Heaven in The Science of Mind
(This Ernest Holmes t-shirt available at Zazzle)
I am keeping another blog called Self Help where I record the various things I discover as I research and write my PhD on the history of self-help books in Australia. Do check it out occasionally.
One of the projects on there has been the slow and careful reading of that enormous book Science of Mind in its entirety. Necessary, really, because of its enormous influence on New Thought and self-help in general. In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that it was one of the most influential books of the 20th Century, despite being almost completely unknown by the literati!
Written by Ernest Holmes, and used as the textbook of for the religion that was once called Religious Science, but is currently undergoing a name change, Science of Mind is an enormous book in every sense, and to be frank, it's not easygoing. Though filled with brilliant - indeed radical - ideas about the new vision of self that was being presented to society by the reformers of New Thought, like most "spiritual classics" it is endlessly repetitive, inclined to drift off topic, and could have done with some heavy editing.
Of course, Science of Mind was probably never intended to be read in big chunks from cover to cover. It is a religious text, and its context is really the short chunk quoted in devotional literature, meditated on, or read out in church.
Holmes is the inspiration behind many of the big names of modern self-help (Louise Hay, Marianne Williamson) and he was a fascinating man. He established a religious empire that included the monthly devotional magazine - also called Science of Mind - that is still in print now.
Originally published in 1926, the book still stands as a radical re-working of traditional thought. In such a massive work (672 closely printed pages) it is hard to identify a single theme, but I can say that one of the recurring the messages is that there is a single Truth, and a set of Universal Laws, that embody Good. Whether we follow these laws is up to us, but to do so is natural, if not necessarily easy. We must trust that this Invisible Force is interested only in our good, and as much as we fall into its patterns, our lives will follow this path of complete Good.
Did I do well in explaining?
Anyway, here is a little exploration of the use of the word (and idea of) "heaven" in the book, as I have just posted over at my PhD blog.
The New Thought idea of heaven represents quite a departure from the standard Swedenborgian visions which initially inspired the movement. By the time Holmes was writing The Science of Mind, the vision of heaven being enunciated was a distinctly Buddhistic one, described more as a state of mind and being than as an actual place.
Holmes writes that "Only that can return to heaven which was born in heaven, and since heaven is not a place, but a state of consciousness, the return must be a recognition that heaven is already within" (SOM p. 472). This is a further illustration of Holmes' central idea (via Mary Baker Eddy and a host of New Thought writers) that the process of self-improvement is not one of seeking outward advances, but of returning to an already existing state of perfection. Holmes criticises orthodox religion because it most often externalises the spiritual quest. In Holmes' philosophy all of the things that people have considered to be outside them - God, Heaven, even Christ - are in fact already in place in our spirit. We have forgotten that we are simply expressions of these qualities, and so we foolishly pursue an outward quest to discover something we are in fact carrying with us constantly. More than being a place on earth, heaven is our own mind, if we will allow it to re-unite with Original Mind.
Holmes says that we are unaware of these truths because centuries of conditioning have rendered us incapable of comprehending the true spiritual message of Christianity. It is only in this modern age, when our world is advancing and our minds improving, that teachers like Holmes and others are able to finally explain the truth. Those who refuse to believe are simply emulating the thick-headed listeners spoken about in John3:12 "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?" We struggle with the ideas of illusion, when we could be falling into accord with the realities of heaven.
For Holmes the world that is real - the world we know now - is in fact the illusion. It is maya, and it is merely a distraction. But if the ways of the world hurt us, if we know sorrow and difficulty, this may be a good thing. Such sufferings may be what inspire us to begin on the spiritual path. Many of us are doomed to learn to the fullest extent the impossibility of a worldly outlook, but hopefully once we see the futility of materialism, "the lesson will be learned and we shall enter the paradise of contentment" (SOM p. 491).
Like all other Biblical concepts and imagery, heaven is for the most part a symbol for Holmes. It is the code word for all that is good, and all that which is most spiritual. "The time will come when we will let our "conversation be in heaven," and refuse to talk about, read or think about, those things that ought not to be" (SOM p. 55), says Holmes, describing one of New Thought's more controversial edicts: avoiding and denying those things which aren't in accord with perfection. The heavenly state is one in which positive thought, feeling and action are constantly at work. The metaphysician (for so Holmes describes the student of New Thought) must choose always the heavenly path, and to dwell always in heavenly qualities, though the truth around her may be quite different. It is Holmes' point that this "truth" of suffering, of lack and discontent, is in fact truly false. That which is not good is error - only the good is heavenly.
In fact, the effort to improve, to become a truly good person, is itself a daily struggle, a daily spiritual journey from the earthly to the heavenly. In his 1957 book How to Change Your Life, Holmes wrote that "...being lifted up from the earth means uniting with heaven. This daily lifting up of your thought is necessary if you wish to unite yourself and everything you are doing with the Divine..." (p. 252). Holmes seems to be suggesting that in manipulating our thoughts and the direction and intention of our daily tasks, we re-orient ourselves heavenward, and can be immersed once again in the divine perfection from which we emerged.