The Secret and the Law of Attraction – good stuff but Buddhism says they’re only half the story…

A few years ago, several delegates on the personal development training courses I deliver started asking me if I had heard of the Law of Attraction.


Many of them had read Rhonda Byrne’s book, The Secret or Joe Vitale’s The Key which teach that “your thoughts and your feelings create your life” and more significantly that the events (good and bad) that we attract into our lives reflect our inner reality. There was a real buzz around the LOA – it was a new way of looking at life, happiness and suffering. Or was it?

In fact, as Vitale explains, Byrne was not the first to explore this idea. Back in 1906 American author and merchant William Walker Atkinson wrote: “We speak of the Law of Gravitation but ignore the equally wonderful ‘Law of Attraction’ in the Thought World, the mighty Law that draws to us the things we desire or fear, that make or mar our lives.”

But Atkinson was not the first to speak of this Law either. Because Shakyamuni Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) revealed it 3,000 years ago in The Lotus Sutra.  

A deeper and more complete concept of the LOA is in fact at the core of the philosophy of Nichiren Daishonin, who in 13th century Japan first chanted the mantra Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, where the words ‘Myoho Renge’ mean (amongst other things) ‘Mystic Law of Cause and Effect’. Nichiren explains: “It is called the Mystic Law because it reveals the principle of the mutually inclusive relationship of a single moment of life and all phenomena.”

OK, what does that mean, you may ask? I love this explanation from the novel The Buddha, Geoff and Me, where author Edward Canfor-Dumas eloquently describes this Mystic Law as the “mystical, invisible thread between the churning, inner reality of my life and the great outdoors of the rest of the world.”

Millions of fans of the LOA enthuse that it has made them feel happier and also more responsible for the results they achieve in their lives. They say it is a teaching of great optimism and a positive way to approach daily challenges such as relationships, health, career and money. Enthusiastic Buddhists say the same about Buddhism, whilst emphasising that Nichiren Buddhism includes other people’s happiness as well as your own. And the LOA has spawned a big and lucrative ‘industry’ of seminars, webinars and workshops (focused quite heavily on followers gaining material riches.)

But critics of the LOA point out that some practitioners keep consciously trying to think new thoughts and feel new emotions but somehow don’t manage to ‘manifest’ results. Or that sometimes they do get what they want, but not always, so how can it be a reliable ‘Law’ (in the way that gravity is an unerring Law of the universe?) They then get frustrated and give up on their dreams, in fact they’re more unhappy than before, because their expectations have been raised and then dashed. The LOA teachers, they say, have over-promised and under-delivered. Followers can start to think of themselves as failures, or to doubt that the Law of Attraction exists or works. (Critics rather wittily call it the ‘Flaw of Attraction’.) In response, LOA fans say that they’re not trying hard enough, don’t believe strongly enough or haven’t changed their subconscious mind enough for the environment to respond in kind.

In my experience of 28 years as a Buddhist, to become truly and deeply happy is indeed a matter of faith, blood, sweat, patience and tears. Of confronting head-on the harsh realities of daily life and creating value and beauty from them.  We call this process ‘Human Revolution’ in Nichiren Buddhism and when you’re changing a really deep aspect of karma (for example mental health, career or relationships) it can feel like every day produces new and bigger obstacles. Nichiren himself said that obstacles are an inevitable sign of progress and that when faced with challenges, “The wise rejoice and the foolish retreat.” Incidentally, in my coaching sessions I also make it clear to clients that the people who have the biggest breakthroughs are, without exception, the ones who take action and put the work in between sessions, based on the insights they have had.

So Buddhism does not over-promise in terms of quick results, and chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is absolutely not a magic wand or a ‘quick-fix cosmic ordering service’, however much I may sometimes wish it was! 🙂 Changing your destiny takes time. And many Buddhists will admit to having one particular ‘karmic Achilles heel’, a situation or repeated patterns in their lives that are taking many years to transform.

I have come to the conclusion that LOA has strong parallels with Nichiren Buddhism, but that Buddhism goes deeper. Two levels deeper than the subconscious mind in fact, (see article here on the 9 levels of consciousness) arguing that to really change your life, you need to access your Buddhahood by chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo and transform your karma, the depths of your life containing effects from previous lifetimes, not just the more surface ‘thoughts and feelings’ of your subconscious mind described by LOA practitioners. Understandably most LOA teachers tend to stop short of tackling the knotty issue of karma, for sound ethical reasons and because reincarnation is impossible to prove.

Incidentally Nichiren Buddhism goes wider as well as deeper than the LOA, because absolute happiness in Buddhism includes the happiness of others and a dedication to transforming the age of war, injustice and destruction in which we live. In this sense, it also goes beyond techniques such as CBT, NLP and mindfulness therapy.

So… in summary: I like the LOA. I especially love the way that authors and coaches like Byrne and Vitale explain so simply and eloquently how Life works – to be honest sometimes they do it in a simpler and more accessible way than Buddhists do. But I also feel that the LOA is, ultimately, ‘Buddhism Lite’. So if:

  • the LOA isn’t working for you,
  • you want to make deep, wide and lasting changes to your life and the lives of those around you,
  • you’re prepared to fight obstacles, change your karma and be patient…

… then now might be the time to use the powerful tool that is chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. It gets below your conscious and subconscious mind. It reaches the parts that other mantras do not reach. It is, to practitioners, the ‘Daddy of all affirmations.’ It can bring you happiness and fulfilment on a completely different scale. It will connect you to the ‘bigger self’ Buddha in you that yearns for the absolute happiness of all humanity. And, if you’ll pardon the pun, that’s part of its Attraction to 12 million Nichiren Buddhists around the world.


PS. My post on Nam Myoho Renge Kyo explains why coaching and hypnosis can be very powerful but that it takes prayer to transform your heart.

PPS. The book I am currently writing will contain a more complete comparison of Buddhism and the Law of Attraction.

PPPS (this is the last one, promise!) If you enjoyed this post, you may also like, ‘Why don’t Buddhists believe in God? Or do they?

29 Replies to “The Secret and the Law of Attraction – good stuff but Buddhism says they’re only half the story…”

  1. bbberg says:

    Hi really enjoyed this. Beautiful writing.
    you may enjoy the chart I made.
    Love,Peace,Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo!

    1. Thnx for your kind comments and I love the chart you made :-). Actually I wonder if you could email it to me so that I can use it (possibly with a couple tweaks) in my book? Would that be ok? If so: [email protected]
      Best, dx

      1. bbberg says:

        Hi sorry just got this message. I send you the chart RIGHT NOW. love and peace B.B.

  2. milton isejima says:

    Sim, concordo com esta pesquisa. Li o livro “The Secrets”, assisti ao video e sempre achei que estava relacionado com o Budismo que já revelou esta questão ha 2.500 anos atrás. Portanto, não é novidade.
    “Ichinen Sanzen” revela as 3000 possibilidades.

  3. David says:


    Perhaps I don’t know enough about LOA, but I found The Secret to be extraordinarily materialistic. It also seems clear that Nichiren didn’t see the purpose of the Law to be material accumulation, but as about leading a just, honourable and meaningful life.

    I find it difficult to link the Buddhist quotes you have chosen to the LOA. In what way did Shakyamuni ‘reveal the LOA’?

    Is the practice not about weathering the Eight Winds rather than trying to turn them off?

    1. Hi David
      Thank you for your comment – I received quite a few similar ones on my FB page, so it looks like this was one of my more controversial posts :-)! Yes, I agree that LOA is interpreted in a materialistic way by many of its adherents and indeed I do touch on this point in the post. There are other LOA books that are less focused on material stuff. As you know Nichiren said that the treasures of the heart are more important than money etc… Basically I feel a lot of people searching for NMHRK end up meeting stuff like LOA and other ‘partial teachings’ or ‘Buddhism Lite’. Best, David

  4. Hugo says:

    Nam-Myo-Renge-Kyo è la vibrazione che crea attrazione. Questa è la legge di attrazione.

  5. Minakshi Sharma says:

    LOA talks about attracting any desire or want in our life. But it doesnot show how to align ourselves to the rhythm of the universe , what they call getting into vortex and form your own grid etc.In Buddhism we are clearly shown how we can chant the mystic law and tap our highest potential that is our Buddhahood. Nichiren Daishonin also talks about how we can change our karma by doing our Human Revolution and working for happiness of others.Therefore Buddhism is complete in term of purification of our life, changing karma and attracting what you want .

  6. Have you ever considered about including a little bit more
    than just your articles? I mean, what you say is fundamental
    and everything. But think of if you added some great images or videos to give
    your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with images and videos, this blog could
    certainly be one of the very best in its field.
    Excellent blog!

    1. Hello and many thanks for your kind words. Yes you are right, I could do videos etc… however my focus right now is to finish writing my book on Buddhism & happiness and then I will start doing more with the blog. Thanks again, David

  7. Hi there everybody, here every person is sharing these knowledge, thus
    it’s pleasant to read this website, and I used to go to see this weblog daily.

  8. Linda says:

    Thanks David – I was drawn to your article because as someone who has studied Buddhism, and also LOA, I was interested in your take on the relationship between the two. I agree that LOA doesn’t go far enough, and I also agree with those who say it focuses too much on materialistic gain. One big issue I have with LOA is it seems they emphasize “sitting around thinking good thoughts” about what you want without doing any of the footwork. In my own life I’ve seen where LOA can certainly work, but you have to get off your butt and do the footwork. I can think happy thoughts all day but if I don’t DO something, who cares? Just my two cents…..

    1. Hi Linda
      Great point you make there thank you and personally I love Nichiren’s emphasis on action. And another of my favourite quotes is: “if you know but do not do, you do not know.” (Shakyamuni).
      D 🙂

  9. Anne Barnes says:

    Thx for this article David – as a practising SGI Buddhist since 1982, I often tell people that the aspect of DEATH is something that clearly distinguishes our practice & LOA

    1. Anne, you are very welcome. 1982, wow, a pioneer!! I feel so grateful to the handful of people who were first to chant outside Japan :-). Dx

  10. shirley Tan says:

    hi David, I am glad I come across this blog. I am N.D practitioner since 1988, and I come across LOA 3 years ago through my niece. Deep in me, I have always feel that LOA can manifest material wealth,but wont help on lighten karmic issues. but i use LOA to share with non buddhist friends prior going to N.D teaching.

    1. Hi Shirley, glad you like the blog and great that you can bring people to ND Buddhism by discussing LOA :-).

  11. Shivu says:

    Hello, Chant “Nam-Myo-Renge-Kyo” to attain Buddha State which is highest enlighten state of being which is Buddha state itself. Instead of being caught with the wheels of life and death and being taking different realms of Form.(i.e Gods, Humans, Demi Gods, Animals, Demons etc…) based on our good and bad karmas. That’s the key secret for Living Beings. Thanks, Regards.

  12. Sue says:

    Interesting post, thank you. I ‘dabbled with’ the idea of Buddhism years ago and went to some SGI meetings and chanted daily. The results in my life were astounding in both a materialistic and spiritual way. I didn’t stick with it for whatever reasons and years later discovered the LOA. Not The Secret or the other one mentioned in your post but Abraham Hicks and writers such as Pam Grout, which led to A Course In Miracles.

    I want to defend the LOA because while The Secret (I’ve seen the movie) seems materialistic, the fundamental message is one of unconditional love.

    The LOA is a complex subject based in quantum physics and the theory that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. Threaded through the LOA background is that we are vibration (which we actually are and so is everything else) and that the frequency you’re vibrating at will attract more things of the same vibration. So if you vibrate at a frequency of freedom, happiness, wealth and love, then you will attract all of these things into your life. If you vibrate at a lower frequency and feel jealousy, dislike and conflict, you will attract things and circumstances that match this frequency.

    Nam myoho renge kyo is a very effective way of raising the frequency of your vibration.

    The ‘God’ behind the LOA is one consciousness. Consciousness creates reality (see the double slit experiment on YouTube). So if we are all one consciousness, if you spread hatred and suspicion about other life forms, you are spreading hatred and suspicion about yourself.

    If you use the LOA and its foundations as a way of life, you are loving everyone unconditionally. It is an understanding that others believe in things that are different to you, see things in the opposite way to how you see them, this is just because the one consciousness ‘you’ are enjoying the contrast that comes from these very different experiences.

    So this is an immediate end to conflict.

    The materialistic stuff which is, I agree, over emphasised in The Secret, is secondary to love. But having said that there is nothing wrong with wanting wealth and I’m pretty sure I remember this being part of the teaching of Buddha from my SGI days.

    The fundamental point of the LOA is love.
    The fundamental point of Nichiren Buddhism is love.

    I’d go as far as to say that the LOA and Nichiren teachings are exactly the same.

    The problem you’re describing is one of interpretation.

    1. Dear Sue
      many thanks for this detailed and excellent comment.

      I absolutely agree with the vibration and quantum physics perspective on this. In fact I am excited at how teachers of Buddhism, Science and the LOA are converging, from totally different directions, on the same ideas. My understanding is that Quantum Physics’ current model of everything, known as String Theory, proposes that the entire multi-layered Universe, including you and me, is not made up of particles and solid matter but of minute strings of energy vibrating at different frequencies. I think it also reveals that cause and effect can be simultaneous rather than sequential? As a life coach exploring the ‘inner cosmos’ I wouldn’t know a quark from a boson if I tripped over them in the street, but it strikes me that there are strong similarities between String Theory and the phrase Nam Myoho Renge Kyo which could be literally translated as: “Mysterious Universal Law of Simultaneous Cause and Effect Vibrating Thread.” Did you ever study the principle of ‘ichinen sanzen’ when you dabbled in Buddhism? It explains all of this stuff…

      You are correct that SGI Buddhists chant for material (‘conspicuous’) benefits, though if you know the ‘3 kinds of treasure’ gosho you will recall that Nichiren taught that the treasures of the heart are more important than ‘toys n trinkets’. The person we become while achieving material benefits is more important than the benefit itself.
      I will check out that Youtube video you mention.

      I hope you will make further comments on this blog so that readers can benefit from your insight and wisdom.
      Thanks again

  13. Swagata mitra says:

    I follow Buddhism for last 5 years n recently started reading about secret-the power.I think both relies on changing me.. my feelings… n they are amazing.. the article here to expln the deeper meaning was amazing.. thanks so much

    1. You are very welcome Swagata 🙂 May your strong seeking spirit take you to ever deeper levels of wisdom, courage and compassion. NMRK, David

    2. RB says:

      This is an interesting article. As I was taught by my Nichiren Budhdhist friend, I really have noticed some overlap in the principle of the mystic law and the Law of Attraction. Now, the point is the authenticity. How can one judge until he / she has not been benefited at the first place? There are a number of testimonials supporting the victorious achievements of Nichiren Buddhist practice and also for practicing LOA. Although, we don’t really know about rebirth and reincarnation, all that I understood with my ordinary mind that if I am not happy and successful in my present life then why should I put so much effort in correcting my karma for the next birth?
      In my life, I have always seen miracles to happen even though I did not practice any of the laws. The miracles did happen just by themselves and the key was actually my tremendous effort, honesty and my unconditional love for others. With my great respect to LOA and the mystic law, I can only say, the prayers, the dedication and the genuine effort never go in vain.

  14. I find the comments about LOA and “The Secret” being materialistic fascinating. Perhaps we should see The Secret as an entry point for (mostly) western people to becoming more positive and harmonious in their lives.

  15. Roberto Filacchione says:

    Hi everyone,

    The problem is not whether the so-called “Law” of attraction is interpreted with a materialistic approach or not, but that there is no such law, nor is there any scientific basis about its existence, but rather anecdotal cases of its supposed effectiveness. Also, the concept of quantum mysticism has been widely used and abused to explain all phenomena. This LOA is one of the greatest scams I’ve encountered in my wonderful 18 years of Nichiren Buddhist practice. I would also like to emphasize that the concept of reincarnation is a Hindu one ( you know, transmigration of the soul and so on) and that’s why in Buddhism we talk about rebirth: two dramatically different things. But I’m digressing.

    Roberto Filacchione

    1. davidhare3000 says:

      Hi Roberto
      thank you for your comment. You are right, ‘rebirth’ is probably a better word to use in Buddhism. As for your comments re LOA, you say that ‘there is no such law,’ and back up your argument by explaining that there is no ‘scientific basis about its existence,’ – fair enough for you to have that opinion, but don’t you think you could apply the same criticism to NMRK? What is the ‘scientific evidence’ to prove that the Mystic Law exists? All these teachings are spiritual and cannot be squeezed into narrow and proveable scientific arguments… Best, David.

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