The Gita within Walden

Book cover for "The Gita within Walden"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. The books have much in common, touching on ultimate ethical and metaphysical questions. Paul William 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. (Review from

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This anguished struggle between action, to fight out of duty, versus the attainment of peace through meditation, also permeates the Gita. How the dilemma and the seeming disjunction were partly resolved by synthesizing a rhetoric of absolutes with the tropes and master symbols of a poetics has been one of the many burdens of the foregoing study.


“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, co-editor of Literary India: Comparative Studies in Aesthetics, Colonialism, and Culture

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“By attending to the complexity and beauty of Thoreau’s argument — a persuasive wandering, as he so clearly understood — 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.” Read more…