The topic "The world is an illusion"
To handle illusions with skill is to penetrate them.
When someone tells the world is an illusion, kindly ask how it can be so, and he and his sayings not, they too. Otherwise, "A little learning is a dangerous thing", as Alexander Pope wrote - dangerous if it misleads us, sloppy if it leads to no good, and so on. In the case of the widely known Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-–1952) and all his teachings would also be part of the world he claims is unreal, illusory, a dream. And if so, what is the value of him and his teachings in the world?
Philosophers have tried to explain such matters from Vedic times and onwards. Nimbarka does well (Bose 1940).
The problem is in part that people understand figurative mentions differently. It is so for metaphors like "life is like a dream" or similes like "life is a dream", and further elaborations on such a theme by figurative speech. If we try to describe the undescribable (God, Brahman), we may be in for problems, although hints may do - and a way to tread in the form of proper instructions and one or several fit meditation techniques. What cannot be explained full well, may still be experienced and adjusted to. Also, the adjustments or alignments to [Indescribable World-Soul, or] It, may work without having had first-hand experiences for oneself - so far. That is where a provisional faith has its place. It can help tread the path to better times, better pastures, better living, and so on, quite as Buddha explains [Kalama Sutta]
Good words and teachings put lots of persons on a nice path to walk along. They also warn against stupidity and less covert dangers.
All odd-looking teachings are not likely to be helpful. Either in general or to you personally, at your present stage of development, and in your particular circumstances. However, some teachings help. Who are they? What are their hallmarks? To what degree is some yogi counsels sound and of real value? Such topics are not always easy to find out of, and a marring faith in authorities is not the best thing to go for if you strive to know, says Buddha too. [Apannaka Sutta]
It is quite easy to be fooled and misled by pomp, wrong authority figures, inadequate teachings - fragmented, distorted and so on, or higher teachings you are not ready for and cannot relate to in rewarding ways. To give yourself the benefit of doubt could work well enough, if you handle it much in accord with basic scientific research skills. They are in part like Buddha's counsel against believing things stupidly. [Get the edge of beliefs: doubt to your advantage]
Bhagavad Gita verses
Bhagavad Gita 16:7 and onwards tells of wrong teachings in its way. A few verses of Swarupananda's translation from 1909 runs like this (emphasis is added):
The persons of Asurika nature know not what to do and what to refrain from; neither is purity found in them nor good conduct, nor truth.
They say, "The universe is without truth, without a (moral) basis [inherent righteousness, dharma], without a God, brought about by mutual union, with lust for its cause; what else?"
"Holding this view, these ruined souls of small intellect and fierce deeds, rise as the enemies of the world for its destruction." (Swarupananda 1909:7-9)
There is a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita published by Self-Realization Fellowship. The author comments at length on many verses, but passes by the Gita verses that define demonics (asuras), without any comments. [Yogananda 1999:974-75]
Somehow the author, who often said the world was unreal, produced a commentary on the Gita, but did not say anything about demoniacs who say the world is unreal, but that is the translation to note well. If the guru Yogananda had done so, he might have realised, "According to the Bhagavad Gita I am a demon author!" And that is not all of it. Far from it. "I am an illusory author!" stems from the guru's own premises. "An illusory demon" and "a demon of illusions" might be as fit.
What is needed is a practical handle. ◦Transcendental Meditation fits. There is much research surrounding it. It is wise to take a look at good research findings before making up one's mind about which meditation method to try out.
Some key terms
Asuras. The Sanskrit original speaks of asuras. Some translate asura into demoniac, yet the views of asuras in Hinduism vary. In the oldest veda, Rigveda, the Asuras are not yet demonized. Mitra and Varuna were asuras, and many other deities who were Asuras in earlier times later became known as Devas. Thus, some of the most revered gods of Hindus are asuras. It is only in later writings of Hinduism that asuras are the bad guys. The Bhagavad Gita has that the main Asuric qualities are pride, arrogance, conceit, anger, harshness, and ignorance, apart from materialistic views of life.
Satya. Verse 8 starts with asatyam . . . (a-satyam . . .), which means, directly, "not satya". Satya is Sanskrit, and can mean Truth; Supreme Truth, Ultimate Truth, the Real; Brahman, Supreme consciousness, Being that pervades the world - and also "correct, unchangeable, without distortion." Satya implies a higher order, a higher principle, a higher knowledge, and a facet of universal reality. Satya is what one becomes aware of on becoming a Bodhi (enlightened, awakened). 'Buddha' means awakened one.
It is the word Sat (reality, truth, etc.) that has been adapted as satya "truth". Sat, "real, being, existing" and "true, honest, right", is used for such as "self-existent Spirit, Brahman," and also "entity or existence, essence, the true being or really existent", "that which is good or real or true, reality, truth". The root of sat is "to be".
This slender explanation shows how many Sanskrit terms can be translated in different ways, because they carry many meanings and connotations. A good Sanskrit-English Dictionary is a boon. John Grimes has written A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy (3rd ed., 2009). There are many others around too.
Also, a translation derives in part from the orientations and repertoire of the translator.
- Asura may be used as it is, or one of its (later) arrived at meanings - demoniac and demonic in the examples.
- Satya, which is involved in verse 8, can be translated as truth, Being, real, Essence and Integrity. Accordingly, demonics do not tell the world is real - that is one translation.
Key terms carry different meanings or nuances of meanings. A somewhat multiple choice of word translations from a wider range of possibilities, yield different translations, and some of them tell of asuras as demoniacs. As you may see by now, that is far from the whole truth. Likewise, asyatyam in verse 8 becomes "without truth", "without reality" (unreal, illusory). Still other options may be had from the matrix (bed) of Sanskrit word meanings. It is also up to you. However, the wise guys see what the good old tradition has to say in the matter. Different translations and commentaries exist.
"Those who teach that the world is unreal are demons" can be a potent translation. Yogananda rather often tells the world is a dream only, something illusory. Is that really a helpful teaching? But see what else he says, or how much he speaks of it. Here is some evidence from some of his major books. [Illusory evidence?]
Toward a Fuller Explanation
To repeat that the world is a dream is not of much practical help to do so, is it? Help is found in Buddha's benign all-round way "on and up". Its hub is meditation; much revolves around that. Moral and sound ways and dealings go into it too. Buddha says:
Those things that I have known with direct knowledge but have not taught are far more numerous [than what I have taught]. And why haven't I taught them? Because they do not lead to to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening.
"And what have I taught? The path of practice leading to the cessation of dukka (suffering, stress, etc). [More]
Essentials of yoga training can also help some. And among researched meditation methods, the most helpful is Transcendental Meditation. [◦Research findings]