A Zen master explains why “positive thinking” appeals to mediocre minds

In Mind & Body, Philosophy & Culture
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“Positive thinking is the only bullshit philosophy that America has contributed to human thought – nothing else”, says the spiritual guru Osho. He continues:

Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, and the Christian priest, Vincent Peale – all these people have filled the whole American mind with this absolutely absurd idea of a positive philosophy.

And it appeals particularly to mediocre minds…

We shared these words a few days ago in an article and the response has been overwhelming (see the comments on the article).

But why does Osho say that the philosophy of positive thinking appeals particularly to mediocre minds?

Osho used a brilliant analogy between snowflakes and money to make his point, which we share below.

Before we get to this point, we need to understand why Osho thinks that praying is a way for you to deceive your own mind.

 

The truth about praying

According to Osho, when you’re praying, you’re actually trying to be something you’re not.

People try to pray, people try to smile, people try to look happy, people try to be truthful, honest – whatever qualities are praised. But their unconsciousness stands there behind every act of theirs, and their unconsciousness distorts their honesty, distorts their smiles, distorts their truth.

But no morality in the world teaches people to first be conscious and only then to find, by your own consciousness, what qualities you would like to blossom in your being…. Honesty, sincerity, truth, love, compassion?

Except for a very few rebels like Gautam Buddha, nobody has thought about your unconscious, that first it has to be dropped, changed, your inner being has to be full of light, and then whatever you do is going to be right. Out of a totally conscious mind nothing can go wrong. But who listens?

Positive thinking means you’re avoiding the darkness

Osho shares a key point below about how you’r ambition is being exploited if you fall for the trap of “positive thinking”.

… Dale Carnegie started this whole school of positive philosophy, positive thinking: Don’t see the negative part, don’t see the darker side. But by your not seeing it, do you think it disappears? You are just befooling yourself. You cannot change reality. The night will still be there; you can think that it is daytime for twenty-four hours, but by your thinking it, it is not going to be light twenty-four hours a day.

The negative is as much part of life as the positive. They balance each other.

After Dale Carnegie, the great name in the tradition of this positive thinking is Napoleon Hill. Think and Grow Rich is his greatest contribution to the world – a beautifully written book, but all crap.

Think and grow rich… you don’t have to do anything, you only have to think in absolutely positive terms and riches will start flowing towards you. If they don’t come, that simply means that you have not been thinking absolutely positively.

So these are beautiful games in which you cannot defeat the man who is proposing the game. He has the key in his hands. If you succeed by chance, then he succeeds because his philosophy – think and grow rich – has succeeded. You have been thinking and thinking and thinking and positively thinking that dollars are showering on you – these are not snowflakes but dollars showering on you – and suddenly your uncle dies and leaves you a big inheritance. Naturally, positive thinking works!

But if you don’t succeed… and ninety-nine percent of the time you are not going to succeed – you know perfectly well that your positive thinking is not absolutely positive; you know that there is doubt.

Once is a while you open your eyes to see whether they are dollars or just snowflakes. You see they are just snowflakes, and you again close your eyes and start thinking that dollars are showering.

But the doubt is there, that these really are snowflakes. Whom are you trying to befool? All these thoughts are going on: “This is just nonsense, I shouldn’t waste my time, I could be earning some dollars; this way I am losing rather than gaining.”

But Napoleon Hill writes beautifully and gives examples of how people have succeeded by positive thinking. And you can find people – this world is big enough. For everything you can find an example.

Why one? – you can find hundreds of examples if you just look around and try to find them. And all these people have been doing just that: they find examples, and they place the examples in beautiful poetic prose. And of course you want to be rich, so they exploit your ambition, your desire. They give you such a simple method – and they don’t ask anything of you in return.

Why is Osho against positive philosophy?

The point is to be honest with yourself without the need to project any kind of philosophy.

I do not believe in any philosophy of positive thinking; nor do I believe in the opposite, in the philosophy of negative thinking – because both are there. The positive and the negative make one whole. My philosophy is holistic – neither positivist, nor negativist, but holistic, realistic. You see the whole in its totality, whatever it is. Good and bad, day and night, life and death, they both are there.

My approach is to see exactly what is the case.

There is no need to project any philosophy on it.

… You ask me: Am I against positive philosophy? Yes, because I am also against negative philosophy.

I have to be against both because both choose only half the fact, and both try to ignore the other half.

And remember: a half-truth is far more dangerous than a whole lie, because the whole lie will be discovered by you sooner or later. How long can it remain undiscovered by you? A lie, of course, is a lie; it is just a palace made of playing cards – a little breeze and the whole palace disappears.

But the half-truth is dangerous. You may never discover it, you may continue to think it is the whole truth. So the real problem is not the whole lie, the real problem is the half-truth pretending to be the whole truth; and that is what these people are doing.

Positive thinking is a way for weak minds to push their negativity deep down into their minds and avoiding seeing things for what they are.

Positive thinking simply means forcing the negative into the unconscious and conditioning the conscious mind with positive thoughts. But the trouble is that the unconscious is far more powerful, nine times more powerful, than the conscious mind. So once a thing becomes unconscious, it becomes nine times more powerful than it was before. It may not show in the old fashion, but it will find new ways of expression.

So positive thinking is a very poor method, without any deep understanding, and it goes on giving you wrong ideas about yourself.

… Positive thinking came out of Christian Science. It talks now more philosophically, but the base remains the same – that if you think negatively, that is going to happen to you; if you think positively, that is going to happen to you. And in America that kind of literature is widely read. Nowhere else in the world has positive thinking made any impact – because it is childish.

“Think and grow rich” – everybody knows this is simply foolish. And it is harmful, and dangerous too.

The negative ideas of your mind have to be released, not repressed by positive ideas. You have to create a consciousness which is neither positive nor negative. That will be the pure consciousness.

In that pure consciousness you will live the most natural and blissful life.