Mirror of Zen Blog

Happy Birthday

Thanks to the curmudgeonly principled Tolstoy-like American theologian in the wilds of Norway, Addison Hodges Hart, for bringing this date to my attention. It is so wonderful to learn of our shared love and devotion for Emerson.

Would it be impertinent to note that it was Emerson‘s highly controversial “Divinity School Address“ — for whose terrible heresies Emerson was banned from Harvard for over 36 years! — inspired greatly my decision eventually to attend the Harvard Divinity School, rather than the Jesuit or Cistercian wishes of my spiritual night-dreams — and therefore eventually catalyzed my heart’s march straight through Cambridge Zen Center to Korea?

Emerson’s brash truth-telling truly transitioned me away from anything traditionalist in Christianity. He was my “gateway drug” to Buddhism, you could say, knocked down with fiery shots of Schopenhauer, Rilke, and Mahler. Some of them decadents; some of them saints and prophets. All of them are uncompromising seers.

“The Divinity School Address” did not teach me new truths, rather, confirmed intuitions I had fostered for many, many years. I could spend the next hours pasting up here all ramble of quotes from just that essay alone — many of which quotes, in themselves, contain life-turnings of the most radical sort! — and still not satisfy the short opportunity now I have to acknowledge on this, his birthday, this humble debt. So, for those unfortunate enough to have never read this, one of the most influential essays in the history of American letters, a commentator’s pithy estimation must suffice:

“In this address, Emerson made comments that were radical for their time. Emerson proclaimed many of the tenets of Transcendentalism against a more conventional Unitarian theology. He argued that moral intuition is a better guide to the moral sentiment than religious doctrine, and insisted upon the presence of true moral sentiment in each individual, while discounting the necessity of belief in the historical miracles of Jesus… Emerson decided the time was appropriate to discuss the failures of what he called ‘historical Christianity’. In his address, he not only rejected the notion of a personal God; he castigated the church’s ministers for suffocating the soul through lifeless preaching. ” (Wikipedia)

Emerson was not only a spiritual teacher for me, and a bright intellectual shining. He was also – – still is -– a stern mentor, and even a role model. That’s a weird thing to say about a really dead guy. But his example of mind impresses me as much as most Zen masters I have read of (and some that I have encountered!).

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