The Chosen Path of Alexander Hamilton vs. the Pluralism of Ralph Waldo Emerson

by Aranyakananda

There are two objects between which the mind vibrates like a pendulum; one, the desire of Truth; the other, the desire of Repose. He in whom the love of Repose predominates will accept the first creed he meets…he gets rest & reputation, but he shuts the door of Truth. He in whom the love of Truth predominates will keep himself aloof from all moorings & afloat. He will abstain from dogmatism & recognize all of the opposite negations between which…his being is swung. On one side he will feel that God is impersonal. On the other, that the Universe is his work. He submits to the inconvenience of suspense & imperfect opinion, but he is a candidate for Truth, & respects the highest law of his being.   – Ralph Waldo Emerson

_______

I have posted the above quote in its entirety for one reason: I am greatly conflicted as to my agreement with it.

On the one side, I am wholeheartedly in favor of pluralism. My own spiritual leanings tell me that each one of us has his/her own path which is a result of what we have cultivated from life to life, from womb to tomb and back again.

I also think Emerson makes a valid argument about those who have a “love for Repose” in that dogmas can arise in the minds of this personality type.

But consider this quote attributed to Alexander Hamilton: “He who stands for nothing will fall for anything” The people referred to who will “fall for anything” may be those who love repose. But once that type of person finds this repose, they certainly tend to stand for something, restful as it is. The ones who “stand for nothing” appear to be the ones in Emerson’s other category. The seekers. But then “standing for nothing” can be a virtue in that it keeps one detached from systems of thought created by man. The problem is that the “imperfect opinion” which Emerson says the seeker submits himself to results in spiritualists one day fully believing that they can be anything they want to be, and all they have to do is visualize it to manifest it, and the next day believing that life is what it is and we must rise above. Most religious people tend to flutter between these two extreme opinions without even noticing the contradiction.

My other problem comes in that the type of pluralism that Emerson seems to be advocating in his seeker of truth is one which tends not to allow a seeker to find solid ground and a focus to his/her spiritual energy. “Aloof from all moorings”, “afloat”. These are not the images of a person who has discovered their dharma. Sticking to a path does not necessarily lead to dogmatism, though the risk certainly presents itself. But, if properly cultivated, a faithfully observed path can be a great guiding light.

…That is, as long as one does not jump into the paths that others are trying to walk and step on/run over their toes.

Though the jury is still out, in my mind, on this one, I will point out that in the very act of not taking a side, I betray myself as one who “stands for nothing.” At least on this debate.

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2 Responses to The Chosen Path of Alexander Hamilton vs. the Pluralism of Ralph Waldo Emerson

  1. Dhrishti says:

    An interesting post, bhai. Kind of unexpected.

    “I also think Emerson makes a valid argument about those who have a “love for Repose” in that dogmas can arise in the minds of this personality type.” -The point I took from Emerson’s words is that this so-called Repose is really a sanctioned form of laziness BECAUSE of the dogmas. AKA: this is my path, I’m sticking to it, and so I don’t have to think as much (sticking to the path is half my work).

    For this person, their parampara or sampradaya means at least as much as the actual path they tread or the effort they exert while on their path -and it shouldn’t. Ever.

    It’s because of this that he says the lover of Truth is able to be “afloat.” I don’t interpret that to mean (aimlessly) adrift. The lover/seeker of Truth is able to stay afloat, because he isn’t weighed down by rigidity of the dogmas that the Reposer “rests” (slumbers?) in. To others it might seem like the non-Reposer flits about picking-and-choosing his way to moksha, but Truth is not accidental and neither is samadhi.

    “…recognize all of the opposite negations between which…his being is swung. On one side he will feel that God is impersonal. On the other, that the Universe is his work.” -This is THE definition of liberation as far as I’m concerned. Afterall, the point isn’t to rid one’s self of all good karma, right? Rather, to be free from ALL karma, both good and bad. AKA: to be in controll (recognize) the opposites between which most people swing. Realizing that Brahman is ultimately impersonal AND simultaneously intimately and inseparably pervades all of existence is the essence of Sanatana Dharma.

    And as far as standing for nothing and falling for anything? Abrahamic Faiths have set a pretty clear example that staunchly and passionately standing for what you believe in can still very easily mean falling flat on one’s own rigid face.

    Mera bhai…Please know, you have nothing to worry about. I know a little bit about your heart and the shape of your jiva. (jivanMURTI! See, I told you!) You are at risk neither of Reposing nor drifting aimlessly. Fret not suchery!

    Om Shanti

    • treadmarkz says:

      Thank you for such thorough response. See this is exactly why I am conflicted. You are exactly right that Emerson described Brahma perfectly.

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