Transcendentalism: Who Are We?
By: Francisco Dosal
Transcendentalism is a spiritual philosophy that emphasizes the importance of an individual. It encourages an individual to uncover his/her true inner thoughts and beliefs; it emphasizes the importance of self-reliance and encourages one’s confidence in his/her own thoughts and convictions, rather than depending in social opinion. It suggests that social opinion corrupts one’s true spirit; murders individuality and poisons our nature. Transcendentalism guides an individual to separates his/her convictions from society to awaken a spiritual revelation within; a revelation of divine truth. Now, an individual does not have to go far to achieve separation from society, through simply living by his/her own convictions, maintaining self-reliance, and ignoring society opinions. An individual can achieve perfect solitude in the center of society. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in an essay, Self-Reliance, “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinions; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude” (Emerson 17). Accepting what society defines as truth and righteous keeps an individual from questioning society and himself; blindly conforming into society only imprisons the mind and slowly kills individuality. As any artist begins to compose a piece of artwork, he/she must compose with freedom and originality. The artist must compose free from society’s opinions and compose whatever dwells within. Picasso and Dali disregarded reason, traditional artwork, and criticism. They composed in their own interests, fashions, and likings. They did not paint for society’s interest, they did not paint in the same fashion as others. If Picasso or Dali were influenced by some outside reason, traditional painting, and influenced by criticism, Picasso may have never created “Guernica” and Dali would have never created “The Persistence of Memory.” They did not blindly conform into composing what society defined as true art; they did not imprison themselves from their true natures and so they created actual original work. The individual, and in this case painter, should escape society and escape into the dark void that is his/her mind. Just as Picasso and Dali ventured away, so must be with all those searching for themselves. One must venture away from society’s truth and discover one’s true nature. Through transcendentalism an individual discovers his/her true nature, beliefs, and genius. But before one can discover who he/she really, one must as the question: Who am I?
It is human nature to question the world around us and to question ourselves; these questions eventually lead to the discovery of answers that define an individual. But society has painted us with its colors without permission and without ones knowledge. An individual who never questions and accepts the perspective of what cultural, government, and religion defines at right from wrong, rather than the personal perspective of his/her conscience, is an melting pot mixing the ingredients of many chefs. The influence of cultures, governments, and religions, manipulate the thoughts of an individual into self-corruption. Self-corruption causes an individual from questioning and simply accepting what is considered right from wrong and this action causes the individual from venturing into his/her own conscience mind and discovering his/her own truth. Society’s truth is simple; it is to keep an individual depending on society opinions and influences. It is to keep an individual from becoming self-dependent and to keep an individual from the questions, that even without a definite answer, sets them free. The questions that surfaces genuine morals and ethics. No culture, government, or religion institution should establish ethics; ethics are established through what the individual considers necessary. There is at least one law that does not fit to an individual’s fashion and so with or without intentions, laws are broken.
Humans unintentionally are law breaker. Humans are and will be flawed sinners. It is unlikely an individual’s true nature is in fact culturally, politically, or religiously based. But how would an individual actually know without questioning first? He/she must question him/her self first then establish his/her true nature afterword. They must not declare their true nature as a cultural, political or religious people and not provide the reason why. To simply declare to the world, “I am because I’ve always been and will always be,” is childish and immature. This individual had disregarded that to be human one must grow and continuously be enlightened. Without continuously questioning ourselves first, how can we declare our-selves the cultural man, the Politian, the religious man, or anything? True nature can only be discovered through questioning cultures, government, religions and most important our-selves. He/she who allows society to influence him/her self will never discover his/her true self. It is a habit that must be done and has been done by some of the world’s most influential minds.
Throughout history many great sinners and rebels have made a great change to society; ironically they are not called rebels today but philanthropists, heroes, and prophets. They gain these titles not due to conforming into what society claimed as right. And by doing so they had changed the world. For example, Leonardo Di Vinci ignored the church’s opinion in studying the human anatomy and continued his work, disregarding the consequences that would follow if he was caught. Leonardo followed what he believed was not right but followed his true nature, as a curious man. He continued his work and followed his curiosity by sketching a human’s heart, fetus, vascular system, and much more. He accepted his true nature and disregarded social opinion and by doing so he pushed society forward and made major contributions in the medical field. No longer is he known as a singer but as a philanthropist. So what are rebels? Parliament declared John Lock, George Washington, and Franking rebels; they are now declared heroes. They questioned Parliament and refused to accept what it stated as right and instead followed their true nature as free thinking men. Jesus Christ was crucified because he went against what religious men believed in. He taught what he genuinely believed was right. In Henry David Thoreau’s essay, Civil Disobedience, he questions society’s religion and government capability to judge an honest man from a wicked man, “Why does it always crucify Christ, and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?” (Thoreau 97). It seems society has not fully grasp a conscience mind to declare what is right from wrong. Therefore an individual has no one else to look but within; just as Leonardo De Vinci, John Lock, Washington, and Jesus Christ did. And in doing so only then can an individual actually experience true freedom.
An individual is constantly seeking ways to obtain a sense of freedom from the world and so an individual dwells into the unfamiliar world in search of knowledge and freedom; an individual, not only seeks physical freedom but a spiritually and mental freedom. Just as an individual imprisoned in a cell for life can no longer enjoy physical freedom, he/she can still experience a spiritual and or mental freedom. Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “so far as a man thinks, he is free” (Emerson 177). If the mind of an individual can venture from traditional thoughts and into outside thoughts; the individual discovers buried thoughts of treasure, undiscovered ideas and freedom. An individual with the capability to think is freer than he/she can truly understand. I once was young and was curious of what knowledge the world had to offer; I hungered for knowledge. I discovered and entered a world that I believed gave knowledge and hoped would also give me freedom. Society referred to these individuals as pot smokers. However, at the time, I referred to them as enlightened free spirits. So I entered there world, soon to be enlightened with teachings, I would soon teach to others. I entered this world just as Henry David Thoreau entered the woods: “see if I could learn what I had to teach, and not, when I come to die, discover that I had not lived” (Thoreau 8). I entered the world to see what it had to teach, hoping it would show me the true essentials of what is needed in life. I entered hoping it would free me from needless wants and empty desires. I hoped, in the end, I would discover higher knowledge and true freedom. Sadly, I gained no freedom; I was instead confused rather than free, I felt imprisoned, shackled to the substance, imprisoned in false enlightenment and given a temporary sensation of freedom. I left to see what other source could provide me with true enlightenment and permanent freedom. I left just as Henry David Thoreau left the woods. “I left the woods for as a good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one” (Thoreau 9). I did gain knowledge from their world but as a living soul I had to see what else was out there.
The soul must move and forever move for it is not a dead corpse. It must live and live with motion. An individual must venture off into the unexpected world and uncover knowledge. If an individual simply lived one lifestyle and viewed the world through one perspective, he/she must be a dead corpse. And like a dead corpse, the body will no longer move. One must move and see the sunrise from a sea, mountain, desert, rainforest, and everywhere in the middle. One should not grow comfort in standing still. Henry David Thoreau explains, “Perhaps if I had lived there much longer, I might live there forever” (Thoreau 9). I have escaped many things before I became comfortably trapped with many lifestyles and once more I venture into the world with freedom, learning from those willing to teach and from myself. In order for an individual to live a life worth teaching, he/she must have some knowledge worth listening to, right? Some wonder where is knowledge gained and how does one realize he/she has gained it? Knowledge is simply gained through living more than the one lifestyle. He/she must see to it that it is not spent living only in what he/she already knows. An individual must not only venture inside their minds, but he/she must also explore the world he/she is constantly walking. He/she must interact with life’s teaching and not fear mistakes or errors. One must acknowledgment their errors and mistakes and not allow them to hold them back from living a life of self-reliance. For the mistakes and errors in an individual, are the reason human beings mature and gain knowledge. So embrace errors as your teacher and not a part of history that needs to be erased. Embracing them, one is now more enlightened and this can only lead to being more self-reliant. But denying them, will one than begin to rely on others and so starts ones slow self-suicide. Emerson said, “The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency…..why drag about this corpse of your memory?” (Emerson 177). As human beings are known to naturally be flawed and make mistakes, an individual is also responsible so that he/she must learn from his/her mistakes. The individual must also see that he teaches his/her lessons to the world. And not fear being misunderstood.
Regardless of being misunderstood and declared wrong, an individual must rely in inner knowledge, original genius, and private opinion. A transcendentalist does not rely in government for guidance or in society’s opinions in personal affairs. Instead he/she relies on what they believe right. It is important in transcendentalism to believe in ones genius. Emerson gives an explanation of one’s opinion and genius, “Is it so bad to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood” (Emerson 20). Being wrong does not provide the universe with a useless opinion; an individual’s opinion, questions society’s constitution that lead to spiritual revelation. As this enlightenment spreads, society as a whole begins to change. Even the smallest possible sign of unconformity and resistance against what is considered right awakens society’s conscience. Even the smallest of rebellion and disobedience is a good start for society to move forward. Due to a shared perspective, it may spark an individual to look into a different perspective that may later cause an uprising. As Henry David Thoreau explains, “For it does not matter how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever” (Thoreau 99). Society cannot move forward without the individual sharing his/her private opinions and expressing every opinion that dwells in his/her heart. I have taken every opportunity to speak my truth, not fearing judgment or the possibility of being misunderstood. It I truly believe in it, I proudly will not change it. My private opinion is what allows me to escape from society and into freedom.
A transcendentalist, regardless of judgment, believes the truth that dwells within the heart is also righteous, not only for an individual, but for mankind. Therefore an individual must refuse allegiance to what he/she refers and believe to be the wrong doers, as well as refuse the smallest possible form of support to the improvement of what is believed wrong. I was asked a question once: How can one improve abandoning babies. The question specifically stated that I had to provide an improvement and not simply answer: babies should not be abandoned or anything of that matter. I simply could not support the idea and improve its fashion of abandoning babies. The question did in fact leave thinking and questioning my own convictions. I asked myself, do I lend myself to the wrong and answer it or ignore it. Henry David Thoreau explains one should not contribute to what the individual believes is wrong, he states, “What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn” (Thoreau 97). So in result, I decided not to answer the question, but I could not leave it unanswered and blank. So I responded by explaining why I could not answer it. I stated that abandoning babies is wrong and explained the wrong in abandoning them; I explained, by simply permitting as well as improving this action allow humans, specifically teenagers, to continue childish and irresponsible acts that allow the possibility of future careless sex. My answer was indeed right and the question was wrong through the eyes of a philanthropist. I would rather be convicted wrong than give up my convictions. But what is wrong from right? Emerson gives a good explanation on the subject that can enlighten the matter, “No law can be sacred to me but that of my capture. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution; the only wrong what is against it” (Emerson 14). The question went against all that I believe in being righteous and divine; I could not allow my answer to contribute to this machine of injustice human acts. The question went against my constitution; therefore, I answered it in my fashion and not in the fashion that fir the questionnaire. By refusing to answer with a relevant answer and instead expressing my beliefs, I felt a sense of freedom. The freedom of expressing inner thoughts, regardless of whether I am right or wrong. I would rather do everything wrong and feel freedom against my face than be right and feel shackled with what is wrong. Not every individual can be right but must also be wrong in any kinds of fashion. Just like every transcendentalist cannot entirely base his life perspective through transcendentalism.
Some may claim me non-transcendentalist in not answering the question and not being able to think beyond my boundary, as well as not exercising my freedom to think. I cannot support the idea of abandoning babies or any idea that I know is wrong. I have, as I have explained, an own opinion. How far does a transcendentalist go to obtain experience and enlightenment? Must I experience murder, treason, or anything of that fashion in order to obtain more knowledge and enlightenment? I cannot do everything right when in the perspective as a transcendentalist. My opinion may not always be accepted and considered right in the eyes of society or to other transcendentalist, but if I did everything as one, wouldn’t that defy the purpose of being a transcendentalist? The very purpose, states an individual must discover his/her true nature, never allowing to be influenced by society’s opinion, even transcendentalism itself. I must find my reason of my actions and possibly my definition of a transcendentalist, as Henry David Thoreau says, “Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion” (Thoreau 117). I may even declare myself a non-transcendentalist, but does it truly matter if I do everything in my power to do right by transcendentalist’s fashion? Just as much as I have the power to do anything or everything right, I also have the power do everything wrong. As Henry David Thoreau explains that not every man can do everything right, he says, “A man has not everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do everything, it is necessary that he should do something wrong” (Thoreau 98). Perhaps one day my opinion will change, and I will give an opinion in how to improve the action of abandoning babies, although until then, I gladly stand by my convictions and wait to be enlightened. Possibly, instead, I will enlighten myself and see how immature and ignorant I was, but until than I must defend what I believe today and for whatever new idea I believe tomorrow. I will re-write my work and my beliefs just as Henry David Thoreau did. Some claim he himself was not entirely a transcendentalist.
A transcendentalist sees to it that he is one with his neighbor and believes that the state should respect an individual if it was his very own. Transcendentalists believe that every man, is to be respected regardless of being misunderstood. It believes that if a system would become evil, it would be a peaceful revolution that would be taken into action, not a violent one. Just as Henry David Thoreau believed in simply civilized disobedience, he says, “All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government” (Thoreau 92). So would a transcendentalist, during the abolitionary movement, ally him/herself with James Brown, commit murderous crimes, and promote the idea? A transcendentalist is one with nature, one with himself, and one with solitude. Henry D. Thoreau ignored his beliefs during the abolitionary movement of peaceful revolt and approved, even promoted, John Brown’s violent methods. John Brown’s method were sadly violence and murder. This was his perspective and his ideal way to cease slavery from the United States. Although many recognize Henry David Thoreau for his essay, “Civil Disobedience,” a transcendentalist’s ideals of a peaceful revolution, he would himself support those who committed violent crimes, such as James Brown. Editor Joseph Wood Krutch explains, “to this day students of Thoreau differ widely as possible over the question whether his championship of John Brown was a betrayal of his principles…of his faith in nonviolent methods” (Krutch 18). Thoreau was an intelligent individual. Thoreau knew the difference between a violent and peaceful revolutionist. He had the capability to differentiate between them. John Brown, a violent rebel who would murder those who did not agree with his opinion was compared by Henry David Thoreau to Jesus Christ. Henry David Thoreau says, “Some 1800 years ago, Christ was crucifies; this morning, perchance, Captain Brown was hanged” (Thoreau 18). Any individual would know that Jesus Christ himself did not change the world with violence but instead in a peaceful fashion. Henry David Thoreau did not look entirely in the transcendentalist perspective, just as I did not look into the perspective that a child should be abandoned. So in conclusion, a transcendentalist must eventually peruse his/her own opinions and path, disregarding what is expected of him/her. Transcendentalism is but a tool used by an individual in his/her own liking and fashion. It is used to better understand and accept ones true nature and genius. A teaching in which encourages an individuals’ desired to gain knowledge and eventually peruses other affairs with a sense of self-reliance.
I have discovered transcendentalism and practiced the art of it in every perspective of life and in doing so. I have gained freedom, enlightenment, and truth. I have separated my convictions from institutions, separated private opinion from society, without fear of being misunderstood, and I now rely on myself. I am not in fear of being labeled wrong. I know within that I shall not lend myself to whatever goes against my constitution. I have spent my days in the solitude of my mind, never conforming to any lifestyles that society offers. And in the dark solitude of my mind, I have discovered a divine truth of freedom that now illuminates my world. I am happy with having discovered my truth of freedom, my true opinion, and my true nature. As Thoreau states, “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth” (Thoreau 90). I want nothing more than the truth or rather my truth and the truth is, I am no transcendentalism, for becoming one, I believe, defies the very purpose of nonconformity and discovering his/her true self. I am no transcendentalist or anything else others may now me as for I am, in the end, Francisco Dosal.
Emerson, W. Ralph. The Spiritual Emerson. New York: Penguin Group, 2008. Print.
Thoreau, D. Henry. Walden and Other Writers. New York: Bantam Classic reissue, 2004. Print.
Krutch W. Joseph. Walden and Other Writers. New York: Bantam Classic reissue, 2004. Print.