As a Man Thinketh
By Keith Varnum
“As a Man Thinketh is written for all those seeking wisdom and tranquility in a turbulent, complex world,” observe its author James Allen.
For more than a century, this clear, concise book has been one of the world’s best-selling and most widely loved inspirational works. James Allen‘s words have helped millions for more than a century—and they continue to point the way to a better life for all people. Allen, a 19th-century Englishman, was convinced that positive thinking produced health, wealth and a sense of well-being. His argument is straightforward and timeless: within each of us is the spiritual power to overcome the troubles of everyday life.
Published in 1902, Allen’s book is largely deemed instrumental in the creation of the whole personal development industry. Most contemporary teachers in this field credit this little book for providing foundation to their principles. Allen uses simple, colorful prose and nature metaphor to relay the message that every thing starts with a thought. As a Man Thinketh is birthed by a verse in the Bible from the book of Proverbs chapter 23 verse 7, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is.” As Allen expresses it, “Act is the blossom of thought, and joy and suffering are its fruit; thus does a man garner in the sweet and bitter fruitage of his own husbandry.”
The author’s main message is that that the individual is the master of thought, the molder of character, and thereby ultimately the maker and shaper of his own condition, environment and destiny. James Allen captures and depicts the world as pure. All that is bad comes from the seedlings of misdirected thoughts—even those that are seemingly unpremeditated. Every little thought will lead to another and another and ultimately crystallize unconsciously into habits.
Allen explains that what a person thinks about is what he or she becomes. He likens the mind to a garden. What is planted will infallibly be grown into the condition of life. The soil does not care whether the seeds are weeds or flowers. Nature will render whatever is planted. So it is with the mind. Positive thoughts will grow positive results, negative thoughts will spawn negative results:
“He who cherishes a beautiful vision, a lofty ideal in his heart, will one day realize it. Columbus cherished a vision of another world and he discovered it. Copernicus fostered the vision of a multiplicity of worlds and a wider universe, and he revealed it. Buddha beheld the vision of a spiritual world of stainless beauty and perfect peace, and he entered into it. 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.”
James Allen did not intend his book to be merely the intellectual presentation of a truth. He presents an inspirational and poetic tome to the knowing within each of us that we are the source of our life circumstances and happiness. His words are carefully chosen to speak directly to our innate awareness of our authorship of our own destiny.
As he explains in the book’s preface: “This little volume (the result of meditation and experience) is not intended as an exhaustive treatise on the much written-upon subject of the power of thought. It is suggestive rather than explanatory, its object being to stimulate men and women to the discovery and perception of the truth that: ‘They themselves are makers of themselves.’ By virtue of the thoughts, which they choose and encourage; that mind is the master-weaver, both of the inner garment of character and the outer garment of circumstance, and that, as they may have hitherto woven in ignorance and pain they may now weave in enlightenment and happiness.”
As A Man Thinketh is a powerful philosophy that will stimulate you to seek perfection through the purity of thought. More than that this book will help you transform your thoughts into concrete actions that will result in the achievement of anything that you deeply desire in your heart. This easy-to-read book is an invaluable resource to anyone dedicated to living a happy, purpose-filled life.
In the book, Allen graphically expresses the effect of thought on character, circumstances, health, purpose, achievement, vision and serenity.
Chapter One – Thought and Character
Allen suggests that all our accumulated thoughts mold our bottom-line character: “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. As the plant springs from, and could not be without, the seed, so every act of a man springs from the hidden seeds of thought, and could not have appeared without them.”
Our character is the product of our thinking: “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 Godlike thoughts. An ignoble and bestial character, by the same process, is the result of the continued harboring of groveling thoughts. Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself. He also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace. By the right choice and true application of thought, man ascends to the Divine Perfection; by the abuse and wrong application of thought, he descends below the level of the beast. Between these two extremes are all the grades of character, and man is their maker and master.”
Chapter Two – Effect of Thought on Circumstances
As A Man Thinketh is full of profound one-liners that reward with deep contemplation. For example:
“Circumstance does not make the man; it reveals him to himself.”
“Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.”
The author concedes “A man cannot directly choose his circumstances.” But Allen submits that “he can choose his thoughts, and so indirectly, yet surely, shape his circumstances. Nature helps every man to the gratification of the thoughts which he most encourages, and opportunities are presented which will most speedily bring to the surface both the good and evil thoughts.”
Using nature as a model, Allen suggests, “A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed seeds will fall therein, and will continue to produce their kind. Just as a gardener cultivates his plot, keeping it free from weeds, and growing the flowers and fruits which he requires, so may a man tend the garden of his mind, weeding out all the wrong, useless, and impure thoughts, and cultivating toward perfection the flowers and fruits of right, useful, and pure thoughts,”
The book encourages us to reclaim ourselves as the cause of our life situations: “Man is buffeted by circumstances so long as he believes himself to be the creature of outside conditions. But when he realizes that he may command the hidden soil and seeds of his being out of which circumstances grow, he then becomes the rightful master of himself. 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 convincingly draws a parallel with our understanding of how nature works: “Good thoughts and actions can never produce bad results. Bad thoughts and actions can never produce good results. This is but saying that nothing can come from corn but corn, nothing from nettles but nettles. Men understand this law in the natural world, and work with it. But few understand it in the mental and moral world (though its operation there is just as simple and undeviating), and they, therefore, do not cooperate with it.”
As A Man Thinketh emphasizes the importance of taking right action, “righteousness” (right-use-ness): “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. Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves. They therefore remain bound.”
He offers the example of “a rich man who is the victim of a painful and persistent disease as the result of gluttony. He is willing to give large sums of money to get rid of it, but he will not sacrifice his gluttonous desires. He wants to gratify his taste for rich and unnatural foods and have his health as well. Such a man is totally unfit to have health, because he has not yet learned the first principles of a healthy life.”
The book stresses that happiness comes from the alignment of our thoughts with our actions: “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. Suffering ceases for him who is pure.”
Chapter Three – Effect of Thought on Health and the Body
“The body is the servant of the mind,” Allen succinctly writes. “It obeys the operations of the mind, whether they be deliberately chosen or automatically expressed. At the bidding of unlawful thoughts the body sinks rapidly into disease and decay; at the command of glad and beautiful thoughts it becomes clothed with youthfulness and beauty.”
As A Man Thinketh reminds us that this basic life dynamic applies equally to our physical state: “Disease and health, like circumstances, are rooted in thought. Sickly thoughts will express themselves through a sickly body. Thoughts of fear have been known to kill a man as speedily as a bullet, and they are continually killing thousands of people just as surely though less rapidly. The people who live in fear of disease are the people who get it. Anxiety quickly demoralizes the whole body, and lays it open to the entrance of disease; while impure thoughts, even if not physically indulged, will soon shatter the nervous system. Strong, pure, and happy thoughts build up the body in vigor and grace. … Change of diet will not help a man who will not change his thoughts. When a man makes his thoughts pure, he no longer desires impure food.”
Chapter Four – Thought and Purpose
Allen asserts that a sense of purpose is a necessary ingredient to achievement: “Until thought is linked with purpose there is no intelligent accomplishment. With the majority the bark of thought is allowed to ‘drift’ upon the ocean of life. Aimlessness is a vice, and such drifting must not continue for him who would steer clear of catastrophe and destruction. They who have no central purpose in their life fall an easy prey to worries, fears, troubles, and self-pityings, all of which are indications of weakness, which lead, just as surely as deliberately planned sins (though by a different route), to failure, unhappiness, and loss, for weakness cannot persist in a power-evolving universe.”
The author advises, “A man should conceive of a legitimate purpose in his heart, and set out to accomplish it. He should make this purpose the centralizing point of his thoughts. It may take the form of a spiritual ideal, or it may be a worldly object, according to his nature at the time being. But whichever it is, he should steadily focus his thought forces upon the object which he has set before him. Thought allied fearlessly to purpose becomes creative force..”
Chapter Five – The Thought-Factor in Achievement
Allen eloquently expresses the fact of personal responsibility: “All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts. In a justly ordered universe, where loss of equipoise would mean total destruction, individual responsibility must be absolute. A man’s weakness and strength, purity and impurity, are his own, and not another man’s. They are brought about by himself, and not by another; and they can only be altered by himself, never by another. His condition is also his own, and not another man’s. His suffering and his happiness are evolved from within. A man can only rise, conquer, and achieve by lifting up his thoughts. He can only remain weak, and abject, and miserable by refusing to lift up his thoughts.”
Chapter Six – Visions and Ideals
As A Man Thinketh contends that “The dreamers are the saviors of the world. As the visible world is sustained by the invisible, so men, through all their trials and sins and sordid vocations, are nourished by the beautiful visions of their solitary dreamers. Humanity cannot forget its dreamers. It cannot let their ideals fade and die. It lives in them. It knows them in the realities which it shall one day see and know.”
He encourages us to treasure our artists: “Composer, sculptor, painter, poet, prophet, sage, these are the makers of the afterworld, the architects of heaven. The world is beautiful because they have lived; without them, laboring humanity would perish.”
Allen accentuates the value of nurturing your goals: “Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become. Your Vision is the promise of what you shall one day be. Your Ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil. The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn; the bird waits in the egg; and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities. 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 illuminates his ideas by giving examples, like “Here is a youth hard pressed by poverty and labor; confined long hours in an unhealthy workshop; unschooled, and lacking all the arts of refinement. But he dreams of better things. Very soon so altered has his mind become that the workshop can no longer hold him. It has become so out of harmony with his mentality that it falls out of his life as a garment is cast aside, and with the growth of opportunities which fit the scope of his expanding powers, he passes out of it forever.”
Chapter Seven – Serenity
As A Man Thinketh informs that with wisdom comes peace of mind and spirit: “A man becomes calm in the measure that he understands himself as a thought-evolved being, for such knowledge necessitates the understanding of others as the result of thought. As he develops a right understanding, and sees more and more clearly the internal relations of things by the action of cause and effect, he ceases to fuss and fume and worry and grieve, and remains poised, steadfast, serene.
The calm man, having learned how to govern himself, knows how to adapt himself to others; and they, in turn, reverence his spiritual strength, and feel that they can learn of him and rely upon him. The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Even the ordinary trader will find his business prosperity increase as he develops a greater self-control and equanimity, for people will always prefer to deal with a man whose demeanor is strongly equable.
James Allen concludes his masterpiece with a stirring call to action: “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; Calmness is power. Say unto your heart, ‘Peace, be still!’”