The Passionate State of Mind
Books by Eric Hoffer
Mapping The Mind in The Mode of Passion
Reviewed by Kundali Dasa
Eric Hoffer was one of Americaís wonder men. Because of a
childhood problem with his eyes, he didnít learn to read until age fifteen.
Once he did, he never stopped consuming books. Probably taking more advantage of
public libraries than any other citizen, he became one of the most widely read
men of the last century. Between, trips to the library he worked as a gold
miner, migrant farmer, then for most of his adult life as a longshoreman.
Then in his seventies Hoffer began writing books; works on
sociology and philosophy; a total of eight, and all of them well worth reading.
His style is articulate and accessible, and he holds nothing back in trying to
give substance to his readers. His reader feels under the able guidance of a
keen intelligence. The True Believer, Hofferís first book, a bestseller
in the fifties and in print ever since, is an insight-filled study of the
psychology of the fanatic.
The Passionate State of Mind, Hofferís second book, is a
collection of aphorisms, which is an interesting way to present a book. The
aphorisms are really an extension of the thoughts began in The True Believer,
but rendered in a terse manner, which focuses the reader on the writerís
ideas, with little chance of been diverted or diluted by expository writing;
and, unlike expository writing, aphorisms make for quick and easy repeated
A few samples of his aphorisms:
There is in most passions a shrinking away from
ourselves. The passionate pursuer has all the earmarks of a fugitive.
Passions usually have their roots in that which is blemished, crippled,
incomplete and insecure within us. The passionate attitude is less a response to
stimuli from without than an emanation of an inner dissatisfaction.
2A poignant dissatisfaction, whatever be its cause, is at bottom a dissatisfaction with ourselves. It is surprising how much hardship and humiliation a man will endure without bitterness when he has not the least doubt about his worth or when he is so integrated with others that he is not aware of a separate self.
There is even in the most selfish passion a large
element of self-abnegation. It is startling to realize that what we call extreme
self-seeking is actually self-renunciation. The miser, health addict, glory
chaser, and their like are not far behind the selfless in the exercise of
self-sacrifice. Every extreme attitude is a flight from self.
The passionate state of mind is often indicative of a lack of skill, talent or power. Moreover, passionate intensity can serve as a substitute for the confidence born of proficiency and the possession of power. A working man, sure of his skill goes leisurely about his job, and accomplishes much though he works as if at play. On the other hand, the workingman who is without confidence attacks his work as if he is saving the world, and he must do it if he is to get anything done. . . .
As we can see, there is
much to think about, perhaps leading to a more thorough self-understanding or
insight about what makes others tick. From a Krishna conscious point of view,
what Hoffer has done is explore many aspects of the mind in the mode of passion,
how it functions and why, and the many implications. Itís invaluable and
edifying reading, a feast for reflection worth reading every couple of years.
One can easily mark the pages and refer to favorites quickly.
Naturally, every aphorism
is not of equal merit, but enough of them are. Perhaps 90% or more. In number 35
Hoffer makes us aware of a curious paradox about pride:
It is true that when pride releases energies and serves as a spur to achievement, it can lead to a reconciliation with the self and the attainment of genuine self-esteem.
All told, there are 280 aphorisms spread over 150 pages.
Some run only two lines long, others for half a page or a little more, but never
over a page long. Some of the later ones:
When the weak want to give an impression of
strength they hint meaningfully at their capacity for evil, hint at their
capacity for evil. It is by its promise of a sense of power that evil often
attracts the weak.
128 and 129
Our credulity is greatest concerning the things we know least about. And since we know least about ourselves, we are ready to believe all that is said about us. Hence the mysterious power of flattery and calumny.It is thus with most of us: we are what other people say we are. We know ourselves chiefly by hearsay.
Our impulse to persuade others is strongest when we
have to persuade ourselves. The never wholly successful task of persuading
ourselves of our worth manifests itself in a ceaseless effort to persuade others
The more zeal the less heart. It seems that when we
put all our heart into something, we are left as it were heartless.
Fear and freedom are mutually exclusive.