History of Western Religion, New Thought, and Transcendentalism

History of Western Religion, New Thought, and Transcendentalism for January 13, 2019 World Religions Class at Unity of Springfield


Greek philosopher and scientist. (384–322 BC) A student of Plato and tutor to Alexander the Great, he founded a school (the Lyceum) outside Athens. He is one of the most influential thinkers in the history of Western thought. His surviving works cover a vast range of subjects, including logic, ethics, metaphysics, politics, natural science, and physics.

Aristotle regarded psychology as a part of natural philosophy, and he wrote much about the philosophy of mind. This material appears in his ethical writings, in a systematic treatise on the nature of the soul, and in a number of minor monographs on topics such as sense-perception, memory, sleep, and dreams.

For Aristotle the biologist, the soul is not—as it was in some of Plato’s writings—an exile from a better world ill-housed in a base body. The soul’s very essence is defined by its relationship to an organic structure. Not only humans but beasts and plants too have souls, intrinsic principles of animal and vegetable life. A soul, Aristotle says, is “the actuality of a body that has life,” where life means the capacity for self-sustenance, growth, and reproduction. If one regards a living substance as a composite of matter and form, then the soul is the form of a natural—or, as Aristotle sometimes says, organic—body. An organic body is a body that has organs—that is to say, parts that have specific functions, such as the mouths of mammals and the roots of trees.

The souls of living beings are ordered by Aristotle in a hierarchy. Plants have a vegetative or nutritive soul, which consists of the powers of growth, nutrition, and reproduction. Animals have, in addition, the powers of perception and locomotion—they possess a sensitive soul, and every animal has at least one sense-faculty, touch being the most universal. Whatever can feel at all can feel pleasure; hence, animals, which have senses, also have desires. Humans, in addition, have the power of reason and thought, which may be called a rational soul. The way in which Aristotle structured the soul and its faculties influenced not only philosophy but also science to the present day.


Many have interpreted Plato as stating—even having been the first to write—that knowledge is justified true belief, an influential  true belief, an influential view that informed future developments in epistemology. This interpretation is partly based on a reading of the Theaetetus wherein Plato argues that knowledge is distinguished from mere true belief by the knower having an “account” of the object of her or his true belief. And this theory may again be seen in the Meno, where it is suggested that true belief can be raised to the level of knowledge if it is bound with an account as to the question of “why” the object of the true belief is so. Many years later, Edmund Getttier famously demonstrated the problems of the justified true belief account of knowledge. That the modern theory of justified true belief as knowledge which Gettier addresses is equivalent to Plato’s is accepted by some scholars but rejected by others. Plato himself also identified problems with the justified true belief definition, concluding that justification (or an “account”) would require knowledge of differentness, meaning that the definition of knowledge is circular. Circular reasoning is a logical fallacy in which the reasoner begins with what they are trying to end with. The components of a circular argument are often logically valid because if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. 


A Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who lived in Alexandria, in the Roman province of Egypt. Philo used philosophical allegory to harmonize Jewish scripture, mainly the Torah, with Greek philosophy. His method followed the practices of both Jewish exegesis and Stoic philosophy. Philo used philosophical allegory to harmonize Jewish scripture, mainly the Torah, with Greek philosophy. His method followed the practices of both Jewish exegesis and Stoic philosophy. His allegorical exegesis was important for some Christian Church Fathers, but he had very little reception history within the Rabbinic Judaism. He adopted allegorical instead of literal interpretations of the Hebrew Bible. (This concept is what led to the separation of “how to view God” throughout later history. You can see this over the centuries in what would lead to the transcendental movement in both the church and teachings beyond the church).

Some scholars hold that his concept of the Logos as God’s creative principle influenced early Christology. Other scholars deny direct influence but say that Philo and Early Christianity borrow from a common source.

The only event in Philo’s life that can be decisively dated is his participation in the embassy to Rome in 40 CE. He represented the Alexandrian  in a delegation to the Roman Emperor Gaius (Caligula) following civil strife between the Alexandrian Jewish and Greek communities. The story of this event, and a few other biographical details, are found in Josephus and in Philo’s own works, especially in Legatio ad Gaium (Embassy to Gaius) of which only two of the original five volumes survive. The views that causality is fourfold, that virtue lies in a mean, that God is to be seen as the prime mover of the universe, show the clear influence of Aristotle.

The spirit of Plato emerges clearly in Philo’s general acceptance of notions such as the theory of Ideas, and the belief that the body is a tomb or prison, that life for man should be a process of purification from the material, that cosmic matter preceded the formation of the cosmos, and that the existence of God can be inferred from the structure and operations of the universe. The influence of stoicism (the philosophy that holds that the principles of logical thought reflect a cosmic reason, or concrete evidence in nature) emerges in his doctrines of man’s “unqualified” free will, of the need to live in accord with nature, of the need to live free from passion, and of the “indifference” of what is beyond one’s power.

Zeno and Stoicism

A school of Hellenistic (Greek) philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. While Stoic physics are largely drawn from the teachings of the philosopher Heraclitus, they are heavily influenced by certain teachings of Socrates. Stoicism is predominantly a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world.  According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain, by using one’s mind to understand the world and to do one’s part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.

The Stoics are especially known for teaching that “virtue is the only good” for human beings, and that external things—such as health, wealth, and pleasure—are not good or bad in themselves, but have value as “material for virtue to act upon”.

The philosophers who followed Aristotle (384-322 BC) were known as the Peripatetics, named for their walking around the colonnades of the Athenian Lyceum. The Stoics, on the other hand, were named for the Athenian Stoa Poikile or “painted porch”, where one of the founders of the Stoic philosophy, Zeno of Citium (344-262 BC), taught. Their philosophy is often divided into three parts, logic, physics, and ethics. Many Romans adopted the philosophy as a way of life or art of living — as it was intended by the Greeks and it is from the complete documents of imperial period Romans, especially the writings of Seneca.

Stoic Principles

Today, Stoic principles have found their way into accepted popular wisdom, as goals to which we should aspire–as in the Serenity Prayer of Twelve Step programs. Below are eight of the main ideas in the area of ethics that were held by the Stoic philosophers.

  • Nature – Nature is rational.

  • Law of Reason – The universe is governed by the law of reason. Man can’t actually escape its inexorable force, but he can, uniquely, follow the law deliberately.

  • Virtue – A life led according to rational nature is virtuous.

  • Wisdom – Wisdom is the the root virtue. From it spring the cardinal virtues: insight, bravery, self-control, and justice.

  • Apathea – Since passion is irrational, life should be waged as a battle against it. Intense feeling should be avoided.

  • Pleasure – Pleasure is not good. (Nor is it bad. It is only acceptable if it doesn’t interfere with our quest for virtue.)

  • Evil – Poverty, illness, and death are not evil.

  • Duty – Virtue should be sought, not for the sake of pleasure, but for duty.

“Briefly, their notion of morality is stern, involving a life in accordance with nature and controlled by virtue. It is an ascetic system, teaching perfect indifference (apathy) to everything external, for nothing external could be either good or evil. Hence to the Stoics both pain and pleasure, poverty and riches, sickness and health, were supposed to be equally unimportant.” Source: Internet Encyclopedia  of Stoicism

Serenity Prayer and Stoic Philosophy

The Serenity Prayer, attributed to the Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr [1892-1971], and published by Alcoholics Anonymous in several similar forms, could have come straight from the principles of Stoicism as this side-by-side comparison of the Serenity Prayer and the Stoic Agenda shows:

Serenity Prayer Stoic Agenda
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. (Alcoholics Anonymous)

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. (Reinhold Niebuhr)

To avoid unhappiness, frustration, and disappointment, we, therefore, need to do two things: control those things that are within our power (namely our beliefs, judgments, desires, and attitudes) and be indifferent or apathetic to those things which are not in our power (namely, things external to us). (William R. Connolly)

It has been suggested that the main difference between the two passages is that the Niebuhr’s version includes a bit about knowing the difference between the two. While that may be, the Stoic version states those which are within our power–the personal things like our own beliefs, our judgments, and our desires. Those are the things we should have the power to change.

Origen of Alexandria

(c. 184 – c. 253) He was an early Christian scholar, ascetic, and theologian who was born and spent the first half of his career in Alexandria. He was a prolific writer who wrote roughly 2,000 treatises in multiple branches of theology, including textual criticism, biblical exegesis and biblical hermeneutics, homiletics, and spirituality. He was one of the most influential figures in early Christian theology, apologetics,  and asceticism. He has been described as “the greatest genius the early church ever produced.

Origen sought martyrdom with his father at a young age, but was prevented from turning himself in to the authorities by his mother. When he was eighteen years old, Origen became a catechist at the Catechetical School of Alexandria. He devoted himself to his studies and adopted an ascetic lifestyle as both a vegetarian and teetotaler. He came into conflict with Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria, in 231 after he was ordained as a presbyter by his friend, the bishop of Caesarea, while on a journey to Athens through Palestine. Origen founded the Christian School of Caesarea, where he taught logic, cosmology, natural history, and theology, and became regarded by the churches of Palestine and Arabia as the ultimate authority on all matters of theology.


Epistemology is a word first used by the Scottish philosopher James Frederick Ferrier to describe the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge. It examines the nature of knowledge and how one can acquire it. As in “How can we know what is true”. In studying World Religions, this is the first question any theologian must reckon with… For the philosopher the question becomes – how do we gain wisdom with what we discover is true, and what is Truth. Does truth lie within us intrinsically, or is it something we must learn outside ourselves. And how do we move beyond circular reasoning as defined above by Plato.


is “a constellation of distinctive practices, discourses, texts, institutions, traditions, and experiences aimed at human transformation, variously defined in different traditions.” The term “mysticism” has Ancient Greek origins with various historically determined meanings.

Taking what can be seen as “out of the norm” to new ways of looking at what is generally accepted as “given or true”, has historically been the role of the mystic in history regardless of initial thought, philosophy, or religion. I like to say the mystic takes others to places they otherwise may not have gone. It is how we manifest what we think and believe into what we do and say that becomes transformative both for ourselves and others.

Christian mysticism

refers to the development of mystical practices and theory within Christianity. It has often been connected to mystical theology, especially in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christianity. (both the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox traditions). The attributes and means by which Christian mysticism is studied and practiced are varied. They range from ecstatic visions of the soul’s mystical union with God to simple prayerful contemplation of Holy Scripture. The Christian scriptures, insofar as they are the founding narrative of the Christian church, provide many key stories and concepts that become important for Christian mystics in all later generations: practices such as the Eucharist, baptism and the Lord’d Prayer all become activities that take on importance for both their ritual and symbolic values.

Sufi and Islamic mysticism  

Sufism is said to be Islam’s inner and mystical dimension. Classical Sufi scholars have defined Sufism as a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God. A practitioner of this tradition is nowadays known as a sufi, or, in earlier usage, a dervish. The origin of the word “Sufi” is ambiguous. One understanding is that Sufi means wool-wearer; wool wearers during early Islam were pious ascetics who withdrew from urban life. Another explanation of the word “Sufi” is that it means ‘purity’.

Mawlānā Rumi’s tomb, Konya, Turkey

Sufi’s generally belong to a khalga, a circle or group, led by a Sheikh or Murshid. Sufi circles usually belong to a Tariga which is the Sufi order and each has a Silsila, which is the spiritual lineage, which traces its succession back to notable Sufis of the past, and often ultimately to the last prophet Muhammed or one of his close associates. The turuq (plural of tariqa) are not enclosed like Christian monastic orders; rather the members retain an outside life. Membership of a Sufi group often passes down family lines. Meetings may or may not be segregated according to the prevailing custom of the wider society. An existing Muslim faith is not always a requirement for entry, particularly in Western countries. Sufi practice includes:

  • Dhikr, or remembrance (of God), which often takes the form of rhythmic chanting and breathing exercises. Sama, which takes the form of music and dance — the whirling dance of the Mevlevi dervishes is a form well known in the West. Muragaba or meditation, and visiting holy places, particularly the tombs of Sufi saints, in order to remember death and the greatness of those who have passed.

The aims of Sufism include: the experience of ecstatic states (hal), purification of the heart (galb), overcoming the lower self (nafs), extinction of the individual personality (fana), communion with God (haqiqa), and higher knowledge (marifat). Some sufic beliefs and practices have been found unorthodox by other Muslims; for instance Mansur al-Hallaj was put to death for blasphemy after uttering the phrase Ana’l Haqq, “I am the Truth” (i.e. God) in a trance.

Meister Eckhart and the Unity of Spirit

The deeply influential German Catholic mystic theologian and spiritual psychologist Meister Eckhart was the most illustrious spiritual instructor of his day. He was also unjustly condemned as a heretic by the papacy after an impressive career of writing, teaching, preaching, directing souls and serving as a high-level administrator of the Dominican Order. One cannot help but think Meister Eckhart in the 1300’s looked back to Aristotle and Plato and Greek philosophy and when he was sent to the University of Paris in 1294 by the Church to lecture on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, the main text in the Middle Ages on intermediate theological studies, as part of his own curriculum leading to the coveted title, Meister/Master. The University of Paris was the center of medieval academia, a place where Eckhart had access to all noteworthy works from the past. For Eckhart, God’s supremely glorious nature can only mean that God is fully transcendent and fully immanent, entirely beyond all and yet completely within all as the One who alone is pure spirit and the essence of all.

It was to Aristotle, who was a student of Plato and tutor to Alexander the Great he followed as if on a continuum of thought, knowledge, and wisdom. That there must be something beyond simple knowledge that leads us to wisdom and that it is our nature that takes us there. Eckhart was convinced there was an underpinning unity, or starting point recognizing it all begins with philosophy for what we choose to believe.

For Eckhart, this manifested as a “unity of spirit”, that served as the vital reasoning for how it all fit together.  He too, felt the beginning point was from within each person who needed to reach out and touch the universe with his own presence, his own thoughts, as he responded by lighting his own world, as well as, the world around him. That it begins from within. It is as though we try to give credit to who may have invented the wheel. When in fact it was created, almost globally, as if only by the universal needing to do so. That a thread of common wisdom exists and is built upon continuously as if pearls on a string.

Two things stand out to me, among many, as to Eckhart’s role. First, Eckhart contended that the absolute principle (or the absolute cause: God) is pure intellect and not being. According to this view, being is always caused and thus presupposes intellect itself without being, as the cause of being. Eckhart holds that being is, in intellect, nothing other than intellect and, therefore, not simply being, but instead being that has been elevated to intellect. If someone should nonetheless object that in God knowing or anything else might be described as ‘being’, the proper response for Eckhart is that this ‘being’ still presupposes the knowing of intellect. As if saying… if you wish to call intelligizing being, that is all right with me. For thirteenth century Europe this idea was pretty radical. He was on the way to being charged by the church as heretical and as suspect of heresy. Eckhart, however, did not live to see his condemnation; he died sometime before April 30, 1328.

Second, was the goal of the rational form of life – of living in and with the spiritual perfections at the level of that transcendental being – is living in and from the absolute one (in and from the divine nature as presuppositionless unity). This idea is as close to being recognized as in line with Taoism, and general Eastern philosophy, as could be… He contended, “If, God’s ground is my ground and my ground God’s ground”, then man is no longer simply on the way towards unity. Instead, unity is something that has always already been achieved. By and through his nature he is already universal, i.e., unified with the divine. (In Chinese philosophy man is simply one of the ten thousand things).

He (we) alone is what matters, in that he is responsible not only for himself, but all he encounters. Because man, once he becomes accountable from within himself has left behind everything that stands in the way of his living in and from this unity. Man was one with God, and God was one with him. That the soul is more interior in this unity than it is in and of itself. This is true equanimity – letting go – as the goal of human life becomes not only okay, but essential. Living in and from unity in the manner envisioned by Eckhart as the end of self-discovery becomes possible through a change in intellectual disposition. The possible intellect – which, as defined by Aristotle, can become all things and is able to be known either as ordinary consciousness, or as self-consciousness through self-knowledge… 


In the Christian sense the term means “conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early Church.” For the meta physician/mystic, how does one know when something gleaned in mystical communion is an authentic insight from God? Recognizing guidance is sometimes difficult. From “The Model for Modern Mystics” there are four great sources of theological reflection: Scripture, tradition, experience and reason. A balanced theology will employ all four in dialog with each other. Every religious organization must face the question outlined above… of epistemology. How do we know what we believe is true? For Charles Fillmore, it was that people don’t need institutions to tell them what God wants them to know since we have scripture and can read it correctly through divine inspiration. Unity Church follows the basic premise as a positive, practical, progressive approach to Christianity based on the teachings of Jesus and the power of prayer. Unity honors the universal truths in all religions and respects each individual’s right to choose a spiritual path.


Transcendentalism is considered to be any system of philosophy, holding that the key to knowledge of the nature of reality lies in the critical examination of the process on which depends of the nature of existence… and where does that come from. In that philosophy leads to what we call philosophical speculation to the point of finding yourself in the state of being transcendental, such as thought or language, that is in and of itself considered transcendental that can take you there. It would be Kant and Emerson who later suggested emphasizing intuition as a means to knowledge in the search for the divine.

Emmanuel Kant

 In 1781, Emmanuel Kant published the Critique of Pure Reason, an enormous work and one of the most important on Western thought. He attempted to explain how reason and experiences interact with thought and understanding. This revolutionary proposal explained how an individual’s mind organizes experiences into understanding the way the world works. Kant focused on ethics, the philosophical study of moral actions. He proposed a moral law called the “categorical imperative”, stating that morality is derived from rationality and all moral judgments are rationally supported. What is right is right and what is wrong is wrong; there is no grey area. Human beings are obligated to follow this imperative unconditionally if they are to claim to be moral.

Kant drew a parallel between the Copernican revolution and the epistemology, or branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge with his idea of transcendental philosophy.                             

He never used the “Copernican revolution” phrase about himself, but it has often been applied to his work by others. Kant’s Copernican revolution involved two interconnected foundations of his “critical philosophy.”

  1. the epistemology of transcendental idealism, and
  2. the moral philosophy of the autonomy of practical reason.

For Kant, and his Critique of Pure Reason, it was the idea of the soul as a mental entity, with intellectual and moral qualities, interacting with a physical organism but capable of continuing after its dissolution, derives in Western thought from Plato and entered into Judaism during approximately the last century before the Common Era. (Common Era refers to the beginning of year 1 without referencing Christianity). He reached a similar conclusion as Meister Eckhard had centuries earlier.


That our soul is a mental entity that connects with the universe on an on-going basis. As if there is a “universal consciousness” that connects all in nature, including man himself.  This is also a fundamental aspect of Taoism.

In his essay “Nature”, Emerson lays out and attempts to solve an abstract problem: that humans do not fully accept nature’s beauty. He writes that people are distracted by the demands of the world, whereas nature gives but humans fail to reciprocate. The essay consists of eight sections: Nature, Commodity, Beauty, Language, Discipline, Idealism, Spirit and Prospects. Each section takes a different perspective on the relationship between humans and nature.

In the essay Emerson explains that to experience the “wholeness” with nature for which we are naturally suited, we must be separate from the flaws and distractions imposed on us by society. Emerson believed that solitude is the single mechanism through which we can be fully engaged in the world of nature, writing “To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars.”

Illustration of Emerson’s transparent eyeball metaphor in “Nature” by Christopher Pearse Cranch, ca. 1836-1838

When a person experiences true solitude, in nature, it “takes him away”. Society, he says, destroys wholeness, whereas “Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other’s hands for the profit of man. The wind sows the seed; the sun evaporates the sea; the wind blows the vapor to the field; the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this; the rain feeds the plant; the plant feeds the animal; and thus, the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man.”

Emerson defines a spiritual relationship. In nature a person finds its spirit and accepts it as the Universal Being. He writes: “Nature is not fixed but fluid; to a pure spirit, nature is everything.” It’s almost like he is channeling all those who came before him. As if his own awakening spirit could not only see the connection, but become with it. For my own indulgence, I can’t seem to get enough of trying to understand how he reached the conclusions he did. It was as though he was the Chuang Tzu of his day. Challenging the status quo, i.e., what others had decided what were givens as pre-determined thought and philosophy. He wasn’t having it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

(May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882) was an American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism and had a prescient knowledge of things or events before they existed or happened. He had foresight as to where things were headed and did not like the direction of what was considered ere common knowledge of the day. With this, he became a critic of the countervailing pressures of society, and he disseminated his thoughts through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States. What most interests me now is that Emerson gradually moved away from the religious and social beliefs of his contemporaries, formulating and expressing the philosophy of transcendentalism expressed in his 1836 essay “Nature”. Nature is an essay written by Emerson, and published by James Munroe and Company in 1836. In the essay Emerson put forth the foundation of transcendentalism, a belief system that espouses a non-traditional appreciation of nature. Transcendentalism suggests that the divine, or God, suffuses nature, and suggests that reality can be understood by studying nature. 

There was also a direct correlation and connection to transcendentalism from the East by Indian religions and Henry David Thoreau in his book Walden where he spoke of the transcendentalists’ debt to Indian religions directly through the universal philosophy of the Bhagavat Geeta and the first English translation of the Lotus Sutra that was included in The Dial, a publication of the New England Transcendentalists that had been translated from French by Elizabeth Palmer Peabody.

So, the connection was clear from the 1840’s going forward between what was the become “New Thought” and the East. Although, this connection was primarily from the Hindu Bhagavat Geeta and Buddhist Lotus Sutra. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching had been translated by this time and was available as well.

The Bhagavad Gita was written at some point between 400 BC and 200 AD. Like the Vedas and the Upanishads, the authorship of the Bhagavad Gita is unclear. However, the credit for this text is traditionally given to a man named Vyasa, who is more of a legend than an actual historical figure; because of this, Vyasa has been compared to Homer, the great figure of ancient Greek epic poetry.

Within the “Nature” essay, Emerson divides nature into four usages: Commodity, Beauty, Language and Discipline. These distinctions define the ways by which humans use nature for their basic needs, their desire for delight, their communication with one another and their understanding of the world. Emerson followed the success of “Nature” with a speech, “The American Scholar”, which together with his previous lectures laid the foundation for transcendentalism and his literary career. In his lecture, Emerson suggests that it is time to create a new American cultural identity. Something we certainly could use today. Also, for myself, as someone immersed in Eastern thought and philosophy I was especially struck by portions in the speech, after the introduction. The first part of his lecture discusses the importance and influence of nature on our minds. A scholar should be educated by observing the natural world. In doing so, scholars will eventually discover the similarities between their minds and nature. Both nature and the human spirit have a circular power with no beginning or end. One can find order in both nature and in the mind. In studying nature, a scholar will realize that as knowledge of nature increases, so too does knowledge of the self. The reverse is also true. As with the I Ching… and the essence of Taoism and self-cultivation, as we structure knowledge, practice, and experience our attitude determines our altitude.

Emerson uses spirituality as a major theme in the essay. He believed in re-imagining the divine as something large and visible, which he referred to as nature; such an idea is known as transcendentalism as mentioned above, in which one perceives God and their body (their innate nature), and becomes one with their surroundings. Emerson confidently exemplifies transcendentalism, stating, “From the earth, as a shore, I look out into that silent sea. I seem to partake its rapid transformations: the active enchantment reaches my dust, and I dilate and conspire with the morning wind”, postulating that humans and wind are one. Becoming one with the wind is commonplace in Eastern philosophy and Taoist belief as you immerse yourself in nature. Emerson referred to nature as the “Universal Being”; he believed that there was a spiritual sense of the natural world around him. Depicting this sense of “Universal Being”, Emerson states, “The aspect of nature is devout. Like the figure of Jesus, she stands with bended head, and hands folded upon the breast. The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship”.

According to Emerson, there were three spiritual problems addressed about nature for humans to solve: “What is matter? Whence is it? And Where to?” What is matter? Matter is a phenomenon, not a substance; rather, nature is something that is experienced by humans, and grows with humans’ emotions. Whence is it and Where to? Such questions can be answered with a single answer, nature’s spirit is expressed through humans, “Therefore, that spirit, that is, the Supreme Being, does not build up nature around us, but puts it forth through us”, states Emerson. Emerson clearly depicts that everything must be spiritual and moral, in which there should be goodness between nature and humans. “Nature” was controversial to some. One review published in January 1837 criticized the philosophies in “Nature” and disparagingly referred to beliefs as “Transcendentalist”, coining the term by which the group would become known. Henry David Thoreau had read “Nature” while at Harvard and took it to heart. It eventually became an essential influence for Thoreau’s later writings, including his seminal Walden. Thoreau wrote Walden after living in a cabin on land that Emerson owned. Their longstanding acquaintance offered Thoreau great encouragement in pursuing his desire to be a published author.

Two of my most favorite quotes by Thoreau are “It’s not important what you look at, it’s important what you see”. A second quote would be, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away”. In philosophical terms, I like to think of Thoreau as more the “common man” mirroring Lieh Tzu in Chinese history. Back to nature, living a simple life exploring man’s connection with his environment. Whereas, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was more in keeping with Chuang Tzu’s “perfected man”. Questioning the folly of following accepted norms and looking to the rights of the individual over the need to conform with society.