The human soul is not the procession of any single individual; it is the ground of awareness that is the essence of the entire human experience. It is a field of pure knowing. At least that is what Ralph Waldo Emerson learned from Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Emerson used the term the Over-Soul to express this foundational consciousness that is the source of human awareness. In his own writing Emerson is true to the spirit of Coleridge’s vision of Reason.
We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE. And this deep power in which we exist, and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are the shining parts, is the soul.
Emerson is describing a non-dual intelligence. Pure knowing in which seeing and seen, subject and object are one and the same. And he directly borrows from Coleridge when he writes, “We distinguish the announcements of the soul, its manifestations of its own nature, by the term Revelation.”
Emerson’s spiritual teaching he called Self-Reliance and the Self that he taught us to rely upon was not the ego or personality, but the big “S” Self or the Over-Soul. According to Emerson surrender to this deeper self is the birth of true human greatness and virtue.
What we commonly call man, the eating, drinking, planting, counting man, does not, as we know him, represent himself, but misrepresents himself. Him we do not respect, but the soul, whose organ he is, would he let it appear through his action, would make our knees bend. When it breathes through his intellect, it is genius; when it breathes through his will, it is virtue; when it flows through his affection, it is love
There is something else that I find in Emerson’s writing, something I do not seem to find in Coleridge’s magnificent book Aids to Reflection. In the line, “The soul looketh steadily forwards, creating a world before her, leaving worlds behind her.” Emerson implies that the soul is not merely the passive source of human knowledge, but a forward moving, world building force in the universe. In another passage Emerson describes how the soul advances.
The soul’s advances are not made by gradation, such as can be represented by motion in a straight line; but rather by ascension of state, such as can be represented by metamorphosis, — from the egg to the worm, from the worm to the fly. The growths of genius are of a certain total character, that does not advance the elect individual first over John, then Adam, then Richard, and give to each the pain of discovered inferiority,–but by every throe of growth the man expands there where he works, passing, at each pulsation, classes, populations, of men.
The advances of the Over-Soul as described by Emerson seem very similar to more modern ideas of evolution. Evolution does not take place linearly from one individual to the next. We mark the progress of evolution by leaps from one species to the next, or in the case of cultural evolution from one stage of culture to the next.
The soul is the field of pure knowing that is the foundation of human consciousness. Or, from my last post, the light spreading out in all directions prior to any being reflected back to be seen. It is pure intelligence without any object yet known. Emerson’s implication is that this pure knowing is evolving. The foundational intelligence of the universe is growing and evidence of that growth can be seen in the progress of evolution in the physical and living world. The soul evolves.
The human soul is not the procession of any single individual; it is the ground of awareness that is the essence of the entire human experience. It is a field of pure knowing.
It is so good to read this. Iam really interested in this field of pure kmowing. If we have the access to this pure knowing, It must be the way out of all our difficult circumstances in the world in the cosmos.
Recently I was reading Teilhard de Chardin about his noo-sphere and I suddenly realized that I had made it too mystical: if I am right it is the state of all our thinking all together. I think this also counts for Emerson’s Soul, it is not a ‘mystical cloud of pure knowing’ hanging somewhere outside us, it is total awareness itself, it is consciousness itself and it is only mystical because we cannot yet explain where it arises from. I am just reading Bill Brysons ‘a short history of nearly everything’ and what strikes me most is the process of… Read more »
Jeff, The West got this notion of the non-local soul from its contact with Indian philosophy as did just about everyone else. How come the originators of this idea (paraatam) are not mentioned. We it comes to metaphysics, the West is still just now getting to its feet after crawling around looking for upright supports to pull themselves up. Living in India and being with the sages that can still be found there, you get to see how ancient and evolved is there metaphysics and how primitive we are in these matters in the West. Western arrogance crumbles when there… Read more »
It is so beautiful to be able to synthesize our most current sacred revelations with those of citizens in our past history who had bits of illuminated thought around these same ideas. It makes it more accessible to everyone! Thank you so much for this hugely committed, vastly successful effort.
I think it is well-known that many of the Transcendentalists were students of Eastern mysticism. The “soul is not the procession of any individual”, neither is it the possession of the individual. What we are calling the individual soul is identical in essence to what we call God in Vedanta philosophy and I think in Evolutionary Enlightenment teachings also. It seems to follow that in any teaching of non-duality, the soul and the “Over-Soul” would be have to be identical in their essence. The fact that Emerson finds this pure knowing to be also evolving, sent me into a deep… Read more »
Dear Jeff, In the West there was for years the great Tradition of the Occident, which had basically the same esoteric concepts as in India, but differently stated. It had the Gnostic tradition in particular, which is a fully holistic way to see Christ. There is a wonderful interview by Cynthia Bourgeault about this; you can find it here http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-200014893861038893# It seems that the previous generation, like Andrew, had to go to India or China to find back non duality, and then when back we are discovering with people like Thomas Keating, or Bede Griffiths that all this was always… Read more »
Dear Catherine, Swami Krishnananda and Swami Chidananda of Sivananda Ashram in India, did not reject Andrew at all. They supported him wholeheartedly! They invited him to teach at the Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy and the sent their own disciples to him to attend his retreats. And even now, that those great beings are physically no more with us, India does not reject Andrew. It is correct to say that Andrew has been one of the first ones to focus the attention on evolution, especially the evolution of consciousness, and the traditional viewpoint of India has not thought about it in… Read more »
Dear Moo, I agree with you that I am wrong for the transcendentalists, they were indeed reading about India at that time in intellectual circles, sorry about this. They were young americans though” one hundred years after the creation of the country, and as such they were imbued with the Great Esoteric Tradition as well. All the Esoteric Tradition of the Occident of which the very blood and spirit of the USA is made of [ the US dollar bill has the Eosteric symbol of the reverse pyramid, In God we Trust and all the secret societies symbols are present…… Read more »
Dear Moo, I found what I mean in the biography of Emerson :“ In his book The American Religion, Harold Bloom repeatedly refers to Emerson as “The prophet of the American Religion,” which in the context of the book refers to indigenously American religions such as Mormonism and Christian Science, which arose largely in Emerson’s lifetime, but also to Mainline Protestant churches that Bloom says have become in the United States more gnostic than their European counterparts. In The Western Canon, Harold Bloom compares Emerson to Michel de Montaigne: “The only equivalent reading experience that I know is to reread… Read more »
Catherine, et all, I too did not understand India’s classical position as regards the material world when I got to India, so I asked people like Swami Krishnananda (whom Andrew revers), a scholar and exemplary example of a Juana Yogi. Krishnananda was very interested in Western physics, in the sense he wanted to keep abreast of how Westerners were thinking about cosmology. He was attending a class he was giving on Vedanta when the subject came up. Swami K said, “Why spend a lifetime studying the details when you can be studying the whole thing?” I took that to mean… Read more »
Catherine, I too did not understand India’s classical position as regards the material world when I got to India, so I asked people like Swami Krishnananda (whom Andrew revers), a scholar and exemplary example of a Juana Yogi. Krishnananda was very interested in Western physics, in the sense he wanted to keep abreast of how Westerners were thinking about cosmology. He was attending a class he was giving on Vedanta when the subject came up. Swami K said, “Why spend a lifetime studying the details when you can be studying the whole thing?” I took that to mean he (representing… Read more »
I take what you say very seriously. maybe it is me then, in my arrogance, who doesn’t see India in its true glory. My vision of India is indeed the one of some great country where very wonderfully enlightened Masters are living, but who are completely static and have no sense of Evolution at all.
Maybe I am wrong here. Thanks for your answer and for giving me another point of view. I will certainly think about it !
By the way I can indeed relate to the reverence to Indian saints. I experienced it in two occasions : when I visited Tiruvannamalai and the sacred mountain of Shiva where Ramana Maharshi was living. I didnt intend to go there [ I was just starting my spiritual quest at the moment at the time I was more interested by Pondicherry, Sri Aurbindo Ashram and Auroville, the utopian city of Mother] and when I entered the grotto where he was living I felt such a sense of reverence that I fell on my knees and thoughts went out of my… Read more »
here is the picture of Ramakrishna which had such a strong impact on “me” the first time I saw it: http://auromere.wordpress.com/2009/06/20/ramakrishnas-contact-with-sri-aurobindo/ Such an impact is a lifetime blessing. I often asked myself : what was touched when I almost fainted when I saw the Ramakrishna’s picture ? what is the organ in me which reacted quicker than thought ? The answer which always come is that my soul was impacted strongly. Now each time I try to relate to my soul I remember the sensation, the location of this impact. The location of it is remarkably precise in my memory.… Read more »
Catherine, Your experiences in India are wonderful to hear about. Thanks for sharing that. You know first hand that there is something to it. What you say about static Indian has been true. I too was shocked by the poverty in India when I first got there. Obviously, they didn’t see the material world as we “moderns” see it. What got revealed to me in short order was that they didn’t see the material world as did the west because the intelligencia of the nation were focused on the OTHER part of life, which is just as full, just as… Read more »
Dear Don, I thought I would answer seriously and in details about Science and Spirit because it is an important point that we are dealing with and because I very respectfully disagree on several points. First point , related to the top down / vs bottom up viewpoint. I will cite you if you don’t mind: I just want to make my points as precisely as possible. You write : “f the Yogis are supposed to know the whole, it should them be easy to arrange the parts and partake of the joy potential of exploiting the material world. Why… Read more »
This is not to say that I will not faint the next time I see the picture of an Indian sage, I don’t want to denigrate any greatness of India. I just feel that the spiritual greatness of the West is still completely mis-represented in spiriutal circles. Maybe an heritage of the New Age adolescent attitude, which claims that the grass is always greener outside ? A Great Initiate like Steiner has changed my life. Was Steiner Enlightened in the sense of the East? frankly who cares; to me he was certainly Enlightened in the sense of Evolutionary Enlightenment, as… Read more »
Deepak Chopra on Twitter:
‘The universe is simultaneously material , mental as energy and information, and spiritual as the field of pure potential’ .. and
‘ Pure consciousness is prior to subject-object split and therefore prior to awareness as we know it’.
Hello Everyone, I haven’t been very good at keeping up with all this lively discussion but I really appreciate it. It is definately true that the Transcendentalists were inspred by the East and in fact Samuel Taylor Coleridge was as well. As you know in this blog I have been focusing on the course of the western paths, but it was with the romantics that the eastern thought entered into the western mind. If any one is interested to read more the articles below are all helpful on getting a sense of how Emerson was influenced by Eastern Ideas. They… Read more »
Catherine, You correctly point out there is a metaphysical element operating in the West. We need to do all we can to encourage its survival and support its growth. The question “what is enlightenment” hasn’t been answered in the west now that it is obvious we are not going to let go of our core values. We are not going to reconstruct Asian enlightenment if it means we have to give up the achievements of western civilization. With that as a given, when we ask “what is enlightenment” presents the challenge of our times. That’s is what we are all… Read more »
Emersons view of the human soul destroys the value of the individual human soul, relegating it to an an experience or knowledge instead of a real mortal being, with infinite worth but a finite existence, with the possibility for immortality. It cheapens the historic Christian view of man, which gives him great dignity, being created in the image of God. Here a man is nothing but the sum of what he has been aware of, what he has known,, and what he has lived through. No thanks! In Christianity, each soul has infinite value, so that if only one man… Read more »