Mircea Eliade on Spirit, Suffering and Yoga


In researching this present series on Patañjali I’ve been utilizing numerous resources. By far the most profound is Mircea Eliade’s Yoga, Immortality and Freedom. I feel it indispensable to reproduce in full the following section from his text as it sheds light on our most recent blog, “Divorced from the Cross of Matter.” Eliade is shedding light on the Nature of Spirit (as noted within Saṃkhya-Yoga) and its interesting how one could draw parallels within the scope of Unborn Mind Zen:

From all eternity, Spirit has found itself drawn into this illusory relation with psychomental life (that is, with “matter”). This is owing to ignorance (avidyā), and as long as avidyā persists, existence is present (by virtue of karma), and with it suffering. Let us dwell on this point a little. Illusion or ignorance consists in confusing the motionless and eternal puruṣa with the flux of psychomental life. To say “I suffer,” “I want,” “I hate,” “I know,” and to think that this refers to Spirit, is to live in illusion and prolong it; for all our acts and intentions, by the simple fact that they are dependent upon prakti, upon “matter”, are conditioned and governed by karma. This means that every action whose point of departure is illusion (that is, which is based on ignorance, the confusion between Spirit and non-Spirit) is either the consummation of a virtuality created by a preceding act or the projection of another force that in turn demand its actualization, its consummation, in the present existence or in an existence to come. When one sets up the equation, “I want”=”Spirit wants,” either a certain force is set in motion or another force has been fertilized. For the confusion that this equation expresses is a “moment” in the eternal circuit of cosmic energies.

This is the law of existence; like every law, it is transsubjective, but its validity and universality are at the origin of the suffering by which existence is troubled. There is but one way to gain salvation—adequate knowledge (gnosis) of Spirit (emphasis mine). Saṃkhya only prolongs the tradition of the Upanishads: He who knows the ātman (Self) crosses over [the ocean of suffering]. “Through knowledge, liberation; through ignorance, bondage.” And the first stage of the conquest of this “knowledge” consists of one thing, in denying that Spirit has attributes—which is equivalent to denying suffering as something that concerns us, to regarding it as an objective fact, outside of Spirit, that is to say, without value and meaning (since all “values” and all “Meanings” are created by intelligence in so far as it reflects purua). Pain exists only to the extent to which experience is referred to the human personality regarded as identical with purua, with the Self. But since this relation is illusory, it can easily be abolished. When purua is known, values are annulled; pain is no longer either pain or nonpain, but a simple fact; a fact that, while it preserves its sensory structure, loses its value, loses its meaning. This point should be thoroughly understood, for it is of capital importance in Sāṃkhya and Yoga and, in our opinion, has not been sufficiently emphasized. In order to deliver us from suffering, Sāṃkhya and Yoga deny suffering as such, thus doing away with all relation between suffering and the Self. From the moment we understand that the Self is free, eternal, and inactive, whatever happens to us—sufferings, feelings, volitions, thoughts, and so on—no longer belongs to us. All such things constitute a body of cosmic facts, which are conditioned by laws, and are certainly real, but whose reality has nothing in common with our purua. Suffering is a cosmic fact, and man undergoes that fact, or contributes to its perpetuation, solely in so far as he allows himself to be seduced by an illusion (pg 27-28).

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2 Responses to Mircea Eliade on Spirit, Suffering and Yoga

  1. Neti-Neti Yeti says:

    It is a joy to read eclectic sources and comprehensive vantage points as revealed on this blog. Even when differences among doctrines emerge, when viewed with accepting discernment, they can be very provocative and helpful toward maintaining a flexible posture toward the mystical.

    • Vajragoni says:

      Thank-you for the kind comment

      Concerning this one, Mircea Eliade certainly had the knack for covering much diverse territory, but was always able to connect them all with a silvery-mystic thread; it is as if he’s writing with a pluralistic muse in his ear.

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