Wednesday, December 14, 2011

life is but a dream sweetheart...

My posting recently has been sporadic which means, unfortunately, the same for my devotional life. One idea, however, has been going around in my head the past few days. I am reading much right now on the Transcendentalists and "Asian Religions" (right now Arthur Versluis', "American Transcendentalism and Asian Religions'" and a persistent issue is Emerson's perceived romantic self-centerdness. Verslouis writes of Emerson's use of the idea of Maya and "illusion" to "transcend" this problem:

"...there is another subtle but important ramification to his affirmation of maya's or illusion's, universality: Through this recognition of the universality of illusion, Emerson is able to affirm the illusory nature of the individual self as well and thus to avoid the tendency toward solipsism that so haunts English and to some extent European Romanticism. After all, the logical conclusion of the doctrine of maya must be that the individual ego is also contigent, that if the external world is a dream, then so are we ourselves. If the essence of the Romantic fallacy was the psychologizing internalization of religious truth, then by denying the ultimate reality of the ego, Emerson is effectively transcending the fundamental trap of Romanticism.

According to Emerson, man is truly man only when he transcends his limited self; man is meant to be more than man, to be a 'transparent eyeball' (using an echo of a Plotinian phrase), to be a 'god' sitting among 'gods,' or not to be an 'I' at all. Many critics have suggested that Emerson was fundamentally an egoist, and no doubt this is true, for as Nakagawa Soen Roshi once said, we are all egoists. But insufficient attention has been paid to Emerson's focus on transcending the self, for it is here, on the poet's illuminaation or inspiration, that Emerson's works are often actually centered. Pivotal here are Platonism and the Vedanta."

The line between self absorption and self transcendence is a fine line indeed and maybe the chief role of religion is to illuminate that line...

Blessings

3 comments:

Bill Baar said...

The line between self absorption and self transcendence is a fine line indeed and maybe the chief role of religion is to illuminate that line...

I like that thought very much indeed, and will safe if for my next debate on the social justice committee when I argue the committee's work serves us far more than any good we do for others. The chief benefit for ourselves may well be illuminating that line between absorption and self transcendence.

I lose these debates by the way. Every time... w/o fail

boston unitarian said...

Not sure that debate is winnable in most circles...have to take comfort in just making the argument! As always, thanks for the comment and a very blessed Christmas to you and yours. BU

David G. Markham said...

Bill I agree with you that most social justice work is self congratulatory and done for the egotistical satisfaction of the so called benefactor rather than making any positive improvement in the quality of life of the recipient. This, of course, is not always true, and I am not so cynical as to think this is always the case. Many good people do many good things selflessly. The key is self understanding - are we aware enough of our own motivations and intentions so that our giving is empowering and not exploitative?

Self awareness is the key and motivation is the indicator illuminating the consequence of benefiting others verses aggrandizing and trying to expiate our own guilt.

All the best.