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WALDEN to GRACELAND 200 Years of the Eastern Wisdom Tradition in Western Thought A Chapter on Henry David Thoreau Kent

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Elvis Presley’s The Prophet. Henry David Thoreau’s Manual of Buddhism. WALDEN to GRACELAND 200 Years of the Eastern Wisdom Tradition in Western Thought A Chapter on Henry David Thoreau Kent Bicknell ... the Sant Bani School. S..P..A..C..E.

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slide1
Elvis Presley’s

The Prophet

Henry David Thoreau’s

Manual of Buddhism

WALDEN to GRACELAND

200 Years of the Eastern Wisdom Tradition

in Western Thought

A Chapter on Henry David Thoreau

Kent Bicknell ... the Sant Bani School

s p a c e
S..P..A..C..E
  • Henry David Thoreau loved Space in all its forms.
  • It spoke volumes.
  • When his brother John died of lockjaw in 1842, Henry eulogized him by writing an account of their two week river trip from Concord, Massachusetts to Mount Washington.
  • Collapsing time, Henry called the book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers –with each chapter named for a day of the week.
  • It took Henry 330 pages to tell of Saturday through Thursday’s progress north (with many references to the Vedas, the Puranas, the Bhagavad Gita, Confucius, Hafiz, and the Buddha thrown in along the way).
  • But his description of the summit of Mount Washington (which he calls by its Native American name, AGIOCOCHOOK – the Place where the Great Spirit Dwells)is unique in American literature:
the thoreau brothers peak experience transcended the written word
The Thoreau Brothers’ peak experience transcended the written word,

so the narrative picked up in “Hooksett, a week afterward...”

slide4
Henry’s 1st book was a commercial flop. James Russell Lowell wrote in a review, “We were bid to a river party – not to be preached at!”

When the publisher made Henry take back the unsold copies, he quipped,“I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.”

As the volumes sat around in Henry’s garret, he sometimes made textual corrections in pencil

Of particular concern were some missing lines on p. 396

slide5
Reviewing the proof sheets, Henry requested more space…

He asked for space here

&

Three lines were dropped

The text made no sense… so in the occasional volume Henry added the missing lines.

slide6
In summer we live out of doors, and have only impulses and feelings, which are all for action, and must wait commonly for the stillness and longer nights of autumn and
  • winter before any thought will subside; we are sensible that behind the rustling leaves, and the stacks of grain, and the bare clusters of the grape, there is the field of a
  • wholly new life, which no man has lived; that even this earth was made for more mysterious and nobler inhabitants than men and women.

The lines Henry added in pencil convey the essence of his World View:

If we can be still and allow thoughts to withdraw beyond the play of outer senses, we may find “the field of a wholly new life…”

slide7
A Week is indeed more than the “river party” James Russell Lowell expected.
  • Any “preaching” done embodies a unique flavor, based on:
    • a keen observance of nature – that is
    • steeped in the mystical literature of the Ages.
  • It is little wonder that the erudite Lowell took exception:

J. R. Lowell

slide8
Words from the pulpit in mid 19th century New England did not explain the “field of a wholly new life” Henry had tasted.

As an adolescent he had gone through long periods in which “I was daily intoxicated, and yet no man could call me intemperate.”

Neither people nor books helped him understand “an indescribable, infinite, all-absorbing, divine, heavenly pleasure, a sense of elevation and expansion” that he had “nought to do with…”

“I perceive that I am dealt with by superior powers. This is a pleasure, a joy, an existence which I have not procured myself. I speak as a witness on the stand, and tell what I have perceived. The morning and the evening were sweet to me, and I led a life aloof from the society of men.”

Journal, July 16, 1851

slide9
The sacred texts of Asia, however, did open doors for Henry.

And his voracious reading of Eastern texts was reflected in his writing, as here in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.

(to be continued...)

slide10
The preceding slides on Henry Thoreau are a chapter from Walden to Graceland: 200 Years of the Eastern Wisdom Tradition in Western Thought. The presentation has been created from rare books and manuscripts in the collection of Kent Bicknell, Principal of the Sant Bani School in Sanbornton, NH. It explores in detail the long and rich engagement with the East of the Alcotts, Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, Madame Blavatsky, W. B. Yeats, Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, Ezra Pound, Elvis Presley, and Jimi Hendrix, among others. For more information (including illustrated lectures) contact Kent at ...

[email protected] The Sant Bani School www.santbani.org

See also Leigh Eric Schmidt’s Restless Souls: the Making of American Spirituality from Emerson to Oprah (2005)

Schmidt offers an in-depth history of the search for the spiritual in American culture -- and the positive social movements that have resulted.

It is about opening doors,

Not closing them…

© Kent Bicknell 2006

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