What did Eddy say about Eastern thought systems?
We are sometimes asked if Mary Baker Eddy studied and/or commented on Hinduism, Buddhism, or other Eastern religions and philosophies.
Widespread familiarity with traditions originating in the Indian subcontinent (sometimes called Dharmic religions) was only beginning in the United States during Eddy’s lifetime. But she did refer occasionally to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christian Science.1
On October 26, 1884, Eddy gave a sermon at Hawthorne Hall in Boston, on the text “Ye do err, not knowing the scripture, or the power of God” (see Matt. 22:29). The summary included a statement that might refer to a broad spectrum of both Eastern and Western thought:
The distinguished speaker began by saying that within Bible pages she had found all the divine science she preaches, noticing all along the way of her researches therein that whenever her thoughts had wandered into the by-paths of ancient philosophies or pagan literatures, her spiritual insight had been darkened thereby, till she was God-driven back to the inspired pages.2
Eddy approved an editorial published in The Christian Science Weekly of September 29, 1898, which strongly criticized the claim that Christian Science was “Hindu philosophy under a Western name.” It was made by Pundita Ramabai, an Indian convert to Christianity from Hinduism who was lecturing in the United States.3
Although Eddy rarely mentioned other Dharmic traditions outside of Hinduism, she referred to Buddhism in a July 1893 letter to her student Margaret Easton:
The true sense they entertain of humanity is the best part of [Buddhism]. And the sense of taking no thought for what we shall eat or drink, is [Christ]-like, for Jesus taught it. This therefore is far from self mesmerism, rather is it a native Christianity which presages science a denial of personal life and sensation that admits the existence of Being where it is, namely, in God not man, in Spirit not matter, in Soul not sense.4
Eddy also stated in an undated manuscript, “I never read a work on Buddhism, Theosophy, Pantheism or Occultism in my life and never intend to read one.”5 In a 1906 letter to Rev. Frank N. Riale, she wrote, “The doctrine of Buddha, which rests on a heathen basis for its Nirvana, represents not the divinity of Christian Science …. Think not that Christian Science tends toward Buddhism or any other ‘ism.’”6
Eddy noted in her Message to The Mother Church for 1902, “It is cause for joy that among the educated classes Buddhism and Shintoism are said to be regarded now more as a philosophy than as a religion.”7
It has been suggested that Eddy studied and/or was influenced by Hinduism, having cited a few passages from Hindu scriptures that appeared in the 16th (1886) through 49th editions of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. This is not correct. Together with many other quotations from various sources, these were probably added by Reverend James Henry Wiggin, a retired Unitarian minister who served from 1885 to 1891 as her copyeditor and proofreader.8 She removed these passages in the 50th edition (1891), when she also discarded many of Wiggin’s other edits.9
In an undated manuscript, Eddy wrote:
The [Hindu] prophet or [Yogis] will tell you that matter is illusion and then interpret his philosophy and religion through matter alias illusion. Looking into this thing our Master asked “Do men gather grapes of thorns”? Can men make illusion profitable or demonstrate Truth by error? The [Hindu] prophet avers that brain matter is the channel for intelligence therefore matter must maintain the intercommunion between his Deity and the [Hindu] adept. His hypotheses demand that we look inwardly for all enlightenment. But Christian Science demands as did St. Paul’s Christianity that we look outwardly to God for divine power and away from human consciousness. St. Paul argues against introspection whereby to work out the salvation of men and says to be absent from the body is to be present with God.10
Historian Stephen Gottschalk shared this in his 2006 book Rolling Away the Stone: Mary Baker Eddy’s Challenge to Materialism:
Through the 1890s and beyond, clergy critical of Christian Science repeatedly hammered it as a form of pantheism that had more affinities with Hinduism than legitimate Christianity. “Mrs. Eddy,” stated the Presbyterian minister William P. McCorkle in his book Christian Science, or The False Christ of 1866, “in every important particular, teaches precisely what has been taught for ages by the Hindu philosophy. That system is pantheistic.” Indeed, so common had this accusation become that in her message to the Mother Church for 1898, Eddy felt obliged to dwell on the topic “Not Pantheism, but Christian Science,” which became a booklet entitled Christian Science versus Pantheism.11
First delivered as a message to The Mother Church at the end of the Communion service on June 5, 1898, the address was read by First Reader Judge Septimus J. Hanna.12 After its delivery, Eddy decided it should not be republished in The Christian Science Journal. Instead she wished to make some edits and publish it as a pamphlet, which was issued in September 1898.13
- Christian Science is based on the Bible, especially the teachings of Jesus Christ. See, for example, Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (Boston: The Christian Science Board of Directors), 523: 22–12. For more historical information see “Hinduism in America,” by Amanda Lucia from the Oxford Research Encyclopedia, https://oxfordre.com/religion/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.001.0001/acrefore-9780199340378-e-436 and “Buddhism in America,” by Jeff Wilson from the Oxford Research Encyclopedia, https://oxfordre.com/americanhistory/display/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.001.0001/acrefore-9780199329175-e-320
- Eddy, “Sermon,” Journal of Christian Science, 1 November 1884, 1. This article was later revised and republished in Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, 168–171.
- “Editorial,” The Christian Science Weekly, 29 September 1898, 4–5.
- Mary Baker Eddy to Margaret E. Easton, 2 July 1893, L04690.
- Eddy, “Mrs. E’s History,” n.d., A11025.
- Eddy to Frank N. Riale, 17 September 1906, L14293. This was later reprinted as “Letter to a Clergyman” in Eddy’s book The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany (Boston: The Christian Science Board of Directors), 118–120.
- Eddy, Message to The Mother Church for 1902 (Boston: The Christian Science Board of Directors), 3.
- For more information, see From the Papers: A major revision of Science and Health.
- See Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1971), 205–208.
- Eddy, “Religions and Christian Science,” n.d., A10398, 3–5.
- Stephen Gottschalk, Rolling Away the Stone (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 142.
- See “Communion of Christian Scientists,” The Christian Science Journal, July 1898, 269–271.
- Eddy to Septimus J. Hanna, 10 June 1898, L05223. See also “New Pamphlet,” Christian Science Sentinel, 29 September 1898, 7.