Excerpts from the Writings of Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau was introduced to Indian thought by Emerson. From 1845-7, he retreated to “confront the essential facts of life” at Walden Pond. His writings make clear that he had the Bhagavad Gita with him. His works A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers (1849) and Walden (1854) give expression to his inner dialogue with the East.

These same questions that disturb and puzzle and confound us have in their turn occurred to all the wide men; not one has been omitted; and each has answered them according to his ability, by his words and by his life. The solitary hired man on a farm in the outskirts of Concord, who has had his second birth and peculiar religious experience, and is driven as he believes into silent gravity and exclusiveness by his faith, may think it is not true; but Zoroaster, thousands of years ago, travelled the same road and had the same experience; but he, being wise, knew it to be universal, and treated his neighbors accordingly, and is even said to have invented and established worship among men. Let him humbly commune with Zoroaster then, and through the liberalizing influence of all the worthies, with Jesus Christ himself, and let “our church” go by the board.

[From Henry David Thoreau, Walden (Boston: Tinckor and Fields, 1854), 117-18.]

In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavat Geeta, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial; and I doubt if that philosophy is not to be referred to a previous state of existence, so remote is its sublimity from our conceptions. I lay down the book and go to my well for water, and lo! I meet the servant of the Brahmin, priest of Brahma and Vishnu and Indra, who still sits in his temple on the Ganges reading the Vedas, or dwells at the root of a tree within crust and water jug. I meet his servant come to draw water for his master, and our buckets as it were grate together in the same well. The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges.

[From Henry David Thoreau, Walden (Boston: Tinckor and Fields, 1854), 318-19.]