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Eric Butterworth on Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson’s Transcendentalism

Hi Friends —

Mark Hicks
Sunday, July 21, 2024

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24 Introduction to Emerson

The following is the second in a series of lessons by Eric Butterworth on great teachers and their relation to Unity. In this lesson, Eric will take up Ralph Waldo Emerson and Unity.

I discovered Emerson when I was a young lad. I was always a rather introspective youngster, and I spent a lot of time reading. Anytime they couldn’t find Eric, he’d be in a library somewhere. Emerson, throughout all the years, has been a very close and constant companion of thought, probably because somehow Emerson touches at the heart and the root of the concerns that we all have about life, and I suppose as much as anything else, because I feel that he speaks my language.

It is said that Emerson was the first philosopher of the American spirit. Although America had won its independence some 22 years before he was born, it still took its culture from abroad. It still got its religion secondhand. It still had secondhand relationships with all the culture and the philosophy and the art and so forth. What the statesmen had already accomplished in the sphere of politics through our Declaration of Independence and through the political unfoldment here in America, Emerson applied to culture, to ideas, to religion, not by action, not by social upheavals, but by exhortation and by the compelling argument of his own reason.

In an introduction to his first book in 1836, he said, “Our age is retrospective. Why should we not also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry, a philosophy of insight and not a tradition and a religion by revelation to us? Why should we not have our own firsthand and immediate experience of God? Let us demand our own work and laws and worship.”

Some people thought of Emerson, at least in one period, as an extreme radical, and we know a lot about radicals in our day. We may not like them, but we’ve had a lot of them. Actually, Emerson was a very mild, frail, friendly, and extremely loving and kind person. He lived quietly in Concord, Massachusetts, like one of the most respected of citizens. He was not an overt radical like Thoreau. Now, Thoreau was his contemporary.

Thoreau probably was his disciple. They lived in the same town. They had a great admiration for one another. They shared concepts almost totally and completely, but they were entirely different characters. Emerson was a very conservative, mild-mannered, loving, kind person. Thoreau was a person who had to be out doing, you see? So he is the one that originated most of the social protest that goes on in our day.

Matter of fact, Thoreau at one time was in jail for war resistance. We’ve heard that in our day, too, haven’t we? So Emerson was a very good friend, went over to visit Thoreau in jail. Thoreau saw him coming. He smiled, and they shook hands. Finally Emerson said, “What are you doing in there?” And Thoreau, looking him right in the eyes, looked out through the bars, and he said, “What are you doing out there?” Because he knew that they both shared the same concerns and the same ideals and concepts, but Thoreau was a doer. He was a protester. He was a radical. Emerson devoted his life in the more subtle process of expressing concepts and helping people to change their own values.

25 Emerson as a free thinker

Emerson came from a long line of New England clergymen. He looked like a clergyman. He acted like one. His father was a minister. He was born in 1803 in Boston. After a sickly childhood, he completed his education at Harvard, graduated at 18, went on to divinity school just as naturally as a farmer’s son goes off to agricultural school, and eventually became the pastor of the same church that his father had preached in.

But all the while, from early along in life, the formal customs of religious observance had been very distasteful. He was a free thinker in the general sense of the word, though this word has connotations of atheism, and Emerson was no atheist, though he’s been called that. To me, it’s one of the sad things of all the ages, that some of the greatest thinkers that the world has produced have grown up and lived out their lives in restrictions and disciplines of formal religion.

This, unfortunately, is what religion has done in so many cases, that it has actually restricted the creative thought processes of many, many people. An interesting illustration is Teilhard de Chardin, a contemporary illustration, a Catholic priest, paleontologist who expressed some unorthodox views concerning evolution and the origins and processes of life and was forbidden by the church to ever publish these views.

So under the discipline of an order and sincere in his beliefs, he followed this ban. But he made arrangements to have them published after he died when the church had no more authority over him, which, in a sense, was a very, very good thing as far as mankind is concerned because these manuscripts have unfolded some of the most profound scientific, theological, and metaphysical insights in the past 100 years.

All of this was hidden under a bushel, under the disciplines and the restrictions of the church. This is no negative comment upon the church. But it is one of the things that Emerson, from his earliest years, was rebelling against even though he was a part of the church for a good while. So we find Emerson going through this same process, the same inner struggle that Teilhard and many others have gone through. But finally, he found that he could not in good conscience follow what, to him, did not make sense and what he couldn’t be honest with.

First of all, he found that he couldn’t follow the ritual of the Holy Communion. He debated it with his fellow ministers. No one would listen to him. Everybody thought you’re supposed to accept. You don’t question these things. The one Sunday morning he got up in his pulpit and in a very significant and historic address, he announced to his congregation that he could no longer administer the sacrament of Holy Communion conscientiously, and therefore, he was resigning.

26 Emerson’s exit from the pulpit

His essay, The Lord’s Supper, is one of the classic essays. Unfortunately, it’s not one that is found in many of the more popular editions, and this is one of the sad things about Emerson. He wrote so much about so many subjects, one of the most prolific essayists of all time, and many of them are really not available. In this, The Lord’s Supper, he argues that Jesus did not intend to establish an institution of perpetual observance when He ate the Passover with His disciples and that, therefore, it is not expedient that we celebrate it in this way.

He gives some pretty strong arguments, though obviously they would be horribly anathema to the institution. Therefore, the comments he makes, although very logical, have not been heard too much, especially in religious circles. He points out that Jesus did not celebrate the Passover and afterwards the Lord’s Supper. The Last Supper was the Passover. Jesus did with His disciples exactly what every master of a family in Jerusalem was doing at the same time with his household.

Jesus and His disciples were good Jews. Well, this is obvious and most people have unconsciously known this. But to a large extent, we haven’t related this, and therefore, it has always been presented in a way that Jesus was the center of Christianity and He was surrounded by Jews who were rebelling against Him and so forth and that, thereby, this Last Supper was an isolated beautiful experience surrounded by these pagans who were keeping the Passover.

Jesus and His disciples were Jews. They’d been reared in the tradition of the Hebrew peoples, and they kept the Passover like everybody else. He said that it was because of Jesus’ practice to teach by symbols that while they’re sitting there having their Passover feast, Jesus, always the teacher, took this opportunity to teach by the symbols that were used, the bread and the wine, the very food that was being used.

He was saying, “Now inasmuch as much as you’re always going to do this anyway because you’re good Jews, why not do it in remembrance of me?” The me here was not pointing to Jesus, but as we understand the general context in which He taught, the me represented the body of ideas and of consciousness that I am generating. Therefore, do it in remembrance of the truth, in other words. So then He said, “Let the bread be an evidence of the flesh and the wine of the blood of the larger consciousness of the unfolding process of life.”

This was always intended simply to be a teaching symbol by which they could take something vital out of something that otherwise was very static. He points out that Jesus lived and died to redeem men from formal religion, and that’s certainly a far cry from, of course, the way in which Christianity is presented. This is why, of course, he was an “atheist” to many of the more traditional Christian theologians, that he felt that Jesus lived and died to teach us to seek our wellbeing and the formation of the soul within ourself.

Now, obviously, in making this statement, he created a kind of a barrier and burned his bridge behind him. The people of his congregation loved Emerson, but they also were traditional Christians and they thought it best to retain the Lord’s Supper and dispense with Emerson, which they did. But they parted friends, which is something of a commentary on the unique character of Emerson. Even though he was generally hated by the Christian theologians of his day and down through the years since, yet he was always admired and respected as a person.

Emerson then made a historic address at the Harvard Divinity School. He felt the urge to challenge the young students there to think, to seriously reevaluate the dogma and the form in which they were being steeped. Now, this is another of the important works of Emerson that is not always included in the collections that you get. I mention this so that you don’t run frantically to every collection and find that you can’t find it.

This is the Divinity School Address. If you do find it, it’s a very important document. As a matter of fact, I’m seriously considering reproducing it and making it available to those who may be interested. After this address, Emerson was denounced on every hand as an atheist, and he suddenly became anathema through all the traditional church, and he was never allowed to preach in a pulpit after that all his life.

But then he made a great discovery. It’s very interesting. He discovered that people would listen receptively on weeknights to things they called blasphemous on Sunday, and so he spent the rest of his life as probably the most popular lecture circuit speaker, as it were, in America and one of the most popular and the most listened to of all the history of America. He went all over the land speaking everywhere to great throngs of people. He was always in demand as a speaker.

Now, here he was an ex-preacher denouncing the church, as it were, in a very subtle way, but not just cutting the thing down, but helping people to get a new insight into an inward relationship. And yet, he was accepted. Even the preachers that denounced him on Sunday came to listen to him on Tuesday, you see. People obviously wanted this kind of inward awareness, but they were all under the disciplines of a Sunday religion.

27 Emerson’s message of Transcendentalism

Philosophically, Emerson is referred to as a Transcendentalist. I don’t like this kind of pigeonholing. So often I’m asked by someone after I talk, say, to a college professor or something, “What are you? Are you a pantheist or a transcendentalist or a Unitarian? Or what are you?” I say, “I’m just me on the quest for truth.” I don’t like this pigeonholing thing. But still, philosophy has seemed compelled to do this kind of thing. So he’s considered a Transcendentalist.

The moment we concern ourselves with what is called Transcendentalism, we think backward, as philosophy always does, to the antecedents until we find Immanuel Kant who is considered to be the father of modern Transcendentalism. I don’t suggest for those of you, and most of you are, who are bookworms, I don’t suggest you go and get a book on Kant and try to read him. His works are abstruse and not readily understandable, to say the least, to any but the most conditioned philosophical student. There are those who say that if you want to know what Kant is talking about, read Emerson because he speaks the language of the people. I’m not saying that Emerson was just simply a reflector of Kant, but that somehow he fits into that stream. He was an original thinker, without any question.

But Transcendentalism is the conception that, from a philosophical point of view, that there can be knowledge of transcendental elements, which means that you can actually know something like God, you see. The philosophy of God, just an abstract idea, how can anybody know God? But in Transcendentalism, there is the awareness or belief that you can actually know things that are wholly beyond ordinary experience of the human mind, and it is diametrically opposed to the idea that holds that all knowledge arises purely and simply from sensation and experience. It’s totally opposed to the agnostic view that reality is unknowable.

But Transcendentalism has a new meaning under Emerson’s influence. It has come to mean the immanence of divinity in man working through intuition. It has come to indicate the idea of a wholeness of man, which is beyond just the physical, not man with a soul tacked on, but man as a whole creature in an unfolding process.

The interesting thing, this is the paradox of Emerson being called atheistic by theologians, that Emerson turned from traditional theology, which put its total center in creeds and rituals, which were all on the outside, man going to church, man taking the sacraments, man doing things, picking up his prayerbook and speaking words so that it was all exteriorly oriented. Emerson turned from this to place the center in the inward relationship of man with the depth of the spirit within, and for that, he was called an atheist and is still called an atheist by many. Listen to a fundamentalist today. Ask him about Emerson. He hits the roof. “Emerson, why that atheist, that agnostic.”

A Transcendentalist is sometimes referred to as a sublimated theist. He doesn’t believe in the devil. He doesn’t believe in hell. He doesn’t believe in evil. He doesn’t believe in any kind of dualism. He doesn’t believe in religious authority. He doesn’t talk about at least a savior or emphasize a church. In many ways, he appears to be a humanist. This is why the Unitarians have latched on Emerson as their own personal property, in a sense. He is totally optimistic, but he believes in the integrity of man and his oneness with the dynamic universe.

28 Emerson as founder of New Thought

If that doesn’t give you much of an insight, then just go along with us now to see some of the feelings and thoughts of Emerson and see if he doesn’t seem to indicate to you where modern metaphysics really started. For instance, in the first paragraph of his essay on History, he says,

“There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same. He that is admitted to the rite of reason is made a free man of the whole estate. What Plato has thought, he may think. What a saint has felt, he may feel. What at any time has befallen any man, he can understand. Who hath access to this universal mind is a party to all that is or can be done. For this is the only and sovereign agent.”

That sounds like metaphysics, doesn’t it? It sounds like it could come out of any metaphysical treatise. Now, in this Divinity School Address, which I like to think of as his personal Declaration Of Independence and which, in my estimation, marked the real birth of the modern New Thought movement in America.

Now, this goes counter to the concept that is widely held, that New Thought in America began with Phineas Parkhurst Quimby. Quimby was a great influence, but Quimby gave mental techniques and unfolded what is normally called the mental science process. Mental science has its place and has been totally emphasized in some areas and touched upon at others, and there’s a great deal relating to the mental science process in Unity and in Religious Science and so forth.

But there’s something more. The mental science process is a technique dealing with a wholeness of man, and it works not because it’s something working on man, but it is because of something that is in man. So therefore, it was this concept referred to as the transcendentalist approach, this Emersonian concept of the innateness of man, which created the field or the framework through which these techniques of mental science could work. It’s my conviction, very strongly believed, that Emerson really was the forerunner of the New Thought movement in America.

29 Sin as separation from wholeness

Now, in this Divinity School Address, he talks about a God of law, of good as being positive, omnipresent; of evil as merely privative and not absolute, like cold, which is the absence of heat. He said,

“All things proceed out of the same spirit, which is differently named love, justice, temperance in its different applications just as the ocean receives different names on the several shores which it washes. All things proceed out of the same spirit, and all things conspire with it. While a man seeks good ends, he is strong by the whole strength of nature. Insofar as he rose from these ends, he bereaves himself of power and of auxiliaries. His being shrinks out of all remote channels, and he becomes less and less, a mote, a point until absolute badness is absolute death.”

In other words, he’s pointing out here that sin is nothing at all but separation. It’s cutting himself off from wholeness, from the depth, from the reality within him, as I refer to it as the frustration of potentiality. It’s not a sin against heaven. There’s no way you can sin against heaven, you see, but your sin is cutting off the flow of that heavenly unfoldment, which has you as its channel, but the sin cuts yourself away from that. He says that man has fallen into a tremendous superstition in religion and thus has cut himself off from intuition and inner revelation. He has cut himself off from the processes that can only be awakened and quickened through meditation.

A lot of our young folks today feel that they’ve discovered meditation and have discovered some of the concepts of the East, and certainly, it’s a discovery that many people have made. Actually, it probably was Emerson more than anyone else who introduced this idea of the importance of meditation or of inward prayer or of inward seeking into America. That wasn’t original, obviously. He was greatly influenced certainly from Hindu teachings and from the concepts that came from the East. But it was probably Emerson more than anyone else who brought the full flowering of this inward present consciousness, which has come so strongly from the East, and introduced it into the American stream of thought.

30 From duality to unity

Now, the important thing that Emerson stresses all the way through is the need to break away from the old concept of duality and to begin to realize what we simply refer to as unity. Duality is the big bugaboo. This is the problem of religion. Religion, as we know it, this is the Judeo-Christian tradition all the way down, the Jewish religion in its many manifestations and the Christian religion in all of its many forms.

Because these are the roots of many students, also the metaphysical teachings and many of its applications, the belief in God and man, the belief that God is mind, if you will, or God is heaven or God is a judge, it really doesn’t matter. But it’s God and man who can, in various ways, realize and experience the help of God, but it’s still reaching to God, affirming the truth so that God will make it work, using a spiritual treatment that will cause God power to flow, but it’s still God and it’s still man.

This is the thing which more than anything else is the profound influence of Emerson, the challenge to break away from that concept of duality.

31 Importance of personal intuition

He says, “Whilst the doors of the temple stand open night and day before every man and the oracles of this truth cease never, it is guarded by one stern condition, and this, namely, it is an intuition. It cannot be received at secondhand. Truly speaking, it is not instruction, but provocation,” I use the word challenge, “but provocation that I can receive from another. It is not instruction that I can receive from another, but the challenge to my own thinking. What this other person announces I must find true in me or reject, and on his word or as his second, be he who he may, I can accept nothing.”

That’s a very important thought, you see, because many of us have had strong dominant thoughts about certain figures, certain characters, certain teachers, perhaps Jesus or perhaps, if our thought is Eastern, Buddha or various other gurus of the East or, in our present experience, certain teachers, Emmet Fox, Raymond Barker, Eric Butterworth, who knows what, but always the idea that this person has something great, so I write it down and now I have it.

He says, “What he announces I must find true in me or reject, and on his word or even as his second, be he who he may, I can accept nothing.” That’s a real challenge, isn’t it? But you see, that’s dealing with this inward-out process rather than the idea of superimposing into my consciousness a lot of great ideas. He says that, “Because the church lost this recognition of the place of intuition or of meditation or of inner prayer, that man had become spiritually nearsighted, that therefore he could only attend to what addresses the senses, pageantry, ceremony, ritualistic acts, without any thought or feeling or intuition.” That pretty much is the level at which most traditional religion functions.

32 God incarnated in all people

Now, he talks a great deal about Jesus Christ in a manner that would be very shocking to some of our fundamentalist friends, but in a manner that is so very revealing. He says, “Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets. He saw with open eye the mystery of the soul, drawn by its severe harmony, ravished with its beauty. He lived in it and had His being there. Alone in all history, He estimated the greatness of man.”

You’ll rarely ever hear that, you see, from a traditionalist in Christianity, that He estimated the greatness of man. It will normally be He demonstrated the greatness of God. But he says, “Jesus estimated the greatness of man. One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God incarnates Himself in man.” The fundamental Christian idea is Jesus is the incarnation of God. God incarnated Himself in Jesus. Jesus says, “Yes, God incarnated Himself in me, but God incarnates Himself in all men.”

That was the vision of Emerson, you see, that God incarnates Himself in man and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his will. He said, Jesus, “In this jubilee of sublime emotion, I am divine. Through me, God acts. Through me, God speaks. Would you see God, see me or see thee when thou also thinkest as I now think.” That’s a marvelous concept and one little bit of clarification that’s eternally omitted, you see, in the whole Christian process.

Certainly, Jesus is saying, “I am God. I and the Father are one.” But he’s saying, “Don’t look at me as something special.” He was saying, “Stand where I stand, and see as I see, and feel the presence in you as I feel the presence in me. And then you will be able to do that which I do.” That’s the missing link in the whole Christian approach. Emerson, you see, gave this beautiful insight. He says, “What a distortion that His doctrine and memory suffer in the same, in the next, and the following ages.”

33 God speaks today

He also says, “The stationariness of religion, the assumption that the age of inspiration has passed, that the Bible is closed, the fear of degrading the character of Jesus by representing Him as a man, indicate with sufficient clearness the falsehood of our theology. It is the office of a true teacher to show us that God is, not was, that He speaketh, not spake.”

Many of us, I’m sure, have grown on the tradition of looking backward, the day when God walked the Earth, 2,000 years ago when God was alive, as it were, when God walked around with man, you see, in the form of Jesus. But, as he says, the purpose of the teacher is “to show us that God is, not God was.” Who cares about what God was? We’re alive today, you see. That doesn’t discredit that Christian teaching or the dynamics of Jesus. It gives a whole new meaning to it, a whole new life to it, that God speaks, not spake.

This is the idea that gospel is a constant unfoldment, that scriptures are constantly being written. As someone said, “If the Bible were to be destroyed, it would surely have to be written again and would be written again, and in the largest sense of the word, is being written again.” Because actually what is most important to your life and mine is not so much the gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but the gospel according to you. What are you doing? What is the creative process saying in and as you?

34 Go alone

He goes on to show how man has created a constant sense of inferiority, rejecting the God-mind within him to bow down and worship the ones who have been accorded the stamp of greatness. So he says, and this not only has great relevance in this context, but in the larger context of the problems of conformity in our lives, he says,

“Let me admonish you to go alone, to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men and dare to love God without mediator or veil. Friends enough you shall find who will hold up to your emulation, Wesleys and Oberlins, saints and prophets. Thank God for these good men. But say, ‘I also am a man.’ Imitation cannot go above its model. The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity. The inventor did it because it was natural to him, and so, in him, it has a charm. In the imitator, something else is natural, and he bereaves himself of his beauty to come short of another man’s.”

He says, “Yourself a newborn bard of the Holy Ghost cast behind you all conformity and acquaint men at first hand with deity. Look to it first and only, that fashion, custom, authority, pleasures, and money are nothing to you, are not bandages over your eyes that you cannot see, but live with the privilege of immeasurable mind.” “Live with the privilege of immeasurable mind.” That’s the great concept of Emerson.

35 Freeing God from the church tradition

Emerson’s great passion was to redeem religion from what he would call the inner chambers of the church and to return it to life from which, in truth, it can never be severed. He makes this statement which would cause some people to just cringe because of its seeming implications. He says, “When we have broken with our God of tradition and ceased from our God of rhetoric, then may God fire the heart with His presence.”

You see, this was where the statement, “God is dead,” probably started. But it’s in a very positive vein. He’s saying that God has to die, that He can live. You’ve got to be willing to turn away from a definition of God to experience the presence. You’ve got to be willing to renounce the idea that God only comes to me when I go to church and that I only experience God when I take communion to get the real idea of the presence of God, which is present in all and through all.

I can’t experience that consciousness, the presence, as long as I’m hung up on the outer relationship. So he says, “When all this goes, when we’ve broken our God of tradition, then God fires the heart with His presence.” A very challenging thought, and of course, a very disturbing one.

36 A pure religion

Emerson seemed to have a prophetic vision of this new unfoldment of the New Thought stream, as it were, in America. He said,

“America shall introduce a pure religion. You hold up your pasteboard religion for the people who are unfit for a true, so you say. But presently, there will arise a race of preachers who will take such hold of the omnipresence of truth that they will blow the old falsehood to shreds with the breath of their mouth. There is no material show so splendid, no poem so musical as the great law of compensation in our moral nature. When an ardent mind once gets a glimpse of that perfect beauty and sees how it envelops him and determines all his being, will he easily slide back to a period shouting about blood atoning? I apprehend that the religious history of society is to show a extremely rapid abandonment of forms of worship and the renovation and exaltation of preaching into real, anxious instruction.”

Now, this, as we’ve discussed it here, is all part of this Divinity School Address. You can see this was waving a red flag. Those who have said that Emerson was agnostic, that he was an atheist, that he was an antichrist and so forth, have really have never read Emerson at all. This was a deeply religious person, a person who had a keen sense of awareness of the present.

37 Prayer as seeing from insight of Truth

He talks about prayer. This is disturbing to some because prayer to many is a form. He said, “God never speaks by a third person, for He is nearer than the nearest. You exist from Him. Go now to thy closet, to thy heart, to being and listen.” Of course, that was radical in the day when the only way you could pray was to go to church or to pray through the priest.

He says, “Prayer looks abroad and asks for some foreign addition to come through some foreign virtue and loses itself in endless mazes of natural and supernatural and mediatorial and miraculous.”

He says, “Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and a jubilant soul. It is the spirit of God pronouncing His works good. As soon as a man is at one with God, he will not beg. He will then see prayer in all action.”

Well, the moment you say that man will not beg, will not ask, will not question, will not supplicate, to many, you take away the whole means of prayer. What else is there to pray for? But you see, to him, prayer was a matter of lifting one’s consciousness, one’s vision, to see things differently, to see from insight. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in spirit for they shall see God.” How do you see God when we’re told no man has seen God at any time? He will see from the consciousness of God.

As he says in another context, “He who harbors no gods shall see none. He who doesn’t harbor the sense of beauty will never see beauty anywhere.” So when you have the awareness of truth and lift the consciousness to the insight of truth, then you will see things through that perspective. And then you will see God because you will see the God potential in people, in nature, in the world around you.

38 Seed of Discover the Power Within You

Now, Emerson had a great idea that is rarely expressed even by Emersonians. But, to me, it’s one of the keys of great philosophy that he unfolded. Certainly, it’s one aspect of the teaching of Emerson that has had the greatest influence on me. As a matter of fact, it is a simple series of statements that influenced my thought that ultimately led to my book, Discover the Power Within You.

He says, “Man is that noble and endogenous plant which grows like the palm from within outward, thus, the best discovery the discoverer makes for himself.” Now, this word, endogenous, may be a new word to you. It’s not indigenous. Indigenous is a word that refers to environment. A certain plant is indigenous to this particular area. It’s something that grows in this climate in the soil here. It talks about something on the outside.

Endogenous is an entirely different thing. It’s almost a contrasting concept. Endogenous person or an endogenous plant is that which grows from the inside out. He says like a palm. That’s the key to the nature of man as metaphysics implies it, but as we so often forget, that man is an endogenous creature. You heard me say over and over and over again that life is lived from inside out. And yet, nearly every influence we have in the world around us takes the exact opposite view.

Parents, from the beginning, feel I’ve got to give it to my child. I’ve got to give him morals. I’ve got to give him values. I’ve got to expose him to the right thing, send him the right school so he will learn the right thing. Send him off to Sunday school or send him off to Hebrew school so that they can lam it in and cram it in. Send him off to public school or to private school so they can lam it in and cram it in. Let him read the paper and learn the political ways of life so his mind can be conditioned with this, you see. Or he goes and studies music, and it’s lam it in and cram it in again. No wonder our children rebel.

But this idea that man is an endogenous creature actually is not original with Emerson at all. All the great creative minds through all time have known this, and it’s a point that has been subtly inferred by all the great poets normally thought of as the Transcendental poets and some of them we will consider in weeks to come.

But it’s a concept which is so startling and so fundamental that the average mind, even if it begins to entertain the thought, it will turn away from it because it takes away all your excuses. It takes away all your escapes. You have nowhere to go. You see, if I believe that my life is totally made and conditioned by what they lammed in or crammed in, then I can blame my mother and father because of what they gave me. I can blame the schools. I can blame the papers. The New York Times and its policies have corrupted me and so forth.

But when we get the thought that man is an endogenous creature, then we know that man is an inward-out expression and that education or any kind of outward experience can only provide, as Emerson says, not instruction, but provocation. This goes back to the heart, the ancient Greek concept of education from educere, which means to draw forth. That’s what education was all about, not to give him something, but to draw it out of him. If you don’t draw it out of him, you’ve failed him.

There are many people in education today who have this concept, but they, like Emerson, are against the stream, and they’re usually oddballs and are resisting the whole process. It’s very difficult for an educator with this consciousness to survive. But once we get this idea of man as an inward-out creature or, to use his word, as an endogenous creature, then we know that we always have more within us.

No matter what happens out here, no matter what we experience, no matter how many problems we have, the problems, the experiences are only the results of a causal or a cause-and-effect or a law of causation function in our lives relating to where we are at that time.

So often we say, “Oh, I know me. I always do this. I always do that.” I would say, “You know me, but do you know I?” The me of you is where you are at that particular moment, but the I of you is that in you which is constantly trying to unfold, but which we just don’t want to let unfold because I know me so well. “I know me. I always do that sort of thing. I always make those mistakes.” You see? Or we say, “I know I can’t do it because I’ve tried and I failed.” How many people say that? “I know I can’t go into this profession or I can’t do this thing because look at how many times I’ve failed.”

What does that mean? How many times does a researcher fail before he develops a process? Research is called the art of successful failing. It’s important to fail. The importance, you see, is in the growth that takes place. If we realize the endogenous nature of man, then we immediately know that every seeming failure is a great demonstration because it has revealed something to us if we’re willing to look at it. Then the only real failure is an experience in which we learn nothing. If you’ve learned something, it’s not a failure. But the ultimate is that man is a dynamic creature, not a static creature.

As the scriptures say, “It’s not yet manifest what men shall be.” It’s not yet manifest what you shall be. I don’t care if you’re 9 or 90. You may say, “Sure. By now, the pattern of my life has revealed itself.” That isn’t true. All that’s revealed itself by now is a certain level of your potential, which perhaps you have allowed to become static, and you’ve accepted that as you. It isn’t you. It’s only the degree to which you’ve come to know yourself. But there’s always more.

That’s the beauty of metaphysics. If we lose sight of this, then what we tend to do is say, “Oh, yes, I studied truth. I studied three courses and got a doctorate in metaphysics, and now I have it. Now what do I do? Where do I go from here?” You’ve missed the whole idea because the metaphysical study is not a study of a set series of doctrines or of concepts, no matter how lofty and great they are. It’s a constant quest, and it’s an eternal quest in the process of unfolding this greatness of you.

You are an inward-out creature. Now, that’s the kind of thing that runs like a golden thread through the Emersonian philosophy, and that’s the thing I think basically that causes me to say that Emerson really was the forerunner of the whole metaphysical thing in America.

39 What metaphysics is all about

He says of man, “What we commonly call man, the eating, drinking, planting, counting man, does not, as we know him, represent himself, but misrepresents himself.” I am misrepresenting myself. I’m only revealing the part of me that as yet I’ve become conscious of, and it’s such a small part as to be insignificant. No matter whether it’s good or bad, whether I’ve had successes or failures, it’s still just a small part of the me, and it misrepresents what I am.

That may be a startling concept to people who look for security, who look to have everything stable and set. If that’s the approach that we want in life, then really Emerson is not for us. In a sense, in the depth of it, metaphysics is not for us because metaphysics is not a simple Pollyanna thing. Everything’s in the world, and everything’s right and beautiful and wonderful.

It isn’t that at all. It’s the hardest religious teaching you can get involved in. Very, very difficult because if it’s doing its job, if it’s not just instructing, but if, as Emerson says, it’s provoking, if it’s challenging, then it’s constantly telling you, “Don’t look for the problems out here. Don’t blame your boss or society or your parents. Look within yourself.”

Because not only is this experience out here the result of certain levels of consciousness in you, but deeper than those levels of consciousness is a dynamic unfolding process that can not only solve these problems, but can bring about the greatness, which is you. He says, “Every man is an inlet and may become an outlet to all there is in God. Every man is an inlet and may become an outlet to all there is in God.” Now, what more could you say? I mean that’s a fantastic concept.

He says, “There is no screen or ceiling between our heads and the infinite heavens. So is there no bar or wall in the soul where man, the effect, ceases and God, the cause, begins. The walls are taken away, and we lie open on one side to the depths of spiritual nature to the attributes of God.” That’s an atheist? That’s a metaphysical teacher to end all metaphysical teachers.

40 Social ramification of metaphysics

When we realize this endogenous nature of man, you see, we realize suddenly the key to getting along with people because we realize that the key is in ourselves, and this is where he says that only which we have within can we see without. If we meet no gods, it is because we harbor none. We find in people the qualities we’re most looking for or the qualities our own prevailing characteristics call forth.

We begin to recognize then that the great purpose is not to change people when you have a problem with people. We say, “Oh, gee, if she would only act decent, if my boss would only quit picking on me, if the neighbors would stop banging on the walls or playing loud music or burning their trash on Sundays, everything would be fine.” The purpose is not to change people or things, not to set them right, but to see them rightly. If I harbor no gods, I will find none.

When I begin to see rightly, then I begin to see in a different way and to relate in a different way to people. The first thing that happens is their banging on the walls disturbs me less. As it disturbs me less, more and more do I see something of the divinity within them. The degree to which I see the divinity within them causes a sense of unity between that person and me that’s deeper than conscious, but very real.

The first thing there is nothing that I could do or the other person could do that we would or could do to hurt or harm or disturb one another. So we find ourselves unconsciously doing things in a kind of a symphony because that’s what happens in the unity of life. So the problems and relationships come because people are living at the circumference. They’ve lost sight of that inward process.

41 Consenting to divine guidance

He says that, “There is a principle which is the basis of things which all speech aims to say and all action to evolve. A simple, quiet, undescribed, indescribable presence, dwelling very peacefully in us, our rightful Lord, we are not to do, but to let do, not to work, but to be worked upon. To this homage, there is a consent of all thoughtful and just men in all ages and conditions, and to this sentiment belong vast and sudden enlargements of power. We are one day to deal with real being, essences with essences.”

Oh, how important this is. Not to do, but to let do. Not to work, but to be worked upon. This concept of the consent is one of the dynamic ideas expressed by Emerson. So beautiful, so tremendous and so doggone hard to do. But this is where it’s at, you see. We are doers. We are be-ers. We are achievers, most of us. This is our nature. We want to get up and go and do and accomplish, and like Thoreau, to get out in the radical stream of things.

That doesn’t mean that those things shouldn’t be done, but it means that, first of all, we’ve got to be sure that before we try to do, we let do, before we try to work anything out, that we let it work, before we try to say, that we lie low in the divine circuits and let the guiding principle express in us. So this is a great thought of Emerson, which has been a great blessing to me, this idea of divine guidance. Everybody wants guidance.

Some people ask their friend for their advice, and advice is cheap. The greatest vice in the world is advice. Anybody will give you advice. Many people go to a fortuneteller, an astrologer, a palmist, spirit medium, all these things, and all these can possibly bring some help. But in every case, we’re looking for it out here. Many people resort to prayer for guidance. But in a dualistic sense, it’s, “God, I have a need. You are all-wise. Tell me which way to go.” It’s still God and man. It’s the dualistic thing, you see.

But Emerson introduces this new concept of unity. “There is a guidance for each of us, and by lowly listening, we shall hear the right word, not by asking God or praying for guidance, but lowly listening. Place yourself in the middle of a stream of power and wisdom which animates all whom it floats, and you are, without effort, impelled to truth and to right and perfect outworking, without effort.” In other words, he deals with guidance not as a caprice of God, but as a principle, like gravity. Let it happen.

As Jesus said, the Father knows what things you have need of even before you ask Him. That’s been stricken from the record for most people in the prayer process. If it weren’t, we would be challenged with the idea. If God already knows what I need, then why do I ask Him? What do I pray for guidance for? In the sense of God, I have a need. Guide me. Guide me. Lead me.

That’s been the essence not only of the traditional approach to prayer, but, to a large extent, with a new pasted-on name, to the metaphysical approach to prayer, from the sense that now instead of asking God for help, we take an affirmation maybe and affirm that I’m going to be guided. But in the same sense, “Here I am now. I hope the affirmation works. I hope it gets God to come down and guide me. After all, I spoke that affirmation. Mary told me it worked for her, so it ought to work for me.” Or “I got it out of the Daily Word, so it must work.”

But Emerson talks about guidance as a principle, a part of the omniscient, omni-action of the presence which is ever within us and expressing as us. So therefore, what this implies is that deep within yourself in the counterpart spiritual person that you are, there is an answer to every need, even within the problem, that guidance is always present. You can never be without guidance any more than when you walk around or climb buildings or go down in caves or swim on the ocean, you can never be without gravity. It’s always acting. Guidance is always present.

But by lowly listening, we will hear the right word, not, “Oh, God, guide me.” The thing is, so many people pray so loud for guidance that they can’t hear the right word, and the word was there. As the scriptures say, “Before they call, I will answer.” Before they call. I will answer. Before they reach for guidance, I am the guiding principle. By lowly listening, we shall hear the right word.

Now, that of course, again leads back to the concept of meditation, the concept of inner prayer, not outer prayer, not words, not affirmations, treatments, all these things, which, to a large extent, are trying to make something happen, but use the words or the treatments to lead one within to the point when we can let go and listen lowly and hear the right word, and then be guided spontaneously, not in some superficial way, not getting a word from someone else through a spirit voice or through the tarot cards or whatever, but from within ourself awakened out of the depth of our own nature.

42 The triumph of principles

Well, there’s so many things that Emerson has to say, and it’s broad as the sea. This man was one of the most prolific writers of all time. There’s a little bit of good advice in a political season, which maybe we could take from Emerson right now. He says, “A political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick or the return of your absent friend or some other favorable event raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you.”

In other words, it’s like the person who put all his eggs in the basket that if some particular politician wins the election, then happy days are here again. Actually, all of us know that we’re kidding ourselves. He says, “Don’t believe it. Nothing can bring you peace, but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace, but the triumph of principles.”

We feel that it’s so important that certain things out here be changed and that we destroy this or build up this and tear this down and bring this in and bring that, and all these things are a part of the process. But nothing is going to really solve the needs of man or society except the triumph of principles. Nothing can give you peace but yourself. This is why we sing the song, Let There be Peace on Earth and Let it Begin With Me. That doesn’t mean that it ends there, but it begins there.

The point is if it doesn’t begin there, if it doesn’t begin with self, if it doesn’t begin with the triumph of principles, then all this out here is window dressing. So we just go through the charade every four years and get stirred up. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the last day, certainly irrational people get stirred up too much and crazy things happen, which is unfortunate. But we assume that all this is going to solve everything, and it really doesn’t at all because, in a sense, it’s an escape.

It’s like Emerson, again, once made a classic statement that deals with religion and politics. He says, “A sect or a party is an elegant incognito saving man from the vexation of thinking. A sect or a party is an elegant incognito devised to save man from the vexation of thinking.” I belong to this church, which means I don’t think for myself, you see. I belong to this party. I vote the straight ticket. I have no idea what it’s all about. My father was a Republican. I’m a Republican, and my children will be Republican.

I’m a Methodist born and a Methodist bred, and when I’m dead, will be a Methodist dead. This is what comes up. Well, that’s the kind of challenging insights that Emerson constantly gave people to cause them to awaken, to realize that life is an inward-out process and that I am a creative person and the universe is trying to say something through me.

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