March 12, 2013

Karma, New England style

The theme at Goat Rope these days is the life and work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was a huge influence in 19th century life and letters in America and beyond. I mean, even Nietzsche liked him.

At the moment, I'm taking a look at his 1838 Harvard Divinity School Address, which was so controversial at the time that he wasn't invited back to that institution for 30 years. In a day or so, posts here will take a look at some of the things he wrote that got him into hot water with even relatively laid back New England Unitarians.

Today, though, the first passage that hit my eye is one that echoes classical Buddhist teachings about karma. Contrary to popular belief, Buddhist views on the subject are pretty subtle. It's not like if you do a good deed you get a Lexis. It's more like if you act nastily, you'll get better and better and being nasty, with all that that entails. And vice versa.  (Emerson, by the way, was an admirer of Indian philosophy and was moved by the limited amount he could read about at the time of Hindu and Buddhist ideas).

Anyhow, here's the passage. I must admit that while Ralph drives me crazy sometimes, I like this one:

The intuition of the moral sentiment is an insight of the perfection of the laws of the soul. The laws execute themselves. They are out of time, out of space, and not subject to circumstance. Thus; in the soul of man there is a justice whose retributions are instant and entire. He who does a good deed, is instantly ennobled. He who does a mean deed, is by the action itself contracted. He who puts off impurity, thereby puts on purity. If a man is at heart just, then in so far is he God; the safety of God, the immortality of God, the majesty of God, do enter into that man with justice. If a man dissemble, deceive, he deceives himself, and goes out of acquaintance with his own being. A man in the view of absolute goodness, adores, with total humility. Every step so downward, is a step upward. The man who renounces himself, comes to himself.
Everybody got that?

Note: this post was meant to come out early this morning but there have been internet problem on the farm.


THE LONG HAUL. Here's a profile of a friend of mine from the Gazette.

THE FUTURE OF UNIONS. Here's a look at the challenges the labor movement is facing and possible ways to deal with it. Suggestion: take a look at the I.W.W.


No comments: