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 reading. 

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. 


A 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: 

Pride is a sense of worth derived from something that is not organically part of us, while self-esteem derives from the potentialities and achievements of the self. We are proud when we identify with an imaginary self, a leader, a holy cause, a collective body or possessions. There is fear an intolerance in pride; it is insensitive and uncompromising. The less promise and potency in the self, the more imperative is the need for pride. The core of pride is self-rejection. 

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 of it. 


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.

Mail This Link