March 19, 2013

The doors of the temple stand open

The theme here these day is the life and thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the focus at the moment is on his 1838 Harvard Divinity School Address, which stirred up so much controversy that he wasn't invited back for 30 years.

It would be one thing to tick off a bunch of foaming fundamentalists with a little free ranging thought, but Ralph even managed to alienate relatively laid back Unitarians, who were more closely aligned with traditional Christianity then than now.

One thing that got him in trouble was his characteristic assertion that truth is not something once received and thereafter believed but rather something each soul must directly intuit. He believed that the same sources that inspired Jesus and other prophets and seers can inspire us today if we only let it.

If it sounds like he'd been hanging around with and reading about Quakers, he was. He was also learning or intuiting as much as he could about the religious traditions of Asia--so much so that the sounds Buddhist and even Zenlike in his insistence that every person must directly experience insight rather than merely accept some religious tradition:

...the doors of the temple stand open, night and day, before every man, and the oracles of this truth cease never, it is guarded by one stern condition; this, namely; it is an intuition. It cannot be received at second hand. Truly speaking, it is not instruction, but provocation, that I can receive from another soul. What he announces, I must find true in me, or wholly reject; and on his word, or as his second, be he who he may, I can accept nothing.
That's kind of how a 19th century American might express the Buddha's advice to "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense." It also is reminiscent of the teachings often attributed to the Zen patriarch Bodhidharma, who was believed to have spoken of

A special transmission outside the scriptures;
No dependence on words and letters;
Direct pointing to the mind of man;
Seeing into one's nature and attaining Buddhahood.
Such ideas are pretty commonplace now. You can find some reference to them in almost any bookstore and in popular culture. But they were a bit over the top back then. They'd still upset quite a few people today.

SPEAKING OF PEOPLE WHO WOULDN'T LIKE EMERSON, here's an article about the fortunes of fundamentalism in the US and around the world.

WHAT WOULD FREUD SAY? WV legislators have gone gun crazy lately. Would Sigmund say it was castration anxiety or are they just trying to compensate for something?

CAN I HAVE ONE? This NRP story about an Indonesian zoo breeding Komodo dragons has me all excited.


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