The Law of Attraction, Habits, Character (Gati), and Cravings (Āsava)

Revised October 24, 2018; March 2, 2020; November 1, 2020; August 11, 2022

The Law of Attraction

1. The saying, “Birds of a feather flock together,” is true, and we can see that all around us.

  • We can put people into various categories: sportsmen/sportswomen, thieves, politicians, murderers, churchgoers, environmentalists, liberals, conservatives, etc.
  • In school, kids tend to get into different groups: those who play sports, like partying, nerds, geeks, etc.
  • Of course, there may be some overlaps, but we can clearly see that people tend to socialize with those with common interests, likings, etc.
Those With Similar Character/Habits (Gati) Tend To Stay Together

2. This is a universal principle. A basic rule in chemistry is that “like molecules” stay together.

  • We all know that oil and water do not mix. Those two molecules have very different properties (analogous to gati in people.) On the other hand, water molecules stay together happily since they all have the same properties. Same with oil.
  • In people, there are “good gati” as well as “bad gati.”
  • Like water and oil, those with similar gati tend to “stick together.” This is why it is essential to stay away from those with “bad gati” and to try to associate with those with “good gati.”

3. Buddha Dhamma describes the laws of nature. So it is not surprising that Buddha Dhamma’s law of attraction comes naturally. There are three keywords in Dhamma that are relevant. (1) Habits/character (gati with the “t” pronounced “th,” like in “three” or in Thailand), (2) cravings (āsavā,) and (3) Hidden cravings (anusaya.) See “Habits and Goals, and Character (Gati).”

  • One’s gati are closely related to one’s hidden cravings (anusaya.) Such gati or anusaya “come to the surface” as cravings (āsava) when triggered by sensory input (ārammana.) For example, an alcoholic does not crave drinking all the time. That “drunkard gati” remains hidden as anusaya until he sees an alcohol bottle or is invited to a drink by a friend.
  • Some of these habits we take from life to life, see Saṃsāric Habits, Character (Gati)  and Cravings (Āsava).”
  • However, it is possible to change even those deeply-ingrained bad gati. The key is to realize the bad consequences of “bad gati” and cultivate “good gati.”
Paṭicca Samuppāda Explains the Law of Attraction

4. The law of attraction can be explained with Paṭicca Samuppāda, the principle of cause and effect in Dhamma; see “Paṭicca Samuppāda – Introduction.”

  • “Pati + iccha” means associate or bind with something one likes. “sama + uppāda” means what results (uppāda) from that is something similar (sama) in kind. That association leads to an outcome of the same kind.
  • If a child hangs out willingly and enthusiastically with others who like to work hard and enjoy getting good grades, they will continue on that path to success. The more a child willingly hangs out with a criminal gang, his mind becomes more attuned to criminal behavior and becomes a criminal capable of doing atrocious crimes.
  • Thus, Buddha Dhamma says, “gati (character) attracts a similar gati.” We will see this develop into profound meaning.
Environment Plays a Key Role in Changing Gati

5. However, Dhamma says this law of attraction does not need to be fatalistic, i.e., one with bad habits/cravings does not have to go down a slippery slope. One CAN change those habits/cravings GRADUALLY and thus change one’s character (gati).

However, a child is not capable of doing this on his/her own. That is why it is the parents’ responsibility to direct the child:

  • Parents can make a HUGE contribution in setting up good habits/cravings in a child starting from conception. The fetus felts the love and cares the parent feel towards each other. That is as important, perhaps more important than the food consumed by the mother. A child born into an environment of abuse or violence may develop life-long problems.
  • As the child grows, the child’s behavior and habits are influenced HUGELY by the parents, friends, and the school environment. It is the responsibility of the parents and teachers to guide the child.

6.  When one becomes an adult, one has full control of one’s life (in a mundane sense). Even if childhood was not good, and even if one has acquired a set of bad habits (or even saṃsāric habits that have molded one’s character in fundamental ways), it is POSSIBLE to change them.

  • One can use the same Paṭicca Samuppāda principle to change direction.
  • All one needs to do is change the “pati+ichcha” part, i.e., change one’s likings or habits. Then “sama+uppāda” will happen automatically. That is nature’s law. See, “Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
One Needs to See the Consequences of Bad Gati

7. First, one needs to convince one’s mind that the current path will lead to a bad destiny. That is getting rid of avijjā in the “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” step in Paṭicca Samuppāda. One must contemplate the bad consequences of staying on the same wrong path. And one also needs to contemplate the benefits of cultivating good habits.

  • For example, a smoker cannot just make a New Year resolution and stop smoking (a few can, but most cannot). Instead, it is better first to look at all the medical evidence.
  • There is strong evidence that one could die early and may be burdened in old age with lung problems if one continues smoking. One could talk to someone who has given up smoking and listen to that person’s “success story” or think about not seeing the annoyance of those around when one lights a cigarette, etc.
Cultivating Good Gati

8. When one acquires “good habits” (initially slowly and with effort), one is attracted to people, settings, workplaces, and environments that further nurture and grow those habits, changing one’s character. Thus, the process becomes self-feeding once started.

  • The law of attraction is embedded in Paṭicca Samuppāda: “pati+ichcha,” leading to “sama+uppāda.” Thus it is critical to develop a liking  (chanda) and desire (citta) for what one wants to accomplish, to critically analyze the situation (vīmaṃsā), and make an effort (viriya); see “The Four Bases of Mental Power (Satara Iddhipada).”
  • When one repeatedly engages in certain lifestyles and activities (good or bad), those become habits. In Sinhala, it is said that “නිතර කරන දෙය ගති වෙනවා.” When one does this repeatedly and possibly over numerous rebirths, they get deeply embedded as deep-seated cravings (āsavā). Those gati (characters) also become “bhava” as well. Whatever that is liked becomes one’s existence (bhava) or reality (in Sinhala, “තිබෙන බව”).
  • When one has a certain character (gati), it becomes easy to get into the corresponding “state” or existence; this is one meaning of bhava. For example, one with a “drinking habit” is easy to be “born” in that state, i.e., just the sight of a bar may cause that person to get drunk. This is the concept extended in Buddha Dhamma. It is easy to be “born” with those characteristics in the new birth (uppatti bhava) or even in the present life (pavutti bhava). This is a bit deeper concept discussed in the Paṭicca samuppāda section. See, for example, “Akusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
Need to Have Patience

9. The problem many people run into is that they would like to change quickly, which does not normally happen. Initial progress could be slow. However, when one gets traction, the process speeds up. It is like trying to reverse the direction of a moving car. One needs to stop going in the wrong direction first. Even when one starts the car facing the right direction, it takes a little while to accelerate and ramp up the speed. See “Habits, Goals, and Character (Gati)” and the links there. Let us consider two examples:

  • Suppose one wants to be a successful businessman. In that case, one should try to “build up” business people’s habits: knowledge of the particular business, learning relevant skills, hard work, etc. THEN the law of attraction starts working and will automatically pull one to others with similar interests and environments or conditions.
  • If a high-school kid wants to go to college, he/she should try to get into that mindset. Spending more time deciding what kinds of subjects to study and then getting “immersed” in them. The parent and teachers can make a big difference by encouraging and guiding on the correct path.
  • If someone wants to attain “nirāmisa sukha” (see “Three Kinds of Happiness – What is Niramisa Sukha?“), one needs to spend some time and first learn the true Dhamma. As one learns, one gets motivated to learn more because one will start feeling the character’s change (gati).
Managing Gati is the First Step to Nibbāna

10. Finally, the law of attraction also works in the saṃsāric rebirth process.

  • Many are reborn to the same families, same geographic locations, etc. (within the same “bhava.” See, “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein“).
  • At the moment of death, one’s mind automatically grasps a “matching birth” according to a specific kamma vipāka; however, habits and tendencies come into play too. One who has lived an immoral life is likely to get a similar outcome in the next life. Someone who “lives like an animal” is likely to be born an animal. One who lives like a “Deva” (a being devoid of hate) or a “Brahma” (a being devoid of greed and hate) is likely to reborn a Deva, Brahma.
  • Thus by cultivating good habits and getting rid of bad habits, one CAN change the direction of one’s current life (character)  AND future lives too.
  • The best way to do this is to be mindful all the time. See the bad consequences of bad actions and bad habits, avoid them; see the good consequences of good actions and good habits, and embrace them. At the fundamental level, this is the basis of Ānāpānasati and Satipaṭṭhāna Bhavanā (taking in what is good and getting rid of what is bad.) See “9. Key to Ānapānasati – How to Change Habits and Character (Gati).”

11. Several books are available on the law of attraction and how one can use certain procedures to attain goals, build relationships, etc.  The Buddha described those and more 2500 years ago.

Next, “Habits, Goals, and Character (Gati)“, …

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