A few years ago, several delegates on the personal development training courses I deliver started asking me if I had heard of the Law of Attraction.
Many of them had read Rhonda Byrne’s book, The Secret or Joe Vitale’s The Key which teach that “your thoughts and your feelings create your life” and more significantly that the events (good and bad) that we attract into our lives reflect our inner reality. There was a real buzz around the LOA – it was a new way of looking at life, happiness and suffering. Or was it?
In fact, as Vitale explains, Byrne was not the first to explore this idea. Back in 1906 American author and merchant William Walker Atkinson wrote: “We speak of the Law of Gravitation but ignore the equally wonderful ‘Law of Attraction’ in the Thought World, the mighty Law that draws to us the things we desire or fear, that make or mar our lives.”
But Atkinson was not the first to speak of this Law either. Because Shakyamuni Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) revealed it 3,000 years ago in The Lotus Sutra.
A deeper and more complete concept of the LOA is in fact at the core of the philosophy of Nichiren Daishonin, who in 13th century Japan first chanted the mantra Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, where the words ‘Myoho Renge’ mean (amongst other things) ‘Mystic Law of Cause and Effect’. Nichiren explains: “It is called the Mystic Law because it reveals the principle of the mutually inclusive relationship of a single moment of life and all phenomena.”
OK, what does that mean, you may ask? I love this explanation from the novel The Buddha, Geoff and Me, where author Edward Canfor-Dumas eloquently describes this Mystic Law as the “mystical, invisible thread between the churning, inner reality of my life and the great outdoors of the rest of the world.”
Millions of fans of the LOA enthuse that it has made them feel happier and also more responsible for the results they achieve in their lives. They say it is a teaching of great optimism and a positive way to approach daily challenges such as relationships, health, career and money. Enthusiastic Buddhists say the same about Buddhism, whilst emphasising that Nichiren Buddhism includes other people’s happiness as well as your own. And the LOA has spawned a big and lucrative ‘industry’ of seminars, webinars and workshops (focused quite heavily on followers gaining material riches.)
But critics of the LOA point out that some practitioners keep consciously trying to think new thoughts and feel new emotions but somehow don’t manage to ‘manifest’ results. Or that sometimes they do get what they want, but not always, so how can it be a reliable ‘Law’ (in the way that gravity is an unerring Law of the universe?) They then get frustrated and give up on their dreams, in fact they’re more unhappy than before, because their expectations have been raised and then dashed. The LOA teachers, they say, have over-promised and under-delivered. Followers can start to think of themselves as failures, or to doubt that the Law of Attraction exists or works. (Critics rather wittily call it the ‘Flaw of Attraction’.) In response, LOA fans say that they’re not trying hard enough, don’t believe strongly enough or haven’t changed their subconscious mind enough for the environment to respond in kind.
In my experience of 28 years as a Buddhist, to become truly and deeply happy is indeed a matter of faith, blood, sweat, patience and tears. Of confronting head-on the harsh realities of daily life and creating value and beauty from them. We call this process ‘Human Revolution’ in Nichiren Buddhism and when you’re changing a really deep aspect of karma (for example mental health, career or relationships) it can feel like every day produces new and bigger obstacles. Nichiren himself said that obstacles are an inevitable sign of progress and that when faced with challenges, “The wise rejoice and the foolish retreat.” Incidentally, in my coaching sessions I also make it clear to clients that the people who have the biggest breakthroughs are, without exception, the ones who take action and put the work in between sessions, based on the insights they have had.
So Buddhism does not over-promise in terms of quick results, and chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is absolutely not a magic wand or a ‘quick-fix cosmic ordering service’, however much I may sometimes wish it was! 🙂 Changing your destiny takes time. And many Buddhists will admit to having one particular ‘karmic Achilles heel’, a situation or repeated patterns in their lives that are taking many years to transform.
I have come to the conclusion that LOA has strong parallels with Nichiren Buddhism, but that Buddhism goes deeper. Two levels deeper than the subconscious mind in fact, (see article here on the 9 levels of consciousness) arguing that to really change your life, you need to access your Buddhahood by chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo and transform your karma, the depths of your life containing effects from previous lifetimes, not just the more surface ‘thoughts and feelings’ of your subconscious mind described by LOA practitioners. Understandably most LOA teachers tend to stop short of tackling the knotty issue of karma, for sound ethical reasons and because reincarnation is impossible to prove.
Incidentally Nichiren Buddhism goes wider as well as deeper than the LOA, because absolute happiness in Buddhism includes the happiness of others and a dedication to transforming the age of war, injustice and destruction in which we live. In this sense, it also goes beyond techniques such as CBT, NLP and mindfulness therapy.
So… in summary: I like the LOA. I especially love the way that authors and coaches like Byrne and Vitale explain so simply and eloquently how Life works – to be honest sometimes they do it in a simpler and more accessible way than Buddhists do. But I also feel that the LOA is, ultimately, ‘Buddhism Lite’. So if:
- the LOA isn’t working for you,
- you want to make deep, wide and lasting changes to your life and the lives of those around you,
- you’re prepared to fight obstacles, change your karma and be patient…
… then now might be the time to use the powerful tool that is chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. It gets below your conscious and subconscious mind. It reaches the parts that other mantras do not reach. It is, to practitioners, the ‘Daddy of all affirmations.’ It can bring you happiness and fulfilment on a completely different scale. It will connect you to the ‘bigger self’ Buddha in you that yearns for the absolute happiness of all humanity. And, if you’ll pardon the pun, that’s part of its Attraction to 12 million Nichiren Buddhists around the world.
PS. My post on Nam Myoho Renge Kyo explains why coaching and hypnosis can be very powerful but that it takes prayer to transform your heart.
PPS. The book I am currently writing will contain a more complete comparison of Buddhism and the Law of Attraction.
PPPS (this is the last one, promise!) If you enjoyed this post, you may also like, ‘Why don’t Buddhists believe in God? Or do they?‘