From the Upanishads, by Charles Johnston, , at sacred-texts.com
IT is admitted, by common consent, that the works of Emerson stand at the head of American literature. The cause of their pre-eminence, it might well be added, is the rebirth, in them, of the thoughts and ideals of the most ancient Upanishads. Emerson himself was perfectly aware of this affinity; he found no fitter illustration of his understanding of immortality than the teaching of Death, with which I have begun this volume. His words may well be repeated:
"Within every man's thought is a higher thought; within the character he exhibits to-day, a higher character. The youth puts off the illusions of the child; the man puts off the ignorance and tumultuous passions of youth; proceeding thence, puts off the egotism of manhood, and becomes at last a public and universal soul. He is rising to greater heights, but also rising to realities; the other relations
and circumstances dying out, he entering deeper into God, God into him, until the last garment of egotism falls, and he is with God; shares the will and immensity of the First Cause. It is curious to find the selfsame feeling, that it is not immortality but eternity, not duration but a state of abandonment to the Highest, and so the sharing of His perfection, appearing in the farthest east and west. The human mind takes no account of geography, language, or legends, but in all utters the same instinct. Yams, the lord of Death, promised Nachiketas, the son of Gautama, to grant him three boons at his own choice"—and then follows the teaching, as I have given it
The central thought, and almost the very words of the second Upanishad here translated, concerning the worlds, and their putting forth by the Divine, are faithfully imaged in another of Emerson's essays:
"But when, following the invisible steps of thought, we come to enquire, whence is matter? and whereto? many truths arise out of the recesses of consciousness. We learn that the highest is present to the soul of man;
that the dread universal essence, which is not wisdom, or love, or beauty, or power, but all in one, and each entirely, is that for which all things exist, and that by which they are; that spirit creates; that behind nature, throughout nature, spirit is present As a plant upon the earth, so a man rests upon the bosom of God; he is nourished by unfailing fountains, and draws, at his need, inexhaustible power."
To cite all the passages in which Emerson bears testimony to the truth contained in the third passage I have rendered: that the soul of man is one with the immemorial Soul that wove the worlds, would be, to repeat the greater part of what he has written; for this, more than anything else, is the heart of his message. One passage, out of many, will be enough:
"The soul gives itself, alone original and pure, to the Lonely, Original and Pure, who, on that condition, gladly inhabits, leads, and speaks through it. Then it is glad, young, and nimble. Behold, it saith, I am born into the great, the universal mind. I, the imperfect, adore my own perfect.
[paragraph continues] I am somehow recipient of the great soul, and thereby I do overlook the sun and the stars, and feel them to be the fair accidents and effects which change and pass. More and more the surges of everlasting nature enter into me, and I become public and human in my regards and actions. So I come .to live in thoughts, and act with energies, which are immortal."
Let me add, to these three, one more passage, which shows the same primeval power, that gave birth to the imagery of ancient wisdom, once more actively creative; a passage, more eloquent, perhaps, than all else that Emerson has written:
"There is no chance, and no anarchy, in the universe. All is system and gradation. Every god is there, sitting in his sphere. The young mortal enters the hall of the firmament; there, he is alone with them alone; they pouring on him benedictions and gifts, and beckoning him up to their thrones. On the instant, and incessantly, fall snow-storms of illusions. He fancies himself in a vast crowd which sways this way and that, and whose movements and doings he
must obey; he fancies himself poor, orphaned, insignificant. The mad crowd drives hither and thither, now furiously commanding this thing to be done, now that. What is he that he should resist their will, and think or act for himself? Every moment new changes and new showers of deceptions to baffle and distract him. And when by and by, for an instant, the air clears, and the loud lifts a little, there are the gods still sitting around him on their thrones; they alone, with him alone."