Insightful Views on Illusions or Maya – By Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Today I am sharing some of the insightful, and my favorite, excerpts from Ralph Waldo Emerson, regarding his views about Illusions (or Maya), from an essay “Illusions” written by Emerson, and published in The Atlantic Monthly, in November 1857, over 150 years ago. It is well-known, and also well established from Emerson’s work, that Ralph Waldo Emerson was fascinated and illuminated by Indian Philosophy and the wisdom therein, particularly about the illusions or Maya. Emerson captured the essence of his understanding in th following lines about Illusion or Maya.

English: Image of American philosopher/poet Ra...

American philosopher/poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. 1859. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Illusion works impenetrable,
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.”

English: Ralph_Waldo_Emerson_1940_Issue-3c.jpg...

USPS Stamp honoring Ralph Waldo Emerson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the essay “Illusions”, Emerson touches the core of Indian Philosophy that enlightens immensely regarding the purpose of life, and the most fundamental questions that one struggles with: What is the purpose of our life? What is our place and role in the big picture of Universe?; and more philosophically, How do we know if anything is real? How do we know we ourselves truly exist? Emerson gets us to ask these existential questions in the way he paints his first few paragraphs. He sets a carnival-like tone, showing how nature mimics itself, rocks look like flowers, caves seem to be evening skies. Its like a magic show. As the imaginary organ grinds in the background, Emerson tells of an excursion to a Kentucky cave, and explores an approach to the illusions of life.

English: Ralph Waldo Emerson head-and-shoulder...

Portrait of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A crowd of tourists is mesmerized at the cave’s displays, especially the scintillating starry sky that appears when all lanterns are extinguished. The view evokes wonder and community from the people. However, Emerson notices a lone candle hidden in a corner that is making the cave crystals twinkle like stars. Emerson clearly stands apart from the group’s child-like communion because he’s seen through the magic. For Emerson, a passive, contemplative approach isn’t adequate to penetrate through illusions, and there is always a need to see through to what’s behind nature. Emerson also indicates in his essay that when he begins to ask the scientific questions, he becomes the sad little boy. for Science takes the mystery out of life, per Emerson.

The following are my favorite excerpts, which I would like to share. Enjoy. -Deo

“The world rolls, the din of life is never hushed. In London, in Paris, in Boston, in San Francisco, the carnival, the masquerade is at its height. Nobody drops his domino. The unities, the fictions of the piece it would be an impertinence to break. The chapter of fascinations is very long. Great is paint; nay, God is the painter; and we rightly accuse the critic who destroys too many illusions. Society does not love its unmaskers. It was wittily, if somewhat bitterly, said by D’Alembert, “Un état de vapeur était un état trés facheux, parcequ’il nous faisait voir les choses comme elles sont.” I find men victims of illusion in all parts of life. Children, youths, adults, and old men, all are led by one bawble or another. Yoganidra, the goddess of illusion, Proteus, or Momus, or Gylfi‘s Mocking,—for the Power has many names,—is stronger than the Titans, stronger than Apollo. The toys, to be sure, are various, and are graduated in refinement to the quality of the dupe. The intellectual man requires a fine bait; the sots are easily amused. But everybody is drugged with his own dream, and the pageant marches at all hours, with music and banner and badge.”

“Women, more than all, are the element and kingdom of illusion. Being fascinated, they fascinate others. They see through Claude-Lorraines. And how dare any one, if he could, pluck away the coulisses, stage effects, and ceremonies, by which they live? Too pathetic, too pitiable, is the region of affection, and its atmosphere always liable to mirage.”

“We are not very much to blame for our bad marriages. We live amid hallucinations; and this especial trap is laid to trip up our feet with, and all are tripped up first or last. But the mighty Mother who had been so sly with us, as if she felt that she owed us some indemnity, insinuates into the Pandora-box of marriage some deep and serious benefits, and some great joys. We find a delight in the beauty and happiness of children, that makes the heart too big for the body. In the worst-assorted connections there is ever some mixture of true marriage. Teague and his jade get some just relations of mutual respect, kindly observation, and fostering of each ether, learn something, and would carry themselves wiselier, if they were now to begin.”

“‘Tis fine for us to point at one or another fine madman, as if there were any exempts. The scholar in his library is none. I, who have all my life heard any number of orations and debates, read poems and miscellaneous books, conversed with many geniuses, am still the victim of any new page; and, if Marmaduke, or Hugh, or Moosehead, or any other, invent a new style or mythology, I fancy that the world will be all brave and right, if dressed in these colors, which I had not thought of. Then at once I will daub with this new paint; but it will not stick. ‘Tis like the cement which the peddler sells at the door; he makes broken crockery hold with it, but you can never buy of him a bit of the cement which will make it hold when he is gone.”

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Ralph Waldo Emerson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Men who make themselves felt in the world avail themselves of a certain fate in their constitution, which they know how to use. But they never deeply interest us, unless they lift a corner of the curtain, or betray never so slightly their penetration of what is behind it. ‘Tis the charm of practical men, that outside of their practicality are a certain poetry and play, as if they led the good horse Power by the bridle, and preferred to walk, though they can ride so fiercely. Bonaparte is intellectual, as well as Cæsar; and the best soldiers, sea-captains, and railway men have a gentleness, when off duty; a good-natured admission that there are illusions, and who shall say that he is not their sport? We stigmatize the cast-iron fellows, who cannot so detach themselves, as “dragon-ridden,” “thunder-stricken,” and fools of fate, with whatever powers endowed.”

Statue of Ralph Waldo Emerson, full-length, se...

Statue of Ralph Waldo Emerson, full-length, seated, facing front (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“In this kingdom of illusions we grope eagerly for stays and foundations. There is none but a strict and faithful dealing at home, and a severe barring out of all duplicity or illusion there. Whatever games are played with us, we must play no games with ourselves, but deal in our privacy with the last honesty and truth. I look upon the simple and childish virtues of veracity and honesty as the root of all that is sublime in character. Speak as you think, be what you are, pay your debts of all kinds. I prefer to be owned as sound and solvent, and my word as good as my bond, and to be what cannot be skipped, or dissipated, or undermined, to all the éclat in the universe. A little integrity is better than any career. This reality is the foundation of friendship, religion, poetry, and art. At the top or at the bottom of all illusions I set the cheat which still leads us to work and live for appearances, in spite of our conviction, in all sane hours, that it is what we really are that avails with friends, with strangers, and with fate or fortune.”

“One would think from the talk of men, that riches and poverty were a great matter; and our civilization mainly respects it. But the Indians say, that they do not think the white man with his brow of care, always toiling, afraid of heat and cold, and keeping within doors, has any advantage of them. The permanent interest of every man is, never to be in a false position, but to have the weight of Nature to back him in all that he does. Riches and poverty are a thick or thin costume; and our life—the life of all of us—identical. For we transcend the circumstance continually, and taste the real quality of existence; as in our employments, which only differ in the manipulations, but express the same laws; or in our thoughts, which wear no silks, and taste no ice-creams. We see God face to face every hour, and know the savour of Nature.”

“The early Greek philosophers Heraclitus and Xenophanes measured their force on this problem of identity. Diogenes of Apollonia said, that unless the atoms were made of one stuff, they could never blend and act with one another. But the Hindoos, in their sacred writings, express the liveliest feeling, both of the essential identity, and of that illusion which they conceive variety to be. “The notions, ‘I am,’ and ‘This is mine,’ which influence mankind, are but delusions of the mother of the world. Dispel, O Lord of all creatures! the conceit of knowledge which proceeds from ignorance.” And the beatitude of man they hold to lie in being freed from fascination.”

“The intellect is stimulated by the statement of truth in a trope, and the will by clothing the laws of life in illusions. But the unities of Truth and of Right are not broken by the disguise. There need never be any confusion in these. In a crowded life of many parts and performers, on a stage of nations, or in the obscurest hamlet in Maine or California, the same elements offer the same choices to each new comer, and, according to his election, he fixes his fortune in absolute nature. It would be hard to put more mental and moral philosophy than the Persians have thrown into a sentence:

Fooled thou must be, though wisest of the wise:
Then be the fool of virtue, not of vice.”

English: Photo of American Transcendentalist R...

Great American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Signature of U.S. author Ralph Waldo ...

Signature of Ralph Waldo Emerson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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