Yogananda and Fast Thinking
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The thought of dying
For seven days Confucius ate no cooked food.
"It looks as if you're going to die," said T'ai king Jen.
"It does indeed."
"Do you hate the thought of dying?"
"I certainly do!"
Jen said, "Then let me try telling you about a way. There is a bird, Listless, that escapes disaster. The straight-trunked tree is the first to be felled. And you show off your wisdom . . . shining as though you were carrying the sun and moon in your hand! Yet the Man of Great Completion does not dwell in fame, wants no repute. - Chuang Tzu, Co 213-14, abr.
Yogananda about Fast Thinking
The guru Paramahansa Yogananda came to the West in 1920 and remained for some thirty years, until his death in 1952. Among his sayings is this one,
A deep thinker puts forth about fifty thousand [thoughts a day]. I have found that by concentrating it is possible to produce as many as five hundred thousand thoughts in a day." [Ak 330]
Those numbers appear to go unverified, for one thing. I wonder how health-promoting such super-fast thinking can be. Contrary to producing many, many thoughts, the goodness of mantra meditation like simple Transcendental Meditation rests on limiting one's thoughts and transcend thinking altogether.
Beginners in TM are instructed to sit comfortably and think-repeats one thought for 15 minutes twice daily, and many benefits of the practice are well documented. Some, including myself, find them delightful.
So "Simplify!" is at times a fit motto. It has many variants. In science there is the Occam's Razor, for example. It stands for "Keep it simple, scientist ..."
Relaxing on the beach, make the best of it - but how?
Back to thought-spewing Yogananda. If what he said about producing vast numbers of thoughts is true, he could think approximately 5,8 thoughts per second for 24 hours on end, or faster still if he found he needed a nap during those hours. Thus, his undocumented claim is rather astounding at first glance.
However, "500 000 thoughts a day" may not mean that many different thoughts. Yogananda could have thought "1-2-3-4-5-6" on and on, once a second, and after 24 hours it would have added up. By thinking a repeated series of numbers or syllables he could think and hold count of his thoughts more easily. Otherwise he would have more work to do - But we might question how healthy and fulfilling great thought-spewing may be, what it is good for, what it may mar, and what it comes in the way of, for example.
We should realise that subjective claims of fast thinking are neither proof of fast thinking nor of good thinking in itself. The opposites of extended, hurried thinking are slow, measured thinking, Thinking quality thoughts at intervals, little or no thinking, or a blend of any of these, possibly others. We have perhaps noted that sharp thinking is eased by relaxing, and good living sought in pleasant sunlight on the beach or in the lovely garden, but not in fast thinking.
The neat stand is: Fastness is not all there is to thinking; quality of thought can be far better. A few simple thoughts that will save you may be valued more than 500 000 that never will, for example.
Such givens had better be taken into account, as there is often good reason to understand and ponder the meaning of ideas - their essential meanings, possible values, or significance in a wider perspective, and so on - rather than merely spewing forth ideas. Quality thinking often takes time, lots of time, and quality ideas should favour quality living.
"If I had a thousand mouths" - another Yogananda quotation
Now what is meant by a thought? In common language, the word 'think' covers numerous and diverse psychological activities. Why not discern between fit, good, savourly, proficient thinking and other forms of thinking while we are at it? To be able to think one clear thought must be better than fifty thousand foolish ones. Hence, we should take the quality of the thinking into account too, and focus on the helpful, rewarding ideas to the preference of the rest of them, so that we can do well in the long run. Isn't that a nice idea? [Wikipedia, s.v. "thought", "idea"]
Yogananda talked of "much" (quantity) to the preference of "good" (quality) at other times too. Here is another example from his mouth:
If I had a thousand mouths, I would speak through them all to convince you. [Ak 111]
'Convince' is bad among rational beings. It means such as (1) "to make somebody and/or yourself believe that something is true", and/or (2) "to persuade somebody to do something". That was what Yogananda was about. It was much of his public speaker "career": to bring others to the guru's belief, to consent to live as he dictated, refraining from fair sex, for example, and a yogic course of action that was not found to be debasing and authoritarian by some.
The way of scientists if things go well: practical, handy solutions
A scientist, on the other hand, prefers to present given facts or measures, and hope that others are able to deal with the material as fit the best and most shapely premises or data allow. And if things go very well, some practical solutions may be reached, eventually.
Einstein once declared that his second greatest idea after the theory of relativity was to add an egg while cooking soup in order to produce a soft-boiled egg without having an extra pot to wash. [More Einstein anecdotes]
Advocating sound measure instead of enormous dentist bills
Back to the "much and many" of Yogananda:
Ancient Greeks advocated sound measure, metron. At times it suggests being balanced. If you have a thousand mouths with false teeth in all of them, you may not need to go to the dentist so very often. But if the teeth are your own and most of them are in need of treatment, you may come to realise that one mouth is enough.
Or maybe you put simple hope in Yogananda magazine orations that God can give you a third set of teeth? Find out what the odds are that it should happen, to get an inkling. Consider too that some of those rare people who get a third set of teeth get particular problems from some of them. Wikipedia: "In rare occurrences, a third set of teeth is possible. It's been reported to happen to very elderly humans and in even more rare cases of younger people who have had their permanent teeth removed." A gene could be involved. [S.v. "Permanent teeth"]
There is another good lesson here:
An evangelist was exhorting his hearers to flee from the wrath to come. "I warn you," he thundered, "that there will be weeping, and wailing and gnashing of teeth!"
Even though Yogananda once said that God could give you a third set of teeth (but will He?), he himself did not get a new tooth after he broke one on a visit to India. Instead he got a gold tooth, his biographer, Sailendra Dasgupta tells:
On his return trip to India in 1935-36, in Gorakhpur, Yogananda "bit into a sugar-cane and accidentally cracked a tooth from the lower mandible [jawbone]. Everyone became flustered by this and Swamiji was eventually taken to the finest dentist in the city, who pulled the broken tooth out and replaced it with a gold one. No news was sent to Calcutta about this. After Swamiji returned to Calcutta, the gold tooth caught the writer's eye, and when he asked about it, Swamiji put his right index finger on his lips and said, "No negative talk!"" Later he fell into a pensive mood and said, "God told me, 'Just like this, one day I'll snatch your life away from you." [Psy 83]
It stands out that God did not even give him one third tooth. Some talk much, but do not demonstrate it in their own lives. However, Yogananda did die very quickly many years later, although that is another tale. Adding to that: Dying fast is often preferred to dying slowly in pains.
And that brings us to selected Yogananda sayings.
Among all the sayings of the Americanised guru, see if these remarks - trite, wise or otherwise - are worth a lot:
Life is elusive. - Yogananda, Jse 410, abr
Tomorrow you are not. - Yogananda, Jse 410
One by one we slip away. - Yogananda, Jse 410
Ego is when the soul forgets its true divine Self. When the "I'-ness" expresses solely through wisdom, it becomes individualized reflection of Spirit. - Yogananda, Yi 41, 42, abr
Most people are content to feed themselves on dead quotations. - Yogananda, Ak 357
Ak: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Man's Eternal Quest. New ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1982.
Co: Watson, Burton, tr. The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu. New York: Columbia University Press, 1968.
Dr: Yogananda, Paramahansa. The Divine Romance. New ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1993.
Jse: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Journey to Self-realization: Discovering the Gift of the Soul. New ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 2000.
Psy: Dasgupta, Sailendra. Paramhansa Swami Yogananda: Life-portrait and Reminiscences. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2006. Pdf: yoganiketan.net and at Google Books, partial view.
Yi: Yogananda, Paramahansa. The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita: An Introduction to India's Universal Science of God-realization. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 2007.
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