“In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
The Harvard graduates sat stunned in silence. The outraged academia roared in disapproval as Emerson appealed to the students to see God in nature, and not simply in the teachings of the Church. Ralph Waldo Emerson was an alumnus and called to address them during the convocation ceremony, and he discounted Jesus’s miracles, and while appreciating Jesus Christ as a great man, he said we have made a demigod of him like the Greek mythology.
Emerson appealed to the inner conscience of the students, even as the Unitarian Church dominated academia fumed; he further encouraged the students to seek truth not in institutional bigotry but in solitary association of Nature. He asked them to trust themselves, and embark on a spiritual journey. As the leaders protested, Emerson gracefully left the assembly, and in the process he disappointed his devout Christian aunt Mary Moody Emerson who had raised Ralph with deep affection. In fact Emerson had declared that all the knowledge he gathered in life was naught in comparison to the love and blessings he received from his aunt. Yet, she was now let down, but Emerson chose to be true to his own conscience.
Deeply influenced by the Vedic texts and Upanishads, Emerson had founded the Transcendentalist club that emphasized on self-reliance and individual’s freedom to seek liberation from the material world.
There are essentially two branches of philosophy- rationalism and transcendentalism.
Rationalism refers to the logical and rational decoding of the mysteries of life and death. This world and beyond is understood through systematic, appealing processes; if I have anxieties and questions, I need solutions that are specific and an acronym that would help me remember the solution is most welcome.
Most people in this world are attracted by reasoning and objective empiricism, yet there is another world of philosophers called as transcendentalists who focus more on subjective intuition.
Led by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the transcendentalist movement gained momentum in the 1820’s and 1830’s first in the Eastern part of USA and then it rapidly spread all over the world and also deeply influenced the movers and shakers of the nineteenth century. Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy, and Martin Luther King (Jr) were amongst the leaders who were affected by Emerson and Thoreau’s writings.
Moral of the story: Be true to your conscience; you’d make a difference – positive one- to someone’s life. And Albert Einstein appealed, “Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.”
PS: Mary Moody Emerson eventually came to terms with her nephew’s stance. In her 90’s she admitted that she is proud of Emerson for being true to his conscience!