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

Revised October 24, 2018; March 2, 2020

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 a school, kids tend to get into different groups too: those who play sports, like partying, nerds, geeks, etc.
  • Of course, there may be some overlaps, but we can clearly see people tend to socialize with those who have common interests, likings, etc.

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 together; the two molecules are very different. On the other hand, water molecules stay together happily, as do oil molecules, by themselves.

3. Buddha Dhamma describes the laws of nature. So it is not surprising that the law of attraction comes naturally out of Dhamma. There are three keywords in Dhamma that are relevant: habits, character (gati; pronounced “gati”, like in “three”), and cravings (āsavā); see, “Habits and Goals, and Character (Gati)“. Actually, some of the habits we take from life-to-life, see, Saṃsāric Habits, Character (Gati)  and Cravings (Āsava)”.

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; i.e., 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, then the child 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, in Buddha Dhamma, it says, “gati (character) attracts a similar gati”. We will see this developed into very deep meaning.

5. However, Dhamma says this law of attraction does not need to be fatalistic, i.e., one with a set of 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 the point of conception. The love and care the parent feel towards each other are FELT by the fetus. 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.

The reason is that the manōmaya kaya of the child is aware of the surroundings even from the very early stages, even though it does not have any control over the situation; thus it is affected by the “environment”; see, “Manomaya Kaya (Gandhabba) and the Physical Body“.

6.  When one becomes an adult, one has full control. Even if the child years were 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 to change the “pati+ichcha” part, i.e., to change one’s likings or habits. Then “sama+uppāda” will happen automatically. That is nature’s law. See, “Paṭicca Samuppāda.”

7. First, though, one needs to convince one’s own mind that the current path will lead to a bad destiny; one needs to 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 out there that shows strong evidence that one could die early, and also may be burdened in old age with lung problems if one continued smoking. One could talk to someone who has given up smoking and listen to that person’s “success story”, or think about not having to see the annoyance of those who are around when one lights a cigarette, etc.

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

  • This is the law of attraction as embedded in Paṭicca Samuppāda: “pati+ichcha” leading to “sama+uppāda“. Thus it is critical to developing a liking  (chanda) and desire (citta) for what one wants to accomplish, and to critically analyze the situation (vimansa), and make an effort (viriya); see, “The Four Bases of Mental Power (Satara Iddhipada)“.
  • When one embraces certain ways and activities (good or bad), those become habits. In Sinhala, it is said that “නිතර කරන දෙය ගති වෙනවා”. When one keeps doing this over and over and possibly over numerous rebirths, they get deeply embedded as deep-seated cravings (āsavā). Those gati (character) 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 a bit deeper concept discussed in the Paṭicca samuppāda section; see, for example, “Akusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda“.

9. The problem many people run into is that they would like to change quickly and that 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. Then 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:

  • If one wants to be a successful businessman, then one should try to “build up” habits that business people have: knowledge of the particular business, learning relevant skills, hard work, etc. THEN the law of attraction starts working and will pull one to others with similar interests and environments or conditions automatically.
  • If a high-school kid wants to go to college, then he/she should make an effort to get into that mindset. Spending more time deciding what kinds of subjects to study and then get “immersed” in it. The parent and teachers can make a big difference by encouraging and guiding in 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 change in one’s character (gati).

In all cases,  one will be attracting external influences (friends, other interests, etc.) conducive to that effort automatically. AND one will lose some of the old influences too. Obviously, the ideal settings for the above examples could be different from each other, but not contradictory. Before trying to attain Nibbāna, a person with family responsibilities will need to fulfill those by making an income to support the family; a child needs to study well and find good employment. If one does not have the necessities of life (food, housing, clothing, and medicine) it is not possible to contemplate, let alone meditate.

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

  • 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 one’s kamma vipāka, and also one’s habits and tendencies. 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 and avoid them; see the good consequences of good actions and good habits and embrace them. At the very basic 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. Currently, there are several books written on the subject of 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.

12. Many people think kamma is deterministic, for example, if one is born to poverty that is one’s destiny, but that is NOT the case. Kamma is not deterministic; see, “What is Kamma? – Is Everything Determined by Kamma?“) The human mind is very powerful, and if used right (by purifying it and then using it mindfully), the possibilities are endless: see, “Power of the Human Mind – introduction” and the two posts following that for more details.

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

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