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Dr. Richard Davis - H.D.Thoreau, Yogi: An American Transcendentalist Reads the Bhagavadgītā

Updated: Jan 23

Dr. Davis began his lecture by explaining the reason why he has chosen to speak on H. D. Thoreau, and said that he wanted to talk about an American reading of Bhagavadgītā. Gītā being a global text from several centuries, there have been many American readers such as Aldous Huxley, J. Robert Oppenheimer, T. S. Eliot and many more but Dr. Davis here decided to talk about the very first, H. D. Thoreau. Thoreau was a one of the group of the New-England transcendentalists who engaged in the translated works from India. Of all the transcendentalists it was Thoreau who made the most concerted effort to understand and incorporate the teachings of the Indic text. Thoreau furthermore himself speculated that he might be a Yogi

Dr. Davis then explained xenophilia, which means love for the other (other being defined as the one who differs, culturally, racially, ethnically, religiously) and explained the escalating cases of xenophobia around the world. It is in this reference, Dr. Davis, explained how a reading of Thoreau can take us closer to xenophilia because of his love and fondness for Indian culture.

Dr. Davis then began his presentation by first explaining why Thoreau called himself a yogi. To explain this, he quoted a conversation of Thoreau with Harrison Blake (1849). He then further in explaining the same, Dr. Davis, explained the hermeneutics of one mind by Ralph Waldo Emmerson and says that Emmerson first articulated the principles of one mind in the lectures of philosophy of history and his principles pointed towards a reading practice that overcomes a chronological distance and stresses on identification. This interpretive monism, when discovered by Thoreau, became the fundamental reading and base of all his works. Dr. Davis therefore said that Emmerson and Thoreau grounded their interpretive premises on the notion of shared human nature and a desire to rethink the noblest record of thoughts of man. In this they recorded the works of classics such as Indian antiquity along with usual Greek and Roman ones.

Throughout his presentation he quoted few more lines and sayings of Thoreau to explain the lifestyle he lived, and this helped to have a clear vision of how Thoreau was influenced by the text and teachings of India. He then mentioned one of the most powerful works of Thoreau “The Walden”. He quotes from it certain lines which explained the fondness Thoreau had for Bhagavadgītā as, he not only read or understood it but he practiced it every morning. Dr. Davis also mentioned that Thoreau was not an uncritical audience for Kṛṣṇa’s teachings, he identified himself with arjuna and questioned Kṛṣṇa.

Dr. Davis then after explaining briefly about the conversation of Thoreau as a reader with Kṛṣṇa explained the lifestyle, thought process and choices of Thoreau in his life. In the final section of his lecture named Thoreau and Xenophilia, Dr. Davis, explained briefly from the economy chapter of “The Walden”. Dr. Davis then explained a subtle explanation of who is a philosopher and quoted Thoreau “To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to find a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically but practically.” Dr. Davis to conclude, Dr. Davis said, Thoreau embraced Indian works not to covert to Hinduism but to discover and articulate capacities already within himself already expressed by that other. Xenophilia is also a means to delf-transformation.

To indulge in the cross-cultural delight, please tune into the lecture available on our YouTube Channel!

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