Chalice Lighting Words

St Mark’s member Mike West recently lit our Chalice with these words. 

Confucius, Lao-tzu and Buddhist Arhat (三教), by 丁云鹏 (Ding Yunpeng), via  WikiMedia Commons

Confucius, Lao-tzu and Buddhist Arhat (三教), by 丁云鹏 (Ding Yunpeng), via WikiMedia Commons

You may be familiar with the saying: 

“Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” 

The words are attributed to Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher who lived in either the 6th or the 4th century BC. To my surprise I came across a virtually identical text in the Upanishads, probably written between 800 and 500 BC. These are the ancient Sanskrit texts whose central ideas became the spiritual core of Hinduism. 

Another search led me to words ascribed to the Buddha, born between the 6th and 5th century BC in what is now Nepal: 

“The thought manifests as the word,
The word manifests as the deed,
The deed develops into habit,
And the habit hardens into character.
So watch the thought and its way with care, And let it spring from love 

Born out of concern for all beings.” 

So the same saying seems to have originated in three different cultures around the same period in history. 

Moving to the second century AD, there are echoes in the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor: 

“The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts. Our life is what our thoughts make it.” 

Then in the 19th century the transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emmerson wrote: 

“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” 

And in the 20th century Gandhi is recorded as saying: 

“Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions. Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits. Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values. Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny.” 

And my last example is Norman Vincent Peale, the Minister who preached positive thinking to America of the Great Depression. He wrote: 

“Change your thoughts and you change your world. Our happiness depends on the habit of mind we cultivate. Dwelling on negative thoughts is like fertilizing weeds.” 

Whoever was the first to offer these insights, they seem to have percolated through history and found expression in succeeding ages. Perhaps it is an example of what Aldous Huxley called the Perennial Philosophy. The truth seekers of every generation rediscover it but it has been around forever, wisdom that is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago.