"I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavat-Gita.
It was the first of books; it was as if an
empire spake to us, nothing small or unworthy,
but large, serene, consistent, the voice of
an old intelligence which in another age and
climate had pondered and thus disposed of
the same questions that exercise us."
 Emerson is the first
great American literary figure who read deeply
and fully the available philosophic literature
from India. It certainly shows in his own
writings. In a letter to Max Mueller, Emerson
wrote: "All my interest is in Marsh's
Manu, then Wilkins' Bhagavat Geeta,
Bhagavat Purana and Wilson's Vishnu Purana, yes,
and few other translations. I remember I owed
my first taste for this fruit to Cousin's
sketch, in his first lecture, of the dialogue
between Krishna and Arjuna and I still prize
the first chapters of the Bhagavat as
1856 Emerson had read the Kathopanisad and
his ideas were increasingly reflecting Indian
influence. His poems, such as Hamatreya
(a poem composed in 1845) showed he had digested
his Indian philosophic readings well. Hamatreya apparently was inspired
by a passage from the Vishnu Purana (Book IV). He was concerned
with the subject of illusion-maya. He wrote about it. In
his essay Illusions
he said: "I find men victims of illusions
in all parts of life. Children, youths, adults
and old men, all are led by one bauble or
another. Yogavindra, the goddess of illusion,
is stronger than the Titans, strong than Apollo."
his poem Maya he wrote:
Weaving webs innumerable,
Her gay pictures never fail,
Crowds each other, veil on veil,
Charmer who will be believed,
By man who thirsts to be deceived.
the poem by which Emerson is best remembered
and one which is often quoted for the influence
Vedic thought had on him is Brahma.
the red slayer thinks he slays,
Or if the slain thinks that he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.
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.
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.
strong gods pine for my abode,
And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
But thou, meek over good!
Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.
of his stanzas were almost directly quoted
from these lines in the Bhagavad gita:
who thinks that the living entity is the slayer
or that the entity is slain does not understand.
One who is in knowledge knows that the self
slays not nor is slain. (Bg. 2:19)
son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance
of heat and cold, happiness and distress,
and their disappearance in due course, are
like the appearance and disappearance of winter
and sumer seasons. They arise from sense perception,
O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to
tolerate them without being disturbed."(Bg.
is nothing but deeds committed in a prior
Brahma was composed in 1856 and represents
the maturity of Emerson's comprehension of
some of the fundamental concepts of Vedic
thought. According to Professor Frederic Ives
Carpenter, those sixteen lines probable express
those concepts "more clearly than any
other writing in the English language-perhaps
better than any writing in Hindu literature
itself." Emerson also wrote knowledgeably
about reincarnation, the theory of Karma and
of Fate, of the latter not in the classic
Greek sense, but in it's Indian interpretation:
"Fate is nothing but deeds committed
in a prior existence."
The Great Transcendentalist:
and Thoreau are invariably paired as the two
leading Transcendentalists. Thoreau was the
younger of the two. He was also the more exuberant
and impetuous and the more frankly admiring
of Vedic thought. There is no record that
he read any Indian literature while at Harvard
but in Emerson's library he found and read
with zest Sir William Jones' translation of
The Laws of Manu and was fascinated. In his Journal,
he wrote: "That title (Manu)...
comes to me with such a volume of sound as
if it had swept unobstructed over the plains
of Hindustan... They are the laws of you and
me, a fragrance wafted from those old times,
and no more to be refuted than the wind. When
my imagination travels eastward and backward
to those remote years of the gods, I seem
to draw near to the habitation of the morning,
and the dawn at length has a place. I remember
the book as an hour before sunrise."
in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack
(1849) he was again writing about the same
work, "Most books belong to the house
and street only, and in the fields their leaves
feel very thin...But this, as it proceeds
from, so it addresses, what is deepest and
most abiding in man. It belongs to the noontide
of the day, the mid-summer of the year, and
after the snows have melted...(it) will have
a place of significance as long as there is
a sky to test them [the sentences of Manu]
the morning I bathe my intellect in the
stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of
the Bhagavad Gita."
read the Dharma Sastra in 1841,
when he was twenty-four, and the Bhagavad
Gita when he
was twenty-eight years of age. 
Of the latter he wrote: "The New Testament
is remarkable for its pure morality, the best
of the Vedic Scripture, for its pure intellectuality.
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 even
of soldiers and merchants." He had the
Gita with him during his stay by Walden Pond.
extracts from the Vedas I have
read fall on me like the light of a higher
and purer luminary, which describes a loftier
course through a purer stratum," he remarked
in 1850. "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."  He
writes in Chapter Sixteen of Walden: "In
the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous
and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad
whose composition years of the gods have elapsed
and in comparison with which our modern world
and its literature seems puny and trivial."
died very young but during his mature years
he read a great deal of Indian literature,
perhaps more than Emerson. In 1855 he received
from an English friend an entire treasure-chest
of 44 volumes dealing with Vedic literature.
For them he fashioned a new case from driftwood
found in a New England river "thus giving
Oriental wisdom an Occidental shrine."
extent of Thoreau's reading of Indian literature
is astounding. He read Jones' translation
of Shakuntalam; Wilson's
translation of the Sankhya Karika and of Vishnu Purana:
translation of Harivamsa (which he later
put into English) and Garcin de Tassy's Histoire
de la Litterature Hindoui et Hindostan.
In his Journal, he wrote: "One may discover
the root of an Indian religion in his own
private history, when, in the silent intervals
of the day and night, he does sometimes inflict
on himself like austerities with stern satisfaction."
No wonder Gandhi loved and revered him and
accepted Thoreau as his teacher.
 In another time and place, he
would have been considered the ideal Yogi-ascetic,
seeker after Truth.
American scholar, John T. Reid, commenting
has said that if one read it, without screening
its lines for possible foreign influences,
the net impression will be that of a frugal,
practical Yankee, greatly interested in the
details of New England's flora and fauna,
gloriously happy in the tranquil peace of
unsullied Nature, an eccentric at odds with
most of his neighbor's foibles. "He was
not in any accurate sense an Yogi," adds
Reid," but he did pay devoted heed to
those glimpses of light from the Orient which
he saw." 
Quaker, Rover, Mystic
from Emerson and Thoreau, four other distinguished
Americans of the period showed an interest
in, or were influenced by, Indian philosophic
thought. They are Alcott the Teacher, Whittier
the Quaker, Melville the Rover and Whitman
Amos Bronson Alcott (1799-1888)
was a visionary, a stimulating and original
teacher whom Caryle called "the good
Alcott," a kind of venerable Don Quixote
whom nobody could even laugh at without loving.
He was born poor and as a young man earned
his livelihood as a peddler. But he taught
himself, read widely in the well-stocked libraries
of Philadelphia, and became acquainted with
the Quakers and their doctrine of the 'Inner
Light." Born in Connecticut, he returned
to his native New England and for a time carried
out his well-known educational experiment
at the Temple School. That did not succeed
and for a time he did some writing, but with
no demonstrable financial gains. So he went
back to manual labor and in the meantime he
held public "conversations" in the
best Socratic style. He thus transmitted the
sum of his own reading to young minds.
was an enthusiastic vegetarian (as
were Emerson and Thoreau) 
and tried to introduce his ideas in
his ill-fated utopian experiment of Fruitlands
(1841). He was, in a sense, the father of
the Organic Food concept, but, as with his
progressive educational experiments, was too
far ahead of his time.
Unlike Alcott, John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)
was a talented poet who was influenced by
Emerson and from whom he borrowed a copy of
the Bhagavad Gita. To Emerson he wrote:
"I will e'en keep it until I restore
it to thee personally in exchange for George
Fox (founder of the Society of Friends, the
Quakers). It is a wonderful book-and has greatly
excited my curiosity to know more of the religious
literature of the East." 
results of Whittier's reading are evident
in a good number of his poems like "The
Oval Heart," "The Cypress Tree of
Ceylon," "The Dead Feast of the
Kol-Folk," and "The Khan's Devil."
A particularly striking example of his use
of Indian material is his well-known poem
"The Brewing of Soma," which describes
the preparation and use of the Vedic sacrificial
The relationship of Walt
Whitman (1819-1892) to Vedic thought
is considerably complex. Emerson once described
Whitman's Leaves of Grass
as a blending of Gita and the New York Herald.
In his reminiscing essay, "A Backward
Glance O'er Travel'd Roads" (1889) Whitman
claims to have read "the ancient Hindu
poems" and there is enough evidence to
show that in 1875 he had received a copy of
the Gita as a Christmas present from and English friend,
Thomas Dixon. 
the mystic trend in much of Whitman's work
is unmistakable, but he was never the less
a product of America in its robust love for
life and zest for living.
report has it that it was Thoreau who led
Walt Whitman to dip into what was then collectively
called "Oriental" literature. We
have to take the word of his biographer for
that. Whitman, from all the evidence, was
vastly impressed by his readings. It is only
in recent years that critics have come to
recognise the deepening of Whitman's religious
feeling and his far saner intuitions of human
nature in such superb poems of the late 1850's
and the 1860's as "Out of the Cradle
Endlessly Rocking," "When Lilacs
Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" and "Passage
to India"-a term, incidentally, that
E.M. Forster was to pick up in later years.
"Passage to India" it has been especially
said that it "contains his most eloquent
idealism." His main theme was the question
asked by the feverish children of the modern
age: "Whither, O mocking life?"
The coming together of the seas in the Suez
Canal, the crossing of the great American
continent by steel do not satisfy, they are
but shadows of a greater dream. There must
be a passage to more that India. The soul,
"that actual me," must voyage beyond
its material successes in order to amplify
its love, its ideals, its "purity, perfection,
strength." So "sail forth-steer
for the deep waters only."
O soul to India
Eclaircise the myths Asiatic, the primitive
The far-darting beams of the spirit, the
The deep-diving bibles and legends
The daring plots of the poets, the elder
O you temples fairer than lilies pour'd
over by the rising sun!
O you fables spurning the known, eluding
the hold of the
known, mounting to heaven!
You lofty and dazzling towers, pinnacled,
red as rose,
burnished with gold!
Towers of fables immortal fashion'd from
You too I welcome and fully the same as
You too with joy I sing!
constantly phrased and re-phrased conception
of "the real me"-'I pass death with
the dying' brings to mind the reincarnation
doctrine, as it is specifically mentioned
in the Gita.
The Early American Indologists
American Oriental Society, founded in 1842
though the study of Sanskrit itself, did not
start in American universities until some
years later. The first American Sanskrit scholar
of any repute was Edward Elbridge Salisbury
(1814-1901) who taught at Yale (Elihu Yale
was himself ultimately connected with India
and had profound respect for Vedic philosophy).
Another early Sanskritist, Fitzedward Hall
(1825-1901) was in the Harvard class of 1846
but left college to search for a runaway brother
in-of all places-India, where he continued
his studies of Indian languages and even became
tutor and professor of Sanskrit at Banaras.
He was the first American scholar to edit
a Sanskrit text-the Vishnu Purana.
of Salisbury's students at Yale, William Dwight
Whitney (1827-1901) went on to become a distinguished
Sanskritist in his own right having studied
in Berlin under such distinguished German
scholars as Bopp and Weber. Whitney became
a full professor of Sanskrit language and
literature at Yale in 1854, wrote his classic
Sanskrit Grammar (1879)
and was the doyen of Indologists of his period.
Whitney was succeeded in the Chair of Sanskrit
Studies of Yale by Edward Washburn Hopkins
(1857-1932). Hopkins was an excellent scholar
but made his name principally as an exponent
of India's religions. His book The Religions
of India (1895) was for many
years one of the principal works on the subject
available in America and his Origins and
Evolution of Religion published in 1923, sold
Yale leading the way, Harvard caught up and
beginning with James Bradstreet Greenough
(1833-1900), had a succession of great Sanskrit
teachers, the most distinguished among them
was Charles Rockwell Lanman who taught for
over forty years, publishing such works as
Sanskrit Reader and
Beginnings of Hindu Pantheism. But his greatest
contribution was planning and editing of the
Harvard Oriental Series.
In his time he was responsible for influencing
such students of his who were later to achieve
literary renown as T. S. Eliot, Paul Elmer
More and Irving Babbitt. The tradition of
American Indologists has been nobly kept up
by those who followed: to mention only a few
names, A.V. William Jackson, Franklin Edgerton,
W. Norman Brown, and Joseph Campbell.
T.S. Eliot and
Three Cardinal Virtues
Eliot, who was born in St. Louis, Missouri,
studied at Harvard, the Sorbonne and Oxford
and received the Nobel Prize for literature
in 1948, drew his intellectual sustenance
from Dante, Shakespeare, the Bible, St. John
of the Cross and other Christian mystics,
the Greek dramatists, Baudelaire, and the
Bhagavad Gita. Over and over again, whether
in The Wasteland, Four Quarters, Ash Wednesday
or Murder in the
Cathedral, the influence of Indian philosophy and mysticism
on him is clearly noticeable.
was a twenty-three year old student at Harvard
when he first came across eastern philosophy
and religion. What sparked his interest in
Vedic thought is not recorded but soon he
was occupied with Sanskrit, Pali and the metaphysics
of Patanjali. He had also read the Gita
and the Upanishads as is clear from the concluding
lines of The Waste Land. The Waste
with the reiteration of the Three Cardinal
Virtues from the second Brahmana passage in
the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: damyata (restraint), datta (charity)
and dayadhvam (compassion) and the state of mind
that follows obedience to the commands is
indicated by blessing Shantih shantih shantih,
that Eliot himself roughly translated as "the
peace that passeth understanding." But
it is the Gita that evidently made a
more permanent imprint on Eliot's mind. It
will be found relevant not only to The
Waste Land, but to The Four Quarters, The Dry Salvages, and
The Family Reunion. The tolerance preached by the Gita is
echoed in Eliot's use of imagery drawn from
several religions. As Prof. Philip R. Headings
has remarked in his study of the poet, "No
serious student of Eliot's poetry can afford
to ignore his early and continued interest
in the Bhagavad Gita."  In a sense
Eliot follows in the giant footsteps of Emerson
and Thoreau and the early Transcendentalists,
but, it would seem, with a greater sense of
urgency and relevance. There is a sharper,
keener perception of what endures and should
endure, and incessant demand that all traditions
of literature, music, painting, architecture
and philosophy be put to their proper psychic
or religious use. In that sense, Eliot's message
is the message of the Gita, of
the essential utility of all activity: a message
for all time, though it is harder to understand
because it must be united from the materials,
tone and perspective of his poems.
modern times (since the death of T. S. Eliot
in 1965) the influence of India's spiritual
thought in America has taken leaps and bounds.
Turbulent peace-seeking days of the sixties
and seventies opened the doors for alternative
thinking, and Spiritual India was welcomed
with open arms. Words like dharma
and karma have come to be listed in our English
dictionaries, and meditation (of some variety)
is practiced, or at least attempted, by millions
list of prominent thinkers over the last twenty
years who have been profoundly affected by
the spiritual precepts of India is too long
to mention. In music, in art and in literature,
as well as the political arena, the serenity
of transcendental thought quietly expunded
in humility from the shores of India has had
a greater (although subtle) influence on the
Americal public than perhaps any other sincle
a slight shift away from spiritual ideals
was experienced in the early to mid-eighties,
it appears to have been only a momentary hesitation.
The now materially-exhausted yuppies are again
searching for deeper values, and the New Age
spiritualists, most of whom accept reincarnation,
karma, meditation, chanting and vegetarianism
are filling the spiritual gap. Of course there
are unscrupulous persons who seek to flourish
materially in the spiritual marketplace, and
the New Age community is overrun with imitation.
But the precious commodity of the spiritual
gems of the Vedas, the Gita and India's other literary jewels
continue to shine light on the proper utilization
of the modern world of material affluence.
With the spiritual eyes of the East and the
material legs of the Western world, the lame
man and the blind man may once and for all
see and walk on the path of freedom from all
Polo, Marco, The Travels of Marco Polo
(The Venetian), revised
from Marsden's translation and edited with
introduction by Manuel Komroff, (Livright
Pub., 1953) p. 201.
2. Ibid., p. 203.
3. Dr. M. V. Kamath, The United States
and India (1776-1976),
(The Embassy of India, Washington D.C., 1976)
4. Ibid. p. 35.
6. Ibid., p. 23.
7. Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson
Forbes, eds., Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson,
10 vols. [Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
1909-1914], 7:241-42 and 7:511.
8. Ibid., p. 41.
11. Roger Mueller, The Orient in American
(1835-1886), (Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota,
1968), pp. 10-11.
12. Thoreau, Journal, 1:55. The Journal is
published as vols. 7-20 in The Writings
of Henry David Thoreau, ed.,
Bradford Torrey and Francis H. Allen, 20 vols.
(Walden ed., 1906; reprint ed., New York:
AMS Press, 1968).
13. Ibid. 2:36.
15. Thoreau, Journal, 2.4.
16. Clarence L. F. Gohdes, The Periodicals
of American Transcendentalism
(Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1931),
18. Carl T. Jackson, The Oriental Religions
and American Thought (Nineteenth-Century Explorations),
Greenwood Press, London, England,
1981, p. 80.
20. Dr. M. V. Kamath, The United States
and India (1776-1976),
(The Embassy of India, Washington, D. C.,
1976) p. 51.
21. Ibid., p. 56.