Monday, August 20, 2012

Thoreau's notes in his Bhagavad Gita

Thoreau was given a "royal gift" by his friend Chalmondely of 44 volumes, principally of translations of sacred texts of the Vedic philosophy of India. The books arrived on November 30th, 1855, and Thoreau records his first night sleeping beside them, as they sat on a shelf he had made expressly for them: “After overhauling my treasures…I placed them in the case which I had prepared and went late to bed dreaming of what had happened. Indeed it was exactly like the realization of some dreams which I have had; but when I woke in the morning I was not convinced that it was a reality until I peeped out and saw their bright backs”.  David Wood, who narrates this event  in The Observant Eye ( 70), notes that Thoreau's reading of these books, marked by his notations and underlinings, is a record of a link of "two great traditions in human thought, the idealist tradition of Greek philosophy and the Vedic idealist tradition of India...". Wood, whose book on Thoreau's fascination with material culture, tells us that Thoreau marked the following particular passage in the Bhagavad Gita. In this way, Wood is himself tracing the spiritual events of Thoreau's life through the material markings inscribed in the physical world: "There is no existence for what does exist, nor is there any non-existence for what exists. But even of both of these, those who discern the truth perceive the true end"(qtd. Wood, 73).

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