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Emerson and Sankara

Emerson and Sankara
by Robert C. Gordon, PhD

Posted 6/24/03

At the time he composed his first book Nature in 1836, Ralph Waldo Emerson was a committed Idealist. This Idealism had been inspired by two primary resources, George Berkeley and Emanuel Swedenborg. From his boyhood reading in Berkeley, Emerson came to believe that the world was not merely material, but was in fact an “idea” in the mind of the Creator. Emerson learned Idealism from Swedenborg, too, but of a different sort. Swedenborg emphasized humanity’s entire dependence upon the influx of Spirit, and according to his Neoplatonic doctrine of emanation, the world was a divine projection through the consciousness of the individual. Thus both of the ontological sources inspiring Nature – Berkeley and Swedenborg – were Idealists, but different in type.

According to Nature’s more objective Berkeleian element, the world of name and form was an idea in the Mind of God that served as the theater of individual “becoming.” But there was also the element of subjective Idealism drawn from Swedenborg’s Neoplatonic emanationism, which held that the world was projected through the individual. Whereas Berkeley was an objective Idealist, Swedenborg was a subjective Idealist, almost a solipsist, with the result that Emerson’s Idealism, early in his philosophical career, was a confusion of both. This admixture occasioned conceptual problems in Nature, problems of which Emerson was well aware. As he was struggling to finish writing it, he wrote his brother William that “The book of Nature still lies on the table. There is, as always, one crack in it not easy to be soldered or welded.”1 Emerson did not get this crack welded by the time he wrote Nature, and indeed his philosophical confusion was to bedevil Emerson’s thinking for nearly ten years. He resolved it at last through his close study of Indian philosophy, and especially the concept of maya.

If matter was really Spirit, then it was incumbent upon the reflective Idealist to provide a coherent account of how it came to pass that, as Emerson put it, “Be makes Seem.” Nature presented Emerson’s patched together and faulty explanation, one he proved unable to sort out until his readings in Indian philosophy converted him to the mayavada of the celebrated Indian philosopher and saint Sri Sankaracarya. In understanding how the concept of maya influenced Emerson, and why it was so important, it will help to learn something about the origins of this crucial doctrine in Sankara. Studying him in some detail will be amply rewarded, because Emerson’s mature philosophy is very like Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta, but with one signal exception – Emerson accepted the scientific principle of evolution. Also, Emerson’s philosophy carried him further toward the Tantric end of the metaphysical spectrum that even Sankara’s sakta origins permitted. Despite these differences, Emerson and Sankara are very close philosophically, a proximity that increased when the former accepted the latter’s mayavadaexplanation of how “Be makes Seem.”

Sankara hammered out the concept of maya in his great debates with the schools of thought contending in his own day. Sankara’s central problem was to uphold non-dualism, and at the same time provide a coherent account of his conception of Brahman, the nature of Its causal power, Its relation with illusion or maya and the cosmos, and finally the connection between Brahman and the individual. Sankara composed his famed exposition and defense of non-dualism during a period of great religious and intellectual ferment. Influential during his life (788-820 C.E.) were several competing metaphysical formulations: the Sunyavada school of Buddhism descended from Nagarjuna; the Vijñanavada school of Buddhism descended from Asanga and Vasubandhu; the Samkhya system as developed by Kapila; Karma mimamsa, then enjoying a revival as a result of the work of Kumarila;bhakti cults devoted to the worship of Kali-Durga; the non-dualist strain of Vedanta founded by Gaudapada; and finally the cults of sakta, to which Sankara himself belonged.

The Sunyavadins and Vijñanavadins were the most powerful of the Buddhist schools against which Sankara contended. His chief disagreement was with their denial of the existence of a discrete and identifiable self perduring through experience. Rather, they held, individuals were a nexus of tendencies (dharmas) whose extinction terminated the suffering (and at death the existence) of the Realized individual. Against the Buddhists, Sankara argued that experience necessitates an experiencer – an enduring self – whose goal was to realize its identity with the final ground of all existence. He also took issue with Buddhist accounts of the nature of manifest creation. The Vijñanavadins were subjective Idealists who maintained that the world of experience was a production of individual consciousness, the Sunyavadins that the world was ultimately non-existent, a complete void. Sankara rejected the Buddhist doctrines of subjective Idealism and the ultimate “voidness” of empirical experience.

Sankara’s chief dispute with the Samkhyas centered on their metaphysical duality and their theory of causation. They asserted a duality of matter (prakrti) and souls (purushas), believing that the soul’s duty to was to free itself from the entanglements of matter. Conceiving the material world to be real, the Samkhyas held that causes underwent real transformations in producing their effects. Against the Samkhyas, Sankara contended that matter was ultimately nothing other than Brahman, identical in character to the soul. The cosmos was not self-existent and controlled by its own material laws of production and change. Matter’s ultimate cause, Brahman, only appeared to be transformed into diverse effects. This was Sankara’s vivartavada explanation of the phenomenal world – the world “appeared” only, leaving Brahman unaffected. A power within Brahman gave rise to the world of name and form, a world which was taken to be real by souls in ignorance but which eventually came to be known as the unreal product of wrong knowledge merely. In truth, both souls and matter were resolvable into the changeless and radically non-dual Brahman.

Kumarila rooted his interpretation of Karma mimamsa in a duality not too dissimilar from that of Samkhya, and duality, as noted previously, Sankara denied. The more important argument with the Mimamsakas centered on ritualism. They looked to the Veda as a description of mandatory ritual action and not as the articulation of a coherent philosophy. Kumarila believed that ritual practice, as described in the Veda, annulled the karma of the individual and freed him/her eventually from samsara. Sankara rejected ritual as a final means to truth. For him, only the Vedicly revealed knowledge of the identity of the soul and Brahman could truly set one free.

The great bhakti cults of Sankara’s day believed that total devotion to a chosen deity offered the soul the only hope out of the world’s weal and woe. Devotion brought the soul into an ever more perfect relation with deity, until it found repose in contemplation of the divine. Sankara agreed with the Bhaktas that devotion occupied a place of particular importance in the quest for final truth. He demurred only at the use of the word “final” in conjunction with worship. Because devotion implied at least the duality of devotee and the divine object of devotion, a theistic formulation could not be finally true for the non-dualist Sankara. Even God/dess in a personal form must be finally sublated by knowledge of the unqualified Brahman.

If the Buddhists, the Samkhyas, the Mimamsakas, and the Bhaktas constituted the negative inspiration for Sankara’s philosophy, Gaudapada’s karika on the Mandukya Upanishad provided the positive. To him must be credited the first use of the concept of maya in a way that proved helpful to all Vedantic development. That Gaudapada was himself a Buddhist convert or was at least strongly influenced by Buddhist doctrine is evidenced by his liberal borrowings from Madhyamika as expounded by Nagarjuna, and Vijñanavada as found in the Lankavatara Sutra. That the mayavada of Vedanta can be traced to Buddhist origins should come as no surprise since Sankara himself, on more than one occasion, was accused of being a crypto-Buddhist. But Buddhist he was not, and, as will become evident, for the same reasons Emerson found Buddhism metaphysically chilling.

Gaudapada was the teacher of Govinda, Sankara’s own philosophical master. Pivotal to Sankara was Gaudapada’s assertion that maya was the source of the world, and maya was the key concept that enabled Sankara to bring order and coherence to the mass of Vedic scripture. Gaudapada, however, revealing his close ties to Buddhism, considered earthly experience to be unreal, in the same way that dreams are unreal. The world of earthly experience was neither really produced nor was it destroyed. Nothing really came into being, in the same way that in a dream nothing really exists. According to Gaudapada, there was only one unchanging Reality upon which duality was imposed by the illusion-producing nescience or power of maya. While Sankara appreciated Gaudapada’s theory of maya, he found Gaudapada’s illusionistic theory too extreme. He modified Gaudapada by articulating a much more world-affirmative position, influenced in this shift no doubt by his sakta origins. Earthly experience was not an illusion in the same sense as a dream. Rather, it represented a lower order of knowledge and experience that had its own reality and soteriological value.

How to maintain a strict philosophical non-duality and yet at the same time to uphold a belief in the existence of objects and individuals – this was the central problem for both Sankara and Emerson. Both needed somehow to establish that the realm of name and form depended immediately upon the power of Brahman or the Oversoul, that it was not self-existent and controlled by its own laws of production and change. Sankara’s solution turned upon the concept of maya, which he defined as a sakti or power of Brahman. Brahman, through this creative power, produced multiplicity, making Brahman ultimately both the material and efficient cause of the physical universe.

By describing maya as such a power, Sankara both denied its independence of Brahman and avoided predicating qualities of Brahman. Thus the essence of Sankara’s theory was to argue that a power within Brahman gave rise to the world of name and form, a world which was taken to be real by souls in ignorance but which eventually came to be known essentially as the unreal product of wrong knowledge. Sankara then used the concept of maya in crucial ways: to develop his cosmology and ontology, and then to apply it to individual soteriology. In this way he deployed maya to explain the universe, individual ignorance and suffering, and their final transcendence through Illumination.

Sankara founded his philosophy on the a priori assumption of the absolute truth of Hindu scripture, which he read as expressing two levels of knowledge. On the one hand were those passages of scripture which describe Brahman as creator, as possessed of qualities, while on the other hand were those passages which characterized Brahman as a qualityless non-duality. According to Sankara, the former passages constituted apara vidya, an exoteric doctrine of lower knowledge which represented Brahman as saguna or possessed of qualities. The latter passages were para vidya, an esoteric doctrine of higher knowledge which portrayed Brahman as nirguna or changeless and completely without qualities.

Sankara argued that there must be these two levels of scripture because individuals were at different stages of spiritual development. Persons of simpler mind were at best capable of devotion, and required an object of devotion that had qualities. More advanced seekers of truth benefited from thinking in terms of the nirguna Brahman that underwent no change – of it no qualities could be predicated. Thus human experience was not uniform, but was rather conditioned by the individual’s level of spiritual progress. What was true for an individual at one stage of consciousness would become known to have been but “conditional reality” in the light of a still higher state, and scripture of necessity had to take account of both of these levels of experience.

Considered from the level of apara vidya, the level of saguna Brahman, there were four distinct kinds of things that could be taken to be real. The first was the material and efficient cause of the world, the personal God/dess, the Isvara, who created through the sakti power of maya. The second was the Veda, the eternal formal cause of the universe according to whose pattern Isvara creates. The third was the empirical world produced from the interaction of one and two, and the fourth was the class of innumerable individual souls or jivas which were anadi (beginningless) and caught in the endless cycle of transmigration or samsara. From a common-sense point of view, Sankara considered all of these entities real.

For Sankara, existence at the level of saguna Brahman can be characterized in the following way: individual jivas experienced a public world of empirical objects produced in and through the consciousness of the Isvara by virtue of His/Her sakti of maya. In other words, individual selves experienced an objective world that had been created for them through the power of a personal God/dess. Such a formulation makes clear Sankara’s belief in the existence of the empirical world. He was not, therefore, as many have accused him of being, a crypto-Buddhist subjective Idealist. Individual selves experienced a real world that had been created for them by the sakti of maya, a power that was weilded by a personal God/dess, and external objects had a reality independent of the perceiver. At this level, existence was an ordered universe created by an intelligent, all-knowing God/dess, as a kind of play (lila) or sport.

There thus existed a real empirical world created by God/dess for the purpose of rewarding, according to their actions, the individual jivas. The empirical world was, then, a moral order through which the individual jivasprogressed, stimulated by Isvara to action and rewarded or punished, according to the nature of their behavior, by the laws of karma. Existence at the level of saguna Brahman consisted of individual jivas seeking moral perfection through virtue, obedience to the laws of the Veda, and the performance of the sacrificial rites. The empirical world was the setting in which this process of perfection occurred. By means of right action and devotion the soul transmigrated through ever-higher material forms, through assuming progressively more evolved physical bodies.

Thus the jiva was dependent upon the existence of an empirical world in which to act, a physical body with which to act, and a code of conduct by which to act. Through countless lives the jiva progressed spiritually and, as Sankara said, “owing to the gradual rise in excellence of the physical conditions limiting it, the Self . . . . manifests itself in higher and higher forms in respect of power and splendor.”2 The important consideration for the level of saguna Brahman was the necessity for a real personal God/dess, an “actual” world, and distinct individual souls. Each of these must really exist for the progress of the soul to be at all possible. Brahman produced the empirical world through Its power of maya in order that the individual jivas might use it as a path of spiritual perfection.

Sankara’s deliberate emphasis upon subject-object interaction clearly demarcated his position from the subjective Idealism of the Vijñanavadins. The material world must be in some sense real because of its soteriological function – the jiva must ascend through certain worldly stages of moral perfection before it could reach the knowledge of non-duality. And the important lesson at the level of saguna Brahman was that, yes, the world was an illusion, an illusion that was one day to be transcended, but it was a purposive illusion. By means of the world jivas were freed from samsara. For this reason, Sankara as a sakta venerated the world. It was the entrapping delusion, true, but more importantly it was the soul’s only means to Freedom.

While souls were in the entrapping illusion, there were, according to Sankara, certain rules and requirements. In the quest for final Illumination, Sankara urged that there were definite things the individual could and must do to accelerate the soul’s progress to moksa. Like Emerson, he believed that Liberation could be attained only when the soul had first adopted the proper attitudes and engaged in the proper practices. To do these things was simultaneously to be in ever-greater harmony with the Benevolent Intelligence manifesting creation, and to deepen in consciousness. The performance of good works – moral, social and sacrificial – prepared the soul for the highest path of knowledge. While these did not themselves produce Liberation, they were essential preparation for the breakthrough into highest truth. They were the very means by which the jiva annulled fate and achieved final Freedom. Thus Sankara emphasized the importance of a moral and spiritual life as a precondition for Enlightenment. That there were definite means and rules at the level of saguna Brahman further underscores the seriousness with which Sankara regarded the purposive “reality” of the world of name and form.

Given Sankara’s position that the non-dual nirguna Brahman was that which is ultimately Real, he had to give some account of the individual’s perception of the diversity which pervaded the empirical universe. This led him to develop his argument of superimposition (adhyasabhasya). Because of avidya or individual ignorance, the self superimposed one level of reality on another, fell prey to the cosmic delusion of maya and saw materiality where in truth there was only Brahman. To make this clearer, Sankara distinguished different types of individual perception, each truer than the previous.

The lowest level of individual perception he called pratibhasika, and it meant essentially misperception. The term denoted the kind of errors made during the course of everyday experience, as when coming upon a coiled rope and momentarily taking it for a snake. Higher than actual misperception was the next level of reality, the vyavaharika or empirical level, the level of experience manifested through maya by the Isvara, the level that coud be publicly corroborated. While illusory objects at the pratibhasika level were privately perceived and came to be sublated through more careful attention (or through a discussion with others of the public properties of the object in question), empirical objects at the vyavaharika level were more veritable precisely because they were public, and because they were not sublated by subsequent empirical experience. Finally, there was what Sankara took to be the highest level of individual knowledge, the paramarthika. In this state, the soul had transcended the power of maya and “saw” only Brahman.

Sankara’s epistomology was, then, tripartite: lowest was the pratibhasika level of genuine illusions; then the vyavaharika level of empirical public objects produced by the Isvara through the maya of Brahman and, because of individual avidya or ignorance, misperceived through superimposition to be material/real, and finally the paramarthika or nirguna Brahman level of Absolute non-dual Reality, when self, and world, and Brahman were known to be an identity. Just as knowledge of pratibhasika objects was sublated by the level of vyavaharika, so was vyavaharika sublated by the paramarthika level of true “knowing,” when nirguna Brahman became a direct experience.

The notion of sublatability, of less real knowledge being superceded by knowledge which was more real, was the key to Sankara’s concept of nirguna Brahman and its relation to the individual. It is important to understand that for Sankara, the individual jiva had always been Brahman. This identity had been obscured, however, by the soul’s ignorance or avidyaAvidya was the individual nescience that caused the jiva to see the mayic realm of name and form as a material reality. Through avidya, the individual was deluded by the cosmic power of maya. To eliminate individual avidya was to “see through” cosmic maya, to be freed from its deluding power. When the individual realized his/her true identity as the unchanging Atman, liberation ensued. Atman is the term used in Vedanta to denote the soul’s true nature as Brahman. Thus Atman = Brahman, and to “know” this truth was to have pure consciousness, undefiled by multiplicity, as a direct experience. Illumination, then, did not “add” something new to the soul. Rather, it removed ignorance of the soul’s true nature.

Enlightenment did not contribute a new fact to the mind, or a new property to the soul – it abolished the nescience that obscured the soul’s true Reality. For this reason, Sankara emphasized the unchanging nature of the Self. The Self was always Brahman whether rightly understood as such or not. avidya or ignorance was found solely in the individual jiva; its cause was wrong perception or wrong conception rooted in transferring to or superimposing upon qualities of one order of being qualities which belonged to another order. Just as “snake” was imposed upon “rope” at the pratibhasika level, so were names and forms imposed upon nirguna Brahman at the vyavaharika level. That was precisely the deluding power of maya. It caused the jiva to transfer the quality of reality from the nirguna level to the saguna level, and to transfer qualities of limitation from the saguna level to the nirguna level. The task of the jiva was to terminate this superimposition, to realize that the world of maya was in reality ‘the Self of all,’ was nothing more than an apparent transformation of the unchanging Brahman.

Through Enlightenment, the jiva realized the truth “tat tvam asi,” or “that thou art,” came to experience directly (anubhava) the identification of its true Atman-nature with the changeless Brahman. The jiva reached the paramarthika level of knowledge, knew that he/she was Brahman, that there was only Brahman, and that his/her perception of multiplicity had been only an illusion, a conjuring trick produced by the maya of Brahman, which caused the realm of name and form while Itself remaining changeless. This experience could not be known through reason or discursive thought. It was itself its own validation. Once the jiva realized its true nature as the Atman, identical with Brahman, once it realized that the world of name and form was but a conditional reality superimposed upon pure consciousness, no further knowledge was possible. The purpose of human existence had been fulfilled.

When the jiva experienced moksa, however, the world was not destroyed. Realization was not like waking up from a dream, which then disappeared. What was abolished was only the individual relationship of ignorance to the world. The realized person – the jivan-mukta – continued to experience the world, yet was no longer deluded by it, knowing now that the self and the world were the unchanging Brahman. Sankara accounted for the world’s persistence, even for the Enlightened, by means of Prarabdha karma.

Sankara identified different kinds of karma: the Sanchita karma which was the accumulated fruit or reflexive influence of all past action; the Agami karma defined as the consequences of action generated in the present life (and which would be added to the Sanchita karma at the individual’s death); and the Prarabdha karma represented as that portion of the Sanchita karma structuring and conditioning the present incarnation. While the attainment of moksa destroyed all relation to the Sanchita and Agami karmas, the Prarabdha karma persisted, maintaining the body in existence.

Although the jivan-mukta no longer superimposed the Prarabdha karma on its true Atman-nature, nor was he/she at all attached to events in the empirical realm, worldly experience persisted through an enduring metaphysical kinetic impetus. Sankara likened the jivan-mukta’s existence to the continued turning of the potter’s wheel, under its own momentum, even though force was no longer exerted to keep it in motion. Though not deluded by the world, the jivan-mukta continued to experience a world as present. This clearly demarcated Sankara’s thinking from the solipsism of the Vijñanavadins, and militates strongly for the view that Sankara predicated objectivity and (however qualified) reality of the world of name and form.

Summing up, scripture, reason, and experience were the grounds on which Sankara took his metaphysical stand. He argued that his conception of the Self was true because reason established it as such, scripture established it as such, but finally and most importantly, the direct experience of the individual established it as such. Through immediate mystical experience, the soul came to know these words of Sankara to be highest truth:

I am verily that Brahman, the One without a second, which is the support of all, which illumines all things, which has infinite forms, is omnipresent, devoid of multiplicity, eternal, pure, unmoved, and absolute. I am verily that Brahman, the One without a second, which transcends the endless differentiations of Maya, is the in-most essence of all, beyond the range of consciousness, – which is Truth, Knowledge, Infinitude, and Bliss Absolute.3

Just as Sankara based his entire philosophy on a radical non-dualism, so too Emerson was a non-dualist, his early Idealism having taught him that matter was in truth ultimately Spirit. And just as Sankara had his opponents, Emerson had his as well, and without pushing the equation too far, analogies can nonetheless be drawn between those with whom Sankara and Emerson joined issue. Though their opponents had very different names, they advanced similar competing cosmologies, all rejected by Emerson and Sankara on parallel non-dual grounds. In the case of Emerson, his primary metaphysical opponents were the religions of the book, the traditions of Abraham – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – all of which held a spirit-matter dichotomy in keeping with the dualism of the Samkhyas. The Swedenborgians were like the Vijñanavada Buddhists, both teaching a subjective form of Idealism. The ritualistic Mimamsakas could be likened to the Catholics of Emerson’s day, growing rapidly in numbers and influence. And finally, the devotional Bhaktas represented the Protestants, and especially the “New Divinity” with its revivalistic techniques that swept thousands into the Christian fold during Emerson’s lifetime. Against all of these Emerson advanced a new world form of non-dualism in harmony with Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta.

Emerson also shared with Sankara the foundational and unchanging belief that the purpose of the spiritual life was Emancipation or Enlightenment, a position fixed from the time he summed up his early Idealist speculations in 1822 with the Hindu poem “Hymn to Narayana.” It was this very idea that inspired Emerson’s break with Christianity. He observed that Calvinism was “narrow, ignorant & revengeful, yet devout,” and “that the opposite pole of theology was the Hindoo Buddhism.”4 Emerson conflated Hinduism and Buddhism just because he was well aware that both agreed on karma, reincarnation, and the fundamental purpose of human life – to reach Enlightenment – a belief at the opposite pole of theology from Christian doctrine. “Nature,” he observed, “creates in the East the uncontrollable yearning to escape from limitation into the vast and boundless. . . .inculcates the tenet of a beatitude to be found in escape from all organization and all personality, and makes ecstasy an institution.”5 His own views were in accord with the “wise east-Indian” who “seeks Nirwana or reabsorption, as felicity.”6

While Emerson understood that Hindus and Buddhists both sought Enlightenment, he was also clear that they had very different ideas on what reaching it meant. He felt little sympathy with the Buddhist explanation, because its spiritual goal was presented to him as annihilation, the complete cessation of the individual. This understanding lay behind his comment that “this remorseless Buddhism lies all around, threatening with death and night.”7By contrast, he was sympathetic with the Hindu explanation of Enlightenment, because it was in strict accord with the non-dualist ontology that began to take shape in boyhood, when he read Berkeley and became a philosophical Idealist. From “Narayana” he then learned that the purpose of human life was to “know” this philosophical truth through direct experience.

Although both were non-dualists, Emerson and Sankara nonetheless ascribed reality and value to the world of name and form as the path to spiritual perfection. Both agreed that the cosmos must in some sense be real because of its soteriological function. They understood it as the theater of “becoming,” the realm in which souls progressed towards Enlightenment. Although Emerson and Sankara advanced different specific means to Liberation, both concurred that there were certain right attitudes and right practices that were essential to spiritual progress, and both held that souls were at different stages of development, with a knowledge appropriate for each stage. For both philosophers, the purpose of life was to progress spiritually through these stages, finally achieving direct experience of non-duality through Illumination. Thus both Emerson and Sankara ascribed a purposive character to earthly experience – to bring souls to Enlightenment. For this reason, the philosophy of both required an objectively existing world that could not be a mere projection of the individual, as in Swedenborg and the Vijñanavadins.

What confounded Emerson, however, was the precise relationship between Spirit and the purposive cosmos. He was unclear on how he could maintain a strict philosophical non-duality and yet at the same time uphold a belief in the existence of objects and individuals. At the time he composed Nature, and for some years after, his thinking was confused. In rejecting Christian/Samkhya dualism, he patched together an ontology not unlike Advaita Vedanta with the subjective Idealism of Swedenborg/Vijñanavada Buddhism – mutually contradictory hypotheses. Indian scripture resolved this problem during the 1840s, and brought Emerson finally into Sankara’s philosophical camp. It was then that he made the concept of maya his own, and came to stand squarely in the tradition of Sankara.

As Emerson sat down in his study to solve his problems in Nature, he turned to the ancients for an answer. Initially, he sought help from some of his oldest philosophical friends, his mentors from early Greece. Their wisdom prepared him for his crucial studies in 1845 of Hindu scripture, and one of the most important things to understand about Emerson during the early 1840s was the close interplay between Greek and Indian philosophy. He turned to the venerable authors of both countries in search of a primordial religious teaching, an ancient form of truth that had been eclipsed, for fifteen centuries, by what Emerson called the Christian parvenues.

In 1841, Emerson read deeply in and quoted frequently from Thomas Taylor’s translations of Plato,8 as well as from Taylor’s translations of the neo-Platonists.9 His quotations reveal his preoccupation with the question of how, exactly, “Be makes Seem,” and it is clear he felt that the importance of these ancient authors lay in their focus on the “One” as the direct and continuous source of the “many.” He recorded in his journal his positive to response to their wisdom,10 a response which he then published in his chapter “Intellect” in Essays: First Series. Referring to these ancient authors as the “Trismegisti” or “the high-priesthood of pure reason,” he mused,

wonderful seems the calm and grand air of these few, these great spiritual lords who have walked in the world, – these of the old religion, – dwelling in a worship which makes the sanctities of Christianity look parvenues and popular. . . .This band of grandees, Hermes, Heraclitus, Empedocles, Plato, Plotinus, Olympiodorus, Proclus, Synesisus and the rest, have somewhat so vast in their logic, so primary in their thinking that it seems antecedent to all the ordinary distinctions. . . . I am present at the sowing of the seed of the world.11

His journals for 1843 have a number of additional references to the neo-Platonic tradition,12 where again, his central concern was with the relationship between the One and the many. That there was only a One, which somehow gave immediate rise to the apparent many, Emerson took to be the central teaching of “the old religion” of the Trismegisti. In 1845, he recorded in his journals his numerous reflections on the neo-Platonic tradition, which he summed up succinctly as, “Deity rushing into distribution in Timaeus.”13

Immediately after his penetrating study of the old religion of Greece, Emerson began reading, in 1845, Charles Wilkins’ translation of The Bhagvat Geeta, Horace Hayman Wilson’s translation of The Vishnu Purána, and Henry Thomas Colebrook’s Miscellaneous Essays on Indian philosophy. By the end of 1845, Emerson had come to this conclusion: In 2,500 B.C.E., at the sowing of the seed of the world, the ancient rishis of India cognized some fundamental truths about human spirituality. These were handed down to the West through the Greeks, who made pilgrimages to India to learn them. The “old religion” of India came to fruition in the writings of the Trismegisti, the most pre-eminent of whom was Plato. According to Emerson’s thinking, it was this old religion that needed to be revived, having of course been first adapted to modern conditions with the philosophies of Pragmatism and Process.

Now convinced by his readings in 1845 that Hindu scripture contained ancient and essential truths, Emerson quoted pages and pages from these important texts on the subject of “illusion”and non-duality.14 Indeed, Emerson transcribed into his journal for 1845 more quotations from these works than he had ever copied from previous sources or would every copy from any source again (with the possible exception of the extensive Upanishadic quotations which appear in the journal of 1856). Pages and pages of his journal for this crucial year were simply reproductions of long passages from the Gita, the Vishnu Purána, and Colebrook’s Miscellaneous Essays. Moreover, Emerson mined nearly all of these Oriental gems for published use. Through careful attention to the passages which called forth Emerson’s response, and through a diligent tracing of the uses made by him of these provocative passages, will come a better understanding of the way in which the hoary wisdom of India extricated the Concord seer from his philosophical perplexities.

In order to appreciate the effect of Indian philosophy on Emerson in 1845, it should be emphasized that when he started reading the Geeta, the Vishnu Purána, and Colebrook’s Essays, he was struggling with his ontological problems in Nature, and believed he was close to a solution in the works of the Trismegisti. He spent considerable time, from 1841 to 1845, studying Hermes, Heraclitus, Empedocles, Plato, Plotinus, Olympiodorus, Proclus, and Synesisus. He understood their central teaching to be that there was only the One, which Itself rushed into distribution as the many. Then, in 1845, he was able to obtain the scriptures of India, which he believed to be the ultimate source of the Trismegisti’s wisdom. Now he could read the ultimate source for himself, and he found it confirmed the neo-Platonic tradition.

Indian philosophy, however, went beyond the neo-Platonists. Whereas they merely asserted that the many was reducible to the One, Indian philosophy, through mayavadaexplained the mechanics by which the One appeared as many. It was this explanation that enabled Emerson to break through his metaphysical problems. Thus in 1845, mayavada not only confirmed his basic ontological principles, it also set forth a coherent teaching that made sense of exactly how “Be makes Seem.” For this reason, Emerson’s extensive reading of Indian philosophy, in the crucial year 1845, resolved at last his ontological dilemma, a dilemma he could have been spared had he not gotten confused by Swedenborg, and had he simply advanced the Indian concept of maya which he had learned of as early as his Harvard days.

Again, maya’s importance lay in the fact that it gave him a cogent philosophical explanation of the phenomenal realm as the illusory but purposive manifestation of the Over-soul. The result: it expunged, finally, the befogging influence of Swedenborgian subjective Idealism, which made it last appearance in Emerson’s 1844 essay “Experience”:

Do you see that kitten chasing so prettily her own tail? If you could look with her eyes you might see her surrounded with hundreds of figures performing complex dramas, with tragic and comic issues, long conversations, many characters, many ups and downs of fate, — and meantime it is only puss and her tail. How long before our masquerade will end its noise of tambourines, laughter and shouting, and we shall find it was a solitary performance.15

That Emerson sailed this close to subjective Idealism in 1844 dramatizes in every way the fact that nothing more is heard of solipsism after 1845, a disappearance that can be traced to Emerson’s acceptance of Sankara’s concept of maya with all of its objectively Idealistic implications.

His conversion to mayavada through the religious texts of India then inspired Emerson to begin thinking about Plato. Shortly after all of his quotations from Indian philosophy, he took up the question of the One and the many with the intention of demonstrating Plato’s reconciliation of these apparent opposites. Emerson’s voluminous journal quotations from Indian philosophy16 were almost immediately followed by the basic outline of ideas that were to provide the basis for his chapter on “Plato.17 It is not unimportant that he returned to thinking about Plato’s explanation of how “Be makes Seem” only after Indian philosophy had already given him what was to be his own final answer in its doctrine of “illusion.” Emerson then secured his new ontological position by ascribing to Plato himself belief in the Hindu theory of mayavada, an explanation that Emerson would embrace for the duration of his life.

Of the figures discussed in Representative Men, there can be no doubt as to Plato’s pre-eminence. This is to be expected, given the fact that the Plato in Emerson’s pages is, philosophically considered, very close in spirit to his own Transcendental Pragmatism. Indeed, the “Plato” Emerson presents is none other than the Concord seer himself. Emerson’s respect for Plato turned upon that philosopher’s balanced perception of the claims of the relative and Absolute, the pragmatic and the Transcendental:

Plato, in Egypt and in Eastern pilgrimages, imbibed the idea of one Deity, in which all things are absorbed. The unity of Asia and the detail of Europe; the infinitude of the Asiatic soul and the defining, result-loving, machine-making, surface-seeking, opera-going Europe, – Plato came to join, and, by contact, to enhance the energy of each. The excellence of Europe and Asia are in his brain. Metaphysics and natural philosophy expressed the genius of Europe; he substructs the religion of Asia, as the base. In short, a balanced soul was born, perceptive of the two elements.18

And Emerson believed that just this balance between the pragmatic and Transcendental accounted for Plato’s enduring influence: “this command of the two elements must explain the power and charm of Plato.”19 His great value was to have united the Humanistic and world-centered wisdom of Greek areté or excellence (and now exemplified by European civilization), with the old religion of the Vedas.

That Emerson believed Plato to have “imbibed,” from Eastern pilgrimages, “the idea of one Deity, in which all things are absorbed” had at least this effect – it encouraged and justified his own borrowings from the same sources. And borrow he did, to an extraordinary and unprecedented degree. The philosophical arguments which lie at the heart of “Plato” were derived entirely from Indian philosophy. Through answers provided by India, Emerson not only resolved finally his ontological ambiguity but he also gained a new and deeper insight into the telos of the spiritual process, propositions made self-evident by a careful analysis of “Plato.”

In “Plato,” Emerson defined philosophy as “the account which the human mind gives to itself as the constitution of the world,” and he identified “two cardinal facts” as the basis for this account – “Unity” or “Oneness” and “Variety” or “otherness.” He went on to say that it was a necessity of the human mind to press causal explanations further and further back, “self-assured that it shall arrive at an absolute and sufficient one, – a one that shall be all.” To make his point he adduced this Vedantic quotation, “‘In the midst of the sun is the light, in the midst of the light is truth, and in the midst of truth is the imperishable being,’ say the Vedas.” Emerson then commented, “it is the problem of thought to separate and reconcile” the “strictly-blended elements” of the “one” and the “many” – the very problem which Nature‘s co-dependent originationism patched over without truly solving.20 Having now made reconciliation of the One and the many the problem of philosophy, Emerson identified “the Vedas, the Bhagavat Geeta, and the Vishnu Purana” as the most “pure and sublime” celebrations of “the conception of the fundamental Unity.”21 And he then quoted from these Indian scriptures to explain the way in which he now believed the problem of the One and the many to be capable of solution.

The core wisdom for both Indian philosophy and Plato Emerson found summarized in two passages from the Vishnu Purána, both copied into his journal in 1845. One refers to “The goddess Yoganidra, the great illusory energy of Vishnu, by whom, as utter ignorance, the whole world is beguiled.”22 The other, copied under the heading Illusion, reads in part, “Identity, identity! friend & foe are of one stuff, and the stuff is such & so much that the variations of surface are unimportant. All is for the soul, & the soul is Vishnu; & animals & stars are transient paintings; & light is whitewash; & durations are deceptive; and form is imprisonment and heaven itself a decoy.”23 Emerson then returned to this very idea in 1848, when he wrote in his journal that “God is reality & his method is illusion,”24 and in 1849 he noted once more that “great is the illusory energy of Vishnu.”25 That the world “is the illusory energy of Vishnu” Emerson made his own metaphysical solution in Representative Men, where he used passages on “illusion” twice, initially in his Transcendental chapter on “Plato,” and then again in his Pragmatic chapter “Montaigne.”

The key essay in Representative Men, Emerson’s Transcendental chapter on “Plato,” is, for two pages running, a sustained quotation from Indian scripture. The nature and extent of these quotations makes self-evident the pervasive and transformative influence of Indian thought on Emerson’s newly emergent understanding of how “Be makes Seem.” Following the paragraph in which he celebrated the Vedas, the Gita, and the Vishnu Purána, Emerson adduced this long tessalation of passages drawn from those same sources:

The Same, the Same: friend and foe are of one stuff; the ploughman, the plough and the furrow are of one stuff; and the stuff is such and so much that the variations of form are unimportant. “You are fit” (says the supreme Krishna to a sage) “to apprehend that you are not distinct from me. That which I am, thou art, and that also is this world, with its gods and heroes and mankind. Men contemplate distinctions, because they are stupefied with ignorance.” “The words I and mine constitute ignorance. What is the great end of all, you shall now learn from me. It is soul, – one in all bodies, pervading, uniform, perfect, pre-eminent over nature, exempt from birth, growth, and decay, omnipresent, made up of true knowledge, independent, unconnected with unrealities, with name, species and the rest, in time past, present and to come. The knowledge that this spirit, which is essentially one, is in one’s own and in all other bodies, is the wisdom of one who knows the unity of things. As one diffusive air, passing through the perforations of a flute, is distinguished as the notes of a scale, so the nature of the Great Spirit is single, though its forms be manifold, arising from the consequences of acts. When the difference of the investing form, as that of god or the rest, is destroyed, there is no distinction.” “The whole world is but a manifestation of Vishnu, who is identical with all things, and is to be regarded by the wise as not differing from, but as the same as themselves. I neither am going nor coming; nor is my dwelling in any one place; nor art thou, thou; nor are others, others; nor am I, I.” As if he had said, ‘All is for the soul, and the soul is Vishnu; and animals and stars are transient paintings; and light is whitewash; and durations are deceptive; and form is imprisonment; and heaven itself a decoy.’ That which the soul seeks is resolution into being above form, out of Tartarus and out of heaven, – liberation from nature.26

As the foregoing passage makes unequivocal, the most important idea Emerson borrowed from Indian philosophy was its explanation of the way in which the non-dual Absolute produced a world of manifold variety. From India Emerson learned that the world was but an illusory manifestation of Vishnu, a transient painting ultimately identical with the Divine energy causing its apparent existence. The purpose of life was for the soul to realize that it was an identity with the Great Spirit, the Great Spirit giving rise not only to the soul itself but also to the entire realm of apparent distinctions. With this realization, the soul transcended the decoys of heaven and hell (Tartarus) and achieved Liberation or “resolution into being above form.” This of course, is the very teaching of mayavada, the sword with which Emerson finally cut the ontological knot that bound him from Nature(1836) to Essays: Second Series(1844).

Mayavada allowed Emerson’s belief in non-duality to retain full force precisely because it explained the phenomenal world as the “deception” of Vishnu, ever identical in nature to the Great Spirit putting it forth. As he reinforced this idea in his chapter “Montaigne,”

We may come to accept it as the fixed rule and theory of our state of education, that God is a substance, and his method is illusion. The Eastern sages owned the goddess Yoganidra, the great illusory energy of Vishnu, by whom, as utter ignorance, the whole world is beguiled.27

This explanation, that souls were beguiled by the illusory energy of the goddess Yoganidra, Vishnu’s mayic power, resolved finally Emerson’s patchwork solution in Nature, and by the time of Representative Men, he had finally abandonded solipsism. The influence of Swedenborg had evanesced once and for all, Emerson concluding that, “The mind does not create what it perceives, any more than the eye creates the rose.”28

Emerson not only converted to mayavada in 1845, and made it his ontological answer in Representative Men five years later, it remained a constant doctrine for the duration of his life. For example, he copied the following passage on illusion from the Vishnu Purána in 1845, and then used it in an important way in the essay “Illusions” fifteen years later:

Thy illusion beguiles all who are ignorant of thy true nature, the fools who imagine soul to be in that which is not spirit. The notions that ‘I am, – this is mine,’ which influence mankind, are but delusions of the mother of the world, originating in thy active agency. Those men who attentive to their spiritual duties, worship thee, traverse all this illusion, & obtain spiritual freedom.

It is the sport of thy fascinations that induces men to glorify thee, to obtain the continuance of their race, or the annihilation of their enemies, instead of eternal liberation. Dispel, o lord of all creatures, the conceit of knowledge which proceeds from ignorance.29

In 1851, he recorded in his journal the following Hindu fable, which he made important use of in his essay “Fate” in The Conduct of Life,

As Vishnu in the Vedas pursues maya in all forms, when, to avoid him, she changes herself into a cow, then he into a bull; she into doe, he into a buck; she into a mare, he into a stallion; she into a hen, he into a cock, & so forth.; so our metaphysics should be able to follow the flying force through all transformations, & name the new pair, identical thro’ all variety.30

Emerson referred to these progressively higher incarnations as “the successive Maias of Vishnu,”31 and eight years later, as if to confirm the original impetus for his non-dualism, Emerson wrote “Illusions” in his journal, and underneath the names of Berkeley and Viasa.32 In 1861, he copied into his journal33 precisely the mayic theory expressed in Representative Men, which he then published in the 1872 essay “Poetry and Imagination,” where he noted that the “Hindoos,” “following Buddha, have made it the central doctrine of their religion that what we call Nature, the external world, has no real existence, – is only phenomenal. Youth, age, property, condition, events, persons, – self, even, – are successive maias (deceptions) through which Vishnu mocks and instructs the soul.”34 In 1866, Emerson quoted extensively from Le Bhâgavata Purâna, his primary focus the subject of maya. One of the best quotations was from a prayer of Brighu:

O thou of whom Brahma & the other beings clothed with a body, turned from the knowledge of the Spirit by the impenetrable maya, & sleeping in the darkness, know not even today to recognize the essence, although they carry it in themselves, befriend me, thou Soul & friend of those who venerate thee!35

While the foregoing evidence makes clear Emerson’s enduring commitment to mayavada, his genius was to wed it to his Process philosophy as the basis for his mature cosmic optimism. The world illusion was a purposiveillusion, the product of an intelligent Great Spirit that manifested the world of illusion only to teach every individual bound to the material realm of his/her infinite spiritual identity. “The day of days,” Emerson avowed, “the great day of the feast of life, is that in which the inward eye opens to the Unity in things.”36 The purpose of the world illusion was to bring the soul to Liberation, to the resolution into being above form that transcended the petty conceptions of heaven or hell as the soul’s final resting place. Rejecting this Christian conception, Emerson adopted the Hindu purpose for human life. Rather than entrance into Heaven, it was Illumination, because Heaven and Hell were themselves a part of the duality of name and form. To make this point, Emerson quoted from George Small’s A Handbook of Sanskrit Literature, “As to Heaven & Hell, they are inventions of maya, & are therefore both imaginary.”37

When Emerson combined Process with mayavada, he agreed with Sankara that the world was a projection of the Divine for purposes of the moral and spiritual cultivation of souls trapped in submission to a materialistic view. The illusions with which it sported revealed the soul’s true nature and led it to the direct experience of non-duality:

What a force of illusion begins life with us and attends us to the end! We are coaxed, flattered and duped from morn to eve, from birth to death; and where is the old eye that ever saw through the deception? The Hindoos represent Maia, the illusory energy of Vishnu, as one of his principal attributes. As if, in this gale of warring elements which life is, it was necessary to bind souls to human life as mariners in a tempest lash themselves to the mast and bulwarks of a ship, and Nature employed certain illusions as her ties and straps, – a rattle, a doll, an apple, for a child; skates, a river, a boat, a horse, a gun, for the growing boy; and I will not begin to name those of the youth and adult, for they are numberless. Seldom and slowly the mask falls and the pupil is permitted to see that all is one stuff, cooked and painted under many counterfeit appearances.38

Nature insured the soul’s spiritual development by making the experiences which performed that office so attractive that the soul could not but pursue them. As Emerson posited of Nature in the essay of that same name:

She has tasked every faculty, and has secured the symmetrical growth of the bodily frame by all these attitudes and exertions, – an end of the first importance, which could not be trusted to any care less perfect than her own. This glitter, this opaline lustre plays round the top of every toy to his eye to insure his fidelity, and he is deceived to his good.39

“Deceived to his good” captures the essence of Emerson’s thinking on the world illusion. It deceived the soul only that this process might lead it to the final good – the realization “that all is one stuff, cooked and painted under may counterfeit appearances.” The world was a Divinely projected phantasm whose purpose was to teach souls of the greater reality giving rise to the illusory realm of name and form, exactly the teaching of Sankara’s mayavada.

Another common metaphysical ground shared by Emerson and Sankara concerns the relationship between Fate and mayavada. Recall Sankara’s words on this important point, earlier quoted: “owing to the gradual rise in excellence of the physical conditions limiting it, the Self . . . . manifests itself in higher and higher forms in respect of power and splendor.” In his chapter “Fate” in The Conduct of Life, Emerson elucidated his agreement with Sankara:

Whatever limits us we call Fate. If we are brute and barbarous, the fate takes a brute and dreadful shape. As we refine, our checks become finer. If we rise to spiritual culture, the antagonism takes a spiritual form. In the Hindoo fables, Vishnu follows maya through all her ascending changes, from insect and crawfish up to elephant; whatever form she took, he took the male form of that kind, until she became at last woman and goddess, and he a man and a god. The limitations refine as the soul purifies, but the ring of necessity is always perched at the top.40

While it is true that souls were limited by fate as long as they were deluded by maya, there was an optimism intrinsic to this Process: the soul’s fated limitations refined as it purified. When totally pure, the soul rent the veil of maya and escaped the limitations of fate through the final Freedom of Liberation. Thus human life was a progressive Process in which the soul’s limitations refined as it purified until it transcended all limitation.

Emerson reinforced the optimism intrinsic to mayavada in his essay on “Illusions,” the final chapter in The Conduct of Life. At the heart of this essay he expounded not only his teaching on the doctrine of illusion but also the optimism of refinement intrinsic to it:

Children, youths, adults and old men, all are led by one bawble or another, Yoganidra, the goddess of illusion. . . .is stronger than the Titans, stronger than Apollo. Few have overheard the gods or surprised their secret. Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood. All is riddle, and the key to a riddle is another riddle. There are as many pillows of illusion as flakes in a snowstorm. We wake from one dream into another dream. The toys to be sure are various, and are graduated in refinement to the quality of the dupe.41

That life was a succession of lessons, that humanity’s toys were graduated in refinement to the quality of the dupe, makes explicit the close interrelationship between maya and Process philosophy.

Process gave to the illusion of maya purposiveness, making Liberation from ignorance through the direct experience of non-duality the final human beatitude. That was the very reason why the Absolute manifested the universe. The Over-soul was “a devouring unity” that “changes all into that which changes not.”42 This ultimate human experience was reached through immersion in the mayic realm of name and form. “Everything is prospective,” Emerson proclaimed in “Immortality,” “and man is to live hereafter. That the world is for his education is the only sane solution of the enigma.”43 Experience, though illusory in some ultimate sense, was yet the means by which the soul soul was cultured, that it might come finally to know that its experiences were ultimately illusory. Emerson understood Indian philosophy to be teaching this very wisdom. “The Indian teachers of the Maia,” he noted, “deal with Nature and history as means and symbols, and not as ends.”44 Nature was a means – the soul transcended experience by means of experience – the essence of Process philosophy and the heart of Emerson’s Transcendental Pragmatism. As he worked this out in his journals,

Life is a game between God & man. The One disparts himself & feigns to divide into individuals. He puts part in a pomegranate, part in a king’s crown, part in a person. Instantly man sees the beautiful things & goes to procure them. As he takes down each one the Lord smiles & says It is yourself; and when he has them all, it will be yourself. We love & die for a beauty which we wronged ourselves in thinking alien.45

The Over-soul “disparted” Itself as all of the particularities of experience, and these experiences unfolded the soul ontologically. As the soul progressed, it encountered ever more refined or “spiritualized experiences: “Since our tuition is through emblems and indirections, it is well to know that there is method in it, a fixed scale and rank above rank in the phantasms. We begin low with coarse masks and rise to the most subtle and beautiful.”46This was, of course, exactly Sankara’s wisdom on the subject: “owing to the gradual rise in excellence of the physical conditions limiting it, the Self . . . . manifests itself in higher and higher forms in respect of power and splendor.” As Emerson said in words suggestive of Sankara:

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 outer 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.47

The foregoing passage is from Emerson’s powerful essay “Immortality,” published at the very end of his life. As if to underscore his decades-long fascination with Indian wisdom, he concluded “Immortality” with the beautiful and moving story of the encounter between Nachiketas, a devoted seeker of truth, and Yama, the god of death. Yama granted Nachiketas three boons, and for his last boon Nachiketas asked to know what happened to the soul after death. Yama tried to persuade him to ask another boon, and tempted Nachiketas with the world’s treasures and pleasures. But Nachiketas was unswayed, and finally Yama relented. This narrative was the prelude to Yama’s revelation of highest truth. The soul’s disposition after death depended upon what was sought in life. Those who, deluded by maya and “believing this world exits,” pursued worldly ends remained under the sway of Yama and death. They would be reborn only to die again. But those who were wiser sought a higher truth and obtained a different goal. Yama’s description of that goal concludes the essay “Immortality,” and his are the final words in Emerson’s last book:

The wise, by means of the union of the intellect with the soul, thinking him whom it is hard to behold, leaves both grief and joy. Thee, O Nachiketas! I believe a house whose door is open to Brahma. Brahma the supreme, whoever knows him obtains whatever he wishes. The soul is not born; it does not die; it was not produced from any one. Nor was any produced from it. Unborn, eternal, it is not slain, though the body is slain; subtler than what is subtle, greater than what is great, sitting it goes far, sleeping it goes everywhere. Thinking the soul as unbodily among bodies, firm among fleeting things, the wise man casts off all grief. The soul cannot be gained by knowledge; not by understanding, not by manifold science. It can be obtained by the soul by which it is desired. It reveals its own truths.48

Summing up, 1845 was the crucial year in Emerson’s philosophical maturation. He underwent a paradigm shift, which began with his final conversion to Sankara’s mayavadaMayavada not only resolved the ontological problems left over from Nature, it also inspired him to take other dimensions of Indian philosophy that much more seriously. This started Emerson thinking in a whole new way about human origins, and laid the basis for his acceptance of evolution and transmigration. For this reason, 1845 represents a pivotal period in Emerson’s growth, and mayavada was the adamant on which he founded this new direction.


In accordance with the conventions of Emersonian scholarship, the following abbreviations are used to identify often cited sources:

J: The Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes. 10 vols. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1909-1914.

JMN: The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. William H. Gilman, Alfred R. Ferguson, George P. Clark, Merrell R. Davis, Merton M. Sealts, Harrison Hayford, Ralph H. Orth, J.E. Parsons, A.W. Plumstead, Linda Allardt, and Susan Sutton Smith, et al. 16 vols. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960 1982.

L: The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Ralph L. Rusk. 6 vols. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1939.

LC: The Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Stephen E. Whicher, Robert E. Spiller, and Wallace E. Williams. 3 vols. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959, 1964, 1972.

W: The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Concord Edition. 12 vols. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1903.

1 L II 32.

2 V.M. Apte, Brahma Sutra Shankara Bhashya (Bombay, Popular Book Depot, 1960), p. I, 1, ll.

3 Sankaracarya, Vivekachudamani, (Almora, Advaita Ashrama, 1932), p. 222.

4 JMN XVI 111.

5 W X 176-177.

6 JMN XIV 337.

7 JMN VII 474.

8 Thomas Taylor, Trans., The Cratylus, Phaedo., Parmenides, and Timaeus of Plato, (London, 1836); and Plato, Works, trans. Floyer Sydenham and Thomas Taylor, 5 vols. (London, 1804).

9 Plotinus, “Enneades,” Select Works of Plotinus, trans. Thomas Taylor (London, 1817).

10 JMN VII 413.

11 W II 345-346.

12 See JMN VIII 364-365.

13 JMN IX 317.

14 See JMN IX 318-322 for quotes on Indian philosophy where Emerson is clearly fascinated by the concept of “illusion.”

15 W III 80.

16 JMN IX 318-322.

17 See JMN IX 331-333.

18 W IV 53.

19 W IV 56.

20 All references in paragraph are to W IV 47-48.

21 W IV 49.

22 JMN IX 322.

23 Ibid.

24 JMN X 355.

25 JMN XI 174.

26 W IV 49-51.

27 JMN X 355-W IV 178.

28 W IV 82.

29 JMN IX 320-W VI 324.

30 JMN XI 417.

31 JMN XV 106.

32 JMN XIV 301

33 JMN XV 106

34 W VIII 14-15.

35 JMN XVI 30.

36 W VI 25.

37 George Small, A Handbook of Sanskrit Literature, (London, 1866), p. 183. JMN XVI 45.

38 JMN XIII 467 W VII 172-173.

39 W III 186.

40 W VI 20.

41 W VI 313.

42 W VIII 18.

43 W VIII 334.

44 W VIII 38.

45 JMN IX 207.

46 W VI 318

47 W VIII 348-349.

48 JMN XIV 105-106 W VIII 351-352.