The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

June 12, 2013

June 12, 1928

Maurice Bloomfield (February 23, 1855 to June 12, 1928) left Poland as a youth. and came to the United States. 

His interest in Sanskrit led to a position as professor at John Hopkins in 1881. His fame grew from his work on the Vedas. He translated Hymns of the Atharva-Veda (1897); He edited the Kauika-Sutra (1890). In 1905 he published Cerberus, the Dog of Hades, a study in comparative mythology. In 1907 he published A Vedic Concordance. The Religion of the Veda appeared in 1908. These are some of the titles in his bibliography. 

Our interest now is in a paper in which Bloomfield addresses the subject of Hindu fiction in a paper read to the American Philosophical Society on April 13, 1916. Lions come up, and Indra, a god who could change forms, like become a tiger, to purse the wives of mortal men. Let us excerpt parts of the paper. It is fascinating. (I changed some formatting for clarity).

The article discusses supernatural powers listed in Patanjali's "The Yoga Sutras."

The yoga philosophy teaches, on the way to ultimate salvation, many ascetic practices which confer supernatural powers....[These powers] cover a large part of all imaginable magic arts or tricks as we would call them;

knowledge of the past and future;

knowledge of the cries of all living beings (animal language)

knowledge of previous births;


indiscernability of the Yogin's body;

knowledge of the time of one's death

knowledge of the subtle and the concealed and the obscure

knowledge of the cosmic spaces;

the arrangement and movements of the stars;

cessation of hunger and thirst;


the sight of the supernatural Siddhas roving in the spaces between heaven and earth;

discernment of all;

knowledge of one's own mind mind-stuff and of self;

supernatural sense of hearing, feeling, sight, taste and smell;

penetration of one's mind-stuff into the body of another;

non-adherence of water, mud, thorns, etc;

levitation (floating in the air);

subjugation of the elements;

perfection of the body;

subjugation of the organs;

authority over all states of existence;


and, finally, as a result of passionlessness or disregard of all these perfections, the isolation or concentration that leads up to the final emancipation or salvation...

These are the points of a man who is himself in love with glimpses of a transcendent reality. His were not welcome sentiments though in an academe which prized Herbert Spencer, even 100 years ago. I stick with my contention, for Bloomfield goes on to point out --

...Yoga does not over-estimate these powers they are all considered ephemeral, or 
unimportant, or even contemptible. They are merely a progressive course toward the final goal of emancipation. Buddhist writings state repeatedly that they do not lead to perfection....

Bloomfield's words above suggest a sophisticated assessment of a religious path. He knows the significant things to stress. In the end though, Bloomfield bows to conventional platitudes, and says of those Yogic powers he enumerates at the top of our excerpt:

It is easy to foresee that both folklore and sophisticated narrative would simply jump at such tenets and build on their foundation fantastic structures. Nothing is impossible where....every sobering empirical experience ...[has] been undermined by such a travesty upon scientific thought.

I think he was like a kid peering into the window of a candy shop. 

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