Eastern Spirituality in America: Selected Writings

Eastern Spirituality in America: Selected Writings

Eastern Spirituality in America: Selected Writings

Eastern Spirituality in America: Selected Writings


O my brave soul!
O farther farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther farther sail!

—Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"

The Sources of American Spirituality series attempts to portray the fullness of the American spiritual odyssey. Thus far the series has presented the writings of Walter Rauschenbusch, William Ellery Channing, Elizabeth Seton, and Charles Hodge, and has traced the development of Catholic devotion to the Holy Spirit in the nineteenth century. This present volume illustrates the intention to move beyond well-studied, "main line" traditions to those less known, though often equally important, sources of influence that have helped shape the soul of the American people.

The tendency to limit discussion of American religion to its European and Near Eastern derivatives is common, despite over a century of participation in the religions of the East that has had a palpable effect on the culture of our nation. Certainly the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the social transformations of the 1960s owed a great deal to the influence of Eastern religions, perhaps more than the casual observer, or even the not so casual participant, was aware. But before those recent phenomena, the influence of Eastern religions was felt. Countless high schoolers encountered a clue of its influence a century and a half ago in Emerson's poem "Brahma," or in Thoreau's journal of his ascetical hermitage at Walden Pond, or in Whitman's lyrical "Passage to India." It was front page news in 1893 when the World's Fair in Chicago included a global Parliament of Religions that featured speeches by the Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda and the Zen master Soyen Skaku. That event was the impetus for the creation of many programs for the comparative study of religion at colleges and universities. In the margins of our cultural experience the influence of the east has also been seen. The occult Theosophical movement of Helena Blavatsky, the Swedenborgian musings of Andrew Jackson Davis, the mysterious rappings of the Fox sisters—all were tinged with a trace of the East.

All this and more is skillfully illustrated in the introduction, notes, and text selections of this volume. The study of such a diverse phenomenon presents many challenges to the student. Professor Ellwood has used his considerable gifts as a scholar and a stylist to create a pleasing work that avoids the deadly traps of banality on the one hand, and pedantry on the other. It is my hope that this book will offer our readers the opportunity for a journey to the East as it has been reflected in our own culture.

John Farina . . .

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