Philosophers certainly like to make life sound awfully complicated, whether they’re wondering if a falling tree still makes a sound if there’s nobody around to hear it (Berkeley) or declaring that everything in the universe is in a state of flux (Heraclitus). But is philosophy really so complicated? And is it really as irrelevant as it sometimes seems? “I Think, Therefore I Am.” is the ideal way to take the fear out of philosophy. Written in an accessible and highly entertaining style, this book explains how and why philosophy began, and how, from Greek democracy to Communism, the ways in which we live, learn, argue, vote and even spend our money have their origins in philosophical thought . Covering the biggest names, including Socrates, Seneca, St Augustine, Descartes, Marx and Nietzsche, “I Think, Therefore I Am” provides a handle for all the main -isms and -ologies.
In the Indic tradition, Manasa, vaacha, karmana, the three Sanskrit words correspond to one’s thoughts, speech and deeds respectively. In most Indian languages, these three words are used together to describe a state of consistency expected of an individual. The motto Manasa, Vaacha, Karmana is usually invoked to imply that one should strive to achieve the state where one’s thoughts, speech and the actions coincide. These three words are also representative of the three forms of Karma, that is, if you think bad about something or somebody, you instantly did a wrong karma; the same being applicable to the speech and action as well. Obviously, one has to be alert all the while on these three counts.
The quote investigator tries to find out what the transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, supermarket magnate Frank Outlaw, spiritual teacher Gautama Buddha, and the father of Margaret Thatcher have in common for they all seem to have been credited with versions of the quote: “Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.” Surprisingly, the Investigator does not seem to realize that it was the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad to which the origin of these three very important and most frequently used words could be traced and that too several centuries ago. In fact, the use of the trio is found in many Indian texts such as Mahanarayanan Upanishad, Akshi Upanishad, Chanakya Neeti, and many other scriptural texts. This is how the three words find place in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: “You are what your deep driving desire is; as your deep driving desire is, so is your will; as your will is so is your deed and as your deed is so is your destiny.”
In Mahabharata (13.8.16) the very same three words figure thus: “In consequence of what I have done to the Brahmanas in thought, word, and did, I do not feel any pain now (even though I am lying on a bed or arrows).” These also appear in at least one version of the Guru Gita. A slightly modified version of the three solemn words is also found in ancient Indian scriptures: CakShuShaamanasaavaacaa / KarmaNah ca caturvidham / Prasaadayati Yolokam/Tam loko? nuprasiidati (Whoever makes the world happy with his looks, thoughts, words and actions; the world also makes him happy.) A more elaborate explanation would be that the world will make a man happy if he makes the world happy with his looks, thoughts words and actions. In short, the way to be happy is to see well, think well, speak well and act well so as to make the world happy. Such persons need not worry about their happiness because the world will take care of their happiness.
The most celebrated words have sometimes been ascribed to the Buddha inasmuch as the Dhammapada, the best-known book in the Pali Buddhist canon compiled over 2500 years ago, does contain a passage that is distinct but is very closely related. The Dhammapada, probably compiled in the third century BC with a translation done by Thomas Byrom as: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. Speak or act with an impure mind; and trouble will follow you as the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.” Another slightly modified version that finds place in old scriptures reads: “Manas-ekam, Vachas-ekam, Karman-ekamMahatmanaam” meaning that great people are consistent in their thoughts, words and actions. In other words, the person who can coordinate his thoughts with his words and his words with his deeds is indeed a great soul. Forget great people, it occurs to our common-sense that for harmony in life, this is a profound principle from our old heritage.
Our actions are simply the reflection of our thoughts; and our thoughts are the product of our thinking. Thinking allows us to make sense of, to interpret, to make decisions, to act, to know whether something is right or wrong… the list is endless. Psychology says thinking is the human process of using knowledge and information to make plans, interpret and model the world, and constructively interact with and make predictions about the world in general. Thinking is everything that a conscious mind does, from having a perception to incomprehension, from mental arithmetic to remembering a phone number or even to remember what not to remember. So basically, our thinking capability makes us different from others in every way possible. It’s our thinking which makes us and destroys as well.
The thoughtless, the ignorant, and the indolent, seeing only the apparent effects of things and not the things themselves, talk of luck, of fortune, and chance. Seeing a man grow rich, they say, “How lucky he is!” Observing another become intellectual, they exclaim, “How highly favored he is!” And noting the saintly character and wide influence of another, they remark, “How chance aids him at every turn!” They do not see the trials and failures and struggles which these men or women have voluntarily encountered in order to gain their experience; have no knowledge of the sacrifices they have made, of the undaunted efforts they have made and put forth, of the faith they have exercised, that they might overcome the apparently insurmountable, and realize the vision of their heart. They don’t know the darkness and the heartaches; they only see the light and joy, and call it “luck”; do not see the long and arduous journey, but only behold the pleasant goal, and call it “good fortune”; do not understand the process, but only perceive the result, and call it “chance”.
English philosopher James Allen wrote: “As a man thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.” Stoic and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote: “A man’s life is what his thoughts make of it.” Poet and philosopher RW Emerson wrote: “A man is what he thinks about all day long.” Author Earl Nightingale said: “We become what we think about,” and Mark Twainwrote: “Life consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever flowing through one’s head.” All these great minds discovered the secret to living a happy, purposeful and productive life.
Thinking happens in a variety of ways. Most people think of thinking as a conscious process, whereby we manipulate symbols. The symbols stand for things and actions in our perceived world, and it is easier to manipulate symbols mentally than to build physical models and manipulate them to see how various courses of action will end up. However, our minds can also think without symbols. An alternative way of thinking that we all use is thinking via imagined experience. Dreams are the result of this kind of thinking, but it happens all the time. Usually, conscious thinking is so obvious that we are unaware of thinking using imagined experience. This form of thinking is known as “sensate” thinking. We do it all the time, but are only aware of it when awake or when we quieten our conscious minds sufficiently to be aware of sensational thinking. Mostly, we are aware of the results of sensational thinking; like when a solution to a problem “pops” into our conscious awareness.
Artists of all sorts use sensate thought in order to create their work. The experience of being in a sensate thinking state is called being in a state of “flow.” Since it is not symbol manipulation (conscious thought) most people don’t think of it as thinking, but if thinking is problem solving, then it is clear to me, anyway, that humans do a lot of thinking besides conscious thinking, and I think it makes sense to call it sensational thought, since it is mental manipulation of sensory experience – also known as imagination.
Its purpose is to solve problems. The reason we want to solve problems is that we want to survive. Failure to solve problems is dead. People who don’t solve problems that pretty quickly. Thus, evolutionary processes result with people who get better and better at problem solving using thinking processes. We have developed machines that automate repetitive thought processes and can do so much more quickly than our brains can. We use these tools to become ever better problem solvers.
To conclude, thought is the propeller / controller / director of all our actions. Mind is made up of thoughts. Mind is said to be a flow of thoughts. All our sense organs receive stimuli from the external worlds which are converted into thoughts by our brain. Our thoughts only stimulate our organs of actions to act. If we act impulsively without any thinking our actions may be considered as thoughtless. Actions backed by sound thoughts are far better than thoughtless actions. Our thoughts determine our personality. Quality of thoughts determine the quality of our mind and finally our quality and even personality.
(The author is formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh.