Vedanta philosophy was one of several thought currents from abroad that reached New England in the early decades of the 191h century and contributed to the thinking of Emerson and Thoreau. Emerson's interest in the sacred writing of the East probably began during his Harvard days and continued throughout his life. He knew Laws of Manu, Vishnupurana, the Bhagavad-Gita, and Katha Upanishad. There are numerous references to these scriptures in his journals and Essays. Thoreau too was introduced to Oriental writing while still at Harvard. His initial contact was with an essay in oriental poetry by Sir William Jones. In 1841, at the age of 24, he began an intensive study of Hindu religious books. In the January 1843 issues of "The Dial", Thoreau published selected passages from Laws of Manu. From a French version of the Sanskrit Harivansa he translated a story, "The Transmigration of seven Brahmans," and in "The Dial" of January 1844, he published excerpts from Buddhist scriptures under the title "The preaching of Buddha". Emerson, Thoreau, and other transcendentalists interested in the concept of "self-hood, found in Hindu scripture well-elaborated doctrine of self. Hindu scripture tells us that the central core of one's self (Antaratman) is identifiable with the cosmic whole (Brahman). The Upanishads state, "The self within you, the resplendent, immortal person is the internal self of air things and is the universal Brahman". Concepts similar to this cardinal doctrine of Vedanta appear in the writings of 2 the Transcendentalists. But there are many ideological similarities among oriental literature, the Neoplatonic doctrines, Christian mysticism, and the philosophy of the German idealists such as Kant and Schelling. And, since the Transcendentalists were acquainted with all of these writings, it is not always possible to identify specific influences.
Nevertheless, the striking parallels between Transcendentalist writing and Oriental thought make it clear that there was a spiritual kinship. In "Plato or the philosopher," Emerson writes that "the conception of fundamental Unity"-the "ecstasy" of losing "all being in one Being" - finds its highest expression chiefly in the Indian. Scriptures, in the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Vishnu Purana." In this essay, Emerson quotes Krishna speaking to a sage: "You are fit to apprehend that you are not distinct from me that which I am, you are, and that also in this world, with its gods and heroes and mankind. Men contemplate distinctions because they are stupefied with ignorance," "What is the great end of all, you shall now learn from me. It is soul, - one in all bodies, pervading uniform, perfect, preeminent 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." In formulating his own concept of the Over-soul, Emerson might well be quoting Krishna once again: 'We live in succession, in the division, in part, 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 accessible to us is not only self -sufficing and perfect in every hour, but in 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 shining parts, is the soul. Only by the. the vision of that wisdom can the horoscope of the ages be read .... ".'
In some respects, Henry David Thoreau was even more than Emerson attracted to Oriental thought and philosophy. For while Emerson found the Hindu doctrines of soul congenial to his own ideas about man's relationship to the universe. Thoreau found in Hindu scriptures away of life with which he felt a profound affinity. When Thoreau began his intensive study of Hindu Scriptures, he wrote in his journal. "I cannot read a sentence in the book of the Hindus without being elevated upon the table-land of the Ghauts. The impression which those sublime sentences
made on me last night has awakened me before any crow crowing. The simple life here in described confers on us a degree of freedom even in perusal wants so easily and gracefully satisfied that they seem like a more refined pleasure and repleteness." Later, in his first book, he said: " Any moral philosophy is exceeding rare. This of Manu addresses our privacy more than most. It is a more private and familiar and at the same time a more public and universal work that is spoken in parlor or pulpit nowadays. As our domestic fowls are said to have their origins in the wild peasant of India, so our domestic thoughts have their prototypes in the thoughts of her philosophers... Most books belong to the house and street only, and in the fields, their leaves feel very thin... But this, as if proceeds from, so I address, what is deepest and most abiding in man. It belongs to the noontide of the day, the midsummer of the year, and after the snows have melted, and the waters evaporated in the spring, still its truth speaks freshly to our experience ..... ".