Religion is a guiding light that shines into all factors of life. It builds one’s character and personality, and affects one’s perspective on his surroundings. Religion wears many hats, as it can range from a loosely set philosophy to a strict, taxing code of conduct. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s religion was a non-traditional one which emphasized self-reliance (Rowe 5), individuality (St. John 6), and the natural goodness of man (Jue 7). He saw religion as a relative, personal set of beliefs which can change and vary widely between practitioners, and even within one person over a period of time. In fact, Emerson began his religious journey as a Calvinist in Harvard’s School of Divinity, then held a career as a minister of a Unitarian church in Boston (Leude 1). His beliefs as a Unitarian were similar to his Transcendentalist philosophies (1), discovered soon after his resignation as a minister. When analyzed from a biblical perspective, Emerson’s literary works clearly reflect the influences of eastern religion and mysticism in their depiction of nature as well as God, the human spirit, and religion.
Eastern philosophy is based upon religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, Sikhism, Jainism, Taoism, and Confucianism (Hagin 1). The core values of these religions have many similarities. Judgment comes from measurement of good works against bad. Morality and ethics are stressed as more important than belief in a specific doctrine. Most eastern religions believe in the ideas of karma and reincarnation. Karma is the force that determines the cycle of reincarnation based on the individual’s works (2). Buddhists specifically follow a moral code called the Eightfold Path. It consists of right seeing, resolve, word, action, means of existence, effort, attention, and contemplation (Eliade 26). Hinduism and Jainism revere all life forms as worthy of love and respect (Hagin 1,2). Most practice
vegetarian or vegan diets and Jainists take extreme measures to avoid hurting animal life (Eliade 165). Generally, followers of eastern religions practice some form of meditation, and some believe in an enlightened state of higher consciousness such as moshka (Hagin 4) or nirvana (Hagin 3).
Emerson’s views on nature mirror the philosophies of eastern religion. He believes that people can grow closer to God by spending time in and meditating on nature (St. John 1). In fact, God and nature are the same entity to Emerson. In many of his works, including “Nature,” he personifies nature as a higher power than man. Emerson sees God everywhere in nature, and in a sense is omnipresent in this way. Nature is everywhere, therefore God is everywhere (Rowe 23). In “Earth-Song,” a part of the poem “Hamatreya,” Emerson describes the sheer power of nature over humanity. He writes, “They called me theirs/Who so controlled me/Yet every one/ Wished to stay, and is gone/How am I theirs/If they cannot hold me/But I hold them?” Here, he mentions how man passes away while nature remains...