Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Emerson The Boston Brahmin

Emerson: The Boston Brahmin
By Courtesy
Prof. A. V. Narasimha Murthy,Former Head,Department of Ancient History & Archaeology,University of Mysore
Sir William Jones (1746 - 1794), the father of Indology, brought to the Western gaze the rich cultural, philosophical and literary heritage of India. The Western scholars, who had considered vedas as a mad man's utterances, began to read them and discovered sublime thought in them.
Kalidasa's Shakuntala, Bhagavadgita and Puranas were translated into English. All these indological developments began to reach America through England, particularly Boston, the most important town of New England area which played an important role in American Independence movement.
Commercial City: Boston, the Capital of Massachusetts State, was not only a great commercial city but also a center of music, literature and culture. The world famous Harvard University and MIT are located here. This city had a group of intellectuals with liberal outlook and penchant for freedom. This group became famous as Bostonians or Bostonian Brahmins. At this juncture was born Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1803. His father was a clergyman, an enlightened person and founded a cultural club which published a monthly magazine called The Boston Review.
Though a Christian padri, he had collected a large number of books on Indian Philosophy and religion. The young boy Emerson was attracted towards these books and began to read them. Fortunately, he got admission in Harvard University which had the richest collection of books on Indian philosophy and history. After obtaining a Master's degree from Harvard, Emerson joined as a clergyman in one of the churches in Boston. He became a popular Minister (padri) and his church became famous. The people were greatly attracted by his novel and attractive way of preaching Bible. Thus his fame spread in Boston. However, Emerson felt that there was no creativity in his work. Hence he resigned his job and went to England.
There he met Coleridge, Wordsworth, Carlyle and other stalwarts and this changed the nature of his thinking. He became a liberal thinker and evinced interest in the study of other religions. He was particularly impressed by Bhagavadgita translated by Wilkins, and Vishnupurana translated by Wilson. He also took to the study of Vedas and Upanishads. As he had an open mind, he saw universality in all religions. He came to the conclusion that all great men and all religious teachers spoke the same language.
Gita & Emerson: The Bhagavadgita appealed to Emerson most. When he was asked to deliver a lecture on religion, he said God is not separate from creation: God manifests himself in this universe through creation. Thus there is no duality in religion or philosophy. Thus he hailed Advaita as the essence of the word. But he never criticised any other religion and hurt their feelings and asked the people to follow any religion of their choice which took them closer to God. These ideas were taken from Bhagavadgita.
He was also a poet and wrote many poems. One of them is very significant because it is titled Brahma. This poem though short is a successful summary of Upanishads and Bhagavadgita. The influence of kenopanishad is easily seen in this poem. Emerson did not believe in the Saguna form of worship as practiced by most of the Hindus. He believed in Nirguna form of worship in which God is formless, nameless, colourless etc. In fact this is the peak of Indian metaphysical thought which portrays the concept of Brahman (not four - faced Brahma). Generally this poem is recommended to readers who cannot read the original Upanishad in Sanskrit, to understand the concept of Brahman.
Emerson's aunt Mary became an admirer of Emerson and she happened to read a poem “A hymn to Narayana” written by William Jones. She was greatly impressed by this poem and sent a copy of it to Emerson. Emerson copied this poem in his diary because he wanted to read it again and again whenever he opened his diary. He thanked his aunt profusely and wrote "that all books of knowledge and all the wisdom of Europe twice told lie hidden in the treasure of Brahmins." Nobody either in India or abroad has paid a better tribute to Indian philosophy and metaphysics.
Emerson believed in the transmigration of soul and the concept of rebirth. He asserted that body alone decays but not the soul. This idea is taken from the Upanishads and the Gita. Emerson had a good library of Indian classics and he used to lend them to his friends so that they could read these books and get acquainted with Indian philosophy. Due to an accident, a portion of his house was destroyed in fire and it was rebuilt by the spontaneous public donations of more than 18,000 dollars in 1872.
A Writer:Emerson was not only an indologist but was also a writer. His works include Nature (1836), American scholar (1837), two anthologies collected in 1841 and 1844. He again went to England in 1847 - 48 and wrote a book called English Traits (1856), analyzing the character of English people. His next work was Representative Man (1862). Books which made him famous were Nature, The Conduct of Life, Self - Reliance, American Scholar and Over Soul. He condemned the practice of slavery and differentiation on the basis of colour, creed and race. Emerson died in 1882 at the age of 79 at Concord and unprecedented number of admires paid homage to this great friend, guide and philosopher. The church bell tolled 79 times to mark his 79th year.
I had the good fortune of visiting both Boston and Concord about fifty years ago. Emerson is no longer with us today but he will remain in our minds for ever. A great historian has said: "Emerson had all the wisdom and spirituality of Brahmins and perhaps he was the best Brahmin outside India." Most Brahmins are so by birth but Emerson was a true Brahmin by culture.
Bhuvani now you can see Brahmins not only in Naganallur but in Boston also, you can go to a website called Brahmins university Boston and will know more about Brahmins of western world.


Bhuvaneswari Jayaraman said...

A truly wonderful piece, chitappa. It also resonated with me because I read Emerson's poetry in school and college and more recently, in the book, The Secret,there are some powerful quotes from Emerson- "The good news is that the moment you decide that what you know is more important that waht you have been taught to believe, you will have shifted gears in your quest for abundance. Success comes from within, not from without."

And no wonder I felt so much at home in Boston:)

Prashant Jalasutram said...

Nice article.

Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya
Prasanth Jalasutram

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