James Allen on Right Thought

As if this literary essay from James Allen in 1902 – about a 30 minute read – weren’t brief enough, the foreword opens with this encapsulating poem:

“Mind is the Master power that molds

and makes;

And Man is Mind, and evermore he


The tool of Thought, and, shaping

what he wills,

Brings forth a thousand joys, a

thousand ills:-

He thinks in secret, and it comes to


Environment is but his looking-glass.”

In just this passage it be can understood why prisoners have thrived and kings have spoiled. Allen sets out not to exhaustively describe the power of thought and its mechanisms, but rather providing this essay one can read as suggestions. Reminders. Inspirations.

Allen starts the first section of the essay, Thought and Character with the following timeless piece of wisdom:

The aphorism, “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he,” not only embraces the whole of a man’s being, but is also 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 his thoughts.

And if a piece of inspiration to enact the knowledge we already know is what this piece is meant to be, then in many cases we need not read any further. But Allen’s elaborations are worthwhile, even if further suggestions are not required by the reader.

Allen describes actions – even those we call ‘spontaneous’ – as the blossom of thought, with joy and suffering being its fruit types. Consider:

…if one endure In purity of thought, joy follows him As his own shadow – sure.

And, in contrast:

…in the armory of thought [man] forges the weapons by which he destroys himself;

Next, in the main section of the essay titled Effect of Thought on Circumstances, Allen illustrates how right thought must be a practice, a cultivation, in order to be of benefit to its user:

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 kin.

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. By pursuing this process, a man sooner or later discovers that he is the master-gardener of his soul, the director of his life.

According to Allen, “thought and character are one”, a notion with which buddhist and stoic teachings would agree. People are their own makers, and the tool for making is thought. Whether we feel at peace with circumstance or at odds with it, we are responsible for that. And wherever we may find ourselves, we are there only to grow, for new and unforeseen circumstances will replace our current ones soon.

Man is buffeted by circumstances so long as he believes himself to be the creature of outside conditions, but when he realizes that he is a creative power, and 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.


Circumstance does not make the man; it reveals him to himself. No such conditions can exist as descending into vice and its attendant sufferings apart from vicious inclinations, or ascending into virtue and its pure happiness without the continued cultivations of virtuous aspirations;

Allen also speaks to the difference between what we want for ourselves – the things we tell people are our priorities at cocktail parties – and what we actually do – the things that are clearly our actual priorities. On this, he writes, “Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.” And this is as relevant today as it was when penned 1st the turn of the 19th Century. Real creators aren’t talking about creating. They are out there somewhere, creating. “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.” To resist circumstance is a battle with effect rather than cause, which is preserved without a change of thought. “Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.”

Next, Allen describes how it is erroneous to surmise that a good person’s poor blessings are a result of their honesty while a bad-hearted person’s fortunes are a result of their dishonesty. Instead, Allen acknowledges how we all exist on a spectrum between these two extremes, and that any good in our lives is borne out of our good thoughts and that any sufferings are “…always the effect of wrong thought in some direction.”

The world is your kaleidoscope, and the varying combinations of colors, which at every succeeding moment it presents to you are the exquisitely adjusted pictures of your ever-moving thoughts.

Allen’s description of Effect of Thought on Health and the Body, was ahead of its time in describing the tangible physiological effects of thought.

Disease and health, like circumstances, are rooted in thought. Sickly thoughts will express themselves through a sickly body.


Strong, pure, and happy thoughts build up the body in vigor and grace. The body is a delicate and plastic instrument, which responds readily to the thoughts by which it is impressed, and habits of thought will produce their own effects, good or bad, upon it.


To live continually in thoughts of ill will, cynicism, suspicion, and envy is to be confined in a self made prison-hole. But to think well of all, to be cheerful with all, to patiently learn to find the good in all – such unselfish thoughts are the very portals of heaven; and to dwell day by day in thoughts of peace toward every creature will bring abounding peace to their possessor.

And in an age so unmatched in its expectations of purpose and fulfillment, Allen’s words on Thought and Purpose speak to the ability for us to find work in any purpose:

A man should conceive of a legitimate purpose in his heart, and should 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. He should make this his supreme duty, and should devote himself to its attainment, not allowing his thoughts to wander away into ephemeral fancies, longings, and imaginings. This is the royal road to self-control and true concentration of thought. Even if he fails again and again to accomplish his purpose (as he necessarily must until the weakness is overcome), the strength of character gained will be the measure of his true success, and this will form a new starting-point for future power and triumph.

Or purpose in any work:

Those who are not prepared for the apprehension of a great purpose should fix the thoughts upon the faultless performance of their duty, no matter how insignificant their task may appear. Only in this way can the thoughts be gathered and focused, and resolution and energy be developed, which being done, there is nothing which may not be accomplished.

All of this, of course, occurs through thought.

Thought allied fearlessly to purpose becomes creative force: he who knows this is ready to become something higher and stronger than a mere bundle of wavering thoughts and fluctuating sensations; he who does this has become the conscious and intelligent wielder of his mental powers.”

Regarding The Thought-Factor in Achievement, he highlights the importance of the responsibility of individuals to shape their own thoughts and to accept that their lot in life – or at the very least their perception of it – is their own doing.

“…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…His suffering and his happiness are evolved from within; as he thinks so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.”


“He who would accomplish little must sacrifice little; he who would achieve much must sacrifice much; he who would attain highly must sacrifice greatly.”

And then in Visions and Ideals, Allen speaks to the link between right thought and innovation, and highlights the value of ‘the dreamer’ in society. It is these dreams that give the colors and brightness and darkness of humanity to our otherwise primal selves:

“Composer, sculptor, painter, poet, prophet, sage, these are the makers of the after-world, the architects of heaven. The world is beautiful because they have lived; without them, laboring humanity would perish.

He who cherishes a beautiful vision, a lofty ideal in his heart, will one day realize it.”


“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.”

Especially in this era of social media and the carefully curated presentations of our lives that are made to the world, we often look to others of good fortune and label them as ‘lucky’, but:

“They do not know the darkness and the heartaches; they only see the light and joy, and call it ‘luck’. They 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.”

In all human affairs there are efforts and there are results, and the strength of the effort is the measure of the result. Chance is not. Gifts, powers, material, intellectual, and spiritual possessions are the fruits of effort; they are thoughts completed, objects accomplished, visions realized.

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.”

To close, Allen’s section on Serenity leaves readers with a reminder that a calm mind is of virtue and that it is simply the degree to which we understand ourselves to be the result of our thoughts that our mind will be at peace.

“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, and 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.”


Self-control is strength, Right Thought is mastery; Calmness is power. Say unto your heart, “Peace, be still!”