“The time will come with each human being when he will step out of the great throng that drifts with the tide and enter upon the course of conscious evolution, assisting nature instead of ignoring her beneficent plan; and since it is but a question of time, the sooner a beginning is made the better, for the sooner will suffering cease.”

Last week, in the first part of this review, we learned that happiness is a natural state. The seemingly unpleasant difficulties in life help us grow and will fall away once we learn the lessons they bring. This week, we uncover the three essential aspects to successful self-development: ardent desire, iron will, and alert intelligence.

1. Desire

“Desire awakens, stimulates, propels. What wind is to the ship, what steam is to the locomotive, desire is to the human being.”

The desire for survival stimulates action and this action has allowed the physical body and mental intelligence to evolve. Without this desire forcing us to accept battle and risk, we would have perished long ago. And it is only by constantly replacing lower desires with higher ones that we can continue to progress.

However, there is a danger that constantly chasing desires will leave us forever unsatisfied. But it soon becomes clear that what we really acquire are not the empty and perishable objects of desire but “powers that we did not before possess and which we should not have evolved”. It’s like John Ruskin said: “The highest reward for a man’s toil is not what he gets for it but what he becomes by it.”

2. Will

“Only those with the indomitable will that knows neither surrender nor compromise may hope for a large measure of success. Once the will is thoroughly aroused and brought into action every hindrance in the way will be swept aside.”

Success in ordinary affairs requires a great deal of determination; success in spiritual development requires even more. And while it may be easy to convince ourselves that we’d do whatever it takes, we must test this. By observing how often we follow through on our plans and how often we “weakly surrender to small obstacles”, we understand what we lack and how far we’re prepared to go. Only then can we strengthen our will.

To develop our will and stop being slaves to nature, we can plan in advance what we wish to do under certain circumstances and then do so “without evasion or hesitation when the time arrives”. This can start with small and slightly unpleasant challenges before moving up to more difficult ones. Ultimately, the goal is to gain control over our physical being and “rise above the necessity of compulsion”.

3. Intelligence

“The force of desire, directed by the will, must be supplemented by an alert mind.”

Since good intentions alone aren’t enough for spiritual development, the mind must be strengthened by exercising original thinking. This means reading critically and fully understanding what we’re taking in as “a juryman would receive testimony from a witness, considering it from every possible viewpoint, examining it in the light of known facts, turning it over in the mind, weighing it thoughtfully, and accepting or rejecting according to its reasonableness or its lack of reason”.

It also involves developing an intense curiosity and fascination for the world. As we take note of the expressions, words, and actions of other people, we begin to understand who they are and gain compassion for their difficulties. As we practice the art of imagination, by picturing the face of an absent friend or the structure of our childhood homes, we further strengthen the mind.


“To realise the necessity for conscious evolution, to comprehend the method of soul development, to take full control of the mind and the physical body, to resolutely curb the grosser desires and to give free rein to the higher aspirations are the first infant steps in the self-development that leads to illumination.”

I really enjoyed this book and it’s one I’ll probably enjoy even more when I read it again in the future. Even though the language was sometimes challenging (it was first published in 1916), the writing is mostly conversational and occasionally wry. At times it does feel a though the text drones on in paragraphs that are unnecessarily long, but the use of descriptive examples illustrates and emphasises the points.

There were also several new ideas I found quite fascinating. One relates to desires. Rogers explains that these can only be directed and never destroyed. But he then gives advice that doesn’t quite add up. Why should the gambler channel his need for excitement into a political career while the drunkard should imagine himself as a “helpless, repulsive sot, with feeble body and weakening mind”? Doesn’t this go against his suggestion that we picture ourselves as people better able to serve the world once we’re spiritually evolved? And where does the suggestion that we create slight indifference (not hatred) to our desires fit? Or is it slight repulsion? He seems unsure.

The toughest part of the book (and one that nearly made me give up with a groan) is one I’ve deliberately left out until now. Rogers talks about developing the occult power of clairvoyance as the goal of spiritual development. Perhaps the use of the word ‘occult’ is unfortunate given that its current connotations are not as neutral as its true Latin root (‘to conceal’). In any case, Rogers mentions that this is a completely natural ability. Calling it “quite miraculous” is much like a blind man calling it miraculous when someone able to see can quickly count the number of doorways in a large building without having to touch them one by one.

Still, the idea of past lives (the reason some people are able to progress quickly in spiritual development) and communicating with the dead (“exalted intelligences that watch over and assist the struggling aspirants on their upward way”) is a little tougher to digest because Rogers offers little explanation. It’s the same with several other questions that are left unanswered (much to the frustration of readers who want to know more). What is the ether? What is astral sight? And what does it mean to “trace past causes and modify impending effects”? The same goes for the warning that we must have good motives to serve humanity with these powers or else face “the greatest dangers” and “certain disaster”. Since these issues are raised almost as an afterthought, I guess Paranormal Activity will have to be warning enough.

No matter what you believe, this short book can still be useful as long as you read it slowly and with an open mind. There is more than enough practical advice (especially on proven practices like meditation) to benefit us here and now. And the benefits are great: “The brain becomes clearer, the intellect keener. Our sphere of influence grows wider, our friendships become warmer. Aspiration lifts us into a new and radiant life, and the wondrous powers of the soul begin to become a conscious possession. And to this soul growth there is no limit.”

Author's Bio: 

I have been an active writer for well over a decade and published my first book in August 2007. This marked the start of Varsity Blah, a personal development blog that has now received over 250 000 hits from almost 130 countries worldwide. The best entries have been compiled into my latest book, which was reviewed on Authonomy.com: “This is some very insightful stuff… The way the book is structured, paired with your capabilities of drawing great narrative, leads this on the right path. This cleanses the mind.”

I share my love for reading and personal development by publishing book summaries and reviews every week at www.eugeneyiga.com. So make sure you subscribe to free alerts or follow me on Twitter to be notified when I do.