Review: The Power

The following first appeared on Religion Dispatches. Read more and sign up for their free daily newsletter here.

Rhonda Byrne, The Power. Atria Books, 2010.

Reviewed by Mark Vernon

“I must begin each day with a positive thought,” an acquaintance of mine explained, eyes wide. We were sitting in a café over breakfast on a bright autumn morning. “We naturally wake up in sunlight, don’t we? It’s important that the first shimmer of awareness is constructive. Create optimism in your mind and life will go well.” She was quite evangelical.

And she was a convert. She has bought—and bought into—Rhonda Byrne’s latest smash hit, The Power. This book is the follow-up to The Secret, a small, glossy tome that has sold by the wagon-load all over the world. It’s been translated into 46 languages. In The Secret, Byrne ‘revealed’ the law of attraction. Now read The Power, she urges, and you’ll be, well, more empowered.

I was tempted to mock. Surely the second book is just cashing in on the first, in a cynical way demonstrating the law of attraction, which might be partially summarized as ‘success breeds success’? But I stopped myself. For both books are only articulating, if in a simplistic form, an approach to living that has ancient roots. Which is not to say it’s right.

The law of attraction is likened to magnetism. “Everything in the universe is magnetic and everything has a magnetic frequency,” Byrne explains in The Power. Thoughts and feelings have magnetic frequencies too. Hence, what you feel sets your frequency, and so what you will magnetically attract—be that money or poverty, health or illness, good relationships or disasters, and so on.

She describes a methodology. First, imagine yourself having it. Second, feel yourself with it. Third, receive it—for by then the magnetic force of the cosmos will be working through you. If you don’t receive it, that must be because you messed up steps one and two.

Take money. “If you don’t have enough money, naturally you don’t feel good,” Byrne says. But you won’t have money if you keep feeling that way; you’ll only attract more bills and expenses. So feel easy, at peace, and relaxed about money: “that feeling is magnetically sticky.” And that means cash will stick to you too. “One man wrote a check for $100 to a charity,” she cites in a brief case study. “Within ten hours he’d closed his biggest sale.”

Alongside such ‘evidence,’ pseudo-science is rallied to the cause too. For example, Byrne latches onto the ‘tipping point’ phenomenon, interpreting it to mean that if 51% of your thoughts are positive, you’ll attract more and more in an exponential curve—what people colloquially refer to as a lucky streak. There are nods to quantum physics and Werner Heisenberg’s description of the universe as a sea of ‘potentialities.’ No notice, of course, is taken of the massive destructiveness of the quantum world, which is the source of energy for nuclear weapons, and which Heisenberg was also referring to.

Ancient Attitude

Yet Byrne is writing in a tradition that can claim, in part, a long and serious pedigree. In particular, ancient Greek Stoicism bears comparison. Stoicism’s founder was Zeno of Citium, and the story goes that he was shipwrecked off the coast of Athens while delivering a load of porphyry. Zeno loathed the life of the merchant. Ever since his father had started bringing home copies of Plato’s dialogues, he’d longed to make his way to philosophy’s capital city. Now, he had his chance.

Once on land, he abandoned the ship, and made straight for a bookseller. The first book he picked up was a copy of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, a memoir of Socrates written by one of his first followers. Zeno turned to Book Two, in which Socrates discusses how a child should be educated. The sage voices a complaint: children are taught all kinds of things, he notes, but not basic skills like how to withstand pain or nurture happiness. Training in such matters would be useful, Socrates observes. And Zeno agreed.

He focused particularly on how the mental judgements we make in response to the things that happen to us can overwhelm us. For example, a day might be ruined by a trivial disappointment. The good Stoic, though, learns not to let that get him down and, in general, to react well to any eventuality. (Not getting a good deal on your cabbages at the market is one situation discussed; Zeno’s philosophy came to be called Stoicism because he taught in the Stoa, an everyday place of shops, and therefore an excellent place to practice this attitudinal philosophy.)

The Stoics backed up their practical concerns with a complete metaphysics. The cosmos, they believed, was run through and through with a benign force called the logos. Life goes well when we align our thoughts with this all-pervasive current. It sounds like the law of attraction.

Expect Nothing

However, there are critical differences between Stoicism and The Power, for the ancients were wise to life’s tragedies too. Some things do, apparently, go badly. (They could hardly think otherwise, living during that long period of history in which death was associated with the young, not the old.) So, their instruction was to ‘go with the flow’ even when that is hard to stomach. Theirs is not a relentless optimism, expecting everything, like Byrne’s. Rather, the Stoics advocated expecting nothing, but working at everything. Be lightened by life’s absurdities too, they recommended. That way you won’t be disappointed when you don’t, apparently, make progress. You’ll be able to maintain your trust in the logos.

But isn’t there a bigger charge to make against these “mind-cures,” as William James called them more than a century ago? (Books like The Power were bestsellers in Victorian times too.) He reasoned that they succeed ‘in ignoring evil’s very existence.’ Evil is a big thing to ignore, so I have to say that I agree with him. It points to something flawed in the human condition. We have what James called ‘sick souls.’ Do we not do what we wouldn’t do, and don’t do what we would do, as Saint Paul observed?

James opposed mind-cures to what he called ‘twice-born’ religions and philosophies, which teach that life in all its fullness only comes when we’re somehow born again into a state more perfect than this one. In ancient Greek tragedy, only a hero who dies well is reborn in the stars. In Indian philosophy, the karmic echoes of this life are worked out in the next and the next and the next. And in Christianity, it is only those who lose their life who will find it: die daily to yourself, and redemption will come.

The Power, though, and The Secret, need no such savior or sacrifice. It’s certainly an easier sell.

About the Author

17 Responses to Review: The Power

  1. Ultimately no one will be satisfied by “the secret” or “the power”. The goal of the book is only that the readers might have their desires for bhukti and mukti fulfilled. It’s the perpetual struggle for existence. Just another form of conventional materialistic religion. And I think that the author here makes a good point that the desire for everything to come easily and without struggle makes this methodology more attractive. That also seems to be a big part of the history of the deviant sects of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. The fact that bhakti is sudurlabha, that bhakti will probably not happen without firm faith and unwavering sadhana practiced for a very long time, exclusive dedications to the ideal of suddha bhakti and the direction and service of the premika bhakta, this can be very hard to accept.

  2. It also seems fitting that the quick fix is attractive. After all we live disconnected from nature in an artificial world built to serve our appetites with immediate gratification. “The Secret” and “The Power” seems to be tailor-made quick fix pseudo-spirituality for the times.

    • Let us examine how the “real” spiritualists out there in the “bonafide” religions perform.

    • Atmananda: “And I think that the author here makes a good point that the desire for everything to come easily and without struggle makes this methodology more attractive. That also seems to be a big part of the history of the deviant sects of Gaudiya Vaisnavism.”

      If it works, why complain that it is too attractive?
      That is the only question: Does it WORK?

      As to being attractive (besides Krishna, who is all-attractive), there is nothing more attractive to people than sour faced renunciates complaing about the rotten nature of this world…

      • For those who are attracted to the truth, light shed on the rotten nature of this world should be appreciable. It is not only “sour faced renunciates” who have understood this truth.

        And of course, that is not to say the world is inherently evil or any such thing, but must we always harp on the shortcomings of some in the name of balance? This article is not about renunciates and only indirectly about some degree of rottenness in the world. It is not intended to promote dialog about the failings of some people in a certain sect, but rather to question a certain perspective that is popular in the mainstream.

      • Nitaisundara: “It is not intended to promote dialog about the failings of some people in a certain sect, but rather to question a certain perspective that is popular in the mainstream.”
        Instead of merely questioning a particular perspective, it is much better to analyze why this perspective happens to be popular. As in: “study the competition if you want to beat them”.
        And that, my friend, IS being positive. Being positive IS good, it works, it generates verifiable positive results. Like attracts the like. And being negative attracts the like as well. Spirituality is very much all about being positive here and now, not just when we are in the spiritual world.

        • Following the herd is positively wonderful if you like the direction its heading. 🙂

        • The material world is a place of duality – postive/negative – flip sides of the same coin. Spirituality isn’t about either – it’s about dedication and sacrifice to the fullest. Whether one is a renunciate or living with family Krsna’s recommendation to be constantly aware of the miseries of material life applies. That is not negative – it is reality. No amount of positivity will stop death, disease, old age or birth. Material life is a bitter pill and no amount of sugar coating will take away the suffering that everyone will have to endure.

          Life is temoporary – but it’s so wonderful and positive you say? Well, guess what? All your loved ones will slowly die through disease, disaster or otherwise. The things you hold most dear (read attachment) will be taken away from you. Sound negative? Why does the truth sound negative? It is actually the most postive thing because the truth will set you free and take you beyond the realm of positivity and negativity to the land of eternal dedication.

        • I agree with your truth that material world is temporary. But many people will not agree that there is anything beyond this life or even if there is, no need to invest too much time thinking about it. So they feel yes there is disease and death, but dreaming about another world where disease and death don’t exist does not make such a world a reality. They want to face death as it comes. Use your senses balanced with secular humanism oriented altruism and then go for euthanasia if the body pains too much and disease is incurable. And they say who knows what happens after death. Heaven and hell, yes the church clergy just used these terms to get obedience from people and keep them under their control while the clergy themselves were enjoying.

          Still traditional religion with hell and heaven will surely make a return in the west when the natural resources cannot support the current standard of living. Then in distress, they will turn to and accept all religions and hell and heavens easily. 🙂

        • Audarya-lila-ji…
          Trust me… I know our philosophy.
          Still why shoud I not love someone even for a day? How is that love something foolish? If we go back to Krishna one day, will I regret that I loved here on earth? Not me.
          We can be practicing Krishna consciousness and be very positive about a lot of things in this world. Having a deep spiritual perspective on life only helps in being positive.
          The constant negativity among the devotees created a completely disfunctional society. And that is very, very unattractive to people. We have burned through more converts than any other religion I can think of. Do you see anything positive in that?
          Maybe a deep lesson?

        • Kula-Pavana

          I disagree with your idea of history or, shall I say your premise, about what created a dysfunctional society amongst devotees. Again – not to be pedantic, but my point stands that spirituality is not about positivity or negativity.

          Gaudiya Vaishnvavism isn’t a religion per se and Chaitanya Mahaprahu and his followers are not interested in converts. It is about waking up to who you are. The Srimad Bhagavatam tells us that it is a ‘cheating religion’ that focuses on dharma, artha, kama and moksha. For the most part that is what ‘religiion’ is about. Live a good life, be happy and then go to heaven.

          Chaitanya vaishnavism is about developing the intensity of desire and practice to cry for Krsna – to be satisfied with nothing less than joining Krsna’s family here and now, not at death. You will not join his family at death if you haven’t done so in life.

          The ‘problem’, at least from my perspective isn’t negativity and won’t be solved by swinging the pendulum to positivity. The problem is a real lack of genuine service and surrender along with a lack to good guidance.

          When you are a true saranagata then you will be able to love everyone and for sure, you will never be sorry about that – wherever you may go.


          The article being commented on was coming from a perspecitve of those who are accepting the premise that there is spirit and it endures. Your point is well taken, but doesn’t really fit with the theme of the article or of the comments.

          For sure there will always be very intelligent athiests and agnostics who are well aware of alot of the upanishandic truths regarding impermanance and suffering associated with embodiment and it is a given that that knowledge does not lead them to take up devotional life. But it is a good strong negative impetus to practice devotion for those who are convinced of the permanance of consciousness.

          I know you are interested in finding a way to reach the ‘intelligent athiests/agnostics’ and in helping them. The best way to reach anyone, whether they be highly intelligent or otherwise, is to be a genuine saranagata and to have a genuine spiritual life. That will be attractive to anyone. Just like we say that Krsna is the ‘all attractive’ person – his surrendered devotee is ‘all attractive’ as well. I’m not suggesting that devotees should not engage in debate with athiests/agnostics – just suggesting that, as with all genuine spiritual pursuits, that it be done with good backing and with a genuine spirit of service.

  3. Rather, the Stoics advocated expecting nothing, but working at everything.

    I found this interesting. At least the Stoics had a somewhat yogic world view.

  4. Perhaps someone should use “The Power” to bring forth a futuristic Vedic civilization that glorifies the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

    • Perhaps someone should use “The Power” to bring forth a futuristic Vedic civilization that glorifies the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

      They already do use The Power to do this–Krsna-sakti!

      • Of course :)! But, where are they building the capital city of the Kingdom ?

        • Within their hearts.

        • I agree. However, not to argue your point or strike up a debate or “present my thesis” here – I cannot help but think of the question of furthering Caitanya’s mission in terms of cultural aesthetic design.

          Basically, I’m suggesting a “harnessing” of what Maya has offered this world, but relating it all to Visnu and presenting it graphically in a way that is undeniable and cosmic. Its almost like being a salesman (but not as vulgar).

          You almost have to “charm” Maya into cuddling with you.
          This is a script I’m working on …… (It’s not directly connected to my “argument” – but as a joke I want to make it like a “Bhagavad Gita for Atheists” – almost like a play)

          You get those kinds of “Atheists” that are so noble and nice and “moral”. They “hold”(I cringe when they use that word) that “this is the only life” yet “Nature” is so amazing etc…..

          Then, in order to get them to maybe cuddle up to KC (with all their “scientific smartness”), you basically put your arm around them, smile and say : “Thats amazing …. I agree, Nature is so intricate….. Natural Selection is so elegant …. The Mind is fascinating ! etc….

          (In the meantime, the yogi knows that this is all Prakrti)

          Then you come in with this angle – “Hey, you know whats interesting?….. Did you know that the “David Star” actually respresents the interaction between consciousness and matter?” (You play the part of having a somewhat “condescending” view towards “religion”).

          “Oh no” says the Atheist, I never knew that – “that’s fascinating” (In my experience they like that word). Then, after exchanging a few jokes about “Jews” you add : “Yes, its basically two triangles, like arrows, going through eachother – The one represents “Nature” and the other represents “Conscious Experience”. Nature “evolves” (you humor them a bit) constantly, but the experience/perception thereof remains aloof and omnipresent through different localized points. Its basically like – you are looking at the same moon that Charles Darwin (hehe) looked at – isn’t that fascinating ?!”

          “So, its interesting to note that Nature and Consciousness (you don’t use the word “Soul” yet) are seperate yet interconnected – It’s “fascinating” that you as (insert name) are a personal conscious vehicle of this eternal system” ……….

          I don’t want to make this post too long, but you basically get the “Atheist” to acknowledge the concept of personality (by making him acknowledge his) – eternality (by making him acknowledge that consciousness features elsewhere in other personalities) and that “energy” cannot be destroyed. Finally, you get him to acknowledge that he has produced things in matter (thus alluding to the creative potency) as well as how sound influences matter (cymatics) – Then, perhaps you may have touched the Sat-Cid-Ananda core of the atman who currently thinks he is an Atheist.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top ↑