Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"The Secret" Laid Bare

My first glance of this book a few weeks ago already raised some warning bells. Last Sunday, the book was mentioned by the preacher. I decide to take a second look at the book, and true enough, it only confirms my initial suspicions. I have been reluctant to give this book any more attention than it already has. However, with the rising interest and the runaway sales at major book stores, it is becoming more of a concern that people are starting to show interest in such a book that enthrones the self almost completely. Here is my take on the book.

It has sold more than 7 million copies, made into a film and even recommended by Oprah. Touted as an ancient ‘secret’ waiting to be discovered, the author Rhonda Byrne, brings together a host of success, motivational speakers with famous people from ancient times under the guise of ‘The Secret.” Riding on the credibility of 24 contributors, and many prominent people from history, and selected testimonies from the public, she provides a formula on the secret toward all kinds of things people desire in this life.
  • Secret to Money
  • Secret to Relationships
  • Secret to Health
  • Secret to the World
  • Secret to yourself
  • Secret to Life
What exactly is the secret? It is the way to persistently think one's thoughts into tangible things. No reference to any need to renew the mind. No teaching about the need to love one's neighbour. Everything about the secret is self-fulfillment to the power of self interest.

In June 2007, ChristianityToday published a scathing criticism on Byrne's book, arguing that Oprah and millions of readers can be wrong. The main problem lies with the overwhelming obsession with the self. This is very true. For example, the 'secret summaries' in the book lists some very disturbing narcissistic teachings. Let me quote from the book:
  • "You get to fill the blackboard of your life with whatever you want.
  • "The only thing you need is feel good now."
  • "Do what you love..."
  • "....Whatever you choose is right. The power is all yours."
[Rhonda Byrne, The Secret, NY: Atria Books, 2006, p184]
The Australian online newspaper recently published a "Secret to Rhonda's Secret" that reveals the controversial author's legal problems.
Newsweek magazine's senior editor Jerry Adler is not very forgiving in his review of Byrne's book.
Adler concludes that on an ethical level, “The Secret” appears deplorable. It concerns itself almost entirely with a narrow range of middle-class concerns - houses, cars and vacations, followed by health and relationships, with the rest of humanity a very distant sixth. And on the scientific level, the law of attraction is preposterous. Two of the “teachers” in the film are identified as quantum physicists, which they are, although on the fringes of mainstream science. One, Fred Alan Wolf, is mostly an author of science books with a quasi-mystical bent, and the other, John Hagelin (who has run for president on the Natural Law ticket), is affiliated with Maharishi University of Management, in Fairfield, Iowa, which does research on transcendental meditation. Both of them, contacted by Newsweek, distanced themselves from the idea of a physical law that attracts objects such as necklaces to people who wish for them. “I don’t think it works that way,” says Wolf dryly. “It hasn’t worked that way in my life.” Hagelin acknowledges the larger point, that “the coherence and effectiveness of our thinking is crucial to our success in life.” But, he adds, “this is not, principally, the result of magic.” (Quoted in ReligionNewsBlog)
Dr Donald Whitney of BiblicalSpirituality commented that
The Secret is nothing more than Name It-Claim It, Positive-Confession, Prosperity Theology (without God and the Bible), built on a foundation of New Age self-deification.
The Law of Attraction
Basically, the book is about a self-help device that uses the mind to call upon things that one desire. This law claims that you can essentially think your way into getting what you want. The mind is like a magnet that one can use to attract things using thoughts. If one think positive things, it will eventually become reality. These positive thoughts exist on a secret frequency that when summoned will flow into the hands of the one thinking it. Weird isn't it? Not to many people who are believing the book contents log, stock and barrel.

This book belongs to the library of New Age spirituality. In a world where people are increasingly unhappy, they will grab at ANYTHING that offers some glimmer of hope.
  1. Rhonda is an experienced TV producer. She knows how to attract attention via skillful use of the media.
  2. Her book includes 24 popular success personalities. "The Secret" is like a Yellow-Pages of Success helpers. The so-called contributors (who are currently alive) of the book have included their web contacts for readers to call them. Are they 'attracting' more gullible people to buy their wares too? Pages 185-198 are not simply bibliographical material. They look more like advertisements.
  3. There is a disclaimer on the book which states clearly: "The information contained in this book is intended to be educational and not for diagnosis, prescription, or treatment of any health disorder whatsoever. This information should not replace consultation with a competent healthcare professional. The content of the book is intended to be used as an adjunct to a rational and responsible healthcare program prescribed by a healhcare practitioner. The author and publisher are in no way liable for any misuse of the material."

    By including this, the author essentially protects herself and her contributors when anything does not work from the book. What exactly is 'educational?' Is grabbing things for self-sake at the expense of others educational?

  4. How do we explain situations which did not work? What about the timing in which it can or cannot work?
  5. There is no mention of God, though there were some references to a mysterious unknown force. Any god is most likely the god that one wants to be. The anything that one can summon includes the deification of self.
  6. It is deceptive. Marci Shimoff seems to be suggesting that having an inner life is more important when suggesting a backward format. She claims that the outer things in life, do not guarantee happiness. Only after getting inner peace, inner vision and inner joy can one obtain the outer things. In a nutshell, she teaches that one uses everything in one's arsenal to get what you want, including inner spiritual stuff.
  7. The book tells the self-absorbed reader all that he/she wants to read/hear. What if it is wrong? What makes the attainment of something right/wrong? How will anyone know what he/she really needs? Isn't this a case of looking for fulfillment in yet another wrong place?
  8. Don't buy the book. It is not worth it. If you want, borrow from the library.
  9. There are already many selfish people in this world who think only of themselves. We don't need books like this to create more.

After all the hype and publicity, I think the secret is nothing more than another self-help book that credits the author/contributors when things go well, and cleverly shifts the blame to the reader when things does not turn out as expected. Simple formula isn't it? They take the credits if any, and you take the blame if any. Why will anyone want to buy such stuff? It baffles me.


Anonymous said...

From "Introduction to Kundalini and Tantra" by Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati MB, BS (Syd)

Wish fulfillment

In the anahata chakra, the freedom to escape from a preordained fate and to determine one's own destiny becomes a reality. According to the tantras, at the root of anahata there is a wish fulfilling tree known as the kalpa taru or kalpa vriksha. When this tree starts to fructify, whatever you think or wish comes true.

Ordinarily, we have so many wishes but they rarely assume more than the air of a daydream. However, if they were all to become realities, we would quickly start to question whether we want our wishes fulfilled at all. Most people prefer to depend on fate rather than take responsibility for creating their own destiny, and well they should. There is a fine story which is often told to illustrate this:

Once a traveller was sitting underneath a tree. He was feeling very tired and wanted to have a drink. So he thought of a clear stream, and immediately he heard the trickle of water flowing beside him. After drinking some water, he thought he would like to have a little food to satisfy his hunger, and that appeared beside him also. Then, as he was feeling tired and thought he would like to rest, there appeared before him a nice bed, and so he went to sleep. The foolish man did not know that he had come to rest beneath the wish fulfilling tree. In the evening when he awoke, the sun had already set and night had fallen. He got up and the thought came to his mind: 'Oh, it is terribly dark, perhaps the tigers will come and eat me', and so they did.

This is what can happen to anyone who awakens the wish fulfilling capacity without sufficient preparation. If the consciousness awakens in anahata, but you do not know the powers of your mind, or you possess negative, pessimistic attitudes, dark approaches to life, apprehensions, fears and many other negative mental tendencies, then you will immediately fall prey to them. If this happens, you risk the possibility of falling back from anahata. And if you fall from anahata, there is hardly any chance of making a second start. To avoid a downfall at this point, it is necessary to always remain as alert as the antelope, which is sensitive to each and every sound. The antelope is the vehicle of anahata for this reason; it is not the symbol of restlessness, but of alertness.

When whatever you wish for comes true, this makes you very happy, but at the same time, it is necessary to constantly analyze your attitude towards yourself and others. You have to be very careful of doubting thoughts. For example, if you develop a few palpitations of the heart and think: 'Perhaps I am developing angina pectoris', or a pain in the abdomen and think: 'Now I have appendicitis or gall bladder disease', such thoughts may bring many problems and disorders in their wake. You must also guard against doubts concerning others: 'Maybe that man is my enemy', 'My son is sick, maybe he will die', 'My friend has not contacted me, he must have had an accident'. It is important to have a firm and alert control over the mental tendencies and fantasies of the mind.

All sorts of thoughts concerning the body, children, wife, family, monetary, social, economic or political situations come to us all the time. If kundalini is asleep, these thoughts have no power, but when kundalini awakens in anahata chakra, all these thoughts suddenly become realities. Unless we are ever alert at this stage we will place our own destructive hand on our head.

In the tantric text Saundarya Lahari, this wish fulfilling process is aptly described as the chintamani, or wish fulfilling gem. Here chinta applies to the 'process of selective thought' and mani means 'jewel'. Therefore, chintamani means the 'jewel of correct and positive thinking'. In this text, anahata is described as the garden of the devas. At the center is a small divine lake inside which is the chintamani. It is not necessary to obtain this jewel; as long as you can realize your proximity to it that is enough, then whatever you think comes true.

The location point

Anahata chakra is situated in the spinal column on the inner wall, directly behind the center of the chest. The kshetram is at the heart, and although anahata is known as the heart center, this should not be misinterpreted to mean the biological heart, the muscular pump within the chest. Although its physiological component is the cardiac plexus of nerves, the nature of this center is far beyond the physiological dimension.

In yoga the heart center is also known as hriday-akasha, which means 'the space within the heart where purity resides'. This chakra is a very delicate center, for it is directly connected with that part of the brain which is responsible for all the creative sciences and fine arts such as painting, dance, music, poetry, etc.

YAPdates said...

Your starting point is already questionable. The 'freedom to escape' brings up the following questions:

Q: Escape from what? What are you escaping from? How does anyone know what is right and what is wrong? What if one WISHES for something that is good to party A but bad for party B? How does evil come into being? What makes people so sure that what they wish is best for them?

For Christians, our anchor is the Bible, the Word of God, guided by the Holy Spirit to help us understand it. Man is essentially a fallen being. He has lost the perfect capability to wish the right thing for himself. However, there is hope. This hope is something that is forward looking. We hope that the Kingdom of God will come soon in all its glory. A future that is based on an eternal God.

If one's happiness is at the expense of another person, you call that good? If everyone cares only for self, you call that good?

My friend, Life is not simply wishing for things to happen. There are many things more important than life. There is faith, hope and love. After all that is said and done, the greatest of all these is love. What is love?

Love is embodied in the One person who despite his kingly position up in heaven, willingly choose to come down to earth, to be bullied, to suffer humiliation, to be unjustly attacked and crucified on the cross at Calvary. He died, was buried and on the third day, he rose again from the dead. That person is Jesus. God receiving all the glory chooses to share that glory with all of creation. That day will come. We do not have to 'wish' for that to happen. It WILL happen, and it will occur at the most perfect timing which brings all creation perfectly back to God.

Whether you agree or disagree with this does not make a difference. God is above all these agreements and disagreements. That is why no matter how much we can try to wish or think, God alone is sovereign, not us.


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