lives of quiet desperation

Thoreau – Walden: A spiritual Retreat

by Barbara Stoler Miller, Translator of the Bhagavad-Gita in the Afterword:

“Thoreau was moved by his own observation that the mass of his fellow men led ‘lives of quiet desperation.’ He sought to discover freedom from that desperation by refusing to be led by the senses and passions, by living deliberately, by simplifying his life in order to internalize the solitude of a place in nature. He lived in Walden for two years and two months, during which time he confined his desires and actions in such a way that he strove to overcome the limitations of time and absorb himself in nature. Nature was for him the ground of religious life….

The ascetic, mystical love of nature that brought Thoreau to Walden Pond gave him access to the central teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita. He perceived the discipline of living in nature as a path leading toward self-knowledge and spiritual realization. …

In Walden he emphatically states, ‘My purpose in going to Walden Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly there, but to transact some private business with the fewest obstacles.’ Walden was for Thoreau a spiritual retreat where he strove to deepen his understanding of existence and through this understanding to gain release from the terrible bondage of life’s compelling illusions. In Indian terms it was the retreat of a yogi who carefully practiced spiritual discipline. In a letter of 1849 to his friend H.G.O. Blake, he wrote about yoga and its private meaning for him:

“Free in this world as the birds in the air, disengaged from every kind of chains, those who have practiced the yoga gather in Brahma the certain fruit of their works.” (from the Bhagavad-Gita)

‘Depend upon it, that, rude and careless as I am, I would fain practice the yoga faithfully.’

“The yogi, absorbed in contemplation, contributes in his degree to creation: he breathes a divine perfume, he hears wonderful things. Divine forms traverse him without tearing him, and, united to the nature which is proper to him, he goes, he acts as animating original matter.” (idem)

‘To some extent, and at rare intervals, even I am a yogi .’”

Source: The Bhagavad-Gita, translated by Barbara Stoler Miller, Afterword p. 159 – 161

 

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