Attraction...What Could This Be?

Dear Ajahns

I was going to put this post under the catergory of Kamma and Rebirth, but as I’ve not formally registered (on account of uncertainty about being able to commit my time fully for all workshops) I thought it more polite to place it in this Q & A category.

I was going to call this topic ‘law of attraction’…as it relates to one of the myths busted in workshop 1. However, I’m not sure ‘law of…’ applies to how I’m seeing this. So, anyway…

I’m wondering if there is something going on here? I mean, I ditched ‘law of…’ because I felt like that seemed to imply that it was something that just happened…sort of magically… Well, not ‘magically’ but like it’s…‘how things are’…one of the working principles of the universe…a part of Dhamma or something. (We use that phrase for kamma itself often…‘the law of kamma’…Was this phrased used in EBT?) But perhaps it (the law of attraction) is not like that…perhaps it involves ‘work’ on our part - whether we’re aware of it or not. (And perhaps this ‘work’ is similar to kamma in the sense of ‘cetana’? Have I used ‘cetana’ in the wrong sense?)

So for instance:

  1. In one of the readings of Workshop 3, I read that the Buddha stated that one could - if one had the supportive kamma - say ‘may I be reborn in the company of such and such people’ and that this would happen. Isn’t this sort of ‘attracting’ what you’re asking for? With the supportive kamma as the qualifier? And isn’t it possible for this kind of thing to happen within a lifetime? Is this sort of what the notion of adithana is alluding to (sorry, I’m sure I"ve mispelled that…but it’s translation is, I believe, ‘determination’?)

  2. The iddipadas. Isn’t that desire and energy sort of like actively setting yourself to go in a particular direction. And then because of your hard work (keeping all 4 going) you end up achieving your goal…i.e…you end up ‘attracting’ that which you set out to attract. Okay, perhaps I’m stretching the meaning of ‘attracting’. What do you think?

  3. Also what about the notion that we create our own world through how we perceive it. I mean, a constantly fearful being will see a world full of fear, even when there is safety present. Aren’t we attracting what we “put out” through our perceptions? And is it possible that this idea extends to future lives? And can this not extend, not just to perceptions, but also to thoughts and views?

I’m trying to figure out why this idea of the ‘law of attraction’ or ‘manifestation’ or ‘synchronicity’ is so popular in New Age. Yes, sometimes I believe it’s as simple as wishful, comforting thinking. But other times, the oddest coincidences seem to happen, and to some people (two I’m thinking of that I think have reasonably good virtue and aim to be very loving) they seem to happen rather frequently and I’m trying to put these into an EBT context and ask myself what could be going on here? Is it just coincidence?

I’m also reminded of the article Bhante Sujato posted a link to about telepathy and the telephone and so on… Could it be something like this going on? Some kind of low level psychic thing going on?

So is it possible that kamma is sometimes involved but that there are other factors, like how we view the world, what we want/the directions we set ourselves in and so on…?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on these particular confusions. Also, apologies if I’m going over old ground or anything that’s already been said elsewhere… I was getting so confused I thought it just best to ask in the end!

With metta and much gratitude for your time and for sharing your amazing knowledge.

Dear Kay,

since you asked explicitly for the Bhante’s opinion, I hope it is ok, if I try to figure out some aspects of your post.

I think, in the above quote from your post, you pretty much hit the nail on the head. It is not all Kamma, but everything is a result of cause (or conditions) and effect interlaced with a dash of random chance. The workings of Kamma are incIuded in the more general law of cause and effect, where Kamma, is strictly limited to the ethical domain of the cause and effect relationship.

So, why did the Buddha then talk about Kamma, when this is anyways again only cause and effect? I think, Kamma, was singled out as a separate “law” by the Buddha, because

  1. people at the time of the Buddha were already talking about Kamma and had wrong views about it; so the Buddha wanted to rectify this view,

  2. as Bhante Brahmali points out in the workshop and in one of his previous posts, Kamma being related to the ethical dimension is also very important for ones progress on the path.

Especially the second point is important, because in Buddhism we are concerned with making the right kind of kamma (as Bhante Brahmali pointed out in the second workshop), which leads to the joy, necessary to develop mindfulness, necessary to get into stillness, which facilitates insight…

All the rest that happens is chance and the usual cause and effect relationships, where depending on the conditions that one creates one thing out of a spectrum of possible options happens. The conditions of what can happen are influenced by the condition of the mind from which you are acting. We can see ourselves, that we usually create more favorable conditions, if we go through the day with a mind full of mettaa (or any of the four Brahmavihaaras). With such a mind, we often get through the day with few problems and lots of good feeling. However, if we go through the day with a grumpy mind, the sh*t seems to keep piling up on us. One should not forget though, that this is just the average experience. It can still happen that we get run over by a car or something like that.
There is an example in the Suttas, where one guy was run over by a cow (sorry I cant find the reference just now *), just after he became an Arahant: On the outset he thought he was enlightened. Then a deva told him that he was not, so he got very nervous and the deva told him about the Buddha. Then he left everything behind the very same day and travelled through half of India just to receive teachings from the Buddha! He found the Buddha and even disturbed the Buddha on his almsround. He got enlightened just after a very short teaching by the Buddha… and a short while later - BANG - the cow ran over him… Hilariously ironic, right? But, alas, he was on the safe shore when he died… An Arahat has by definition only the four Brahmavihaaras as his states of mind, and usually such wholesome mind states have a protective function, because this changes the set of conditions. So some consequences cannot play out, but obviously occasionally one can still meet tough luck. (Actually, I think the Sutta or the commentary said, that this was some old Kamma, that had to come to fruition in that same life, but I would rather like to see it as a tough luck…)

So regarding your specific examples:

  1. MN 41 (readings for Workshop 3): I think the main point here is, that the Buddha wants to stress the power of the 10 wholsome kinds of action, that can lead to a range of beneficial results, even up to full liberation. I posted the link to a Sutta Class on that particular Sutta given by Bhante Brahmali in the topic on “Kamma of unintentional actions”. And yes, I would agree with you, that the Buddha says here, that a strong desire in the mind can potentially have an influence on your rebirth. The purer and stronger the mind, the more powerfull the effect will be.
  2. As far as I understand it, the Buddha just stresses here a selection of faculties that are fundamental to enlightenment (i.e. they are necessary conditions for enlightenment). So also cause and effect…
    Cause and effect is also clearly represented, for example, in the sequence of the 7 enlightenment factors.
  3. I agree with you! Our current mind state is one of the considitions in the overall equation that leads to some result (some state of the mental and physical world within and around us), which we are confronted with in the next moment. Sometimes the result following from a certain set of conditions is more predictable, sometimes it is very hard to know what is going on, because we do not know all the conditions at work (plus there is always room for some uncertainty and some chance).

I hope you find this somewhat relevant to your post. Unfortunately, I am not knowledgable enough to link everything I say to the correct EB Suttas…

With much mettaa,

ADDED 2015-03-08

  • Linda was so kind to help me out with this and identified the Sutta I was referring to:
    Ud 1.10 "The Discourse about Bāhiya"
    Linda, thanks so much again!

… sorry, I forgot one important point of your question …

During the first workshop in Perth, there was a similar question as yours from the audience, saying that they think that the ‘law of attraction’ is fully compatible with Buddhism and that they do not understand how this can be busted. I think to remember that Bhante Sujato replied that he had no intention to bust a view where this is seen as a potential weak correlation, but that he was targeting at the cheesy, oversimplified and exaggerated New Age version of that law (these were not exactly his words, but that is how I understood him - if I am not mistaken).

I am not sure myself what this New Age position concerning of this ‘law’ exactly is, but I think there were some books quoted in that same session. I just checked, unfortunately, this was myth no 8 in the second session after the break (the first session ended with myth no 5 - last mind-moment determines rebirth). So unfortunately it was not recorded…

Take care and with much mettaa,

Dear Kay,

I agree with much of what you say here, and certainly attraction does play an important part in our lives. But the important point - and this also comes out in what you say - is that attraction only works when all sorts of other conditions are also present, such as the right sort of kamma.

The problem with the idea of attraction, at least as it is presented by some proponent of the idea, is that it is described as a law that works in isolation. A really good example of this is found on Wikipedia:

“One example used by a proponent of the law of attraction is that if a person opened an envelope expecting to see a bill, then the law of attraction would “confirm” those thoughts and contain a bill when opened. A person who decided to instead expect a cheque might, under the same law, find a cheque instead of a bill.”

It is when it is taken to this extreme that this law, in my opinion, becomes absurd and incompatible with Buddhism.

With metta.

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Dear Robert,

Thank you kindly for your very good and useful comments. They are much appreciated. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at the 2nd session that day so I missed that question! (However, I did get a chance to listen to the Buddhist Library version, thanks to the kind, generous beings that have posted the videos on this very forum!)

With Metta

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