Walden and the Art of Zen. Speaks of Henry David Thoreau

Essay by Joe2University, Master'sA+, February 1996

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If I were asked who my favourite Western Zen philosopher was, without any

hesitation, I would declare it to be Henry David Thoreau. Although he knew in translation

the religious writings of the Hindus, it may be unlikely that Henry David Thoreau ever

studied the teachings of the Zen Masters. Even then, the insight within his own personal

writings would irrefutably make him master of his own temple. The wisdom found within

Thoreau's Walden can be clarified through Zen Buddhist beliefs and ideas as the two seem

to typically compliment each other.

Where, you might ask, does religion fit into the travelling adventures of Henry

David Thoreau? Religion has been a part of the literary tradition from the very start.

Some of the first books ever produced were handwritten copies of the Bible. Pamphlets,

poems, odes, and epics throughout the centuries have continued to reflect religious

content. I have also read insightful essays about the hidden Christian Symbolism in A.


Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh. Well, why not the presence of Zen Buddhism within the

teachings of Thoreau's Walden? In accordance with the history of literature, one might

say 'Why not?'; in accordance with Walden's content, I would say, 'I couldn't see it

being any other way.'

What is Zen Buddhism anyway? In the book Zen Buddhism, D.T. Suzuki says that

'Zen in its essence is the art of seeing into the nature of one's own being, and it points the

way from bondage into freedom' (3). In the theory of Zen, our bodies contain a spiritual

form of energy. When this energy is consciously tapped, we will be aware of all the

underlying impulses and desires of our heart. This 'freedom' will cause us to experience

Kensho, (seeing into one's own nature), thus becoming happier and more loving to those...