Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Thoreau and Nanak: If you wanna walk ...

Commonalities often run through messages of great thinkers. To appeal to our nobler aspirations and point us towards the higher ground, they often use metaphors or an actual site to simulate the higher ground. Continuing the conversation from the previous post, a case in point is Nanak's and Thoreau's metaphorical and literal use of the concepts of walking and path, and of the price of admission for this journey.
Nanak says:
jau qau pRym Kylx kw cwau ] isru Dir qlI glI myrI Awau ] iequ mwrig pYru DrIjY ] isru dIjY kwix n kIjY ]20]

If you desire to play the game of love (for all), then come to me with your head on your palm. To step on this path entails a readiness to give your head without any hesitation. (SGGS pg 1410)
Thoreau's concept of walking reflects this spirit. In his book, Walking, Thoreau writes:
We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return -- prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again--if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man--then you are ready for a walk.
Whereas Nanak used the words street, path, and steps in a metaphorical sense, Thoreau used walking in the literal sense. However, there is a strong overlap between the two messages. Both address the walker's conception of walking, of what it means to walk (on a path) and what it takes to walk (on that path). The message is about the price one should be willing to pay for the walk, about the knowledge of what it takes to walk that walk, and about the willingness to pay the price.
The mood in both is contemplative, that of absorption and meditation, of being completely immersed in the activity. The path is one that leads to higher ground. And the price for admission to this trail is high: readiness to give up life (in Nanak's case) and family + friends (in Thoreau's case).
A high cost for the higher ground.

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