Zen Master Explains Why “Positive Thinking” Is The Worst Advice You Can Follow
Do you ever get sick of people telling you to “think positive,” as if that will make everything bad in the world go away? Or do you want to barf when someone tells you the only thing you need to achieve your goals is to stay positive and visualize it?
Clearly, plenty of people are making plenty of money preaching exactly that. Just think of books like How to Win Friends and Influence People and Think and Grow Rich.
But just because it’s in a book doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true, and that desire to barf when surrounded by such “positive thinking” mantras? Completely reasonable.
As the spiritual guru and zen master Osho notes, “positive thinking” just might be the biggest bullshit philosophy on the table. In fact, he says it’s doing more harm than good, because it requires dishonesty with ourselves in how it denies reality. As he expounds,
“The philosophy of positive thinking means being untruthful; it means being dishonest. It means seeing a certain thing and yet denying what you have seen; it means deceiving yourself and others.”
“Positive thinking is the only bullshit philosophy that America has contributed to human thought – nothing else. 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…
Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, has been sold in numbers just next to the Christian Bible. No other book has been able to reach that popularity.
The Christian Bible should not be a competitor in fact, because it is more or less given free, forced on people. But Dale Carnegie’s book people have been purchasing; it has not been given to you free. And it has created a certain kind of ideology which has given birth to many books of a similar kind. But to me it is nauseating.
… 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 all, he notes, it wasn’t positive thinking that made these people selling the books rich: It was the opportunity they created, and the books they sold, and the businesses they ran. That isn’t positive thinking—that’s action!
To make the point more clear, he relates the story of when Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, met Henry Ford. He tried to sell Ford his book, but Ford wasn’t having it. Instead he had a simple question: Had Hill come in his own car or on the bus?
Now, of course, Hill had come on the bus. Ford just laughed. “When you’ve made it like I have,” he said, “then you can talk about growing rich.”
As Osho notes, positive thinking alone does nothing.
And worse, he says, it keeps us from recognizing reality. “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.”
Half-truths, he says, are lies that may never be discovered as a result of the bit of truth they contain. But a half-truth pretending to be a whole truth is no less of a problem if not discovered. If anything, it is more of a problem.
He goes on to related that negative energies and ideas have to be released, rather than repressed. “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…”
But failing to collect that consciousness is to give in to a lie, is to give birth to a hypocrite, is to hold a hell inside yourself—and that, says Osho, is exactly what this “positive thinking” ideology is. And, as a result, it leads to a wasted life.
Positive thinking, he says, is simply the philosophy of hypocrites, for rather than teach you to feel, embrace, and understand your emotions, it teaches you to lie to yourself and others. It’s absolutely meaningless as a result.
*This content was inspired by an amazing article that can be found here.
Written by Matt S.