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Power of Thought: A Twenty-First century Adaptation of Annie Besant's Classic Work, Thought Power

Power of Thought: A Twenty-First century Adaptation of Annie Besant's Classic Work, Thought Power

by John Algeo, Shirley J Nicholson

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Theosophist Annie Besant (1847-1933) drew from the ancient wisdom of the East to explore the deep recesses of the mind. The original edition was published in 1903 and has been in print ever since. Now leading contemporary Theosophists have painstakingly revised the text to free its timeless truths from the time-bound language of the early twentieth century and make it


Theosophist Annie Besant (1847-1933) drew from the ancient wisdom of the East to explore the deep recesses of the mind. The original edition was published in 1903 and has been in print ever since. Now leading contemporary Theosophists have painstakingly revised the text to free its timeless truths from the time-bound language of the early twentieth century and make it more accessible to today's readers. The result is a clear discussion of subjects of increasingly high interest: concentration, memory, consciousness, telepathy, sleep and dreams, cultivation of the will, and access to your higher self.

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The Power of Thought

A Twenty-First Adaptation of Annie Besant's Classic Work, Thought Power

By John Algeo, Shirley J. Nicholson

Theosophical Publishing House

Copyright © 2001 Theosophical Society in America
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8356-0797-1



* * *


Thought is power by which we know the world around us and other people. And by our thought we affect the world for good or for ill.

Thought also gives us the capacity to know ourselves. And by our thought we can recreate ourselves.

The right use of all knowledge is to improve life for ourselves and others.

The thinker is a conscious self working in matter.

Consciousness and matter are the two expressions of the ultimate One Reality, the source of all that is and the potential source of all that can be.

Each of us is a "self"—a quantum or ray of consciousness of the One Self, Primordial Consciousness, or One Reality.

As a self, we function by knowing, willing, and energizing matter—from which arise thoughts, desires, and actions.

The "not-self" is the self's perception of everything outside itself including all other separated selves as well as our own thoughts, desires, and physical bodies.

The relationship between the self (or knower) and the not-self (or that which is known) is "knowing":


THOUGHT IS POWER—real power, objective power. It is not just something subjective in our heads. Our thoughts have energy and a kind of material reality by which they affect other people and color the mental atmosphere around us.

We can learn to use the power of thought to make ourselves a positive force in the world by helping others. We can use this power to discover who we really are, thus fulfilling the ancient command to "Know yourself." We can use this power to develop what is best in our nature and so achieve a fuller, more productive, happier, and more useful life. This short book can help us to utilize better the powerful energy of our thoughts and our thinking.

We share our world with all other living beings. The very air we breathe in and out is air that others all around us have already breathed. It has already been in the lungs and bloodstreams of countless others, and each organism that uses the air modifies it by taking something out of it and adding something to it. Animals take out oxygen and add carbon dioxide; plants reverse the process. And each of us may add microorganisms, such as flu bugs, to the air we breathe. So with every breath, we take into ourselves something of all the other breathing creatures on this planet. In sharing the same air, we share ourselves with others.

We live, however, not just in a physical environment, but also in emotional, mental, and other environments. We influence all those environments, and they in turn influence us, just as much as we and our physical surroundings are mutually influential. Our planet's atmosphere includes not only the physical air, but also emotions and thoughts. We live in an atmosphere of feeling and thinking just as surely as we live in an atmosphere of gasses. The total ecology of our planet thus has physical, emotional, and mental dimensions.

We can think of those nonphysical environments as worlds made of kinds of matter that are subtler than the physical stuff around us and not perceptible through our sense organs—but matter nonetheless. Feelings and thoughts are forms in that nonphysical matter. And just as we can make and unmake forms in the physical world, so we can make and unmake those emotional and mental forms. All of us are continually modifying our shared subtle environment as well as our physical one. We can learn to shape our world consciously and deliberately.

Thought is a creative power. It makes actual forms in the thought atmosphere around us that affect the way we and others habitually respond to the world. Thus a knowledge of how the power of thought operates can help us to understand the world around us and to find meaning in life. Knowledge about how thought works can also lead us to recognize the limits of what we know and to realize that we do not perceive things as they really are. It can help us relate to others and gain self-knowledge.

Our ultimate ignorance is not knowing who we are. Philosophical and religious traditions throughout human history have called that knowledge the most important thing in the world. Over the entrance to the temple at Delphi, the Greeks inscribed the motto "Know thyself." The great Hindu philosophical treatises of the Upanishads say that knowledge of our own identity lets us know everything else we need to know. Alexander Pope in An Essay on Man wrote, "All our knowledge is ourselves to know." If we do not know who or what we are, we cannot value ourselves or do anything right. As Tennyson wrote in his poem Oenone:

    Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control,
    These three alone lead life to sovereign power.

Knowing who we are (self-knowledge) lets us understand our worth (self-reverence) and the way to use the power latent within us (self-control) for the benefit of the whole world, including ourselves (sovereign power).

How can we gain self-knowledge? If someone asks us who we are, we are likely to respond with our name or information about our occupation, family relationships, and other such external facts. But those facts certainly do not get at the core of us. If we ask ourselves who we are, the answer may be harder to come by. We may not know who we are. One aim of this book is to help its readers use the power of thought to answer that most important question, "Who am I?"

Part of the insight we need to answer that question is learning the difference between our self as thinker and the thoughts we create, which have a kind of life of their own. This book suggests ways to gain power over our thoughts rather than letting them have power over us. It teaches us to free our capacity for thought by learning to concentrate and deliberately to use thought for good ends. It shows how powerful thought can be when applied to making life better, fuller, and more satisfying. This practical knowledge is based on a particular way of looking at our own nature and the nature of the world around us.

The materialist view that dominates ordinary Western science regards thought as a byproduct of the brain. That view is captured in the nineteenth-century epigraph: "The brain secretes thought as the stomach gastric juice, the liver bile, and the kidneys urine." That statement—grossly materialistic as it is—contrasts with one by an early expounder of Theosophy, Kuthumi Lal Singh: "Thoughts are things." Despite the superficial likeness between the two statements in their shared assertion of the materiality of thought, the two views are metaphysically worlds apart because Theosophy also acknowledges a thinker—a self—who generates the things that are thoughts.

* * *

As he thinks in his heart, so is he.

—Proverbs 23.7

* * *

* * *

Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed.

—Blaise Pascal

* * *


In studying human nature, we need to distinguish our inner self (our core essence, which is who we really are) from the "vehicles" or "bodies" we use. We normally think of our bodies as ourselves, but as we will see, our bodies are in fact aspects of the not-self. As mentioned above, there are many sorts of matter in the world in addition to the dense physical stuff we experience through our senses; and we have bodies composed of each of those sorts of matter. The various sorts of matter are sometimes called "planes" of matter (though that is a metaphor and they are not two-dimensional or layers). They are sometimes described as "fields" because they do not have the kind of solidity and density we associate with physical matter and bodies made of it. Here we are concerned with five sorts of matter and the bodies we use that are made of each of them. These bodies are the non-self that the self experiences most directly:

1. the dense physical, which is what we ordinarily understand as our body,

2. the vital (also called "etheric"), which is a subtler counterpart of the physical and is closely related to it as the channel of our life energy,

3. the emotional (also called "astral"), which embodies desires, fears, and all other feelings,

4. the lower or concrete mental, what we normally think of as our mind, our thinking function, closely connected with emotions, vitality, and the physical brain,

5. the higher or abstract mental (also called "causal"), which is the body for our essential self of individual identity, which links our repeated incarnations together despite their different lower mental, emotional, etheric, and dense physical bodies.

Each of these bodies is made of a characteristic kind of matter, subtler than that of the preceding one. Each kind of matter constitutes a "plane" or "field." Together, the etheric, emotional, lower mental, and higher mental bodies form what is sometimes called the human "aura." They have been described as spheres of light surrounding and interpenetrating the physical body, which anchors them to the dense physical world.

If we think of these bodies in terms of Jungian psychology, the dense physical is the channel for sensations; the etheric is the channel for the flow of the libido or vital energy; the emotional is the channel for feelings; the lower mental is the channel for thinking; and the higher mental is the channel for intuitions and for contacting the collective unconscious.

We are none of those bodies, but we act, live, feel, think, and intuit through them. "We"—our core self—is a unit of consciousness emanated from the one primordial consciousness, the One Self or God (called the "Logos" in Greek), as a ray of light shines forth from the sun or a quantum is part of the infinite radiant energy of the universe. As this core self, we function through our causal body by knowing, willing, and energizing the world around us; and from those functions come thoughts in our mental body, desires in our astral body, and actions in our physical and etheric bodies.

We don't usually consider the stuff of thoughts and desires to be matter, but that is exactly what it is in this view. These kinds of matter are much subtler and more tenuous than physical stuff, but they are matter all the same. We live in a world of interpenetrating fields—dense, etheric, emotional, mental, and causal. It's all there at once, all around us. And all these forms of matter are variations of a basic root-stuff or primal matter, just as solids, liquids, and gasses are all variations of the same physical particles. We don't know that basic root-stuff directly any more than we do the primordial consciousness; we know both only through their manifestations in the world around us and in ourselves.

Just as physical things are made out of dense physical matter—mountains, apple trees, and squirrels—so too emotional and mental things are made out of emotional and mental matter. We are surrounded by emotional and mental environments, just as we are by a physical environment. We have an emotional and a mental body through which we feel and think, just as we have a physical body through which we act. And there are emotional and mental forms in the emotional and mental environmental atmospheres all around us, just as there are physical forms like mountains, apple trees, and squirrels in the physical environment around us.

* * *

We are slowly recovering ... the knowledge which was universal in the ancient world, that there is no such thing as matter apart from mind or consciousness.

—Father Bede Griffith

* * *

In our essence, however, we are none of this. We are no more our mental bodies than we are our physical bodies. We are a focus of consciousness, a self, that knows it exists. But the self trying to perceive itself is like an eye trying to see itself. Yet the self is that consciousness—that conscious, feeling, ever-existing awareness—by which we each know that we exist.

We can never think of ourselves as nonexistent or believe "I am not." The self-affirmation "I am" stands before and beyond all argument. No proof can make it stronger; no disproof can weaken it. Both proof and disproof are based on the recognition of "I am," the unanalyzable feeling of existence, of which nothing can be predicated except increase and diminution. "I am more" is the expression of pleasure; "I am less" is the expression of pain. But "I am" is the given fact.

When we observe this "I am," we find that it expresses itself in three different ways. First, it knows, that is, it reflects within itself things that are outside itself; from the viewpoint of the separate self, each of those outside things is a not-self, something other than the self of the knower. Those not-selves include all the mountains, apple trees, and squirrels in the world, as well as all the nebulas and molecules; they also include all other selves that are not ourselves. So the "I am" knows and says "I think." Second, the "I am" wills and says "I desire." And third, the "I am" energizes and says "I act." These are the three affirmations of the essential self, the "I am."

The self manifests in our worlds in just these three ways: thinking, desiring, and acting. As all the infinite colors of the spectrum arise from the three primary ones, so the numberless expressions of the self all arise from knowledge, will, and energy, expressed in thinking, desiring, and acting. These are powers inherent in human nature that are brought from latency and improved through evolution.

The self as knower, the self as wilier, the self as energizer—they are the One Self in eternity and are also the root of our individuality in time and space. Our present concern, however, is especially with the self as knower. And that leads to taking a closer look at the difference between "self" and "not-self."

* * *

The thoughts that come often unsought, and, as it were, drop into the mind, are the most valuable of any we have, and therefore should be secured, because they seldom return again.

—John Locke

* * *


The world as we perceive it in its five levels of matter contains just two things: our self and everything else, the self and the not-self. This perception reflects an important metaphysical principle.

Western materialism has adopted the principle that dense physical matter is the fundamental reality in the world and that everything, including consciousness and thought, is either a form or a secondary effect of that matter, an "epiphenomenon." The view here is quite different: the underlying Reality has two poles, matter and consciousness, just as a magnetized bar has positive and negative poles. Reality itself is a third unknowable something different from either matter or consciousness, but from which they both arise and in which everything that can be is latent. We can call it the "One Reality," but like the Chinese sage Lao Tzu, we cannot say anything about it: "The way that can be talked about is not the real Way; the name that can be spoken is not the real Name." Like the voice Moses heard from the burning bush, it only says to us, "I am." Because it is potentially everything, we can say nothing else about it, for to say that it is this or that would be to limit it.

Though we cannot define it, we experience that One Reality both as consciousness and as matter. The conscious aspect of the world is also called "the life side," and the material aspect "the form side." The consciousness inside us is our essential "self"; the matter all around, including our five bodies, is "not-self."

Though they both inhere in the One Reality, the conscious self in us is a knower and what it knows is the not-self. The relationship between these two poles is knowing. That knowing is supremely important because it is the way we come into contact with other selves, and it is also a way we come to the knowledge of ourselves, of who we are. Knowledge of the not-self is gained by thinking, and thinking can also help us come to self-knowledge—the most important thing in the world.

The power of thought is useful for achieving all sorts of practical, mundane things in our personal lives. It can make us happier, more effective, better in our jobs and relationships, more satisfied with our lives. And such use of thought power is one subject of this book. But the most important use of thought power is to help us discover who we are and how we relate to the not-self around us. That is the primary focus of this book.

We begin by distinguishing our "self" from the "not-self." As already suggested, the not-self includes mountains, apple trees, and squirrels, but also our own fivefold bodies. The self is the knower, and our bodies—physical, etheric, emotional, mental, and causal—are the most intimate and immediate part of the not-self we can gradually come to know.

* * *

The power of thought—the magic of the mind.


The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven.

—John Milton


Excerpted from The Power of Thought by John Algeo, Shirley J. Nicholson. Copyright © 2001 Theosophical Society in America. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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