Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion

By Lola Williamson | Go to book overview

2

Laying the Foundation for
American-Style Hinduism

While my classmates in eleventh-grade English class yawned their way through Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays, I could hardly contain my excitement. My inclination toward idealism blossomed upon discovering Emerson. The idea that spirit is more real than matter, and that everything is somehow bound together in one unified whole touched the recesses of my being. Emerson’s poetic words from his essay “Over-Soul” seemed to me those of a prophet:

We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within
man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which
every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE. And this deep
power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not
only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the
thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one.1

It was not until many years later that I learned of Emerson’s love for Hindu scriptures. I discovered that he was one of many who played a role in synthesizing Hindu and American religious worldviews. In 1836, just eight years after Ram Mohun Roy had established the Brahmo Samaj in India, Emerson and his cohorts founded the Transcendental Society in Boston, Massachusetts. Links between the worldviews of Americans and Indian Hindus were being made and a new fusion, unknown before the nineteenth century, was emerging. The Theosophical and New Thought movements were to add their voices to the synthesizing process. This new amalgam worldview helped to prepare the ground for the emergence of HIMMs in America.

Hindu-inspired meditation movements were prominent in the American public eye during two historical periods: first in the early part of the

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Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • A Note on Transliteration vii
  • Preface ix
  • I - Background 1
  • 1: What Are Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements? 3
  • 2: Laying the Foundation for American-Style Hinduism 26
  • II - Three Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements 53
  • 3: Self-Realization Fellowship 55
  • 4: Transcendental Meditation 80
  • 5: Siddha Yoga 106
  • III - In Their Own Words 133
  • 6: The Guru-Disciple Relationship 135
  • 7: Mystical Experiences 161
  • 8: Worldview 186
  • Conclusion 215
  • Notes 235
  • Bibliography 243
  • Index 251
  • About the Author 261
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