Regarding this Note:
Please begin by reading the “Preface to Erik’s Notes on Buddhism:” found on the main page of Buddhism ~ Thanks
How do I tell if I am having Positive or Negative Thinking?
First, remember that Positive Thinking is Only:
- Renunciation = I want to get rid of my Negative Thinking because it is the cause of all my suffering and because it is a condition for others suffering.
- Compassion = I want others to be free from their suffering and the causes of their suffering (their Negative Thinking).
- Faith = I want to increase my Positive Thinking because it is the only cause of all of my happiness, and because it is a condition for others happiness.
- Love = I want others to be happy and have the causes of happiness (their Positive Thinking).
- Wisdom = Knowing, Experiencing and Realizing the Four Facts about Happiness and Suffering.
And, Negative Thinking is Only:
- Anger = I want to destroy someone else’s happiness and the causes of their happiness.
- Jealousy = 1) Your suffering is my happiness; 2) Your happiness is my suffering.
- Greed = More will make me happy.
- Pride = 1) I am already good enough, I do not need to improve myself; 2) I am so bad, there is nothing you can do to help me (my problem is more powerful then any solution you have); 3) Laziness: I know it would help, but I am not going to do it now.
- Ignorance = 1) Not knowing the truth about who you are (see Who Am I); 2) Not knowing the truth about how things work (see the Four Facts).
“I wish it were easy for me to see the difference between positive and negative thinking.”
Ok, here is an easy way to tell the difference. Just check the intention behind the rest of the thinking:
For Positive Thinking:
If my intention is to decrease my anger, jealousy, greed, pride and ignorance then I am practicing renunciation.
If my intention is to help others decrease their suffering and the causes of their suffering, then I am practicing compassion.
If my intention is to increase my renunciation, compassion, faith, love and wisdom then I am practicing faith.
If my intention is to help others increase their happiness and the causes of their happiness, then I am practicing love.
If my intention is to increase my understanding, my experience or my realization of Positive Thinking, then I am practicing wisdom.
And for Negative Thinking:
If my intention is to make someone else feel bad – to harm their happiness – then I am practicing anger.
If my intention is to acquire happiness from someone else’s suffering, or I am upset when someone else is happy, then I am practicing jealousy.
If my intention to get more things – more wealth, more sex, more fame, or more praise in order to make myself more happy – then I am practicing greed.
If I think that I am just fine the way that I am – that I don’t need to improve myself – or that I am so bad that there is no way for anyone to help me, or if I am just too lazy to work on improving myself, well then I am practicing pride.
And finally, the above: anger, jealousy, greed and pride arise from ignorance. Therefore, when my intention is to engage in any of these negative thinking I am practicing ignorance.
Also, when I ignore what I know to be good for myself and choose what is bad for me and others, I am practicing ignorance. For instance, when I ignore the fact that my negative thinking is bad for me and for others and still I choose to engage in negative thinking, that is practicing ignorance. Or, when I choose immediate gratification over real long term benefit for myself and others, that is ignorance.
“If I am doing research on the harm that organizations do to people and communities – something that I think is important and can benefit humanity – isn’t that a form of negative thinking (depressing) that could potentially have positive benefits (liberation)?”
When we look into ‘bad news,’ it is not Positive Thinking or Negative Thinking. Remember, what makes my thinking positive or negative is my intention. If I listen to ‘bad news’ and become angry – I want to harm someone – then my intention is negative and therefore, this is negative thinking. This is not different from listening to ‘bad news’ and feeling depressed, as depression is simply anger turned in upon oneself.
However, if I listen to the exact same news and I think, I want to stop their suffering and put an end to the cause of their suffering (their negative thinking), then I am now practicing compassion, which is positive thinking.
If I go on to research this particular situation with the intention of helping to stop it, then I am applying my compassion to a solution. If I continue down this path and try making positive changes that will benefit humanity, then this is the practice of love – wanting others to have happiness and the causes of happiness. This is where compassion and my love come together for the benefit of others.
These days, as a practitioner of Positive Thinking (Dharma), it is best only to watch the news when you have a lot of compassion. Otherwise, the ‘news’ can become a condition for your negative thinking.
“I remember reading somewhere about a study that showed a correlation between people who think for a living (like academics) and depression…so is it the less you think, the happier you will be? If so, who is going to do all the thinking that so much needs to be done in this world?”
First, it is important to know that thinking cannot be ‘stopped.’ Until I become Buddha (zero Negative Thinking and zero Negative Karma) I will always be thinking. Not only is there no way to ‘stop’ thinking, there is no way to decrease thinking. You can’t decrease the present moment. What I can do is decrease the amount of jumping around from subject to subject that my thinking does; and it is definitely possible to decrease gross conceptualization. But that is a different issue than the question here.
In this study, I would guess that there was a misunderstanding between the connection of suffering (depression) and thinking. The researchers simply failed to make an adequate distinction between what kind of thinking (positive vs. negative) the academics were doing and how they then felt. It is silly to say that more ‘thinking’ makes us feel depressed, because more positive thinking is the cause of more happiness. However, it is totally correct to say that more negative thinking makes us feel more depressed, because that creates more suffering.
‘Thinking’ is not the problem; only Negative Thinking is a problem.
“Are positive and negative thinking on a continuum?”
No, positive and negative thinking are different. Remember, my happiness is the result of my positive thinking and the power of my positive thinking; and my positive thinking is the cause of my happiness and the condition of all beings happiness. My negative thinking is not on that continuum. My negative thinking can never be a cause of my happiness.