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Emerson a Western Theosophist

Sep 07, 1995 07:12 AM
by Arthur Paul Patterson

I am teaching a course in Emerson and thought that this weeks reflections
may be of interest to our group in relation to the topic of integration of
Christian and Theosophical thought. I share this with no intent that you
agree but in order to share the fact that both biblicial tradition and
eastern ideas including the Platonic roots of Emerson can be brought
together for our benefit. This is an informal paper written not to be
published but to be discussed. Enjoy it.

Oversoul: Consciousness as Mysticism

When we have broken our God of tradition and ceased from our God of
rhetoric, then may God fire the heart with his presence.

Emerson is a mystic. Not particularly a mystic of any one tradition but a
mystic in temperament and practise. He contends that when a person is
living in union with the Oversoul all of nature takes on a supernatural hue
and tone. His is a mysticism of the Everyday. Emerson slightly deviates
from the typical mystic by his struggle to articulate the experience in
words. He doesn't devalue language, he instead, uses it in a devotional
manner to evoke in his readers, or hearers, the experience he is talking
about. Emerson is therefore a Poet in addition to being a Mystic.

The soul that ascends to worship Oversoul is plain and true; has no
rose-color, no fine friends, no chivalry, no adventures, doesn't not want
admiration; dwells in the hour that now is, in the earnest experience of
the common day- by reason of the present moment and the mere trifle having
become porous to thought and bibulous of the sea of light. 248

For all his apparent radicalism against institutional forms of Christianity
, the more I read in Emerson, the more I find him in deep agreement with
much of what I have read in Christian Scriptures. Oversoul's emphasis on
spiritual wisdom has much in common with Pauline literature in the New
Testament. So I add a third nomenclature to Emerson; Emerson is a Preacher.

For instance compare the meaning of 1 Corinthians 1: 19 ff. ( obviously I
have replaced the term God with Emerson's Oversoul to illustrate) with the
quotes from Oversoul on what spiritual wisdom is and functions like.

1 Corinthians 1:19 ff

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the
discerning I will thwart . Where is the one who is wise? Where is the
scribe? Where is the debater of the age? Has not Oversoul made foolish the
wisdom of the world? ... For Oversoul's foolishness is wiser than human
wisdom, and Oversoul's weakness is stronger than human's strength...
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by
human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But
Oversoul chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; Oversoul
chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. Oversoul chose what
low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing
the things that are, to that no one might boast in the presence of

Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are subject to no one
else's scrutiny. For who has known the mind of the Oversoul (Lord) so as
to instruct him? But we have the mind of (Oversoul) Christ. - The Apostle


If we will not interfere with our thought, but will act entirely, or see
how the thing stands in God, we know the particular thing, and every man.
For the Maker of all things and all persons stands behind us and casts his
dread omniscience through us over things. 243 - The Concord Sage Emerson

This sounds much like the idea of having the "mind of Christ" mentioned by
Paul. Also, the idea that nothing can judge the spiritual person because
the union they have with Oversoul enables them to discern aright. Both in
Paul and in Emerson there is a confidence in spiritual wisdom that is
dangerous but exciting to contemplate. It has to do with the ability to
know instinctively what is true if we are "in" the atmosphere of the
spirit. It is helpful to remember that Emerson said the norm was to be in
the condition of habitual vice. My question is how do we discern whether we
are in one of those moments of grace or in our normal habitual egocentrism.

1. Humility and Mutual Submission to Oversoul

Emerson is not an exclusivist. He believes that the ability to live at the
level of Oversoul is accessible to the simple, the young, the
unacknowledged as well as those who are recognized as wise in our society.
It is however acknowledged by him that the "violence of direction" that
really means the vested interests of the intelligent make is very difficult
to sustain the level of consciousness of Oversoul.

The learned and studious of thought have no monopoly of wisdom. Their
violence of direction in some degree disqualifies them to think truly. We
owe many valuable observations to people who are not very acute or
profound, and who say the thing without effort which we want and have long
been hunting in vain. 241-42

Whoever acknowledges Oversoul finds themself unified with all others who
are living from this center. The sophistication of language may differ but
that is insubstantial compared with the oneness that results from
submission to that which is greater than our differences and unifies us.

In dealing with my child, my Latin and Greek, my accomplishments and my
money stead me nothing; but as much soul as I have avails. If I am wilful,
he sets his will against mine, one for one, and leaves me, if I please, the
degradation of beating him by my superiority of strength. But if I renounce
my will and act for the soul, setting up that as umpire between us two, out
of his young eyes looks the same soul; he reveres and loves with me. 242

This admonition advocates a non-coercive approach to those you consider
less mature or talented or intelligent than yourself. Setting your will
against someone will only lead to warfare and the inevitability of "the
might as right tactic". This doesn't have to be related to physical
strength but even evolutionary development of consciousness. To use your
ability to achieve the submission of another is denigrating. Mutual
submission to reality, or the Oversoul, leads to coparticipation in
adoration and to gratitude.

2. The Discern but Do Not Judge

There is a paradox in the Bible around judging. On the one hand there is
the apparently simple straight out, rarely obeyed, imperative to not

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for
in the passing of judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you
the judge do the very same things... Romans 2:1

In another letter to a different situation Paul gave what appears to be
opposite advise,

Those who are spiritual discern (judge) all things, and they are themselves
subject to no one's scrutiny. 1 Corinthians 2:15

If this advise were taken out of the context of being spiritually submitted
to reality and humble, it would open the flood gates to unbridled arrogance
and narrow mindedness. And it has been taken like this as we are very aware
of. Emerson's mysticism of consciousness manages to bring the two side of
discernment and judgement together in a unifying center.He says,

We are all discerners of spirits. That diagnosis lies aloft in our life or
unconscious power. The intercourse of society, its trade, its religion, its
friendships, its quarrels, is one wide judicial investigation of character.
In full court, or in small committee, or confronted face to face, accuser
and accused, men offer themselves to be judged. Against their will they
exhibit those decisive trifles by which character is read. But who judges?
and what? Not our understanding. We do not read them by learning or craft.
No; the wisdom of the wise man consists herein, that he does not judge
them; he lets them judge themselves and merely reads their own verdict.

The ability to make a discernment is the ability to remain in passive
receptivity to the actions of others. This does not mean that we must
compromise or become "passive" in the psychological sense but passive in
the epistemological sense of allowing freedom of self disclosure to take
place. I have often commented that you can't hide anything from a person
who is not longer concerned about himself. Self disclosure is going on all
the time and those with the eyes to see can see all of us. To live out this
principle is to live before the blazing yet compassion eye of God
(Oversoul). Psychologically it is the equivalent of the apocalyptic
unveiling at the end of time where all of our deeds will be displayed from
the roof tops. And yet because this is done in totality it will be done in

 3. Recognize a Transcendent Source of Identity

Emerson alludes to the fact that our character is the central criterion for
discernment as to who we are,

Character teaches over our head. The infallible index of true progress is
found in the tone the man takes. Neither his age, nor his breeding, nor
company, nor books, nor actions, nor talents, nor all together can hinder
him from being deferential to a higher spirit than his own. if he have not
found his home in Oversoul, his manners, his forms of speech, the turn of
his sentences, the build, shall I say, of all his opinions will
involuntarily confess it, let him brave it out as he will. If he has
found his center, the Deity will shine through him, through all the
disguises of ignorance, of uncongenial temperament, of unfavourable
circumstance. The tone of seeking is one and the tone of having is another.

Character is determined by our relationship to the Oversoul. Having our
identity in God (Self or the Oversoul) enables a person to live beyond the
particularities of their own egocentrism. Again, parallels can be found in
the Pauline material of the New Testament.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,
for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ
who is your life is revealed, they you also will be revealed with him in
glory. Col. 3: 2,3

Here, as in Emerson, there is a hidden identity that is transcendental and
of more durability and substance than the temporal personalities we
struggle with. The Apocalypse ( The Unveiling) speaks of the new identity
give us at another time and another place.

To anyone who conquerors I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will
give a white stone, and on the white Stone is written a new name that no
one knows except the one who receives it. Revelation 2:17

I can not help but think of this as anything but the individuated Self that
Carl Jung speaks about as the new center of consciousness discovered
through the initiation of therapy.

4. Live in the Hope that We are Being Guided

In order for spirituality to avoid degeneration into arrogant egocentrism
and ideology, it imperative to live with a sense of reliance on
revelation. But what is revelation? The orthodox evangelical says that it
is the inerrant word of God.The orthodox Catholic says revelation is in
form of sacrament and tradition. The orthodox rationalist says that
revelation comes through logical consistency and adherence to the
scientific model.Revelation for Emerson concerns experience.

We distinguish the announcements of the soul, its manifestions of its own
nature, by the term, Revelation. These are aways attended by the emotion of
the sublime. For this communication is an influx of the Divine mind into
our mind. It is an ebb of the individual rivulet before the flowing surges
of the sea of life... In these communications the power to see is not
separated from the will to do, but the insight proceeds from obedience, and
the obedience proceeds from a joyful perception. 243

Revelation is link intricately to the will and the emotions. I would
rephrase it as the movement of the transcendent source on the historical
particular in such as way as to result in moral action. This movement is
constantly speaking and leading us to new insights that we need to make to
progress in consciousness.

O, believe, as thou livest, that every sound that is spoken over the round
world, which thou oughtest to hear, will vibrate on thine ear! every
proverb every book , every byword that belongs to thee for aid or comfort,
shall surely come home though open or winding passages. Every friend whom
not thy fantastic will but the great and tender heart in thee craveth,
shall lock thee in his embrace. And this because the heart in thee is the
heart of all; no valve, not a wall, not an intersection is there anywhere
in nature but one blood rolls uninterruptedly an endless circulation
through all men, as water of the globe is one sea, and truly seen, its tide
is one. 249

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