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8 The Limits of Human Nature in Yoga and Transpersonal Psychology Views of the limits and perfectibility of human nature differ fundamentally between much of Eastern and Western thought.This fact is especially evident when the Yoga psychologies of the East are compared with the transpersonal psychologies of the West. Transpersonal psychologists, such as Carl Jung, are greatly drawn to Yoga psychology and influenced by it, as we have shown in chapters 6 and 7. Yet even they draw a clear line beyond which they will not go, namely, the Yoga claim that human nature is not finite, that its ego limitations can be transcended to the point of perfection. In Jung’s view, as we saw in the previous chapter, it is simply not psychologically possible to dispense with the knowing ego, as Yoga claims to do. Total overcoming of the ego would result not in omniscience —the Yoga claim—but in a state of unconsciousness, since there would not be an ego to experience anything. In drawing this firm line against the Yoga claims of the perfectibility or limitlessness of human nature, Jung is paralleling Kant’s claim that, in terms of epistemology, human nature is finite—it can never know “the thing itself”— and the theological claim of Christianity that human nature is fatally flawed.1 While these conflicting assessments of the perfectibility of human nature await a definitive study, a number of recent books have begun to lay the groundwork for a solution. The opportunity for Western scholars to understand the Yoga claims is advanced by the availability in English translation of Jean Varenne’s Yoga and the Hindu Tradition.2 While the translation of Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras has been available in English for many years, it is set in the esoteric conventions of aphorisms and commentaries that characterized the scholarly style of early classical India. Consequently it is difficult for the modern mind to appropriate. Eliade opened it to the West in his 1954 Le Yoga: lmmortalité et Liberté (translated by Willard Trask and published in 1958 as Yoga: Immortality and Freedom). While he gives much helpful clarification of esoteric terms and practices, Eliade concludes his study by observing that, when it comes to the Yoga ideal of a perfected state (the jīvan-mukta) in which no personal consciousness exists but only omniscient awareness, “We shall not attempt to 83 describe this paradoxical condition; indeed, since it is obtained by ‘death’ to the human condition and rebirth to a transcendent mode of being, it cannot be reduced to our categories.”3 Like Eliade, Varenne finds the texts describing the perfected Yogi to be paradoxical . Although the individual ego-personality is claimed to have been transcended, the Yogi does not vanish, as the Yoga Sūtras and other such texts logically suggest should happen. To continue with a physical body and all its sensory and cognitive limitations does not square with the claims of omniscience, and omnipresence that we find in the Yoga Sūtras. The usual response to this paradox in the Yoga texts is that while there is no necessity for the perfected yogi to retain a body, he or she does so only for the purpose of helping others, such as students, reach that same perfected state—the goal of all religion, philosophy, and psychology. As jīvan-mukti, or “living liberation,” is a unique idea in Hindu thought, let us take a moment to examine it in more detail. The jīvan-mukti tradition has a long and highly respected parentage. From Śan .kara (c. 700 CE) to contemporary scholars (e.g., Sarvepali Radhakrishnan) and saints (e.g., Ramana Maharshi or Sri Aurobindo) varying interpretations of the idea are found. In his authoritative studies, Andrew Fort finds that while most agree that salvation or release can be realized in this life, there is no consensus on exactly what one is liberated from or to.4 Fort notes, “In addition to disputes about the possibility of embodied liberation, there are differing views on the types, degrees, or stages of liberation, some attainable in the body and some not.”5 One thing is common, however, namely that all experiences of ego-sense must be transcended for the realization of the jīvan-mukti state. This is where the jīvan-mukti idea connects with the discussion of this chapter over the very possibility of an egoless state. Western thought rejects the idea of egolessness, whereas the Yoga psychology of...


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