Greed, like the love of comfort, is a kind of fear.
Cyril Connolly (1903-1974)
Leave it to our consumer capitalist culture to turn even high spiritual principles into cash. The creed of spiritual materialism has been inching up on us for some time from the primitive enclaves of fringe evangelical churches, where perspiration-drenched preachers shout into hand-mikes, “God wants you to have a Cadillac!” But now the message that heaven is waiting to drop a sack of loot on us — if we will only concentrate real hard and believe it — has reached the mainstream.
“The Bank of the Universe is open!” announces the newsletter of The Secret, the best-selling self-help book and DVD by author and producer Rhonda Byrne that have taken the country by storm. Its immense popularity has been propelled not only by the tabloid media, but also by the relatively respectable Oprah and Larry King TV shows, and the even the comparatively conventional CBS Sunday Morning, which recently ran a feature story on it from the birthplace of Normal Vincent Peale, godfather of the ‘positive thinking’ movement.
Briefly, the secret of The Secret is the Law of Attraction — you can have anything you want simply by asking for it and setting your mind on receiving it. Three steps will deliver the golden goose to your doorstep: ask, believe, and receive. ‘Unlimited abundance’ awaits you if you will formulate what you want specifically, believe that a generous universe will bestow it upon you, and remain open to accepting it fully when it arrives.
In other clothing, this is the New Age philosophy (and mantra), ‘You create your own reality.’ Since the universe is a blank slate, we can write anything we want on it. If we write I’m a nobody, we will get back low self-esteem; if we write I am successful and rich, success and wealth must surely follow. Some of this may sound virtually self-evident to our psychologically hip ears — the ‘New’ Age, after all, has been with us for over thirty years. But receive a diagnosis of cancer or suffer a near fatal auto accident and the idea that you are creating your own reality can be quite a cruel self-judgment. This business of believing we create our reality entirely on our own, without the co-creative efforts of others, can leave us in a terribly lonely place, from which a downward spiral is inevitable.
At the root of The Secret and so many of the other recent treatises in this genre, including Wayne Dyer’s The Power of Intention, James Arthur Ray’s The Science of Success, and Esther Hicks’s The Law of Attraction: the Teachings of Abraham is a kind of spiritual get-rich-quick scheme that will bring you wealth (always wealth!) and other good things without effort. You can skip all the tough psychological and emotional work on yourself and jump right to the ‘spiritual’ dividends because intending something hard enough will make it appear — because, well, God wants you to have a Cadillac.
Certainly, under The Secret and its precursors and imitators is a spiritual truth. Surely there is such a thing as the Law of Attraction. Who does not believe that if you think positively about something — landing a good job, say — you have a good chance of getting one, assuming your resume is in order, you dress properly for the interview, and you impress your prospective employer with your professionalism? The Secret falls apart at the point where your resume, wardrobe, and professional demeanor do not matter. You can bypass all the hard prep and go directly to the reward. All it takes is to ask for the job, believe you will get it, and be open to receiving it. Circle the want ad, tape it on your bedroom wall where you can see it every night when you go to bed and in the morning when you wake up, and presto…the job is yours. Unfortunately — or fortunately, if you are a believer in common sense — the world does not work that way.
Something else rings hollow in The Secret. “You can have everything,’ in the words of the DVD’s trailer, ‘Happiness, health, and wealth.’ Nothing about working for world peace or alleviating the suffering of others. Nothing about becoming more spiritually evolved or offering ourselves for service to a wounded humanity or discovering our life’s meaning and purpose. There is a Law of Attraction, but must we use its power to pamper our already inflated egos? Must it always boil down to stuffing our pockets with unexpected financial windfalls or lounging around at upscale spas — or finding a really good parking place?
In this matter of living abundantly, there is a higher spiritual law, one that makes attracting a fortune by intending it seem like small potatoes by comparison. The higher law has been revealed to us down the ages by spiritual masters. Like ‘the secret,’ however, this higher law has gotten lost from time to time, has been hidden away, has been forgotten, has been suppressed. Unlike ‘the secret,’ it acknowledges the primacy of our essential spiritual nature — that we are spiritual beings walking a human path, not the other way around — and that, therefore, we do not need to go outside ourselves to bring in good things.
The source of our supply is within us, this spiritual law states, because we are in essence a spark of the fire that lights the universe — and everything that is in the fire is in the spark. Everything we need is already here within, according to this Law of Spiritual Supply. The challenge for us is to know it, acknowledge it, and then release it into the world. Things do not come to us from the outside; they manifest in the outside world from the firm conviction that we already have it. This is how the Indian avatar Sai Baba is able to materialize vibuthi (sacred ash), brass and gold statues of deities, sugar candy, fruits, and other objects out of thin air. It is at the heart of the Buddha’s self-multiplication, being able to be in many places at the same time. The Hindu saints Shankara, Caitanya, and Mira Bai performed ‘miracles’ with it. By the same law, Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish.
David Spangler, in Everyday Miracles: The Inner Art of Manifestation, calls it a spiritual truth that puts you in touch with the inexhaustible source of creative energy rooted at the very foundation of the universe. The American spiritual teacher Joel Goldsmith (1892-1964), writes in Invisible Supply, “Supply is spirit and it is within you — it is infinite and it is omnipresent wherever you may be.”
The kingdom of God is within us, as the enlightened ones have been telling us for many centuries. And because it is, we already have everything we need. All that is required of us is knowing that truth, holding it, and then “opening out a way” in the words of mystic poet Robert Browning, “whence the imprisoned splendor may escape.” The Law of Spiritual Supply is not about bringing good into our experience; it is about releasing good from the infinite storehouse of the divine source within us.
This is spiritual truth that can truly transform our lives and heal the ailing human condition. Instead of stoking our already hyperactive propensity toward greed with promises of bigger homes, swimming pools, world cruises, and bulging bank accounts, it encourages us to ponder the great gift of life we already have and, since it is inexhaustible, to share it with the world.
Anything else is just spiritual fantasy.
Joseph Dispenza is the author of God On Your Own: Finding a Spiritual Path Outside Religion. He leads retreats at LifePath Center in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where he lives. www.lifepathretreats.com.