Emerson, Vedanta & Serendipity (Karl’s musings, book, conference)

So I’m reading a book on Emerson by Richard G. Geldard I saw reviewed in an old issue of Parabola (a magazine on world mythology and spirituality I’ve been into since high school). I have always been a fan of Emerson since high school or earlier, and Thoreau, Whitman… I realize now much of Emerson was over my head til recently.

Though connecting American thinkers and native traditions to Vedanta is not new to me. I use excerpts from Thoreau, Kerouac, and Martin Luther King when I teach the Bhagavad Gita courses. Spending over six years immersed in Native American ceremony and politics while reading Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman and others threaded many things together for me in my 20′s way before I did the deep dive into Vedanta with Swami Dayananda Saraswati.

The book on Emerson I am reading is “God in Concord: Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Awakening to the Infinite” by Richard G. Geldard, 1999. It is exquisitely engaging and I see Vedanta all over Emerson’s spiritual evolution. I use a highlighter and a pen to mark key passages that parallel this or that verse from the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras and key vedic srotas or verses like the on the nature of Wholeness ” Om Purnamidam…” Even discourse on the nature of time, the world of name and form, the wisdom and charge to pursue your own work – to the fullest in order to know yourself and the Divine… I mean I’m jumping out of my skull here.

The laws of the Mind and Laws of Nature are seen as representations of each other, and as divine manifest. His arguments “unite feeling, intellect, and devotion into a single vision of the growth of the mind.” Sounds very much like Swami Vivekananda’s quote I use every kirtan and philosophy class “Devotion (Bhakti) without Knowledge & Understanding (Jnana) is superstition, Knowledge (Jnana) without Devotion (Bhakti) is madness.” Only academic drive to publish, or misunderstandings in translation seek to separate these principles.

” ‘Other world? There is no other world; here or nowhere is the whole fact.’ (quoting Emerson)…The world of angels and supernatural powers, Emerson believed, could give us no support or aid in any of our speculations or longings, Emerson’s convictions centered instead on the concept of the cosmic One Mind, with that mind accessible to any and everyone, given the desire to know and the capacity to understand”
~ p52 God in Concord, Geldard

“Vedanta is not a matter of unverifiable belief or faith, but of understanding, of knowing. Jnana and Bhakti.” ~ Swami Dayananda Saraswati

This is but a taste of the overlapping principles, and yet nowhere in Geldard’s book does he cite any eastern influence on Emerson. Rather Geldard focuses on the upheaval Emerson’s lectures and writings were causing in the Christian communities of New England at the time (1820s, 1830s). So I start sketching out a talk or paper on Emerson and Vedanta, or Emerson and the Bhagavad Gita, and thinking how can I reach this fellow Geldard and pick his brain about what he may or may not know about the Vedantic connection. Thinking what a great discussion for next Yoga in Yosemite trip, to have this exploration in Nature is all the more key… or in Golden Gate Park, or even the Unitarian Universalist church or CIIS… I would just love to see these schools of thought and people all mixed up in exploration, devotion and inquiry.

And then on Facebook I see an advert for a conference sponsored by the Sri Auribindo folks, a key teacher in yoga and vedanta. A gathering entitled Manifesting the Spiritual Destiny of America: “From the ancient spiritual beginnings of our Native American heritage to the latest technological developments where consciousness and science meet on a cutting edge, this conference will explore various aspects of the American experience in relation to the Integral Yoga and the Future of Humanity.” The Facebook ad mentioned Emerson and Auribindo specifically. I laughed aloud.

See http://matagiri.org/events.htm for conference details, topics, scroll down.
See PDF Flyer Conference PDF Flyer and Registration.

And guess who is speaking? Richard Geldard.
And guess where it is held? a town in upstate NY called Pheonicia… (I have mentioned my Phoenix vision yes?)
Too much. I likely will not be able to go as will in last round of chemo, but am excited to see the dialog is out there, and will likely contact Geldard regardless.

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