1. Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American Philosopher, Unitarian, social critic, transcendentalist and writer. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who aroused in him a true enthusiasm for India.
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(source: Commentaries on the Vedas, The Upanishads & the Bhagavad Gita – By Sri Chinmoy Aum Publications. 1996. p 26).
“Whenever I have read any part of the Vedas, I have felt that some unearthly and unknown light illuminated me. In the great teaching of the Vedas, there is no touch of sectarianism. It is of all ages, climes and nationalities and is the royal road for the attainment of the Great Knowledge. When I am at it, I feel that I am under the spangled heavens of a summer night.”
(source: The Hindu Mind: Fundamentals of Hindu Religion and Philosophy for All Ages – By Bansi Pandit B & V Enterprises 1996. p 307).
“How much more admirable the Bhagavad Geeta than all the ruins of the East.’
(source: The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau – Walden 1989. Princeton Univ. Press. p 57).
(image source: Picturesque India: sketches of travels of Thomas and William Daniell – By J. Mahajan
He even followed a traditional Hindu way of life.
“It was fit that I should live on rice mainly, who loved so well the philosophy of India.”
(source: Philosophy of Hinduism – An Introduction – By T. C. Galav Universal Science-Religion.
In his Transcendental thoughts, the world at large conglomerate into one big divine family. He finds beside his Walden pond “the servant of the Brahmin, priest of Brahma and Vishnu and Indra, who still sits in his temple on the Ganga reading the Vedas…” their buckets “grate together in the same well. The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganga”.
(source: The Bhagavad Gita: A Scripture for the Future Translation and Commentary – By Sachindra K. Majumdar Asian Humanities Press. 1991. p 5.)
“The reader is nowhere raised into and sustained in a bigger, purer or rarer region of thought than in the Bhagavad-Gita. The Gita’s sanity and sublimity have impressed the minds of even soldiers and merchants.”
He also admitted that, “The religion and philosophy of the Hebrews are those of a wilder and ruder tribe, wanting the civility and intellectual refinements and subtlety of Vedic culture.” Thoreau’s reading of literature on India and the Vedas was extensive: he took them seriously.
(source: The Secret Teachings of the Vedas. The Eastern Answers to the Mysteries of Life – By Stephen Knapp volume one. p 22).
(source: India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding – By Wilhelm Halbfass p. 436).
Schopenhauer became acquainted with the thought of the Upanishads through a Latin translation from Persian by a Frenchman, Anquetil Duperron. His eulogy is well known.
(source: Eastern Religions and Western Thought – By Dr. S. Radhakrishnan p 248 and Hinduism Invades America – By Wendell Thomas p. 240 published by The Beacon Press Inc. New York City 1930).
“From every sentence (of the Upanishads) deep, original and sublime thoughts arise, and the whole is pervaded by a high and holy and earnest spirit….”In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. They are destined sooner or later to become the faith of the people.”
” It has been the solace of my life — it will be the solace of my death.”
(source: The Discovery of India – By Jawaharlal Nehru Oxford University Press. 1995. pg 92 and The Upanishads Translated for the Modern Reader By Eknath EaswaranNilgiri Press. 1987 p. 300 and Outlines of Hinduism – By T. M. P. Mahadevan – p.30).
To Schopenhauer the Upanishads were documents of ‘almost superhuman conception,’ whose authors could hardly be thought of as ‘mere mortals.’
He spoke of India as the ‘fatherland of mankind’ which ‘gave the original religion of our race,’ and he expressed the hope that European peoples, ‘who stemmed from Asia,…would re-attain the religion of their home.’
He believed that the Upanishads, together with the philosophies of Plato and Kant, constituted the foundation on which to erect a proper philosophy of representation. It was the Upanishads’ analysis of the self which caused Schopenhauer to stamp them as ” the product of the highest human wisdom”. He dedicated himself to this task, producing his magnum opus, The World as Will and Representation, in 1819. This is what he says in this book:
“We, on the contrary, now send to the Brahmans English clergymen and evangelical linen-weavers, in order out of sympathy to put them right, and to point out to them that they are created out of nothing, and that they ought to be grateful and pleased about it. But it is just the same as if we fired a bullet at a cliff. “In India, our religions will never at any time take root; the ancient wisdom of the human race will not be supplanted by the events in Galilee. On the contrary, Indian wisdom flows back to Europe, and will produce a fundamental change in our knowledge and thought.”
(source: The World as Will and Representation – By Arthur Schopenhauer Volume I, & 63 p. 356-357).
(source: India and World Civilization – By D. P. Singhal Pan Macmillan Limited. 1993. p 254).
“According to me, the influence of Sanskrit literature on our time will not be lesser than what was in the 16th century Greece’s influence on Renaissance. One day, India’s wisdom will flow again on Europe and will totally transform our knowledge and thought.”
He wrote with a prophetic and resounding pronouncement on the whole body of Indian writings:
(source: Philosophy of Hinduism – An Introduction – By T. C. Galav Universal Science-Religion. p 65 andHinduism – By Linda Johnsen p 42 and Hindu Scriptures and American Transcendentalists – By Umesh Patri p 22-23).
– By Michael Scherer – americanphonic.com.
” It is sublime as night and a breathless ocean. It contains every religious sentiment, all the grand ethics which visit in turn each noble poetic mind….It is of no use to put away the book; if I trust myself in the woods or in a boat upon the pond. Nature makes a Brahmin of me presently: eternal compensation, unfathomable power, unbroken silence….This is her creed. peace, she saith to me, and purity and absolute abandonment – these panaceas expiate all sin and bring you to the beatitude of the Eight Gods.”
Repelled by the increasing materialism of the West, Emerson turned to India for solace:
“The Indian teaching, through its clouds of legends, has yet a simple and grand religion, like a queenly countenance seen through a rich veil. It teaches to speak truth, love others, and to dispose trifles. The East is grand – and makes Europe appear the land of trifles. …all is soul and the soul is Vishnu …cheerful and noble is the genius of this cosmogony. Hari is always gentle and serene – he translates to heaven the hunter who has accidentally shot him in his human form, he pursues his sport with boors and milkmaids at the cow pens; all his games are benevolent and he enters into flesh to relieve the burdens of the world.”
(source:India in the American Mind – By B. G. Gokhale p. 120-21 and India and World Civilization – By D. P. Singhal Pan Macmillan Limited. 1993. p 254 and East meets West – gosai.com).
“All science is transcendental or else passes away. Botany is now acquiring the right theory – the avatars of Brahman will presently be the text-books of natural history.”
In 1848 he says that he owed a “magnificent day to the reading of the Bhagavat-Gita” and adds thatEngland could not produce such a book as the Gita. He found Indian books “excellent gymnastic for the mind as showing treatment – imagination, volatility etc.”
On August 4, 1873 (nine years before his death) Emerson had also written to Max Müller that,
He credited a work he had read in his youth for the spark of enthusiasm he received for the Gita: “I remember I owed my first taste for this fruit to Cousin’s sketch (Victor Cousin’s Cours des Philosophies), in his first lecture, of the dialogue between Krishna and Arjoon, and I still prize the first chapters of Bhagavat as wonderful.” (Letters of Emerson, VI:246; I:322-3).
Or if the slain thinks he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.
Far or forgot to me is near;
Shadow and sunlight are the same;
The vanished gods to me appear;
And one to me are shame and fame.
They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.
The description of Unity in his poems “The Celestial Love” and “Wood-Notes” reflects the description of the immanence of the Supreme Being in the tenth discourse of the Bhagavad Gita. Emerson’s Essays includes his comments on the role of Warren Hastings, in the dissemination of the Bhagavad Gita through Wilkins’ translation:
(source: Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage – By Will Durant MJF Books 1935. p 415).
Weaving webs innumerable.”
5. Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767- 1835) Prussian minister of education, a brilliant linguist and the founder of the science of general linguistics. Humboldt began to learn Sanskrit in 1821 and was greatly moved by Schlegel’s edition of the Bhagavad Gita, on which he published an extensive study. The Bhagavad Gita made a great impression on Humboldt, who said that ” this episode of the Mahabharata was:
(source: Philosophy of Hinduism – An Introduction – By T. C. Galav Universal Science-Religion. p 650).
– By Michael Scherer – americanphonic.com.
He devoted to it a long treatise in the Proceedings of the Academy of Berlin (1825-6).
He thanked God for having permitted him to live long enough to become acquainted with the Gita.
(source: Vedanta: Heart of Hinduism – By Hans Torwesten An Evergreen Book. Grove Press. 1985. p 6).
(source: The Universal Gita: Western Images of the Bhagavad Gita a Bicentenary Survey – By Eric J. Sharpe p. 19).
(source: German Indologists: Biographies of Scholars in Indian Studies writing in German – By Valentine Stache-Rosen. p.5-6).
6. Mark Twain (1835-1910) also known as Samuel Clemens, one of the most widely loved and celebrated American writers since his first books were released in the late 1860s. Many of his writings have reached the pinnacles of American and world literature, including the timeless Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court and Following the Equator. Besides these easily recognizable classics, Twain wrote fascinating Travelogue detailing his experiences in Asia.
He had said in his inimitable style: “Varanasi” or Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”
(source: Soul of a Nation – The Hindustan Times).
7. Dr. Arnold Joseph Toynbee (1889-1975) the great British historian. His massive research was published in 12 volumes between 1934 and 1961 as `A Study of History’. Author of several books, including Christianity: Among the Religions of the World and One World and India. Toynbee was a major interpreter of human civilization in the 20th century.
‘‘There may or may not be only one single absolute truth and only one single ultimate way of salvation. We do not know. But we do know that there are more approaches to truth than one, and more means of salvation than one.’’‘‘This is a hard saying for adherents of the higher religions of the Judaic family (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), but it is a truism for Hindus. The spirit of mutual good-will, esteem, and veritable love … is the traditional spirit of the religions of the Indian family. This is one of India’s gifts to the world.’’(source: Britannia Perspectives – Quoted By T. V. R. Shenoy in Secularism is not for Hindus alone).
(source: Spiritual Heritage of India – By Swami Prabhavananda Vedanta Press 1997).
(source: Civilization on Trail and the World and the West – By Arnold Toynbee Meridian Books. p. 257).
(source: One World and India – By Arnold Toynbee Indian Council for Cultural Relations New Delhi. 1960 p 42 – 59).
(image source: Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan: or the Central and Western Rajput States of India – By Colonel James Tod).
“I love the Indian people as I love none other. My heart and my mind… have long been laid on the alter of the Motherland.”
(source: Hindustan Times 01/25/02).
Annie Besant thought that “among the priceless teachings that may be found in the great Indian epic Mahabharata, there is none so rare and priceless as the Gita.”
“The history of Indian philosophy is the abridge history of the philosophy of the world.”
(source: Philosophy of Hinduism – An Introduction – An Introduction By T. C. Galav Universal Science-Religion. p 149. The Fragrance of India : landmarks for the world of tomorrow – By Louis Revel p. 16 Kitabistan Allahabad 1946).
(source: Arise O’ India – By Francois Gautier ISBN 81-241-0518-9 Har-Anand Publications 2000. p. 25).
“We have shown how much we (Europeans) surpass the Indians in courage and wickedness, and how inferior to them we are in wisdom. Our European nations have mutually destroyed themselves in this land where we only go in search of money, while the first Greeks traveled to the same land only to instruct themselves.”
Voltaire concluded,” I am convinced that everything has come down to us from the banks of the Ganga (Ganges), – astronomy, astrology, metempsychosis, etc.”
” It is very important to note that some 2,500 years ago at the least Pythagoras went from Samos to the Ganga (Ganges) to learn geometry…But he would certainly not have undertaken such a strange journey had the reputation of the Brahmins’ science not been long established in Europe…”
Refer to Voltaire, Lettres sur l’origine des sciences et sur celle des peuples de l’Asia (first published Paris, 1777), letter of 15 December 1775. and Voltaire, Fragments historiques sur l’linde, p. 444 – 445.
(source: Is India Civilized – Essays on Indian Culture – By Sir John Woodroffe p. 36).
(source: Philosophy of Hinduism – An Introduction – By T. C. Galav Universal Science-Religion. p 20).
“India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.” Nothing should more deeply shame the modern student than the recency and inadequacy of his acquaintance with India….This is the India that patient scholarship is now opening up like a new intellectual continent to that Western mind which only yesterday thought civilization an exclusive Western thing.”
(source: Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage – By Will Durant MJF Books. 1935. p 410 – 415 and 554).
Hence Huxley thought its enduring value, not only for Indians, but for all mankind.”
(source: Philosophy of Hinduism – An Introduction – By T. C. Galav Universal Science-Religion. p 65).
(source: Eastern Religions and Western Thought – By Dr. S. Radhakrishnan p 250).
“The religions whose theology is least preoccupied with events in time and most concerned with eternity, have been consistently less violent and more humane in political practice. Unlike early Judaism, Christianity and Mohammedanism (all obsessed with time) Hinduism and Buddhism have never been persecuting faiths, have preached almost no holy wars and have refrained from that proselytizing religious imperialism which has gone hand in hand with political and economic oppression of colored people.”
Whiteheadis reported to have remarked:
(source: Huston Smith: Essays on World Religion edited by M. Darrrol Bryant Paragon House 1992 p 135).
15. Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) was one of the foremost interpreters of myth in our time. Campbell was a prolific writer, dedicated editor, beloved teacher, inspiring lecturer, and an avid scholar of spiritual and cultural development. He is the author of several books including A Hero with Thousand faces
(source: Myths to Live By – By Joseph Campbell. A Bantam Book 1988. p 90).
“The strength of Hinduism lies in its infinite adaptability to the infinite diversity of human character and human tendencies. It has its highly spiritual and abstract side suited to the philosopher, its practical to the man of the world, its aesthetic and ceremonial side attuned to the man of the poetic feeling and imagination; and its quiescent contemplative aspect that has its appeal for the man of peace and the lover of seclusion.”
Muller is best known for his series Sacred Books of the East.
“I maintain that for everybody who cares for himself, for his ancestors, for his history, for his intellectual development, a study of Vedic literature is indispensable “.
“The Upanishads are the…..sources of …..the Vedanta philosophy, a system in which human speculation seems to me to have reached its very acme.” “I spend my happiest hours in reading Vedantic books. They are to me like the light of the morning, like the pure air of the mountains – so simple, so true, if once understood.” (source: Philosophy of Hinduism – An Introduction – By T. C. Galav Universal Science-Religion. p 19).
(source: The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy – By Max Muller (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1916 p. xiv).
(source: India – What It Can Teach Us – By Max Muller p. 21).
(source: India – What It Can Teach Us – By Max Muller p. 6).
He went on to say: “It is surely astounding that such a system as the Vedanta should have been slowly elaborated by the indefatigable and intrepid thinkers of India thousands of years ago, a system that even now makes us feel giddy, as in mounting last steps of the swaying spire of a Gothic cathedral. None of our philosophers, not excepting Heraclitus, Plato, Kant or Hegel, has ventured to erect such a spire, never frightened by storms or lighting. Stone follows on stone after regular succession after once the first step has been made, after once it has been clearly seen that in the beginning there can have been One, as there will be but One in the end, whether we call it Atman or Brahman.”
(source: The Discovery of India – By Jawaharlal Nehru Oxford University Press. 1995. p 89).
“Hinduism at its best has spoken the only relevant truth about the way to self-realization in the full sense of the word.’
India, says Keyserling,
“has produced the profoundest metaphysics that we know of ” and he speaks of “ the absolute superiority of India over the West in philosophy; poetry from the Mahabharata, containing the Bhagavad-Gita, “perhaps the most beautiful work of the literature of the world.”
“Let us return to our eagle’s nest in the Himalayas. It is waiting for us, for it is ours, eaglets of Europe, we need not renounce any part of our real nature…whence we formerly took our flight.”
(source: Philosophy of Hinduism – An Introduction – By T. C. Galav Universal Science-Religion. p 20).
“Religious faith in the case of the Hindus has never been allowed to run counter to scientific laws, moreover the former is never made a condition for the knowledge they teach, but there are always scrupulously careful to take into consideration the possibility that by reason both the agnostic and atheist may attain truth in their own way. Such tolerance may be surprising to religious believers in the West, but it is an integral part of Vedantic belief.”
Romain Rolland thought: “The true Vedantic spirit does not start out with a system of preconceived ideas. It possesses absolute liberty and unrivalled courage among religions with regard to the facts to be observed and the diverse hypotheses it has laid down for their coordination. Never having been hampered by a priestly order, each man has been entirely free to search wherever he pleased for the spiritual explanation of the spectacle of the universe.”
(source: Romain Rolland has given a long Note as an appendix to his book on Vivekananda – ‘On the Hellenic-Christian Mysticism of the First Centuries and its Relationship to Hindu Mysticism.’).
It is said that Gandhi was once asked what he thought of Western civilization, and answered that he felt it might be a good idea.
(source: OutlookIndia.com). (Indian Opinion: Mahatma Gandhi quoted by Judith M. Brown. 1994:5 – Modern India: The Origins of an Asian democracy).
(source: Young India, 24/11/1924 p. 390-396 and The Discovery of India – By Jawaharlal Nehru. Oxford University Press. 1995. pg 75).
This is what Gandhi wrote about the Bhagavad Gita:
(source: Harijan 24-8-1934).
– By Michael Scherer – americanphonic.com.
“India is to me the dearest country in the world, because I have discovered goodness in it. It has been subject to foreign rule, it is true. But the status of a slave is preferable to that of a slave holder.”
“Hinduism is a living organism. One and indivisible at the root, it has grown into a vast tree with innumerable branches. Knowledge is limitless and so also the application of truth. Everyday we add to our knowledge of the power of Atman (soul) and we shall keep on doing so.”
He was a Hindu to the core. Defining his attitude to a prominent Indian Christian, Kali Charan Banerjee (1847-1902) he said:
“I am unable to identify with orthodox Christianity. I must tell you in all humility that Hinduism, as I know it, entirely satisfies my soul, fills my whole being, and I find solace in the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount….I must confess to you that when doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and when I see not one ray of light on the horizon I turn to the Bhagavad Gita, and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. My life has been full of external tragedies and if they have not left any visible and indelible effect on me, I owe it to the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita.”
(source: The Upanishads Translated for the Modern Reader By Eknath Easwaran. Nilgiri Press. 1987. pg 205).
‘The Bhagavad Gita is my mother,’ he once said; and the name of Sri Rama was his shield.’
The nationalist movement of Congress, and its political vision of a free India, was as thoroughly suffused with the spirit of Hinduism. Nationalism and religion were thus allied in Gandhi’s teachings. Gandhi found the substance of India’s life in Hinduism. His political vocabulary of Ram rajya, ahimsa, satyagraha, swaraj, bharat mata, swadeshi etc. He passionately rejected the British project of Westernizing India.