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The Process of Suggestion

Human Beings Are Impressionable,
But They Are Learning To Be Self-Responsible
The Theosophical Movement
“The Buddha teaches that a wrongly
directed mind does greater harm to us
than that which our enemies wish for us.”
“The way out of the obscurity and
difficulties in which we are is to free the
mind from wrong ideas and direct it to
consideration of universal and eternal truths.”
Our attitudes, ideals, values are all shaped by ideas which have been suggested to us at various times from various quarters, such as, the family culture, the school education, friends, relations, social influences, the kind of literature we read,  etc.
Our religious beliefs, for instance, are derived from the religious tradition of the family into which we are born, which we have imbibed as children. Rarely are religions adopted by people after due deliberation. It is rare that people inquire into the basis of the ideas and beliefs they hold, question the underlying assumptions, and enter upon an independent search for truth in all things. In short, there is little of free and independent thought in the lives of people in general, the common trend being conformity to the ideas that have been suggested and imbibed.
Suggestions are, therefore, a very powerful factor in our lives. They have a vital bearing on the forming of our character and our destiny. Character of everyone, like a tree, has grown from the seed-ideas which have been sown in the soil of one’s mind, and nurtured by oneself by dwelling upon and acting along the lines of thoughts suggested. The sum of mental qualities, psychic capacities, moral propensities, tendencies, inclinations, and impulses, which are unique to each individual, and which we call character, is, of course, not entirely formed by the impressions and experiences in the present life alone. They are brought over in essence by each individual into the present life from the previous incarnation, and developed in this one, which makes each one a unique person and different from every other. Yet impressions of thoughts and acts of others coming to us from different quarters, as said above, in the present life, have a significant effect upon us. These either aid us in improving and refining our nature and character, or hinder us by lowering or coarsening it, depending on the nature and quality of the ideas and influences that come to us, and which we allow to take root in our mind to become a part of our mental action. In the lives of great men we often see illustration of the former kind; examples of the latter kind are the most common, and much of the evils in society are traceable to it.
For instance, we learn from Gandhi’s autobiography that the wholesome and elevating ideas and ideals which he cherished and which he wove  into the fabric of his life, which made him great, were partly imbibed by him as child from his pious mother, and to a large extent from ideas and example of noble lives of such great thinkers and practical idealists as Tolstoy, Gopalakrishna Gokhale, Ruskin, Raichandbhai, etc., which helped him to clearly think out and practically apply in life the moral and spiritual ideals of Truth and Non-violence. The example of his own life, in turn, inspired and transformed many others who have contributed greatly to the culture of non-violence, world peace and human progress.
Children’s minds are highly impressionable and absorb thoughts, actions, ideas, behaviour and conduct of adults, like a sponge, and grow in the likeness of these. Juvenile delinquencies are, to a large extent, traceable to vicious home atmosphere. Popular entertainment media in which scenes of lewdness, violence and crime are continuously projected at the present time pervert the minds and vitiate the character of people in general, especially of the youth and children, who are exposed to them. The power of mind over matter in some of its tangible effects are readily seen and generally well known.
The experienced physician takes care not to reveal directly, and at once, to his patient, who lacks strength of mind, of a dreaded disease he might have diagnosed, lest it should work mischief in the patient’s mind so as to aggravate the disease and hinder the process of recovery. People seeking astrological counselling in the face of difficulties, a practice quite common in India, often bring about the calamity that was foretold by the very intensity of their thoughts constantly dwelling upon the prognostication, which could well have been prevented by avoiding the seeking of such counselling.
The power of suggestion over people’s minds is taken advantage of and exploited by commercial interests to promote the sale of their products and services through tempting audio-visual advertisements which, in silent and subtle ways, work in the minds of people and induce them to patronise the products. Teachers say that acting on the minds of people and interfering in the free mental action in such ways for the promotion of one’s selfish interest, profit and advantage is nothing short of a black art, and that it is highly pernicious to the moral and spiritual progress of mankind.
One of the most pervading and powerful cause of the evils which prevails in society in every part of the world is the unseen and unsuspected dark influences which are produced by the aggregate of evil thoughts and deeds of people. The Astral Light, being on the plane of the Lower Mind, retains the images all the evil thoughts, ill-deeds and crimes, and reflects them back on the world on the mental plane like a mirror. These acting at the sub-conscious level sow seeds of unwholesome thoughts in the minds of people, both in the waking life and in the dream state during sleep, tempting and impelling them to commit various crimes. Like attracts like. Those given to higher thoughts and with a relatively purer personal magnetism are not so much affected by dark influences reflected from the Astral Light. But many natures of the opposite kind are influenced by the suggestions coming from these insidious influences, and very often succumb to them.
Thus from the Astral Plane come impulses of waves of crimes of various kinds - calamities, moral and physical diseases, of suicides, rapes and murders, social convulsions etc. - which sweep through society periodically like epidemics.
The phenomenon is vastly aggravated by unconscionable crime of capital punishment which the State metes out to those who commit grave crimes, and by those who through moral cowardice commit suicide. In such cases, only the body is dead, but the Inner Man will still be alive unseen in the Astral World, and  their minds are caught up intensely in such negative thoughts and emotions as grief, hatred, revenge, lust, and repeatedly rehearsing in imagination the memories of crime they committed. Thus thoughts of crime, coming from the inner plane, are sown in the minds of vulnerable people living in the world and impel them to commit similar crimes. This fact is, unfortunately, little known. Were there a general awareness of the working of this moral and psychological law much of the evils of society would be prevented by means of right education, inculcation of virtues, inducing responsible action on the part of individuals and groups. 
The general notion is that the events of life are accidental or chance happenings. Therefore, people tend to absolve themselves of individual responsibility for the ills of society and for the unhappy and painful personal conditions in which they may find themselves. This is a wrong view. We are Eternal Thinkers, not mere creatures of a day. As Thinkers we make our world by our thoughts - by thinking and acting on the basis of the ideas we hold - and are, therefore, responsible for the conditions which make up our lives. A general recognition and admission of this basic truth of life will in itself raise mankind to a higher moral development and induce voluntary responsible individual action, which tend to promote mutual co-operation and social harmony. 
It is, therefore, of paramount importance to understand that ideas and beliefs which have no basis in truth, or which are at best partial truths, will necessarily lead us into error and confusion. For instance, the theological idea of an extra-cosmic personal God, which has held such a sway over the human mind for centuries, has indeed no basis in reality and truth. We have ample illustrations, both in history of civilizations and in our contemporary world, that this belief is at the root of the tendency in believers to absolve themselves of the moral responsibility for their actions and for the conditions of their lives, on the one hand, and for the growth of religious dogmatism, intolerance and superstitions, on the other.
There is no substance in the argument that scientific progress, in the modern sense of the term, will cure society of superstitions. If it has freed the mind from one kind of superstition, it has fostered other sorts in their place, which are equally pernicious in their effects, as much of the theories of science are built on wrong premises.
Wrong premises cannot but lead to wrong conclusions, though the line of reasoning from the major and minor terms of the syllogism, as per rules of logic, is faultless. Thus the modern scientific dictum that life, mind and consciousness have physical basis is contrary to truth, and, consequently, the wrong premise has necessarily given rise to the pervading materialism of the times with all its horrific consequences which we are witnessing in the world today. Very few indeed ever question these assumptions and the great mass of people, including those considered to be learned and educated, live by and act upon such erroneous popular ideas. Social and international relations and institutions are all built on such false notions of life.  This is the root-cause of the world problems.
Great Teachers have always taught that mind is the real plane of action, and that if it is misdirected by mistaken notions or assumptions about life and its purpose, it leads us into obscurity and spiritual darkness. The Buddha teaches that a wrongly directed mind does greater harm to us than that which our enemies wish for us. The way out of the obscurity and difficulties in which we are is to free the mind from wrong ideas and direct it to consideration of universal and eternal truths.  The latter reveal to us the true nature of our real being and that of the universe, both being differentiation or manifestation of One Life, governed by One Law - the cyclic and Karmic Law -  gradually evolving towards the one grand consummation, which is universal divine perfection of every being.
The great Teachers give out such ideas founded on self-evidently true universal axioms, which arouse in those who are receptive to them the hitherto dormant faculty of Intuition, by which they are able to readily grasp the reality of the universal ideas. Such ideas as divinity latent in man, of the true nature of the Self, of universal brotherhood of humanity, of the laws of Karma and Reincarnation which unravel and explain the otherwise unsolvable riddles, paradoxes and mysteries of life, which when dwelt upon, resonate in the inmost depths of our being, enabling us to inwardly recognize the self-evidently true basis of these verities - are indeed the living realities of our Higher Consciousness. Thus do the great Sages sow the seeds of wisdom in the minds of those who are receptive, and show them the way and the means by which each one can verify for oneself the great truths suggested, free oneself from all error, and attain perfection of spiritual cultivation - Divinity.
The above text was first published by “The Theosophical Movement” magazine, in its edition of October 2013, pp.  19-23. Original title: “The Power of Suggestion”.
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The Process of Suggestion

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