time of concentration the soul abides in the state of a spectator without a spectacle.”

This has reference to the perfection of concentration, and is that condition in which, by the hindering of the modifications referred to in Aphorism 2, the soul is brought to a state of being wholly devoid of taint of, or impression by, any subject. The "soul" here referred to is not Atma, which is spirit.

4. “At other times than that of concentration, the soul is in the same form as the modification of the mind.”

This has reference to the condition of the soul in ordinary life, when concentration is not practised, and means that, when the internal organ, the mind, is through the senses affected or modified by the form of some object, the soul also—viewing the object through its organ, the mind — is, as it were, altered into that form…

Is this what Judge is pointing to when he talks about "The Culture of Concentration"?

Gerry asked to expand on a previous comment that I made regarding whether we make our own thoughts or discover them. Plato clearly holds the latter position. We do not, for example, invent the idea of justice. We discover it in the world of the forms. This is important for Plato because the former position implies subjectivity, and Plato held that there is objective truth. Justice, for example, is not subjective. It is objective. Plato believed that the path of subjectivity is the path of disaster and destruction.

How about the application of a principle to a particular circumstance in an individual's life? Do we discover the connection or create it?  Does it matter?

For Plato, we do not create the application. We apply the principle to a particular situation, and see how the latter stacks up against that principle. Take that example of the horrible rape of that girl in India. A clear understanding of the form of justice reveals very clearly that it was wrong.

From James Allen

The universe does not favour the greedy, the dishonest, the vicious, although on the mere surface it may sometimes appear to do so; it helps the honest, the magnanimous, the virtuous. All the great Teachers of the ages have declared this in varying forms, and to prove and know it a man has but to persist in making himself more and more virtuous by lifting up his thoughts.

Intellectual achievements are the result of thought consecrated to the search for knowledge, or for the beautiful and true in life and nature. Such achievements may be sometimes connected with vanity and ambition, but they are not the outcome of those characteristics; they are the natural outgrowth of long and arduous effort, and of pure and unselfish thoughts.

Spiritual achievements are the consummation of holy aspirations. He who lives constantly in the conception of noble and lofty thoughts, who dwells upon all that is pure and unselfish, will, as surely as the sun reaches its zenith and the moon its full, become wise and noble in character, and rise into a position of influence and blessedness.

Achievement, of whatever kind, is the crown of effort, the diadem of thought. By the aid of self-control, resolution, purity, righteousness, and well-directed thought a man ascends; by the aid of animality, indolence, impurity, corruption, and confusion of thought a man descends.

Your Thoughts and Comments and Questions

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What Jim said is beautiful. Question 1:  how many of those currently in a position of influence are wise and noble? Any?

Question 2: If the universe does not favor the greedy, what does one say about the billionaires and millionaires? Bill Gates?

Arnold McMahon

I think you could argue for a few but it might be politically polarizing to mention them.  But your point remains, in the time of the Kali Yuga, according to the HIndus, wisdom is in short supply in positions of power.

Gerry, I appreciate your concern about political polarization, but I think there comes a point where one cannot let this understandable fear dominate. The truth needs to be put out there, whether it hurts or not. One, of course, has to be sure about what one puts out. If you know any current leaders who are wise and noble, let us know. Thanks.


This online group is not about political issues so we avoid them.  There are plenty of other places to discuss these things.  Here we are about discussing theosophy but I think it is safe to say that the Dalai Lama is a very wise leader who we all have a lot to learn from.  Recently he stepped down as secular leader of Tibet in exile. And his ideas on controlling the mind (thoughts) and generating good thoughts towards ones fellow man is pertinent to this discussion here on the practical use of thought in daily life.

Thanks, Gerry. Yes, the Dalai Lama seems to fit the bill.  I understand your desire and reluctance to deal with political issues, but Plato did just that in the Republic. I understand the need to focus, yet at the same time, the ultimate test of that is to have a comprehensive approach to the world. Maybe you should run for office!!

Gerry Kiffe 2016? hehe... :P

I decline, my unpronounceable name would rule me out of being elected to dog-catcher..  Plus then I wouldn't be able to hang out with all you good people.

I love to argue politics...... but not here, this is not the place for it. Secondly we are discussing the thought factor in achievement and not other things.

I do appreciate the vote of confidence, but like Gandhi said tot he Delhi students visiting his ashram when being called to dinner but his wife, "You see, even here I live under tyranny!"

Good questions to raise. In regards to question #2, I imagine a longer-term vision would reveal more about what the universe favors. Perhaps we can only see long enough to glimpse some short term benefits of certain kinds of actions, but not quite enough to see some of the longer term drawbacks of them. I know in my own life, even in just a short span, I've seen how something that seemed beneficial at one moment or during one stage came back with some less-than-beneficial impacts during a later stage.

About question #1, we do seem (at least on the surface) to be in a cycle with a relatively low grade of 'nobility'. ;) At least when compared to the kind of ideal we can all imagine to some degree. I think every once and a while we do see the noble and wise in positions of outer leadership (political, religious, etc.), but it does seem to be somewhat rare by my standards (but maybe those are too high). I'd agree with the Dalai Lama as a good example. Gandhi led a nation, though in a different kind of way. A few politicians come to mind from the past few hundred years, and a few religious leaders. There seems to have been quite a few noble ones who have led kind of from the outer edges, helping to mould the thought of their generation, leading to reforms and progress (the Emersons and Thoreaus, certain activists, poets, scholars, scientists, and so on).

And I do get a sense that there are silent 'leaders' helping out here and there that may never be famous.

Doing what is right is not always beneficial by the standards of the world, but it is beneficial by the standards of morality, and nobody can take that from you.

Likewise, we all have the capacity to be noble.It is not easy, but it is possible.

Could we say that noble deeds start with noble thoughts?

How might we characterize a noble thought?

Plato might reply "Knowing the form of the good, the form of justice etc."