By Appreciable Goodfaithpoet
James Allen’s title As a Man Thinketh comes from a passage in the Old Testament in the King James Version of the Bible. Proverbs Chapter 23:7, "Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats: For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee. The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words."
Allen’s message in As a Man Thinketh (even considering the false ideas that are mixed in at times) are, in my opinion, some of the finest and most motivating words ever crafted on the subject of personal responsibility. Unfortunately the false ideas could, in my opinion, also lead to spiritually and mentally unhealthy convictions.
Main Ideas of the book
The following ideas are truths that I plan to use on a personal level for the rest of my life as I strive to find enduring peace and happiness. I also want to share these wonderful thoughts with as many other people as I can.
Because of James Allen’s intelligent and concise wording, I find his ideas very, very difficult to summarize. I would usually paraphrase the main ideas when doing a book review, however, in most books that I have read there is a fair amount of wordiness that needs to be reduced and so it is easy to summarize the ideas. In my experience this is not really the case with the message of James Allen in his Book As a Man Thinketh. I have therefore simply typed up the quotes and added occasional comments where appropriate.
Beautiful and True Main Ideas from As a Man Thinketh by James Allen.
“But to think well of all, to be cheerful with all, to patiently learn to find the good in all - such unselfish thoughts are the very portals of heaven; and to dwell day by day in thoughts of peace toward every creature will bring abounding peace to their possessor.” (Allen, 1902).
“The vision that you glorify in your mind, the ideal that you enthrone in your heart – this you will build your life by, this you will become.” (Allen, 1902).
I love the quote that Allen included from Stanton Kirkham Davis as follows: “You may be. . . (doing a mundane job). . . but one day find yourself before an audience and then and there pour out the torrent of your inspiration. You shall lay down the saw and the plane and take upon yourself the regeneration of the world.” (Allen, 1902).
“The more tranquil a person becomes the more people reverence their spiritual strength, the greater their success, their influence, their power for good.” (Allen, 1902).
“THE aphorism, "As a man thinketh in his heart so is he," not only embraces the whole of a man's being, but is so comprehensive as to reach out to every condition and circumstance of his life. A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.” (Allen, 1902).
“You cannot travel within and stand still without.” (Allen, 1902).
“ Act is the blossom of thought, and joy and suffering are its fruits; thus does a man garner in the sweet and bitter fruitage of his own husbandry.” (Allen, 1902).
“. . . cause and effect is as absolute and undeviating in the hidden realm of thought as in the world of visible and material things.” (Allen, 1902).
“Circumstance does not make the man; it reveals him to himself.” (Allen, 1902).
“Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.” (Allen, 1902).
“A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.” (Allen, 1902).
“Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.” (Allen, 1902).
“Mind is the Master power that moulds and makes,
And Man is Mind, and evermore he takes
The tool of Thought, and, shaping what he wills,
Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills: —
He thinks in secret, and it comes to pass:
Environment is but his looking-glass.” (Allen, 1902).
“Blessedness, not material possessions, is the measure of right thought; wretchedness, not lack of material possessions, is the measure of wrong thought. A man may be cursed and rich; he may be blessed and poor.” (Allen, 1902).
“Law, not confusion, is the dominating principle in the universe; justice, not injustice, is the soul and substance of life; and righteousness, not corruption, is the molding and moving force in the spiritual government of the world. This being so, man has but to right himself to find that the universe is right; and during the process of putting himself right he will find that as he alters his thoughts towards things and other people, things and other people will alter towards him.” (Allen, 1902).
“Cherish your visions. Cherish your ideals. Cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts, for out of them will grow all delightful conditions, all heavenly environment, of these, if you but remain true to them your world will at last be built.” (Allen, 1902).
“Every action and feeling is preceded by a thought.” (Allen, 1902).
“Right thinking begins with the words we say to ourselves.” (Allen, 1902).
“As the physically weak man can make himself strong by careful and patient training, so the man of weak thoughts, can make them strong by exercising himself in right thinking.” (Allen, 1902).
“Calmness is power. Say unto your heart, ‘Peace, be still!’” (Allen, 1902). This is a very good stress management thought, it sounds like an excellent mantra for meditation!
“The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. . . The strong, calm man is always loved and revered. He is like a shade-giving tree in a thirsty land. . .” (Allen, 1902).
“A noble and Godlike Character is not a thing of favor or chance, but is the natural result of continued effort in right thinking. The effect of long-cherished association with God-like thoughts.” (Allen, 1902).
“. . . Man is the causer (though nearly always is unconsciously) of his circumstances. . . whilst aiming at a good end, he is continually frustrating its accomplishment by encouraging thoughts and desires which cannot possibly harmonize with that end.” (Allen, 1902).
“. . . a man's entire soul-condition. . . cannot be judged by another from the external aspect of his life alone.” (Allen, 1902).
“Aimlessness is a vice, and such drifting must not continue for him who would steer clear of catastrophe and destruction.” (Allen, 1902).
Paraphrase of Allen’s words, “The strength of character gained is the measure of our true success.”
Paraphrase of Allen’s words, “Let us fix our thoughts upon the faultless performance of our duty, no matter how insignificant the task may appear to be. In this way our thoughts can be gathered and focused and resolution and energy can be developed.”
“Strength can only be developed by effort and practice.” (Allen, 1902).
“Failure is one of the many pathways to attainment.” (Allen, 1902).
“Think strongly, attempt fearlessly, and accomplish masterfully.” (Allen, 1902).
“Having conceived of his purpose, a man should mentally mark out a straight path to its achievement, looking neither to the right nor to the left.” (Allen, 1902).
“He who has conquered doubt and fear has conquered failure.” (Allen, 1902).
“Thought allied fearlessly to purpose becomes creative force. . . (and enables a person to) become the conscious and intelligent wielder of his mental powers.” (Allen, 1902). I am not sure exactly what that means but it is worded so beautifully that it seems like poetry.
How the author approaches spiritual health
In this book review I want to focus mostly on the idea of Spiritual Health and the religious implications of Allen’s message as it compares to the doctrines found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
“The ‘divinity that shapes our ends’ is in ourselves; it is our very self.” (Allen, 1902). Is Allen saying that there is no God but our own self?
“There is a great law which is absolutely just, which cannot give good for evil or evil for good.” (That part of Allen’s writing is true. In the words of Jesus Christ, “Men cannot gather figs of thistles.”) This next part however is not true and in my opinion illustrates a situation where the words of scripture are being mixed with the false ideas of man, Allen follows the previous (paraphrased) message up with the next (paraphrased) idea, “With this knowledge we can look back on our past ignorance and blindness and know that our life is and always was justly ordered.” This life is not fair or justly ordered because some people use their freewill to harm and damage other people. It is in those times when God suspends the justly ordered part and allows innocent people, even with the purest thoughts, to suffer terribly. Only when this life is examined along with the next life does everything come out in a just way. In other words when Allen says, “Into your hands will be placed the exact results of your own thoughts” he needs to add something like – But not until you get to the next life.
It is hard to imagine in a way that Allen’s words were only published in 1902. As we read the Bible in the Book of Job in the Old Testament, It seems that Jobs friends were students of Joseph Allen’s ideas as they indicate that Job must have done something wrong and sinful to have caused him to suffer so many unfortunate events in his life. Of course the voice of God chastens Jobs friends and refutes these false ideas.
At the end of his book As a Man Thinketh, James Allen alludes to the moment of alarm recorded in the New Testament, where the disciples panic during a storm and wake Jesus to plead for help. In this story Jesus takes pity on them and calms the storm.
“Tempest-tossed souls, wherever ye may be, under whatsoever conditions ye may live, know this in the ocean of life the isles of Blessedness are smiling, and the sunny shore of your ideal awaits your coming. Keep your hand firmly upon the helm of thought. In the bark of your soul reclines the commanding Master; He does but sleep: wake Him. Self-control is strength; Right Thought is mastery.” (Allen, 1902). Notice in his conclusion, in Allen’s reference to this story of Jesus calming the storm from the New Testament he seems to be asserting that we do not need the help of Jesus to calm the storm. He is saying that we alone have the power to control the wind and the waves; that we need only awaken our inner thoughts to calm the storm. Perhaps this is true to some degree in reference to the calming of an internal emotional storm, (Unless we need medication in order to alter the chemistry of the brain to make such a calming possible,) however, physical storms are more difficult to control with only the power of positive thinking. Perhaps if we have enough faith this is possible, however it is my belief that we still need God in every circumstance in which we use the power of God as is illustrated in the following poem that I wrote.)
With Many Tears and No Regrets
By Appreciable Goodfaithpoet
Rising up high, with black, terrible power,
I see a storm forming, to give earth a shower.
Violent clouds boil right down toward me,
Bringing darkness so thick that I cannot see.
A storm fulfills its violent threats,
With many tears and no regrets.
There is no safe, dry place to hide,
When lightening strikes you from inside.
With a rush of noise and fear,
The raging flood is drawing near.
It smells of rotten leaves and pain,
The ugly power of beautiful rain.
This angry water from the sky,
Was once small droplets, miles high.
It now has gathered, fierce and cold,
To let its hate and wrath unfold.
In this world, there’s destruction and woe,
There's also a lesson each person should know.
God sends forth the rain on both evil and just.
And he also tries our patience and trust.
Yet, even this storm, that hides the sky,
Which glares at me, and bids me die,
Can also be stopped if it be our God’s will,
When Jesus says to the water, “Be Still.”
Perhaps some religionists spend a little too much time reading and pondering the writings of James Allen, such a course would certainly bring about the death of the doctrine of grace.
Allen says that, “A man’s weakness and strength, purity and impurity are his own and can only be altered by himself, never by another.” If this were entirely true there would be no chance of being “made perfect by the grace of Christ.”
While a man must use his agency to open the door to the grace of Jesus, it can be argued that without the help of Jesus he could never achieve perfection. Thus Allen’s words, “The human will, that force unseen, the offspring of a deathless soul, can hew a way to any goal, though walls of granite intervene,” is not entirely true of the spiritual journey to perfection. We need the power Jesus supplies in to overcome death and be able to live again as a being with the capacity to receive a fullness of joy. (Which requires both a spirit and a perfected and resurrected body – as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints believe. LDS people believe further that this part of salvation, the salvation of our physical bodies, will be a free gift to all who have ever lived upon the earth.)
James is correct in his assertion that Gold is not benefited any further by additional heating after the dross is burned away. However, men and the living God are not made of Gold. Jesus, though he was perfectly pure in thought, gained additional understanding and empathy about how to help those who are suffering because of the suffering he endured in the garden of Gethsemane. Similarly, men can gain greater compassion and sensitivity about the things that other people experience as they suffer even though pure and undeserving of punishment.
I wrote the following poem to illustrate this idea
By Appreciable Goodfaithpoet
There is a law to follow,
With a punishment affixed.
There’s poison you can swallow,
Though with truth it may be mixed.
If we break the rules in life,
While knowing what is right,
We find sorrow, guilt, and strife,
And weep through lonely night.
Yet, suffering comes to everyone,
Resulting from the fall.
We conquer this through God’s own son,
Who has endured it all.
The devil wants to cloud our mind,
So we'll think God’s love is lacking.
He distracts us from the perfect plan.
As his demons are attacking.
Remember the message that has been sent,
While sin does bring grief and sorrow,
All suffering is not punishment,
And, in God’s time, gets fixed tomorrow.
As the poem I wrote about suffering says, “All suffering is not punishment” for inner failings, some calamities have nothing to do with our character and everything to do with either the character of others or the fact that we live in a world that is unfair because it is a fallen and flawed world (This was caused by the temptations of the devil and the choices of Adam and Eve – as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints believe. Because of this reality we should not hold God accountable for the current state of the world or the evil that takes place in it.)
Why I chose the book
My father read As a Man Thinketh by James Allen as he was entering adulthood. He recommended it highly to me and that is why I chose to read it. My father really took the following passage from this book to heart during his 34 year teaching career, “In the light of this truth, what, then, is the meaning of "fighting against circumstances?" It means that a man is continually revolting against an effect without, while all the time he is nourishing and preserving its cause in his heart. That cause may take the form of a conscious vice or an unconscious weakness; but whatever it is, it stubbornly retards the efforts of its possessor, and thus calls aloud for remedy.” (Allen, 1902). My father would frequently ask himself, “Am I the cause of this problem in my classroom?” He said that it helped him a great deal in trying to be a good teacher.
I enjoyed reading As a Man Thinketh so much that I also examined commentary on the life of James Allen as well as a selected compilation of Allen’s other writings, by James H. Fedor. Fedor said of Allen, “James Allen . . . although removed (from me) by almost a century and the worlds that may lay between them, has nonetheless guided and shaped. . . (my) life. . .he led a quiet but productive life of medication and reflection. Allen drank deeply from the wisdom of the Bible but also gained much enlightenment from the Holy Books of the Far East. From his hours of study, personal meditation at the seaside, and his favorite pastime, gardening, Allen’s mind was fertile ground for a life of the spirit. As a Man Thinketh has been considered by many to be the ‘Grand Daddy’ of modern inspirational literature. It would be difficult. . . to determine how many people have been touched by this one book. . . conservative attempts to determine how many volumes have been sold number into the millions.”
Information that I learned
As a Man Thinketh by James Allen does not take into account genetic inheritance or physical disease and thus over-generalizes the source of all of the challenges and joys in life. James also alludes to Christian teaching while at the same time assaulting it at its most basic level. When James asserts that we are the only source of our condition and that it is all up to us he omits the Christian principle of the Grace of Jesus Christ (God’s divine help) from human relevance. This sets his readers up for frustration and ultimate failure. We do not build our heavenly mansions alone. We need Jesus to “prepare a place” for us in the “mansions of his Father.” Now it is “all up to us” in the sense that we must accept the Grace of Jesus Christ. However as we seek for knowledge all answers cannot be found within ourselves unless they are first transmitted into our soul through the power of the Holy Ghost.
Allen at times writes in long run-on sentences. Could it be that Allen focused so intensively on an idea, while accessing from his memory a great multitude of memorized things that his sentences need to be longer just to hold all of the ideas or were his ideas just fed to him one by one from his inspiration and genius? Did Allen simply keep thinking about ideas where most other men stopped and put a period?
Allen says, “Good thoughts and actions can never produce bad results; bad thoughts and actions can never produce good results.” In the case of our genetic inheritance we did not have the capacity to think at all as the process of forming our body started. The sperm and egg do not have the ability to reason because there aren’t any brain cells formed until some time after they unite. Therefore, our genetic inheritance could not have been a conscious choice on the part of any person in their own behalf.
Ideas I thought were interesting
When Allen says, “Composer, sculptor, painter, poet, prophet, sage, these are the makers of the after-world, the architects of heaven.” It sounds a little bit like new-age religion. Unfortunately Allen is wrong once again when he writes these beautiful but, in my opinion, misguided words. To illustrate this point, let us examine the following question, “Where is Heaven?” There is a religious shift in this world away from “traditional authoritarian religion.” Adherents of these new “conglomerate religions” pick and choose from every religion and accept and practice their own customized form of worship. However, this practice can never work for the doctrines or truths concerning the life following this one.
If believers could create their own customized heaven or existence after this life, it could never be truly granted for each member of these conglomerate religions unless the future heaven imagined by one believer did not include those friends and family who had created an entirely different kind of heaven (though their customized beliefs) for themselves. After all, which heaven would be granted and how would God decide which believers would be forced to forever endure a particular heaven so as to complete the expectation that family and friends would be present to provide good company for the individual.
The empty heaven that this system would require would be no heaven at all. Even if you created a heaven where you could populate it with fake imaginary people, wouldn’t you always know that they were merely robots that lacked free-will? The truth about the future heavens that the children of God will inherit, as well as the requirements for those who desire to reach the highest heaven must be consistent and emanate from our universal Father in Heaven. Our life after this one has a definite appointed destination, which is determined by what we do here on this earth. Therefore, it is very important that we find the truth about God and his plan and embrace it fully. It is understandable that Conglomerate religions can indeed be appealing, after all, you can pick and choose which commandments of God you will be required to follow. It is very convenient to leave out the ones that cause you any challenge or difficulty in following. After all, you still have your personal assurance that you will still arrive in your idea of heaven after this life.
Being a member of a specific denomination does not, in and of itself, guarantee that we are not really a member of a conglomerate religious practice. If we incorporate only some of the commandments of God in our lives and then spend the rest of our time worshiping the idols of consumerism and evil pleasure, we are no better off than those who claim no denomination. The key is to find the truth about God and the truth about the way things will be after this life and then to do all things that God has commanded us, through the divine help that God can give us in following his ways.
The audience to which the author is writing
I believe that James Allen’s motives were pure as he wrote this work. Allen taught that, “Life is a combination of habits, some baneful, some beneficent, all of which take their rise in the one habit of thinking. The thought makes the man, therefore right-thinking is the most important thing in life. The essential difference between a wise man and a fool is that the wise man controls his thinking, the fool is controlled by it . . . He who controls himself, controls his life, and wherever he goes he carries his happiness with him as an abiding possession. I believe that James Allen created this work in an effort to increase the happiness and success of humanity.
Why are Allen’s thoughts so attractive and compelling? Is it not because it simplifies the condition of man allowing those who are prosperous, healthy and of a stout moral fiber to believe firmly that all who are diseased and unhappy must be somehow to blame for their condition? This simplistic view is attractive because it excuses its possessor from any responsibility in alleviating the “suffering” that the universe is dealing out so fairly and justly and automatically to all who reside within it.
Allen’s ideas that, “a strong man cannot help a weaker unless that weaker is willing to be helped, (and even then the weak man must become strong all on his own without any help from God,) he must, by his own efforts, develop the strength which he admires in another. None but himself can alter his condition.” Here Allen seems to indicate that it is futile to help those who are weak, so why even try.
The true reality is that even if I give a hungry man a crust of bread from my garbage can, before the city workers haul it to the dump, I have helped him and altered his condition. Even if he refuses to eat it, he knows that someone cared enough to toss the morsel in his direction. Further more, my compassionate act may be the source of inspiration which opens the internal path for God to work a change on this man even while he is not capable of achieving such a change on his own.
In certain passages of As a Man Thinketh one may wonder very briefly if this is a work is a message for the aristocracy, targeted for the group who, after all, has the most purchasing power, written for those who wish to sit upon their thrones of high achievement, blessedness and influence and congratulate themselves upon their great and harmonious relationship with the universe which has resulted of course solely from their purity of thought.
Let us feel sincere pity for the person who is acquainted with privilege and wealth and power and reads and believes every word of James Allen. If a reversal of wealth or health, through no fault of their own, should come upon them. For they may be tortured with the persistent belief that there were always voices whispering just out of ear shot, “Did you hear about so-and-so I wonder what bestial thoughts they were secretly entertaining to have brought upon themselves such a tragic fate? Well, look at that, Allen was right - it is just a matter of time until what we love most brings us either great happiness or if we love impure thoughts, to loneliness, poverty and disease.” I would think that having espoused the beliefs set forth by Allen, that they would then suffer depression of the worst kind as they fought off thoughts about their being the only weak person of all their acquaintance that was playing discordant and unharmonious notes in the blessed symphony of high society.
How you have changed after reading the book
Whenever we receive new information, we must choose whether to assimilate or reject the information. In the case of this book, it has taken me a great deal of time to go through this process. Part of the reason that I originally chose this book, I am ashamed to admit, is because it was brief. However, I have been on a profound (and, in a good way, a somewhat time consuming) journey to separate out this message into the appropriate categories. One of the more difficult parts of this process, is that there were many parts that I wanted to be true but had to ultimately reject.
If you would, or would not recommend this book to others, and why or why not
After reading this book I’ve decided that I have a love-dislike relationship with the Book. I absolutely love the parts that are beautiful and true. I dislike the parts that are beautiful and false. It is my belief however, that we do not have the direct writings of the only perfect person who lived on this earth (though it is likely that he did write some words during his mortal life and most certainly did write upon the stone tablets with his finger as the God of Israel (as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints believe) at Mount Sinai of course, these tablets had to be re-created by Moses after he threw the original ones to the ground and shattered them. Because we do not have the written words from a perfect person we cannot lightly accept every word from an author as being automatically true. We must instead weigh each word and choose to believe only those words which are indeed true.
Because I feel this way, I would gladly recommend the words of James Allen to any reader with the confidence they could benefit greatly by the portion of his beautiful message that is true. At the same time, I believe that critical thinking is not the same thing as cynicism. I believe that more enlightenment has been accomplished in this world through childlike and simple faith that through the combined efforts at research and scholarship down through the ages.
I believe further that many things are believed, not because they are true but because they are motivating. I believe that this is case with many of Allen’s assertions.
Any other appropriate and interesting things you might feel inspired to include
Alluring, yet false, Main Ideas from As a Man Thinketh by James Allen.
“Not what he wishes and prays for does a man get, but what he justly earns. His wishes and prayers are only gratified and answered when they harmonize with his thoughts and actions.”
“. . .This does not mean that a man's circumstances at any given time are an indication of his entire character. . .” (Allen, 1902). Allen does admit here that there are exceptions to his sweeping generalizations.
While it is true that, “Spiritual achievements are the consummation of holy aspirations. (And that) he who lives constantly in the conception of noble and lofty thoughts, who dwells upon all that is pure and unselfish, will, as surely as the sun reaches its Zenith, and the moon its full, become wise and noble in character, and rise into a position of influence and blessedness.” Allen fails to point out that this ascension to blessedness may not occur until after death. Jesus was an example of this. He was mistreated and pursued until he was tortured and killed.
The biggest example (In my opinion) of where James Allen is completely and totally wrong is found in the passage where he says, “Suffering is always the effect of wrong thought in some direction. It is an indication that the individual is out of harmony with himself, with the law of his being. The sole and supreme use of suffering is to purify, to burn out all that is useless and impure. There could be no object in burning gold after the dross had been removed, and a perfectly pure and enlightened being could not suffer.”
If someone really believed this then they may end up thinking that unless life is perfect that God must be angry at them and is punishing them. It is interesting to note in the life of James Allen that his book As a Man Thinketh is the only book out of the 19 other books that he wrote that had enduring popularity as a separate volume.
As we examine his other works we see some dangerously inaccurate doctrine even more clearly. Allen seeks to attribute every outcome in life to the attitude and inner dialogue of each thinker of thoughts. A few days of experimentation are sufficient for a person to easily disprove this doctrine. Allen was influenced by Biblical teaching but apparently did not in my opinion believe the most important things that the New Testament teaches. The New Testament clearly teaches throughout its pages that Jesus Christ was perfect and always had perfect thoughts. As we consider the doctrines that James Allen taught we would need to come to the conclusion that because Jesus had to endure terrible circumstances and suffer greatly that he must have had secret impure thoughts which led to his problems. The gentle reader may feel that I am being overly critical, however, let us listen to the words of Allen himself on this matter. In chapter 10 of his book Above Life’s Turmoil Allen stated, “Every impure and selfish thought that you send out comes back to you in your circumstances in some form of suffering; every pure and unselfish thought returns to you in some form of blessedness. Your circumstances are effects of which the cause is inward and invisible.” I believe that this is a dangerous and a false belief if we understand it in the comprehensive and universal way that Allen intended it. Allen said further that, “If your dominant mental attitude is peacable and lovable, bliss and blessedness will follow you; if it is resistant and hateful, trouble and distress will cloud your pathway, out of ill-will will come grief and disaster. Out of good will, healing and reparation.” Jesus is such a good example of the truth in this matter. Jesus was perfect and yet he suffered and was put to death. However, after his mortal life was over all of his losses were made up to him when he was resurrected and received the reward that his Father in Heaven had for him.
In As a Man Thinketh Allen also said, “The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors, that which it loves, and also that which it fears. It reaches the height of its cherished aspirations. It falls to the level of its unchastened desires - and circumstances are the means by which the soul receives its own.” (Allen, 1902). I believe this is only true if you look beyond the circumstances of this life.