Gnosticism and the Pursuit of the Sacred

  • Joel S. Kahn


In 1925, the year before the publication of the groundbreaking articles on wave mechanics for which he was subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger wrote a memoir titled “Seek for the Road,” which he based, in part, on his readings on Indian religion.1 In it, he described Hinduism as a metaphysical system according to which (1) the cosmos is constituted by a universal being, Brahman (who is not a thinking being but thought itself); (2) the phenomenal world is a mere illusion produced by Brahman’s power (Maya); and (3) the discovery of the difference between true self and the highest self, thereby realizing identity with the Brahman, can be achieved by the practice of Veda (“devout meditation on the sutras”). Schrödinger was an active participant in the debates that took place in the 1920s among most of Europe’s leading physicists (Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and others) over the philosophical and metaphysical implications of the quantum revolution in physics and what several of the participants—among them Schrödinger himself—took to be parallels between the principles of quantum mechanics and those of Eastern philosophy.


Religious Tradition Western Thought Phenomenal World Superstitious Belief Austrian Physicist 
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  1. 2.
    See Alexander Maitland, “An Undeceived Eye: The Adventurous Life of Alexandra David-Neel (1868–1969).” Public lecture given at The Buddhist Society, London. Wednesday, November 6, 2013. Available at: Accessed April 7, 2014.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    See B. L. Chakoo. 1981. Aldous Huxley and Eastern Wisdom. Delhi: Atma Ram and Dana Sawyer. 2002. Aldous Huxley: A Biography. New York: Crossroad.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Many other prominent Western scholars and intellectuals, artists, writers, and musicians clearly fall under the heading, some of whom are discussed more or less extensively, for example, in Mark Sedgwick’s highly critical history of “Traditionalism” Mark Sedgwick. 2004. Against the Modern World. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press; and Harry Oldmeadow’s rather more sympathetic account (Harry Oldmeadow. 2005. Journey’s East: 20th Century Western Encounters with Eastern Religious Traditions. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom). See also Thomas A. Tweed and Stephen Prothero, eds. 1999. Asian Religions in America: A Documentary History. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 6.
    See Steven M. Wasserstrom. 1999. Religion after Religion: Gershom Scholem, Mircea Eliade, and Henry Corbin at Eranos. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; Samuel Moyn. 2005. Origins of the Other: Emmanuel Levinas between Revelation and Ethics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press; and Benjamin Lazier. 2008. God Interrupted: Heresy and the European Imagination between the World War. Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press, among others.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 8.
    The Buddhist Bible (first published in 1932) went on to have a significant impact on the writers of the American Beat Generation (Dwight Goddard. 1930. Buddha’s Golden Path: A Manual of Practical Buddhism Based on the Teachings and Practices of the Zen Sect, and Interpreted and Adapted to Modern Conditions. London: Luzac; Dwight Goddard. 1952. Buddhist Bible. New York: Dutton.Google Scholar

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© Joel S. Kahn 2016

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  • Joel S. Kahn

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