"If one thinks in terms of all humanity, united through invisible ties, one is drawing closer to an idea of will as a universal and impersonal force." — The Aquarian Almanac

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April 2, 2015 Theme for Contemplation: Thought, Will and Feeling

“A man comes to be the thing on which he is bent.”

– Jalalulddin Rumi

“Every man’s life is a fairy-tale written by God’s fingers.”

– Hans Christian Andersen

Rumi's statement reminds me of Emerson's idea that nothing is created of any consequence without enthusiasm.

April 3, 2016 Theme for Contemplation: Thought, Will and Feeling

“The Self-shining Witness of all is ever revealed in the vesture of wisdom. Make this thy goal which stands apart from the unreal.“

— Shankaracharya

“Not my will, but thine, be done.”

— Jesus

April 4, 2016 Theme for Contemplation: Thought, Will and Feeling

“Thought is deeper than all speech,

Feeling deeper than all thought.”

— Christopher Cranch

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Would anyone care to venture a definition for each of these three ideas?  Thought, Will and Feeling

“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 follows:

‘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 within outwards. 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 every external motion, act, gesture, whether voluntary or mechanical, organic or mental, is produced and preceded by internal feeling 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.

Do you think there is a hierarchy, in terms of causality, between the three concepts?

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 subservient.  

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 well?

Hi Peter:

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 they want or desire to be time-efficient.

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 experience thought, feeling and will in 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 terms feeling, desire and kama as also between desire and will.  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 stands desire.’

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. 

April 5, 2016 Theme for Contemplation: Thought, Will and Feeling

“By the will art thou lost, by the will art thou found.

By the will art thou free, captive and bound.”

— Angelus Silesius

“You can’t hold a man down without staying down with him.”

— Booker T. Washington

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Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on April 6, 2016 at 9:45am

April 6, 2016 Theme for Contemplation: Thought, Will and Feeling

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.“

— Buddha

“It is difficult to achieve happiness, either in this world or in the next, except by intense love of dharma, intense self-examination, intense obedience, intense fear of evil and intense enthusiasm.“

— Ashoka

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on April 6, 2016 at 2:01pm

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 perhaps?

Permalink Reply by Peter on April 7, 2016 at 4:26am

“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 following: 

‘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. Fronsdal)

’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. 

2. All 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)

2.  Fore 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)

3. 'He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,' – in those who harbour such thoughts hatred will never cease.  (Muller)

3.  The 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.

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on April 8, 2016 at 10:23am

April 7, 2016 Theme for Contemplation: Thought, Will and Feeling

“Thou hast great allies:

Thy friends are exultations, agonies,

And love, and man’s unconquerable mind.”

— William Wordsworth

“The prime factor in the guidance of the thought is WILL.”

— D.K. Mavalankar

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on April 8, 2016 at 10:25am

April 8, 2016 Theme for Contemplation: Thought, Will and Feeling

“Thought is the unuttered conversation of the soul with herself.”

— Plato

“If we change our ideas, we change our actions. The action of the will is through ideas.”

— Robert Crosbie