History of New Thought
Excerpt from "THE NEW THOUGHT MOVEMENT: A LINK BETWEEN EAST AND WEST"
by Alan Anderson
"New Thought is a movement of philosophical-religious thought and action originating in the 19th Century United States and emphasizing the attainment of health, wealth, and happiness through the control of one's conscious and non-conscious beliefs, attitudes, and expectations by means of deliberately practicing the presence of a wholly benevolent deity. Perhaps the simplest definition of New Thought is that of early New Thought leader Sarah J. Farmer: "It is simply putting ourselves in new relation to the world about us by changing our thought concerning it. . . . We are not creatures of circumstance; we are creators . . ." (Dresser, 1917, p. 31; Convention Proceedings , p. 33). "
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Delivered at the Parliament of the World's Religions Chicago, September 3, 1993 Alan Anderson Curry College
2. The Nature, Origins, and Name of New Thought
3. New Thought's Background in Both Christianity and Eastern Thought
4. Influence of New Thought on the East
5. Parallels and Prospects: Commonalities Apart From Direct Influences
Some Related Writings
In coming up with the title for this talk, "The New Thought Movement: A Link between East and West," I sought to emphasize the constructive joining of Eastern and Western thought. A better symbol than "link" might be "bridge." Eastern and Western gardens alike frequently feature bridges that allow one to pass from a near, familiar portion of the landscape to a more remote, perhaps less explored realm. So it is with the philosophical-religious movement known as New Thought. Although New Thought is of Western origin, it absorbed strong Eastern influences that continue to this day. Therefore, New Thought is well-suited as a bridge to assist the traveler in passing easily from one realm of thought to the other. Good neighbors might well join their respective gardens with a bridge allowing them to visit and return home. Both gain additional territory to explore without loss of their original holdings.
This talk is not an exhaustive exploration of the relationship of New Thought and Eastern thought. It is, rather, a relatively brief taking note of some of these connections. It is largely historical; but, of greater significance, it is a step in an exploration of how New Thought and some aspects of Eastern thought might fit into a larger pattern of thinking, which might lead to a universal theology or philosophy.
After, first , rather briefly defining the terms New Thought ,East ,West ,magic , and New Age , I am going to turn, second , to the nature, origins, and name of New Thought, third , to New Thought's background in both Christianity and Eastern thought, fourth , to the influence of New Thought on the East, fifth , to parallels and prospects: commonalities apart from direct influences (including some remarks on metaphysics and an introduction to Process New Thought), and, sixth , a brief conclusion.
New Thought is a movement of philosophical-religious thought and action originating in the 19th Century United States and emphasizing the attainment of health, wealth, and happiness through the control of one's conscious and non-conscious beliefs, attitudes, and expectations by means of deliberately practicing the presence of a wholly benevolent deity. Perhaps the simplest definition of New Thought is that of early New Thought leader Sarah J. Farmer: "It is simply putting ourselves in new relation to the world about us by changing our thought concerning it. . . . We are not creatures of circumstance; we are creators . . ." (Dresser, 1917, p. 31; Convention Proceedings , p. 33).
To put into adequate perspective my definitions used here for East and West, I note that the world's religions have been classified as belonging to various families, the three most important of which are the Semitic, the Indic, and the Sinic (Chinese).
Theologian John B. Cobb, Jr. (1982, pp. 66-67) summarizes East and West as follows:
When viewed globally there appear to be three major forms of cultural and religious life: Indian, Chinese, and Western. E. A. Burtt presents India as most interested in the self and its growth toward cosmic maturity, China as preoccupied with society and harmonious interpersonal relations, and the West as absorbed with individualism, analysis, and the external world. Yves Conger describes India as idealistic, China as naturalistic, and the West as dualistic. Huston Smith asserts that "the West has accented the natural problem, China the social, and India the psychological." John Hutchison describes the dominant religions of India, China, and the West respectively as acosmic, cosmic, and theistic.
Since I am concentrating on connections that are most important in relation to New Thought history and theory, I am ignoring the Chinese components of Eastern thought. So East in this paper refers essentially to Hindu and Buddhist thought. Even in them I am ignoring major variations. The prime Eastern influence on New Thought has been a Hindu view that ultimate reality and the world, including oneself, are one; that West here refers to European and American beliefs that affirm the reality of the world (even if that reality be essentially mental or spiritual, rather than physical); of ourselves as unique, permanent features of reality; and of God temporal, spatial existence is a mistaken interpretation at best, a complete illusion at worst; and that the ultimate is unknowable, ineffable being, yet somehow known to be impersonal. who is personal, not in an anthropomorphic sense but being the self-conscious, loving, perfectly impartial, purposeful unifier, guide and sustainer of all existence.
Briefly put, the history of New Thought is the story of the practical application here and now of (1) a mystical view of the unity of self and deity, largely associated with Hinduism, and (2) a Western view of a real (if mental) universe with real, permanent human beings. Throughout the history of New Thought there has been some tension between these two emphases. Early in the history of New Thought, its identification of God and world was challenged from within by a more conventional Western-Swedenborgian-influenced outlook. Today the pantheism (all is God) of New Thought is being challenged by a few New Thoughters who espouse a pan en theistic (all is in God) Process New Thought based on the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, and others. This process thought has affinity with Buddhism's view of selfhood as a process of fleeting experiences, whereas most outlooks of East and West alike take for granted enduring substance. I'll return to this later.
New Thought is distinguished from magic , which attempts to impose one's own will, whereas New Thought seeks to learn the divine will and to cooperate with it.
New Thought is distinguished from New Age , the name given to a movement of much more recent origin than New Thought. New Age, as put by Gordon Melton, Director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, "developed in the late 1960's and emerged as a self-conscious movement in the 1970's" (Lewis & Melton, 1992, p. 18). New Age's origins were more in Spiritualism, Theosophy, and Theosophy's Asian roots than in New Thought. New Thought and New Age have personal transformation and healing of all sorts in common, but their approaches are significantly different. New Agers place considerable emphasis on channeling and other aspects of the occult realm (such things as astrology, tarot cards, and crystals); whereas New Thought is more clearly mystical, going beyond any psychic realm held to exist between the material and the spiritual. Melton, contrasting New Thought and New Age, recognizes New Thought as one of several distinct new denominational families (such as the Latter-day Saints, Spiritualism, and the Theosophical/Ancient Wisdom Tradition) which arose in nineteenth-century America and which has in recent decades had marked success in diffusing around the world. (Melton, 1992, p. 17)
Although neither New Thought as a whole nor any of its branches imposes any creedal test, New Thoughters are in agreement on such basic points of belief as the presence, goodness, impartiality, and availability of God, and the ability of all people to avail themselves of God's gifts of health, wealth, and happiness through the thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes that they hold. New Thought interprets the world as real, as mind or spirit, with the phenomenon of matter one way in which spirit is encountered. Most New Thoughters probably hold the Bible in higher regard than any other book, but they interpret it symbolically and do not consider it the only repository of truth.
Perhaps the best characterization of New Thought is found in the name of one of the numerous groups constituting the New Thought movement: pragmatic mysticism. New Thought teaches the practice of the presence of God for practical purposes, including not only the traditional value of experiencing God for its own sake, but also for worldly purposesþas it sometimes is expressed, "putting shoes on the baby."
There have been many attempts to define New Thought. Some of these definitions have come from people who have initiated New Thought organizations. Two of the most important of these groups (which, typical of New Thought, sometimes have attempted to distinguish themselves from New Thought) are Unity (founded by Charles Fillmore [1854-1948] and his wife, Myrtle [1845-1931]) and Religious Science (started by Ernest Holmes [1887-1960]). Charles Fillmore defined New Thought as "a mental system that holds man as being one with God (good) through the power of constructive thinking" (Fillmore, 1959, p. 140). Ernest Holmes defined New Thought as "a system of thought which affirms the unity of God with man, the perfection of all life, and the immortality and eternality of the individual soul forever expanding" (Holmes, 1942, p. 97, and p. 148 on "time and eternity"), indicating that for Holmes eternality apparently refers to endlessness, rather than to timelessness. Long-time New Thought writer and publisher Elizabeth Towne (1865-1961) defined New Thought as "the fine art of recognizing, realizing and manifesting the God in the individual" (Dresser, 1919, p. 191). Horatio Dresser expressed his opinion that "perhaps the best of all terms for the movement on its spiritual side" is Practical Christianity, a term associated with Unity (Dresser, 1919, pp. 155-56). Part of the difficulty in defining New Thought comes from its lack of binding creeds and from its always being subject to change. Fillmore warned that he reserved the right to change his mind about his beliefs, and Holmes referred to Religious Science as "open at the top." This fluidity gives New Thought the opportunity of keeping up with the best of thought.
New Thought usually has been traced to a New England clockmaker and inventor-turned-mesmerist-turned spiritual healer, Phineas Parkhurst ("Park") Quimby (1802-1866), "the father of New Thought." Quimby healed "many thousands of people" (Braden, 1963, p. 83; see his Ch. 3; Dresser, 1919, Chs. 2 and 3). However, Melton refers to New Thought simply as "a schism from Christian Science" (Melton, 1992, p. 16), beginning (from 1886 onward) with the work of Emma Curtis Hopkins, a former associate of Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy. However, this dating ignores the question of where Christian Science came from, and this question inevitably returns one to Quimby, who at least partially healed and inspired Eddy. Moreover, Melton's dating ignores both the fact that during Quimby's lifetime some of his patients gathered around him and discussed his theories and practices, and that one former patient, Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889), conducted a practice inspired by Quimby's work and wrote the first books (from 1869 to 1886) in what later would be called New Thought. Two other former Quimby patients, Julius and Annetta Dresser, in the 1880's and 1890's contributed to the philosophical-religious foundations and historical perspectives of New Thought. Regardless of whether this small group should be considered the start of the New Thought movement, Melton is correct in emphasizing that it was only after Hopkins began her contributions as teacher of the founders of Divine Science, Unity, and the Homes of Truth that a full-scale movement began. Toward the end of her life, she also taught Ernest Holmes.
The chief doctrinal difference between Christian Science and New Thought is about the status of matter. New Thought embraces traditional Western idealism, which maintains that although matter is not real in the sense of having existence apart from mind, it is real in the sense of being an appearance of mind or spirit. Christian Science maintains that matter is a mere illusion.
The views of Quimby have become important to many people in the 20th century. In his 1955 Seminar Lectures , Holmes (1955) says:
The "Quimby Manuscripts" is one of the most original books in the world. Our whole system of teaching is based upon Quimby's concept that the things which have to be resolved are mental, not physical. We must be able to reduce everything to mind, or consciousness, because consciousness does not operate upon something external to itself. (p. 82)
Before New Thought received its present name in the 1890's, it had others, including Mental Science ,Mind Cure, and the Boston Craze , these sometimes including Christian Science. Until Eddy objected, the name Christian Science itself sometimes was applied to parts of what would become New Thought. The Metaphysical Movement is a term still used; it may relate simply to New Thought or be employed more broadly, as in J. Stillson Judah's The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America , which includes not only New Thought but Christian Science, Spiritualism, Theosophy, and kindred outlooks. Virtually synonymous with the term metaphysical movement , but more recent, is harmonial religion , used by Sydney Ahlstrom in his 1972 A Religious History of the American People (p. 1019).
Since the 1880's there have been conventions designed to bring together the various elements of New Thought, and since 1914 the International New Thought Alliance has existed under that name.
The term metaphysical used in connection with a practical movement is troublesome, since it has a settled meaning as the branch of philosophy that considers the most fundamental nature of everything, in addition to its popular meaning of relating exclusively to realms beyond the physical. The Convention Proceedings of the 1899 convention of The International Metaphysical League, a of the predecessors of the International New Thought Alliance, contains an account of its "difficult task" in finding "a name sufficiently broad and inclusive to cover all New Thought organizations, and yet with a meaning positive enough to give a comprehensive idea of what the fundamental basis of the movement is." Five traditional definitions of metaphysics are included. However, it appears that most New Thoughters have no awareness of the current philosophical meaning of metaphysics, nor of its original use simply to indicate the arrangement (by Andronicus of Rhodes, in the First Century B.C) in which Aristotle's (384-322 B.C.) writings on such matters were placed after his writings on physics.
Horatio W. Dresser, son of the two Dressers who were healed by Quimby and Harvard Ph.D. degree in philosophy recipient, notes that
The term metaphysics, strictly speaking, applies to a technical system of philosophy, and only by explanation is it to be understood as the name of a practical movement. (1919, p. 156)
Dresser says that "the term 'metaphysics' came into vogue to indicate that the fundamental principles of the new movement were akin to the great idealisms of the past." (p. 135)
Although idealism often is used to refer to high-mindedness, emphasizing ideals, in philosophical metaphysics, idealism is the view that reality is in the nature of ideas or spirit, whereas materialism (another term with philosophical as well as popular meanings, the latter emphasizing attachment to money and worldly possessions) holds that only matter or lifeless, unintelligent energy is basically real.
When several of us were forming the Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion several years ago, one of our major problems was what name to select to refer to the overall type of religion being studied. After considerable discussion, we chose metaphysical , since we could find nothing better to refer to the range of religions including New Thought, which is the Society's central concern.
For better or worse, the names New Thought and metaphysical religion seem to be here to stay.
Probably all those who brought New Thought into existence were Christians of some sort. New Thought originally was expressed mostly in Christian terms, and it still largely is. In what it considered a return to primitive Christianity, the teachings of Jesus, rather than a religion about Jesus, New Thought adopted a distinction between Jesus and Christ. Jesus was a man who rose to awareness of his divine nature, or Christ, as any of us can do also. Dresser referred to New Thought's having "become a recognized phase of liberal Christianity throughout the world" (Dresser, 1919, p. 191).
William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience , ignored Quimby and listed the sources of mind cure as
the four Gospels, . . . Emersonianism or New England Transcendentalism, . . . Berkeleyan idealism, . . . spiritism, . . . optimistic popular science evolutionism, . . . and finally, Hinduism has contributed a strain" (James, 1902, p. 93).
It appears that Quimby knew little or nothing of the Transcendentalism that flourished as he experimented with Mesmerism and developed his form of spiritual healing. Transcendentalism, especially as presented by Emerson, would become probably the prime source of both Eastern and Western thought for early New Thoughters, and perhaps even today remains such.
By 1884, Evans was not only quoting Emerson, but identifying Emerson's Over-Soul with "the Atman of the Vedanta, . . . the Christ of Paul, [and] the Adam Kadmon of the Kabala." (Evans, 1884, p. 20; see also pp. 38 and 138) Evans reached an outlook that he referred to as a Christian Pantheism, which he particularly related to Fichte, but which provides a link between East and West (1881, p. 15).
In 1887 Charles M. Barrows included in his Facts and Fictions of Mental Healing successive chapters titled "Help from Ind[ia]" and "Emerson's Idealism" (Barrows, 1887). Barrows asserts that Emerson's "doctrines are those of primitive Brahmanism, modified by being passed through the crucible of Western thought" (p. 219). Barrows observes that the Hindu "Vedanta philosophy teaches that everything proceeds from a single eternal, uncreated Principle; it declares that there is only one being in the universe" (p. 205). He also draws a parallel between the Rig-Veda and Genesis (p. 206) and finds that the Hindu doctrine of the illusory status of nature does not deny the value of illusory experiences to us, and says that Hegelianism gives us essentially the same view (p. 213). He also expresses approval of reconciling Hinduism and Christianity.
William Walker Atkinson, in his brief New Thought: Its History and Principles , rather poetically says:
Emerson drew largely from the fountains of ancient Greece, but the distinct flavor of Oriental idealism pervades his thought. It were as if his thought had seeped up through the deep sands of Oriental thought, rising and filling a basin of the purest Greek design, from thence bubbling and pouring forth in a way distinctively his own. In his conception of the One he is a Hindu, but in his Expression of the Life of the Many he is filled with the true Greek spirit. In his message the Pipes of Pan may be heard playing, always accompanied by the deeper and dimmer droning worship-note of the Temple of Brahm.
And this has been passed on to the New Thought this strange mingling of the Orient and Ancient Greeceþthe calm, serene majesty of Brahm, and the leaping, joyous, living, loving, changing form of Pan. In the first aspect, we see Brahm the Unmanifest, brooding over his creations, breathing outward and inward, in aeonic rhythm, throughout all eternity. In the second, we see Pan, the expression of Manifest Life, who sings, : "I am the joy of life! The joy of being! (1915, pp. 12-13)
Emma Curtis Hopkins, even while still associated with Eddy, recognized that various religions had common doctrines, including healing truths. After likening Buddhist Nirvana (which she interpreted as "complete union with God") to "Christ's 'I and my Father are one,'" Hopkins, in the April 1884 issue of the Christian Science Journal , quoted "the pious Hindu Chandogya Upanishad" as saying, "The Man who is conscious of this divinity incurs neither disease, nor pain, nor death " (Melton, 1990, p. 86)
Around this time, people began to notice resemblances between mental science and theosophy, as well as spiritism. Dresser raises the question
whether the mental-healing has gained by the tendency to connect it with so many teachings more or less akin. But however that may be, we simply note the fact that, beginning in 1887, writers on the subject of mental healing tended to look afield. Hence the books from that time on became very diverse. (Dresser, 1919, p. 136)
The most widespread New Thought group in the United States is Unity. The Fillmores were great readers of Emerson, as well as literature of many religions. Melton observes, "Fillmore, while heavily leaning on Hinduism at points, was one of the most Christ-oriented teachers in New Thought" (Melton, 1978, II, p. 59). Incidentally, Unity left the International New Thought Alliance in 1922, but many of the INTA's group members are Unity churches, and many of the individual members of the INTA are associated with Unity, including its current, long-time President, Blaine C. Mays, who is a Unity minister. Unity strongly emphasizes its Christianity, but also teaches reincarnation more than any other New Thought group.
Although reincarnation is not exclusively an Eastern teaching, it is most prevalent in the East. The latest figures that I have seen indicate that about 25% of the people in the United States believe in reincarnation. However, in a survey of about 1,000 New Thought leaders that I conducted this year, of 147 responses, 108 expressed belief in reincarnation, 3 said maybe, and 36 said no. So about 74% of New Thought leaders believe in reincarnation, according to my survey.
From Emerson, Hopkins, and others, New Thought became convinced of the oneness of all existence. Partly this was the fruit of mystical experience; partly it was the outcome of thought. We cannot know to what extent the unitive approach of New Thought would have developed without Eastern influence. The West has had its share of mystics and mystical philosophy, most notably in the Neoplatonism of Plotinus (205-270), emphasizing that all is an emanation from an ineffable One. It is not necessary to be a mystic in order to believe in spirit or in the unity of all reality. It also is not clear whether Quimby became a mystic. He became a psychic and also gained a sense of spiritual reality, which might or might not merit the designation mystical. Evans was a mystic, as his journal shows.
New Thoughters, along with many others, were impressed by the World's Parliament of Religions, held at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Swami Vivekananda, following his notable presentation of Hinduism to the Parliament, established Vedanta Societies in American cities. The February 1894 issue of the Divine Science periodical, Harmony , drawing on The Dallas Morning News, reported Mrs. J. W. Yarnall's lecture on the Parliament, given in Dallas. She noted that Vivekananda "made a profound impression upon the people, and from the moment of his introduction to the parliament he was a general favorite." She emphasized his ecumenical emphasis, partly expressed in his statements that the "only thing a good Brahmin would not tolerate was intolerance" and that "truth is God."
To carry on the spirit of the World's Parliament of Religions, Sarah Farmer in 1894 established the Greenacre conferences at Eliot, Maine. Dresser comments,
Miss Farmer approached the New Thought on its spiritual side. To her it was the same as Christianity at its best, also the same as the spirit which she found expressed by the Swamis who came from India to expound the Vedanta philosophy. (1919, pp. 177-79)
In the October 1899 issue of The Arena , a New Thought periodical until that year (Dresser, 1919, p. 189), there are two articles on the Vedanta, the first an appreciation by Anna Josephine Ingersoll, the second an appreciative yet critical article by Dresser, who was both a New Thought and a Swedenborgian expositor and critic. In it he recognizes the great popularity of the Vedanta following the Parliament, apparently far more so than any of the other Eastern perspectives given a platform at the Parliament. A passing remark by Dresser may be significant: "People cared more for Vivekananda than for his metaphysics" (1899, p. 507). Dresser quotes Vivekananda and others at considerable length, and in general bends over backward to give the Vedanta its due, including the statement that "the Vedanta is the profoundest of all spiritual monistic philosophical systems" (p. 491).
However, Dresser suggests that the Vedanta has been presented to the West in a "somewhat modified" (p. 497) optimistic form, whereas there is required "an analysis of its pessimism as brought out by Schopenhauer, and its pantheism as interpreted by Emerson."
Dresser proposes a Jamesian pragmatic test: "What effect does it have upon conduct?" (p. 498). Dresser concedes that the Vedanta "inspires peace, tranquility, passivity, contemplation of the Absolute; surely a noble result, and we cannot have too much of this spirit in our nervous Western world" (p. 498). However, he asks, "But will this attitude solve the social problems which press so appealingly for solution?" (p. 498). Dresser contrasts East and West with a reference to Max Muller:
"the self of the Vedanta has but three qualities: it is, it perceives, it rejoices; the Anglo-Saxon believes that the self also acts ,progresses , that 'the world belongs to the energetic man,' as Emerson puts it."
Dresser's position is clearer than that of much of New Thought. He did not succeed in persuading New Thought to follow him into a more conventional Western theism, but neither did New Thought utterly lose itself in Eastern thought, any more than did its adopted oracle, Emerson. Something of New Thought's blending of East and West was personified in William Walker Atkinson, who wrote New Thought books under his own name and penned the popular Yogi Philosophy series of books under the name Yogi Ramacharaka. However much New Thought has been attracted to Eastern thinkers and their thought, it has not abandoned its Western attachment to practicality, to the action, progression, and energetic living emphasized by Dresser.
One of the most important figures in New Thought theory was a man whose life linked India and England and who is honored as a leading New Thought theoretician. This was Thomas Troward (1847-1916), who spent 1869-1896 in North Indian Punjab as Assistant Commissioner and later Divisional Judge. It seems fair to assume that something of his grasp of Universal Mind must have been colored by Eastern insights. Whether a matter of influence or a parallelism, his emphasis on an impersonal ultimate is consonant with Hinduism.
Now I turn to the influence of New Thought on the East, with a brief reference to the rest of the world.
The International New Thought Alliance now has Districts throughout much of the planet, paralleling the locations of New Thought groups. Currently New Thought is making significant progress in the former Soviet Union. Most of the New Thought groups and INTA Districts are in the West, but there are some in Asia, Australia, and Africa.
The largest and most interesting group member of the INTA from the standpoint of uniting East and West is the Seicho-No-Ie Truth of Life Movement, in Gardena, California, with other locations in a dozen other cities of the United States and Canada, and with world headquarters in Japan. Since it is less familiar to most of us than other New Thought groups, I am going to deal with it at greater length than with any other organization.
Seicho-No-Ie is one of several so-called New Religions of Japan, some of them going back to the second half of the 19th Century. Among the characteristics of the New Religions are monotheism, a single founder (often a woman), syncretism, a desire to be consistent with modern science, an emphasis on healing and the power of mind, and a single method for using spiritual power.
Seicho-No-Ie often has been "referred to as 'a ministry through publications' because of the vast quantity of literature which it distributes" (Davis, 1970, p. 55).
Robert Ellwood describes Seicho-No-Ie:
Seicho no Ie (lit., "house of growth") represents a cross-fertilization between the Japanese spiritual tradition and American New Thought. Its founder, Taniguchi Masaharu [generally given as Masaharu Taniguchi] (1893-1985), was an avid reader of Western and Eastern philosophy as a young man, and participated in [another new religion, called] Omoto for four years. In 1928 by chance he discovered a book [ The Law of Mind in Action ] by the American New Thought teacher Fenwicke Holmes [brother of Ernest]. This book helped him crystallize a system of thought that was officially launched as Seicho no Ie in 1930, when Taniguchi began publishing a magazine of that name. Seicho no Ie affirms the perfection and spiritual nature of all things and denies the reality of matter, suffering, or evil: one may escape from them through the affirmative power of mind. . . . It is less a religious institution in the strict sense than a movement defined by subscription to its literature and attendance at lectures and classes, including fifteen-day intensive courses. However, it does teach a distinctive form of meditation called shinsokan [Meditation to Visualize God] and certain chants. It claims some three million followers in Japan. (1987, p. 412)
Roy Eugene Davis gives as "the basic thesis" of Seicho-No-Ie
that man, as a soul, is already perfect. For some reason he has forgotten this fact and has become identified with the mind and external appearances. True meditation is the process of, once again, becoming aware of the divine nature. (p. 87)
Incidentally, Davis himself is worthy of notice as a Yogananda follower, leader of the Centers of Spiritual Awareness, and formerly active in the INTA, even as an Executive Board member. He represents another entry of Eastern influence into New Thought.
Returning to Seicho-No-Ie, its booklet, Introduction to Seicho-No-Ie , says:
The essence of the teachings of Seicho-No-Ie is that only God and the True-Image World created by God are Reality and that man is originally a child of God. In the True-Image World man is created in the Image of God and already possesses God's virtues of infinite wisdom, infinite love, infinite life, infinite supply, infinite joy and infinite harmony.
Seicho-No-Ie's mission "is to awaken all people to the 'Truth' that 'man is a child of God and already perfect and harmonious,'" and it finds "the essence of all true religions" to be the belief that "man is originally a child of God, already perfect and saved." The Taniguchis "have demonstrated this Truth by their perceptive commentaries on the Old and New Testaments, the Buddhist sutras and the scriptures of Shintoism." Seicho-No-Ie sees recognition that "all religions emanate from one universal God" as the way to eliminating conflict between religions and achieving "true world peace."
Universality is emphasized in the first of the "Seven Promulgations of Light" in Taniguchi's Truth of Life Volume One, Book of General Principles, Book of Truth-Part One:
We resolve to transcend all religious and sectarian differences, worship life, and live in accordance with the laws of life. (p. 3)
Similarly, some pages later (p.16) Taniguchi writes:
Seicho-No-Ie strives to express the will of the Parent-God, the Great Life Principle, the will of Jesus Christ, and the will of Amida Buddha. I have been granted the awareness that if the soul of man would advance straight on the main path of growth , in accordance with the will of the Great Life Principle, the Parent God, that soul would grow, living each day joyfully and vibrantly, without receiving notices for self-reflection from the Parent-God in the form of suffering and disease.
A similar linking of religions is found in "the general theme of all of the prayers prescribed by Dr. Taniguchi" (seemingly in his own words):
Man is not a material being but is, in truth, a spiritual entity, an expression of Christhood (or Buddhahood) - a completely emancipated child of God, without karma, sin, disease or the belief in death. (Davis, 1970, p. 74)
Such writing is reminiscent of many New Thought statements, but Taniguchi emphasizes the leaders as much as their teachings; it may be that the way to a universal religion lies more in appreciation of the great religious figures than in the sometimes divisive statements of them or their followers.
The booklet credits Taniguchi with writing more than 400 books, with more than 17 million copies of his 40-volume Truth of Life series sold.
Seicho-No-Ie has been accepted as part of New Thought by New Thought leaders. They were among the most important hosts of Taniguchi and his wife in the United States during his 1962 worldwide lecture tour, and he had some of them share his platform in Japan (Davis, Ch. 3). He also translated into Japanese the noted Ernest Holmes Religious Science textbook, The Science of Mind .
Now let's turn our attention to parallels and possibilities. There can be links without indebtedness. For our purposes it matters far less whether there is influence in either direction than whether there is common ground that can be used to cultivate constructive relationships.
Parallels can be found in personalities of leaders (and presumably of followers), techniques, attitudes, andþof greatest interest to meþphilosophies.
PERSONALITIES: As I have mentioned, Dresser claimed that "people cared more for Vivekananda than for his metaphysics." That was not to say that they did not also care for his metaphysics. But, then as now, people responded to charismatic personalities. This may be a theoretically trivial parallelism, but it is important in practical life. Most people respond more readily to other people than to ideas, so interpersonal relations are vital to global inter-religious relationships. To the extent that people are loving, any differences of doctrine can become relatively unimportant.
OVERALL ORIENTATION: New Thought, Hinduism (in its philosophical, rather than popular forms), and Buddhism are largely mystical , rather than sacramental or prophetic , the other great orientations of religions. So they have fewer obstacles to mutual appreciation and cooperation than is the case with religions that do not share this orientation. Along with being mystical they are do-it-yourself religions . This is not to say that there is not help of one person by another, human or divine; but, as the sign on President Truman's desk proclaimed, "the buck stops here," for each of us.
TECHNIQUE: As the classification mystical suggests, the major technique is meditation. This is associated with "The Power of Silence," which is the title selected by Dresser for his first and most popular book. Consciously to practice the presence of God requires that one meditate.
To what extent can technique take the place of theory? Obviously, technique must be based on some sort of theoryþsome generalization or recipe based on past experienceþabout what works, if not a thorough exploration of why it works.
One of Dresser's definitions of New Thought may imply that it can be understood in rather limited terms that need not go deeply, if at all, into metaphysics. He says:
The New Thought is a theory and method of mental life with special reference to healing, and the fostering of attitudes, modes of conduct and beliefs which make for health and general welfare. The theory in brief is that man leads an essentially mental life, influenced, shaped and controlled by anticipations, hopes and suggestions. (1917, pp. 1-2)
If one were to leave it at that (and I suspect that many people do, with perhaps a little verbal embroidery), one might get practically the same results. But there is something about us that wants to know what underlies this situation. If one wants to know as fully as may be possible, this immerses one in metaphysics. Not everyone has a taste for metaphysical thought, but if we are going to get to the roots of our own beliefs and our relations with other believers, Eastern or Western, we must take that possibly chilling yet refreshing, and eventually highly satisfying plunge. It may be a dirty job, but somebody has to do it, and at least it requires no heavy physical lifting. As I sometimes say, philosophy is an armchair occupation.
METAPHYSICS: As is usual with me, I am using the term metaphysics in its philosophical sense, as the name for the most penetrating rational attempt to understand the fundamental nature of all reality, of what anything has to be like in order to be at all. I seldom, if ever, use the term metaphysics as a synonym for New Thought or similar religions, since I am so much concerned with their metaphysical underpinnings that I don't want to introduce confusion by referring to the religions themselves as metaphysics. Metaphysics, far from being a great gathering of wisdom and power related to cosmic panoramas of past, present, and future, is an undertaking modest in scope, if audacious in spirit. It provides only the most general, universally-applicable information. It tells us nothing about what creativity has accomplished, but, if it is correct (and there is much disagreement about that!), it tells us all that it is possible rationally to know about what creativity is, how it works, how it provides the foundation for all that ever has happened or ever will happen.
The basic problem of metaphysics is determining which is basic: mind or matter. Or are they equally real, or perhaps expressions of a neutral something? Since the problem of explaining how matter, which is extended in space, can come into contact with mind, which does not occupy space at all, is essentially insoluble, most philosophers have rejected dualism and have opted either for materialism or for idealism. Materialism (or naturalism) says that only matter or lifeless energy is the basic reality. Although we may scorn materialism (partly because of its popular meaning of attachment to material things), we should realize that people who purport to explain everything exclusively in terms of different vibrations are indulging in a subtle form of materialism (incidentally, reminiscent of the "electrical psychology" of Quimby's contemporary, John Bovee Dods [1795-1872]). Idealism recognizes only ideas, mind, or spirit as the basic reality. New Thought theory is built on idealism, as are the great Eastern religions. This is not necessarily to say that the idealistic position was reached by philosophical reasoning. Much of the inclination to interpret reality idealistically can come from mystical insight. However, if idealism is to be held as a philosophical position, it must be held rationally, defended logically, submitted to the tests of reason. There has been no shortage of reasoning in either East or West. However, there has not been enough to make sufficiently clear to most people what an ultimate mind is like. It is easy to say that all is one mind, but to say only that is to leave us in great mystery. We'll never get rid of all mysteryþand perhaps we shouldn't want toþbut we can gain clarity through some ideas that I am about to mention.
In classifying metaphysical positions, it is essential to distinguish quality from quantity. The idealist says that in quality (fundamental nature) everything is of one type: mind or spirit. But the idealist may believe that there is only one unit of mind (in typical Hindu fashion) or may believe in a plurality of units of mind. So qualitatively, an idealist must be a monist (a "oneist") but quantitatively may be either a monist or a pluralist (a "manyist"). Unfortunately, this vital distinction often is ignored. I suspect that most New Thoughters think that the only way to be an idealist is to believe not only that everything is mental but that there is only one mind. Horatio Dresser spent years unsuccessfully trying to help New Thoughters to understand that this is not the case.
Dresser emphasizes that oneness of life need not be interpreted in a Hindu way as meaning that there is only one mind or life. He says:
The essence of the New Thought, as I understand it, is the oneness of life ; the great truth, namely, that all things work together toward a high ideal in the kingdom of the Spirit. Otherwise stated, it is the truth that God lives with us, in every moment of existence, in every experience, every sorrow and every struggle. (1917, p. 6)
Using some helpful philosophical-theological labels, belief in the reality of only one mind is a form of pantheism , meaning that all is God. Belief that there is one all-encompassing mind (God), but that within that mind are many subordinate but genuinely real minds is panentheism , meaning that all is in God. In panentheism the universe is God's body, as the INTA Declaration of Principles says. Panentheism is associated with process philosophy or process theology or simply process thought (depending on the context, but those names are practically interchangeable), which is a philosophy of the creative advance into newness.
Once we grant that there is God at work in the world, our next task is to find out how God does this job. In other words, we need to inquire into the nature of creativity.
Creativity means that something that was not, comes into existence. How does this occur? Does it just happen by accident? Atheism basically says yes; the universe is just a giant accident, and we are little accidents within the big accident. However, most of us find purpose to be essential. But whose purpose, God's or ours? Here we find New Thought departing from Hinduism, which says that the universe is just God's play or dream. New Thought finds the world to be real, although mental, and ourselves to be determiners of what happens to us, determiners through the thoughts, feelings, hopes, and expectations that we hold. Hinduism and Buddhism teach that we should aim for release of desires in order to come to enlightenment. New Thought holds that it is appropriate to use our minds for achieving worldly goals, as well as otherworldly goals.
I call New Thought creative technique, however varied it may be from one group to another, DIRECT APPLICATION OF FEELING, THOUGHT, AND WILL to change the world, including one's own life. Everyone does it, but New Thought realizes that everyone is doing it. Conventional use of one's thought, will, and feeling are indirect in relation to the external world, in that they are used only to move one's muscles, which, in turn, produce speech, manipulation of tools, and other activities that make their mark on the world.
To know that we are applying our thought both directly and indirectly is not to know exactly what is happening when we do it. There are competing theories in New Thought as to whether there is what I call MEDIATED or UNMEDIATED creative action. That is, there is disagreement as to how God enters into the creative process.
Quimby's position that one sows belief guided either by divine Wisdom or by human misconceptions in the "spiritual matter" of one's mind, and thereby gets the corresponding health or illness, suggests a straight-line, unmediated, process of creation. Thomas Troward's theory of roundabout, boomerang, back-and-forth, mediated creation maintains that one believes (or feels or whatever) and that by believing, or choosing, one impresses an unconscious yet intelligent part of God known as Law. This Law automatically shapes previously-unshaped substance and thereby presents to one whatever it was that he or she consciously or unconsciously ordered. In other words, Law is a mediator, standing between one's choice and the outcome. Process New Thought (which is a new understanding of New Thought, not a new organization) is a champion of a theory of unmediated creativity.
In order to understand the process outlook, we should take note of quantum physics, which many writers in recent years have found similar in some respects to Eastern mysticism. Quantum physics recognizes that energy comes in the form of momentarily-existing bursts, rather than in an unbroken flow. There is no enduring substance; there is only activity, only process. At bottom, physics finds nothing but a hidden dance of energy, which becomes recognizable as atoms and all the material things that atoms make up. Science assumes that the bursts of energy are lifeless, and that somehow at one point millions of years ago clusters of bursts of energy accidently came together in such a way as to produce life. Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) was wise enough to realize that a full understanding of process could come only if one interpreted all the bursts of energy that ever had been, or ever would be, as living experiences. Whitehead boldly proclaimed both that "a dead nature can give no reasons" (1938, p. 135) and that "apart from the experiences of subjects there is nothing, nothing, nothing, bare nothingness" (1929, p. 254).
How does this relate to the rest of what I am talking about? For one thing, a process interpretation of reality is found in Buddhism, although the Buddhist version is atheistic. Whitehead knew very little about Buddhism, so this is not a case of indebtedness. Leibniz, Peirce, James, and Bergson were more relevant predecessors. Beyond the parallelism with Buddhism, process thought is of central importance to explaining how there can be unity with diversity and creative freedom.
We have seen that, according to process thought, there is nothing actual (nothing concrete , to use a technical term) but living experiences, which we also could call momentarily active minds. What do they do? They co-create themselves with God. God is present as the initial aim , or perfect plan, or divine proposal or offer, individually tailored for the experience in question. We can also call this divine initial aim the Christ , the indwelling presence of God offering perfect guidance to the experience. This guidance is not limited to human beings, but is found in everything. What the momentary experience doesþconsciously or not, and most of existence is below the level of self-consciousnessþis to choose between the competing influences of God's perfect plan, on the one hand, and the past, on the other. The past is made up of all the experiences that have finished their fleeting development. When an experience completes its choosing, within a fraction of a second, it changes from a subject (a unit of currently-developing awareness) into an object (a completed experience available for the awareness of all later experiences). Past experiences are forever kept perfectly in God.
Creativity must be unmediated; one's reward must be in the process of choosing, since after it the chooser has no experience. To be sure, later experiences will be influenced by one's choice almost as if there were an active, responsive Law, but this scarcely is what Troward had in mind. The reification ("thingification") of law is an instance of what Whitehead called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness , which is the mistaking of the abstract for the concrete. Laws are abstractions; they are descriptions summarizing how the world works; no law ever did anything. At best, Law is a poor name for an active side of God. God's offering of initial aim is an act of pure love, not law. Natural laws are not fixed, but are evolving habits of interaction of experiences. However, the pattern of creativity is changeless; I summarize it as PAST + PERFECT POSSIBLE (GOD'S OFFER) + CHOICE = NEW CREATION . It is changeless because it could not be otherwise; it is the way that everything has to be in order to be at all. It is the great metaphysical discovery of all time. There is nothing but this process producing new creation.
Perhaps I should add that many collections of living experience (such as stones and steel beams) correctly are called inanimate, and as collections, aggregates, they are lifeless, although the individual experiences that make them up are living. We need to be careful not to commit the fallacy of misplaced concreteness by considering the observable things to be concrete, since in reality they are abstracted from or built up of concrete living experiences.
Through God's steady reception of new experience, God is growing in content, but God's perfectly reliable loving character remains unchanged. Process thought answers the New Thought demand for a God who is perfectly impartial without falling into the common New Thought error of calling God called impersonal, when what is meant is impartial. For God, to be personal is to be self-conscious, rational, purposeful, and giving of perfect possibilities and appreciatively receiving of completed experiences. A God lacking the qualities of personhood would be less than we are. It would make no more sense to call such a cosmic zombie partial than impartial; such a pathetic blob of unconscious totality would be worthy of pity, not worship. The notion of a genuinely impersonal God is a thinly disguised atheism. It is only because God is perfectly personal that God is perfectly impartial.
For most later experiences, any particular earlier experience is likely to have little relevance and little, or practically no, influence. But some experiences are extremely relevant to their successors, some of them so closely associated with us that we call them ourselves, although they are such only abstractly, not concretely. The influence of highly relevant past experiences we may call karma or the principle that as we (our past selves) believed, so we (later selves in the line of development that we call ourselves) receive. We are somewhat like motion pictures, in which we are unaware of the separate frames, although there are only still photographs projected so rapidly that we interpret them as one continuing picture. So it is with ourselves. We have what I call serial selfhood. Our bodies are vast collections of many-at-a-time experiences not only guided by God but strongly influenced by the one-at-a-time minds that are ourselves. Bodies are composed of servant-experiences (themselves relatively free). All experiences are servants of God, so the entire universe (with whatever dimensions it may have) is God's body. In this sense, if one considers one's body to be part of, or within, oneself, there is nothing but God, a God who is rich in diversity, whose unity does not overwhelm the many.
The major concern of New Thought is healing , of every sort, whether of bodies, pocketbooks, or relationships. What is healing in Process New Thought perspective? Healing is the reduction of the contrast between the past and the perfect possibilities given by God. To know the divine nature of oneself or anyone else (or even to resort to medical assistance) is to dilute the negative weight of the past and thereby to make it easier for each new experience to choose the divine perfection (the Christ) presented to it. God as initial aim is present as the opening stage of development of each experience, and is recognizable clearly throughout the experience in cases in which the experience is essentially mystical.
Turning from Process New Thought to some simpler matters:
After considering broad treatments of civilizations in their religious and secular aspects, offered by such thinkers as Arnold Toynbee, F. S. C. Northrop, and Pitirim Sorokin, we might decide, with John Cobb that East and West are complementary, and that this is "very important" because
If it is correct, then we might be able to realize the ideal of a global culture that synthesizes the greatest achievements of our diverse civilizations. At least the encounter of East and West should offer the possibility to each of enrichment by the other without loss of its own soul. (1982, p. 67)
We have seen that New Thought has been a pioneer in blending Eastern and Western views. It has been and is a synthesizer, a catalyst, a way-shower. Moreover, it has underlain much of popular success literature, Norman Vincent Peale's Positive Thinking, Robert Schuller's Possibility Thinking, and much popular psychology.
It long has been recognized that New Thought can have a vital role in religion and in civilization at large. Many years ago INTA President James A. Edgerton, said that New Thought
not only builds new and better bodies and better conditions, but it should build new and better character, new and better service and, as an inevitable result, a new and better civilization.
We believe in the largest possible liberty. We have conceived the idea that it is possible to have organization with the blessings going out from co-operative effort without restrictions and limitations . . . (Holmes and Lathem, 1941, p. 94)
Congregational minister Gaius Glenn Atkins wrote in 1923 that
as long as understandings and ideals are fluid, as long as religion is under bonds to take account of all the elements which must be incorporated in it in order to enlarge and continue it, as long, in short, as the human spirit outgrows fixed forms in any region there is likely to be in religion itself something corresponding to the New Thought of to-day . . . (pp. 347-48)
Perhaps what the world needs most is a religion that lovingly includes diversity, that invites all people to turn within themselves to find their individualization of the universal Reality (of whatever name, or none), a religion that offers techniques for using their awareness of the ultimate presence to solve their daily problems. New Thought has been doing this for more than a century of inspiring people, healing them, and encouraging them to engage in what is new thought and practice for them.
Perhaps the best description for New Thought is William James's chapter title, "the religion of healthy-mindedness." Ervin Seale often referred to New Thought by this name. Whatever else healthy-mindedness may be, it is open-mindedness, a willingness to grow in understanding of oneself and of others, whether individuals or groups. It means reserving the right to change one's mind, to be "open at the top" for new growth stimulated by whatever new light may come, open to God's ever-new self-revelation in ourselves. Whatever our faiths, may we all welcome whatever new thought we discover, with or without capital letters.
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