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Unformatted text preview: Sarah Barrett American Lit I Prof. Staud February 20, 2008 The Zen in Nature For, seen in the light of thought, the world always is phenomenal; and virtue subordinates it to the mind. Idealism sees the world in God. It beholds the whole circle of persons and things, of actions and events, of country and religion, not as painfully accumulated in an aged creeping Past, but as one vast picture, which God paints on the instant eternity, for the contemplation of the soul. 1 Emerson is revered, in part, for the way he challenges and investigates formal traditions of philosophic and religious writing, insisting on the interpenetration of the ideal and the real, of the spiritual and material. The philosophical and religious philosophies of Emersons works have been traced to many sources, including Unitarian theology, German philosophical idealism, British Romantic poetry, and Hindu scriptures, each of which emphasizes the unity of nature, humanity, and God. Emersons philosophy can, as such, be understood as a collage that finds unity from disunity amidst global revolutionary upheaval of rationalism and aesthetics. With the publication of his first book in 1836, Emerson shunned divisive ideologies in favor of a theological dialectic that could purify religion so as to unite all men, individually and thus communally, through a meditative oneness with nature. Aptly named, Emersons Nature shows the natural world to be a symbolic language that can reveal the mind of God, open the mind of Man, and provide the path to a heightened, enlightened union of the two; through the experience of oneness with nature, a communion with God is possible. Emersons temporal focus in Nature inherently rejects western theology, man-made meaning, and separation from God, instead choosing to champion principles of eastern spirituality, in particular Zen Buddhism as it concerns meditation, virtue and wisdom training on the path to achieve Enlightenment. It is only appropriate to note how Emersons reflection is sincerely American in outlook (rather than 1 "Nature." The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 1820-1865 , 6 (B). Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2003. 14. seen or intended to look elsewhere for tradition) in that Nature established a new way of looking at America and its raw, natural environment. In this essay, I intend to examine a number of the significant similarities intellectual and experiential between Emersonian transcendentalism and [the spirit of] Zen Buddhism, as they appear in his essay Nature. While Emersons knowledge of Zen was most likely sketchy, the similarities that appear in his work show its relevance to the American tradition within which Emerson wrote, with its heritage of self-reliance, accessibility of divine truth and trust in an ultimate benevolence of Nature and God. In this essay, I do not wish to argue that Zen is the key to the entirety of Emersons thought or, that his central ideas derived...
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