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October Quotes: (A Buddhist?) Walt Whitman on a Spiritual America

october_quotes_spiritual_america.jpgby Ethan Nichtern

An October Quote to start the month.

Question Number One: What does a Spiritual America look like, and is there a difference between “spiritual” and “religious?”


Question Number Two: Was Walt Whitman America’s First Buddhist? Or just a spiritual revolutionary?

“Intense and loving comradeship, the personal
attachment of [hu]man to [hu]man–which, hard to define, underlies the lessons
and ideals of the profound saviors of every land and age, and which seems to
promise, when thoroughly develop’d, cultivated and recognised in manners and
literature, the most substantial hope and safety of the future of these States,
will then be fully express’d.
It is to the development, identification, and
general prevalence of that fervid comradeship…that I look for the counterbalance
and offset of our materialistic and vulgar American democracy, and the
spiritualization thereof.


Many will say it is a dream, and will not follow my
inferences: but I confidently expect a time when there will be seen, running
like a half-hid warp though all the myriad audible and visible worldly
interests of America, threads of [hu]manly friendship, fond and loving, pure
and sweet, strong and life-long, carried to degrees hitherto unknown–not only
giving tone to individual character, and making it unprecedentedly emotional,
muscular, heroic, and refined, but having the deepest relationship to general
politics. I say democracy infers such loving comradeship, as its most
inevitable twin or counterpart, without which it will be incomplete, in vain,
and incapable of perpetuating itself.

-Walt Whitman

Vistas, 1871

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Matt Jones

posted October 1, 2009 at 10:25 am

A thought I keep having, as related to this as it is to any other post:
Is not our goal to accept people on their terms, for who they think they are, etc. / and to participate in life (live life) the way we think best suits us?
I think about changing minds a lot. A recent startling conversation I’ve had involved whether or not prospective parents will spank (read: hit) their children. Many responses were “of course, I was spanked and I’m OK” or “yes, putting the muscle memory of something being bad is very important: — coming from friends I shared many commonalities with (non-religious but spiritual with a Buddhist slant, politically liberal, artistic, well read, etc.) and it was utterly shocking. In my response I was reactionary and told them how that I’d assumed we were progressive enough to realize that corporeal punishment wasn’t acceptable, ever, and especially on children. Every time I got this response: that’s how I feel, you aren’t going to change my mind.
And it’s true, I can’t change anyone’s mind but my own. Their minds are theirs for the changing. As my girlfriend later said “are you going to become an anti-spanking crusader?” and I said that I wouldn’t but I would live my life and do my best and maybe that’s enough to help people change their own minds about such things.
Two days after the initial spanking argu-discussion the pro-spanking friend IM’d me and said that he’d come around to thinking that spanking was wrong, was reminded of a situation where his father disciplined his sister with love and kindness in a situation he’d normally have spanked her and the affect it had on their relationship. He said he’d like to think he’d never spank his child and that he could handle a disciplinary situation with (stern) compassion and love.
If I hadn’t made a stink about it would this friend have come to see that hitting children (even when the word used is “spank”) is wrong? I don’t know. It’s a balancing act. It seems that sometimes one needs to put a little more out to get one’s opinions heard and knowing when to do that is important.
Another thought: if everyone was a practicing Buddhist the world would be an entirely different place and I often think of a Spiritual 1984. Does that make sense? The world needs to be the way it is to allow Buddhism to be so beautiful.
Peace and love,

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Anan E. Maus

posted October 2, 2009 at 10:42 am

Walt Whitman was indeed a spiritual giant.
In addition to his poetry, folks should take some time to read his writings about being a nurse during the Civil War. Some of the most beautiful language I have ever read, anywhere.
Here is a link to praise of Walt Whitman by the Indian saint Sri Chinmoy:
(In 2007, Sri Chinmoy was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev)

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Neil Richardson

posted October 30, 2009 at 4:01 pm

I have been researching and teaching a meditation that Whitman practiced and described in one of his unpublished manuscripts. It was probably more similar in nature to mindfulness meditation than to an actual traditional Buddhist practice but he likely developed the practice from reading/talking to Emerson (who did not meditate in any kind of traditional sense). There is also little doubt that an epiphany he experienced when he was 33 years old gave him deep, if temporary insight. Vedanta ideas were also influences in his writing…that described the impermanence of what we can see and feel right now. Even though these sense experiences were “maya” or illusion he urged readers to explore all the varieties of experiences.

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posted September 6, 2014 at 10:18 am

I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this
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