The Gita within Walden

By Paul Friedrich

Subjects: Religion, Literature, American Literature, American Studies, Comparative Literature, India And South Asian Studies
Paperback : 9780791476185, 174 pages, July 2009
Hardcover : 9780791476178, 174 pages, November 2008

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Table of contents



1. “God”

2.Historical Retrospect

The Unique Individual Creates Scripture
Complex Origins
History of the Gita Connection


3. The Case for Shared Absolutes

4. Life Symbols That Essentialize

The Upside-Down Tree
The Field (kshetra)/“The Bean-Field”
Eye and Light

5. Social and Ethical Absolutes



6. Purity

7. Reality and Being

Body (Self/Spirit)
Matter and the Levels of Spirit
Essence and Tropology: Synecdoche and the Punch of Cumulative, Climactic, Terminal Metaphor
Denial of Opposites (dvandva-moha-nir-mukta)
Liberation from Delusion
The Infinitudes, Especially of Time


8. Three Ways to God

Preamble: Yoga
Work (karma)
Faith (s´raddaha)/Loving Devotion (bhakti)


9. The Gita within Walden Expanded: A Poetics for Activism

Gita, Gandhi, Walden, King: The Making of a Political Classic


Looks at the connections between Thoreau’s Walden and the work that influenced it, the Bhagavad-Gita.


This book explores and interprets the myriad connections between two spiritual classics, Henry David Thoreau's Walden and the Bhagavad-Gita. Evidence shows that Thoreau took the Gita with him when he moved to Walden Pond, and the books have much in common, touching on ultimate ethical and metaphysical questions. Paul Friedrich looks at how each work speaks to fundamental problems of good and evil, self and cosmos, duty and passion, reality and illusion, political engagement and philosophical meditation, sensuous wildness and ascetic devotion. His examination moves through several stages, from an analysis of key symbols, such as the upside-down tree, to an exposition of social, ethical, and metaphysical values, to a consideration of the many sources of these syncretic works. This book should be of lively interest to those concerned with the origins of Indian and American thought, activism, and poetry.

Paul Friedrich is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books, including From Root to Flower and Music in Russian Poetry.


"By attending to the complexity and beauty of Thoreau's argument … and reading through it to a dazzling array of sources that includes the Gita, Friedrich not only illuminates the two books under consideration but also sheds some light for writers and others engaged in seeking to envision a social reality that is not permeated by violence." — Visual Artists Collective

"This is the most comprehensive study to date of Henry David Thoreau's classic in relation to Hindu scripture." — CHOICE

"Friedrich frames his study around the use of metaphors, ideals of conduct, ideas of purity, and personality-based ideas of virtue. More than a book about two books, it is also about two cultures and two authors." — Lalita Pandit, coeditor of Literary India: Comparative Studies in Aesthetics, Colonialism, and Culture