A Life of Self-Sacrifice

Henry David Thoreau - a monk for philosophy

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Sage of Walden Pond - Henry David Thoreau
Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life.
Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.

Henry David Thoreau
American Yogi
Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau

Pacem in Terris

Thoreau's personal life of self-sacrifice

Henry David Thoreau remained unmarried, struggling all his life with the problem of chastity. His view of Woman is idealistic, reverent, profound. In one of his journals he remarks that he had always felt younger than any girl or woman he ever met.

For a short period of time he kept company with a young woman. When asked why he withdrew from her, he replied (in his journal): "I require that thou knowest eveerything without being told anything. I parted from my beloved because there was one thing which I had to tell her. She questioned me. She should have known all by sympathy.

Yet he could write: "What presence can be more awful to the lover than that of his beloved." And this: "The intercourse of the sexes, I have dreamed, is incredibly beautiful, too fair to be remembered."

He had thoroughly pondered the problem of marriage, as these observations show:

"Does not the history of chivalry and knight-errantry suggest or point to another relation to woman than leads to marriage, yet an elevating and all-absorbing one, perchance transcending marriage? As yet men know not one another, nor does man know woman."
And this:

"I am sure that the design of my maker when he has brought me nearest to woman was not the propagation, but rather the maturation of the species. Man is capable of a love of woman quite transcending marriage."

"The end of a true [that is, a spiritual] marriage is not the propagation of the species..... but it is the end for which the species is continued, [namely]. the maturation of the species. The species [in other words] is not continued for the sake of continuance."

Thoreau may have loved women too much to have anything to do with even one of them. He was so drawn to woman's nature that perhaps the only solution for finding himself was to leave them alone completely.
Above is from Paul Hourihan (Vedantic Shores Press, Redding California)

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) exerted a profound, enduring influence on American thought and letters. His famous experiment in living close to nature, and his equally famous night in jail to protest an inhuman institution and an unjust war, are distilled in his best known works, Walden and "Civil Disobedience."

Thoreau's elevation of conscientious integrity in an era of social conformism, his passionate opposition to the institutional degradation of human life and values, and his enduring literary production as an author, public speaker, and natural scientist - all expressed in a distinctive prose style at once classic and personal - place him at the heart of the era we call the American Renaissance.

Almost buried beneath the weight of Thoreau's status as a literary classic and popular icon is an extraordinary wealth of thought and insight for people today. The philosopher Stanley Cavell writes that Thoreau's achievement "is still, if one can imagine it, not fully recognized." And literary scholar Lawrence Buell predicts Thoreau will be "an even more luminous and inspirational figure in the 21st century than he has been in the twentieth."

from The Thoreau Project, a nonprofit initiative of Calliope, Inc

Also see - Vedantic Shores: Be a Columbus (Thoreau's Quest)

The Gospel of John is sometimes known among Friends as "the Quaker Gospel," because it speaks to the Quaker concern for a here-and-now experience of eternal reality in Christ.
(Sounds slightly "Eastern" doesn't it? No wonder these friendly "mystics" and Deists were labelled heretics by the official Elites and princes of church and state.)


Thoreau and Hindu Influences

Like his friend Emerson, Thoreau was well read in the Vedic scriptures. Indophilia permeates his book Walden where he offers an example of one possible approach to realizing one's divinity, to fulfilling one's potential for ideal existence in the real world. He advises his readers to exercise their minds and create an idea of themselves as they might ideally be, and then find the means of making that idea, come true:

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost;/ that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them".

In his Transcendental thoughts the world at large conglomerate into one big divine family. He finds beside his Walden pond "the servant of the Brahmin, priest of Brahma and Vishnu and Indra, who still sits in his temple on the Ganges reading the Vedas ..." their buckets "grate together in the same well. The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges".

Thoreau : influence on Gandhi and Martin Luther King

During the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. captured the attention of the nation with his philosophy of nonviolent resistance. According to Dr. King, this was the only solution that could cure society?s evil and create a just society. As King emerged as a leader in the civil rights movement, he put his belief into action and proved that this was an effective method to combat racial segregation.

In his book "Stride Toward Freedom," King recalled: "During my student days at Morehouse I read Thoreau's Essay on Civil Disobedience for the first time. Fascinated by the idea of refusing to coöperate with an evil system, I was so deeply moved that I reread the work several times. This was my first intellectual contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance."

In this essay, Thoreau (already abolitionist in his views) appealed to the citizens of Massachusetts to refuse to cooperate with a system that involved them in the evils of slavery, the mistreatment of Indians, and the injustice of the war with Mexico. He maintained that those who called themselves abolitionists should at once withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government of Massachusetts.

Martin Luther King finished at Morehouse and in 1948 entered Philadelphia's Crozer theological seminary where he began to delve more deeply into the problem of how most effectively to confront social ills, such as those caused by endemic racism and discrimination. Initially, he concluded that the while the power of love was a compelling force when applied to individual conflicts, it could not resolve social problems. He believed the philosophy of "turn the other cheek" and "love your enemies" applied only to conflicts between individuals and not racial groups or nations.

It was Mahatma Gandhi and his teachings, however, that caused Martin to change his mind. Gandhi had himself been profoundly influenced by the American abolitionist Henry David Thoreau, whose Essay on Civil Disobedience he had encountered in Volksrust Jail (South Africa). King, in studying Gandhi's writings and movement, was struck by the concept of satyagraha, which means truth-force or love-force. He realized that "the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian (and Thoreauian) method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom. But it was not until the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama that King's intellectual realization about the power of love was put into action. As nonviolent resistance became the force behind the boycott movement, his concerns were clarified. He recognized that it was a powerful solution and he committed himself to this method of action.

The background for King was this. While in India, an American theologian named E. Stanley Jones became a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi and spent much time with Gandhi and the Nehru family. After Gandhi's murder Jones wrote a biography of Gandhi, a book which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told Jones' daughter, Eunice Jones Mathews, that it was this biography that inspired him to "non-violence" in the Civil Rights Movement. It is said that Jones had a strong influence in preventing the spread of communism in India. Jones was not actually Quaker at all, but was a Methodist of a strong pietist inclination.
See E. Stanley Jones - a bridge between Dr. King and the Gandhi

Gandhi and Jesus
Gandhi had himself been deeply affected by his impressions of the historical Jesus, and his teachings of love within the real world, something which for him approached the lofty ideal of satyagraha -- truth-force or love-force. As a young man, Gandhi's friend Michael Coates had given him a number of classic books. Lost among them was the little book by Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You. Gandhi was profoundly moved by this tiny book, so much so that he would later say that all the other books which Coates had lent or gave him paled in significance compared with this one. As a result, Gandhi literally fell in love with the teachings of Jesus the Sage, even at a time in his life when he was disillusioned thoroughly (if not disgusted) with the actions of governments and nations calling themselves "Christian" while practicing oppression, racism, and hatred. More on Gandhi and Jesus.

The essay by Henry David Thoreau that so influenced Gandhi and Martin Luther King was titled, "Civil Disobedience" (Resistance to Civil Government), and was first published in 1849. It argues that people should not permit governments to overrule or atrophy their consciences, and that people have a duty to avoid allowing such acquiescence to enable the government to make them the agents of injustice. Thoreau was motivated in part by his disgust with slavery and the Mexican-American War.

In 1848, Thoreau gave lectures at the Concord Lyceum that he titled "The Rights and Duties of the Individual in relation to Government." This formed the basis for his essay, which was first published under the title Resistance to Civil Government in 1849 in a magazine called Æsthetic Papers.

That title was a way of distinguishing Thoreau's program from that of the "non-resistants" (anarcho-pacifists) who were expressing similar views. Resistance also served as part of Thoreau's metaphor which compared the government to a machine, and said that when the machine was working injustice it was the duty of conscientious citizens to be "a counter friction" (i.e., a resistance) "to stop the machine".

In 1866, four years after Thoreau's death, the essay was reprinted in a collection of Thoreau's work (A Yankee in Canada, with Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers) under the title Civil Disobedience, by which it is most popularly known today.

Today, the essay is also frequently seen under the title On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, perhaps to contrast it with William Paley's Of the Duty of Civil Obedience to which Thoreau was in part responding. For instance, the 1960 New American Library Signet Classics edition of Walden included a version with this title. On Civil Disobedience is another frequently-encountered title.

The word civil has several definitions. The one that is intended in this case is "relating to citizens and their interrelations with one another or with the state", and so civil disobedience means "disobedience to the state". Sometimes people assume that civil in this case means "observing accepted social forms; polite" which would make civil disobedience something like polite, orderly disobedience. Although this is an acceptable dictionary definition of the word civil, it is not what is intended here. This misinterpretation is one reason the essay is sometimes considered to be an argument for pacifism or for exclusively nonviolent resistance. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi used this interpretation to suggest an equivalence between Thoreau's civil disobedience and his own satyagraha.

In my own case, even though I was the hippie, and anti-war protester, in a lot of ways my youthfulness was spoilt and irresponsible. Plus, I now realize I harbored latent racism. It was my wife who was firmly committed to Civil Rights, and determined to make a difference. To make the world a little bit better. When the preacher said take down the walls and build bridges, Linda knew she could play a role. Men sometimes have a way of tormenting themselves. As her husband, I was my own worst enemy, and she was right to chide me for my over-active imagination, and for blaming others for my own inadequacy. A lot of racism could be cured if people just purged themselves of things such as jealousy. Be glad if your wife lets her beauty shine. (Don't fight it. Let "slutty" be a compliment ) Just something Linda helps me see.

Sacred Woman

Helena Blavatsky regarded the Movement of the Mind as a wholesome antidote or corrective from the maddening effects of the resurgent fundamentalist protestantism of the late nineteenth century revivalist America. Though called heretical by the Calvinists, New Thought and the Consciousness movements built upon the previous incarnations of Transcendentalism, Quakerism, and the women-led religious movements of "Spiritualism" that had sprung up earlier, particularly originating in up-state New York (the "Burnt over" District). Those hyper-religious Americans had "gone Native," the hide-bound elitists and intellectuals declared. Cf. "Divine Unity"

Blavatsky quoted Rev. 0. B . Frothingham and his defense of science, "Talk of Science as being irreligious, atheistic.... Science is creating a new idea of God. It is due to Science that we have any conception at all of a living God. If we do not become atheists one of these days under the maddening effect of Protestantism, it will be due to Science, because it is disabusing us of hideous illusions that tease and embarrass us, and putting us in the way of knowing how to reason about the things we see...."

Possibly Related Links

Hinduism and American Literature

Research help : Hindu Wisdom

Bharat Mata, or Mother India

Ralph Waldo Emerson - transcendentalism

Emerson, Swedenborg, Transcendentalism

Aboriginal Pacifist Christianity

What is apophatic mysticism?

Mysticism of Giordano Bruno

Thoreau endorse of vegetarianism

Thoreau : Essay on Civil Disobedience

Martin Luther King honors Gandhi & Thoreau

NOTES: Thoreau, Abolitionism, Civil Disobedience

Transcendental Abolitionists: inspired by Hicksite Friends

Research Help: Thoreau & nonviolence

American Moses : Martin Luther King, Jr.

Facing your own personal fears [gma]

Mystical Lincoln ~ man of sorrows

Solitude is a condition of the spirit that is recognized, honored and practiced by andherents of virtually every major faith. All the world's religions include meditation and prayer as an integral part on the faith journey and vital if one is to have a relationship with the divine.

[Rev. Clair McPherson]

Lovers are Like Mystics
Paul Hourihan, commenting on the Upanishads

Every experience, every relationship, can teach us of the Divine. Falling in love or marrying, for example, enables us to understand the knowledge of God, the divine in human affairs. The awakening of love can't be understood or sanctioned by the ordinary reason. It is a mystical experience. A person truly in love resembles the mystic, if on a lesser scale. The mystic feels as the lover does -- but towards everyone. That is the only difference. That is to say, the mystic feels selfless, all-loving, all-forgiving, fearless, self-sacrificing, just as we feel toward our beloved. Ordinary ego-conceptions do not prevail when we are in love; an entirely different part of our personality is involved, the mystical part. Other relationships, in the same way, can be cultivated to distill out of them their mystical part.

Paul Hourihan.
Children of Immortal Bliss
(on the Ancient Vedanta Philosophy)


Robert Shepherd
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