For the sake of showing a fundamental difference of orientation, here is some stuff on piousness and devotion. The first is natural and decent, while creeping devotion is not much to talk of, believe it or not. Now both these words mean more than one thing.
Piousness, for example, is often associated with reverence and religiousity, and devotion. It is of virtue, and worthy, and often conscious. But the understanding of Shankara fit in yoga. Piousness is well defined by Shankara in the ancient work Crest-Jewel of Discrimination (Wisdom) (Shankara 2001; Prabhavananda and Isherwood 1973), which presently is on-line in two versions. Page numbers refer to the Johnston translation:
Piousness suggests intentness of the soul on its own nature.* (p 10-12)
Devotion, as commonly understood, implies religious fervour, worship, and the act of devoting, up to ardently dedicated and loyal, and more. It suggests strong regard, maybe dedication too. Belief and trust is part of it.No one should confuse yogi piousness with devotion.
It is not that devotion is bad; but it is not ordinarly taken to mean intentness on one's own soul, so it may not reach high. Further, devotion, as I see it, is a strong outlet of id (libido), and serves the animal kingdom too. The young makes a show of devotion to superiors for gains, hoping to adjust finely and perhaps grow to "take over some of the business" in time. That is how devotion works in the conformism of apes and their likes. So devotion directed to someone else as a part of dualism, seems to miss one's own deep Self and monism (advaita).
Family outlets. Devotion and love are related. In a good family a parent gives his dear ones love to "set them free" by steps and stages. It may take twenty-thirty years, and in some unfortunate cases it does not happen. A bad parental figure may never do.
If the natural family-related libido growth and its phases do not work so well, a step-in parent may exploit the thwarted, unused id, by setting up traps of yoga. "Cry to Divine Mother, and she will come" seems to be one such frustration trap. "Divine Mother, Divine Father, Divine Beloved, Divine Friend" makes use of natural longings for belonging, and can be dangerous if pursued intently, devotedly, as described in QUAG circles. It is not without reason that devotion may lead to very little advancement on the giant (spiritual) path; for it suggests being trapped in id.
One more thing: As long as there is worship into "you-ness", the inner "I-ness" is neglected. Good yoga helps you to glide inward, while devotion based on dualities, may lead nowhere.
In Yogananda's church, SRF, you have to swear an oath of unconditional devotion and loyalty to six unmet gurus who teach against one another. Such formalised devotion is fool's devotion, just as fool's gold is not real gold. It leads greedy ones astray.
First, you do not know whether you are not able to muster unconditional devotion for the rest of your life, that you can "freeze" such things by the SRF kriya pledge put in your way – or your marriage vows either, for that matter. If you are not sure you can deliver, do not swear you will. It often backfires.
Second, consider the functions of id-based devotion in family living. You may feel devotion to dolls and imaginary friends as a little child, but it wanes as you grow up. Frozen promises may hinder the deveopment that child id and its attachments serve in the long run, if successful.
Third, in yoga circles, devotion is tinged by you-ness, dualist thinking, and should not stand in the way for greater achievements, much as "what is good should not mar what is best." In Shankara's yoga, it is clearly stated that the Self is the aim, not extraneous devotion. Yogananda hailed Shankara pompously in his Whispers from Eternity, and presents his own teachings as Vedanta, in part. He was also fond of Shakespeare for a particular reason, the Shakespeare who wrote, "To thy own self be true ...". But in the natural conflict between outward devotion and being true to oneself, it is the latter that loses where a pledge is put in the way to ensure guru might.
There could be a good reason to ignore teachings on misdirected bhakti (devotion, love) that serves ulterior ends and maybe Hard Games (psychological hanky-pankies) too – and to stick to yoga technicalities that don't undermine you, but ease your way inwards, to the Self or Nirvana side of things.
Q: Is devotion the chief means of advancing into higher states?
Piousness is what you may end up with by going deep inside. It is inwardness, in essence. Being pious is very good, then. But blind devotion or devotedness on the other hand, can be used as part of a plot that leads off the mark somehow. For simple devotion is of id, can be played on, misdirected and misused. It happens so often. Further, id-linked devotion seems to be up to wholly duality-based.
One has to steer out of dumb devotion (if ordained by others also) in order to protect the heart – and it is the heart that counts in this. (A secret let out for you).
Some say that guru devotion is a means – don't listen to them. It can work fine if considered as a result of delving inside yourself, though, but how often does that happen?
Furthermore, observe how many there are who become maniacs through wrongly or faultily directed devotion for tens of years on end – poorly directed, used and perhaps stultifying – they become used, and awkward devotion could be a means to it. Still further, some appear to delight in wearing their devotion on their sleeve, even though they could be better off by being very discreet about it and not overlook such as Matthew 6:5-6 about going to one's closet for it and not flaunt it either.
Don't be too shallow (and rejoicing for a little while), but ponder and calculate adequately too (cf. Matthew 13:20-23). Devotee "show-offs" in the name of God are not deep enough to regard those words of Jesus as they should, and may not count for much by such a measure4. That is the gospel message, like it or not.
According to Jesus, whom Yogananda revered with his lips without dropping show-off prayers for the following, you had better recognise evildoers by their fruits, as Jesus is into in the passage that ends with "I never knew you." "Away from me, you evildoers!" (Matthew 7:19-23)
So what about praying in church, in a shallow, seemingly devoted congregation, and further down? Drop it, if the words of Jesus are dear to you, and you do not want to end up like the hypocrites (above). Jesus foretells he will denounce and not accept hypocrites, even though they have called him "Master, Master." There is a lesson there somewhere, isn't there?
Haven't you got a better fare than showing off in public prayer, then? Maybe not. And, after all, the sermonising of Jesus was left out by all the apostles and the Holy Ghost together when they founded the basis for Christianity for non-Jews, gentiles. No words of Jesus found their way into the Apostolic Decree of ca. 50 CE. Acts 15 tells of the four main things to observe for the non-Jewish Christian: No to blood food (blood sausages, black pudding, etc. is not excluded) is one of the four requirements of the first and bottom Christianity Deal. If the bottom is knocked out, the barrel will probably not hold much fluid as it was meant to. If the Christian eats wrangled poultry (choked animals is on the list), so much the worse for him or her. Adulterers are not the only ones that may be denounced, in other words ("No adultery" is one of the four requirements too). However, there were no gospel words included or referred to in the Great Deal of non-Jewish Christians, but adjustments that the Holy Ghost and all the apostles saw fit for the following (Acts 15).
If you have eaten chicken that was wrangled, a requirement has been violated, and one fourth of the bottom of the barrel is gone, figuratively speaking. There is no reason to think it is different with eating blood food either. Add up and guess of your chances to enjoy heaven in the beyond if breaking just one requirement will do to denounce you when the time comes. "A deal is a deal." This more than suggests that unless you find yourself under the "deal" of "original Christianity as taught by Jesus Christ" - for Jews only, one may add - you may not be barred from heaven for praying out loud, since that is not a no-no in the Apostolic Deal. Maybe there is hope outside Nyingma Buddhism and Vedanta too. But I would not count on it. As for all of us who have eaten blood food, for example hamburgers with added (blood) protein in them, what is there to say? One may let that sensitive topic rest for the time being, adding that the Apostolic Decree is still followed in the Orthodox Church, and has nowhere been annulled by the Ghost.
For reasons such as those, it might pay to take care. In Yogananda's fellowship they tell they are in harmony with the "Christianity of Jesus." So the fact that they wear public prayers and are governed by nuns in Yogananda's fellowship, might come as a surprise or lesson in original shewbread Christianity. Facade does not have to be all there is to "following Jesus", though, but to claim him with your lips and stupidly form lots of those hypocrites that Jesus condemned and said he would bar from heaven, cannot be good. That is in part gospel truth, and I can't see how wriggling and squirming can help the guru and those he has misled into "Jesus Christianity" but without meeting its requirements. See for yourself. [More]
Some play fair, and some don't. I leave to you to decide who they are. A tip: They can be overwhelmingly many, many.
And if this "serenade" is not enough, it also stands out that Lahiri Mahasaya told followers to keep their practice of kriya yoga to themselves.
Further, devoted bigots develop sects and cults. It stands out very clearly in a historical perspective. Just check Wikipedia's article about "Hinduism" and its cults: The larger parts of Hinduism are cults. And many cults evolve on the basis of devoted minds who get grossly bigoted or limited of outlook as time goes by. It happens almost as "by itself," methinks. In other words: If deep inside you want to wither and decay, outré devotion might be the thing – and don't say that you have not been warned against much that is regularly practiced in churches the world over ...
My Master is Swami Sri Yukteswar Giriji. The inspiration and command for the spread of Yogoda Sat-Sanga [SRF] in America is due to him. The whole credit belongs to him. He is one of the world's greatest intellectual and spiritual giants. – Yogananda, "Christmas Message", East West, September – October 1928.
Is he now? [Link]
Q: Now, you say that meditation and realisation are of the Self. I wondered where God comes into play here?
Easy – Realize your Self and see that too – And till then, think that the original meaning of "God" as used by Alf and other yogis, is "Self". At the back of many words, like "Elf-Realization Fellowship" you can still sense this angling. It is also possible to note things like that in some of Alf's early writings, one of which was written by a ghost writer in his name, they say.
Alf did not dispense with the early (pristine) teachings totally as the decades went by – but he did take to dualism-tinged, religiousness-fostering God-constructs and other, similar concepts among "middle-aged American women in California" when he spoke to them. He adapted, it seems to me (and others too).
In a fare, you adapt to your family and its members, and then to many groups inside the large society. The alterative is to be ostracised, which seems to be worse to many persons. Ideally, you adapt in cosy ways for mutual benefits. If the family and others around you are not functioning normally or in healthy ways, you have to dismiss them if you don't want to band with them. Some give up.
Q: Ramana Maharshi uses the term "Self" in referring to God, life, love what have you – but this seems to give God second place when I thought that the goal of all paths was to commune with God and realise God ...
I recall he also turned many questions to the search for "I" – the Self. The idea "You, God" is of duality. The work of contemplation is to pass beyond that by the method(s). This is a main strategy. [Ramana Maharsi page]
Q: I asked for your beliefs and wasn't expecting gold eggs! I meant things like reincarnation, the soul etc. etc.
Gold Eggs is a metaphor for building selfsameness (building a neat everyday self and so on), and that could be good for folks far and wide. George Orwell quotations [Link] have given us an example of how to design or build up a Tao track like that.
Beliefs: I believe that "Believe, but make sure (Russian proverb)", carries a lot of sense. Basically though, I consider "Believe as little as possible" to work better. "Believe in your Self" is even better again.
Reincarnation: Have you seen the site devoted to Ian Stevenson's research on the subject? [◦Link]
Seeker, nothing is apart from the ultimate Self. – Lahiri Mahasaya (cf. Satyeswarananda 1992:17].
I render a few words from the ancient Upanishads:
Within (this body) dwells the immortal Self ... Rising above physical consciousness . . . one rejoices and is free. (Chandogya Upanisad 12.1)
In deep contemplation there is nothing to seek, nothing to go for. That's how it should be then. And if you mean to delve (meditate), that is what to bear in mind.
Seeker, nothing is apart from the ultimate Self. (Lahiri Mahasaya teaching, cf. Satyeswarananda 1992:17)
The seeking or searching is one of the errors in many master teachings. You must not be "bitten" by it. In other words, we work to glide away from petty notions in deep meditation. That is how it should be.
A page of Ramakrishna goes into facets of this. The 'God' we think of by concepts, is to be transcended in deep meditation. That's what Ramakrishna learnt to do from the swami Totapuri mainly. [Link]
Q: My understanding is that there is Ishvara the God of creation and then there is Brahmin [Brahman. Brahmin is a member of the priestly caste], the Absolute beyond creation. Do you mean that Ishvara is non-existent or perhaps a deterrent?
Brahman is the ultimate Self of kriya. – cf. Lahiri Mahasaya (in Satyeswarananda 1992:129).
When all else drops off, the Self (your inmost self) remains, some also say.
kriya yoga yoga?
Doctors go against smoking because of its accumulating detrimental effects in the long run. Health is far from bad for doing kriya.
Q: Please look at [a Web address] and tell me what you think?
This sounds tactless to me: "we take upon ourselves the responsibility of exposing all forms of religious misrepresentation and fraud to the best of our ability!"
For they will perhaps not have time to expose their own abilities (constructive outlets) if they really lived up to that. ... Maybe a more modest resolve could be fit, though.
Q: What is your view of women?
Some do without them. Now, there are different sorts of women and different sorts of men. Not all are easy or fit to be with.
In The Perfumed Garden, a North African sheikh has written, for example, about Women Who Are to Be Held in Contempt.
Georg Feuerstein lays bare in his The Deeper Dimension of Yoga (Chap. 12, "Types of Hindu Yoga"), that yoga stems from the verbal root yuj, 'to yoke, unite', and that there is a wealth of yoga features that applies in diverse contexts:
There is a yoga of non-contact, Asparsha-yoga (No. 5 on the list).
Also, Hatha-yoga deals at bottom with the serpent power or kundalini (No. 11).
Japa-yoga consists of mantra recitation (the way of repeating syllables).
There is also the way of discriminating wisdom, which Feuerstein finds to be the approach of the Upanishads.
No. 18, Kundalini-yoga includes Hatha-yoga and Kriya-yoga.
No 22 is Mantra-yoga of repeating sounds has been a part of the Yoga tradition ever since Vedic times.
Purna-yoga of sound integration - Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga (No. 27)
No. 32. Samputa-yoga is of sexual intercourse - a part of Tantra-yoga.
No. 36. Siddha-yoga is for adepts.
No. 38. Tantra-yoga is kundalini-based.
- and so on.
It says that yoga in itself is fit for many activities, including all right sex. The effects might depend on one's partner too. Let us lend ears to that well-known sheikh, since he did little to hide his true sentiments.
Women differ in their natural dispositions: there are women who are worthy of all praise; and there are, on the other hand, women who only merit contempt. – Sheikh Nefzaoui, (al-Nafzawi 1886, Chap 5)
BE WARNED: If you have come to very different conclusions about what women are suitable or not, such as "There is no such thing as ugly women, only too little alcohol," or "in the darkness of the night no woman looks ugly", then Sheikh Nefzaoui's variegated counsels may not be able to help you out (Ibid.)
Q: As for myself, I find them incredibly attractive.
There could even be a fit reason for it. The question is if your desires are the masters of you. That could work much havoc.
Q: I am really frustrated, I don't have any "experiences". If I could talk to God, and God could talk back, I don't think I'd have a problem in my life again.
In our culture, it has been observed, "When I talk to God it is called prayer, and if God talks to me it is called schizophrenia." (Joke)
Some persons hear something, others see visions, and to know steadfastly and truly is much better. For visions need accompanying understanding, and words one hears with the inner ears may be from other entities too, some of which are neither good nor reliable, if you trust Yogananda on that one. Some such beings scared him outright. His biographer says that one night before Yogananda went to America in 1920, he screamed out from his room. He said a cot had penetrated through the closed door and a horrific being was seated on that cot. From then on, a student would sleep in a separate cot in Yogananda's room. That is what his biographer says. (Dasgupta 2006:114)
So first attune yourself inwardly as best you can, in order to ensure as reliable output as possible at any time. And don't forget to check and double-check and triple-check if it is possible to do it in any given case.
Q: Do the chakras exist?
Well, what do you think? What do we mean by chakras (wheels), padmas (lotuses) and such things, including the currents they link up to?
The basic thing is that they represent levels of awakening, of getting more (inwardly, at first) conscious, and so on. Practitioners don't have to think of them, unless such attention is part of a method that is used. In Zen the subject of chakras is considered to be "not interesting".
Q: The Hindus seem to place a lot of emphasis and importance on chakras whereas as you say the Zen ones think little of them.
That's how it is. Chakras are in the main teachings of Tantra.
Q: But my nature is sceptical so I'd much rather see some hard evidence.
You may not get that. For the delicate mind-and -energy vortexes called chakras are not items, not hardware, so to speak. So hard evidence is hardly to be had about you. But individual experiences may be had and registered. That's in the layout.
Statistical studies or inquiries about chakras may yield statistical data – useful to some, but hardly hard evidence anyhow, just averaged reckoning with statistical significance at the root of many of you.
There are many books that describe chakras in tantric literature,
It is good to bear in mind that chakras are on the level with fays and fairies. They are not seen and understood by everybody. One may behave all right without seeing them all the same.
Q: Why do you quote Jesus and think at the same time that the NT is not a good place to "gate" a young tree?
I would not start with the Bible, and would not end with it either, but something cosier ...
Q: I think it is much better to eat, drink, and be merry.
Solomon of the Bible said that too in his day. He fell greatly, even though Jesus calls him the wisest man that had lived. The ancient Greek Epicureans tried to enjoy living on an even keel too, and found one needs to know a lot in order to master a life-time.
Q: I'm becoming tired with attempts to better myself and attain some degree of mastery.
What's the alternative(s)? is a good standard question to ask.
Q: If the Self wants experience on earth through a human vehicle, then pleasures should be indulged.
You put forth an opinion – The question is how true to fact it could be.
Q: It's no good speculating about life after death I think.
Buddha teaches it helps to lead good, moral lives, at least in the wider picture. His karma teachings are well worth studying. [Link]
Q: I can't help but think of it as a psychic thing which involves grace from God.
In yoga thinking about is at best second to experiencing for yourself by methods handed over. Some methods are better than others; that's in the teaching.
What may be called second-hand thinking, is not a fruit of own experience. You are free to think of it as you like, but "Modest dogs miss much meat."
Q: Regarding God's grace: do you think it is true that God arbitrarily gives his and her grace or is divine grace always there?
I should say that everything that others think may not be very favourable to ourselves. Ramakrishna used to pinpoint it by "eating mangoes" (meditating very deeply and so on). "I have come to the garden to eat mangoes. What is the use of my calculating the number of trees, branches, and leaves? I only eat the mangoes; I don't need to know the number of trees and leaves." (Nikhilananda 1974:217-18) On another occasion he said:
I cannot cure my own illness, and you ask me to tell you what happens after death! ...
Q: I would have thought that I would have had some experiences in meditation by now.
That thing varies so much. And often progress in the deep mind is unnoticed for a long while. Thus, comfort yourself.
Q: Frankly, I thought kriya yoga was supposed to be dangerous ... In other words, I simply just cannot understand how it is supposed to be an efficacious technique.
So you feel disappointed? After big words about how effective and magically good it is?
A tool in able hands may do great work, and the same tool in beginner's hands may not – not at once at any rate.
Q: How does it achieve a breathless state?
By counteracting currents and favouring contemplation, and so on.
Q: And why is there confusion over ◦Hong-Saw producing breathlessness and the state of samadhi (and where does kriya come in)?
Factors may be into it:
One should not overdo promotional assertions, but try to be fair and bear in mind the "consumer orientation".
Q: When you move your body to do the other yogas, doesn't that break concentration and energy movement?
It would depend on how deep your meditation was in the first place. And in more advanced stages it may not always matter so much.
Q: When you meditate, are you supposed to fall asleep somewhat?
Not exactly. However, a long time's need for sleep may take its toll during meditation sessions. One should see to it that the need for sleep is met. One can often experience a sort of drowsy or lazy-like state in meditation. It's a good thing, and can be good for building HEALTH RESERVES too.
Q: And how do you know if you have visions that they aren't produced by your imagination?
I would say the good thing is to learn to detect the differences by such a training. It may take some time, even decades. Also, fairness and bravery helps realizing things too. Visions may be means to that end. It is implied deep in the bible, about Moses. [Link]
Q: Further, is imagination an important thing?
For knowledge it has to be. Check out ancient Zoroaster thoughts on it: [Link]
Q: And did you ever commune with God in a relative sense?
Struggling with making fair and hopefully fit "maps" (cognitive maps) of a "terrain" that others have found worth exploring, you have stumbled across discrepancies between SOME descriptions and your experiences, and keep asking yourself much. That is not bad, but it is not the best one can do either: When it comes to religious matters, there are at least three things to bear in mind.
Time works for those who work (Proverb).
Q: The salvation/reincarnation issue is bugging me. Do we not reincarnate forever and ever?
"It is difference of opinion that makes horse races (American)".
Q: How can one have a personality if they become the Self? ... And how can a man be the same after having falling into deep sleep every night and lost his human identity then – and waking up?
It comes back to him. If not, he would become an outright case of amnesia and further.
Q: And when the body dies, does the Ego perish also?
Not according to Vedanta.
Q: ◦Alf said that he had killed himself a long time after he realised his God-state, but I cannot help thinking that he must have had some sort of sense of personality?
That's a good question. He said he could put on any personality he wanted too.
Q: I think I know now why the great ones can ignore their yamas and niyamas.
Who is great? asked Yesus (Jishua, Jesus), and showed up a little child.
Q: Surely it is impractical to do nothing in the face of attack?
◦Yogananda teaches with "two mouths" in this matter. I regret to say. His non-violence topics may crowd out better ones.
Q: You seem deeply interested in Asatrulogy. I wonder about it myself – that is, is it a true thing?
As true as the stars at night. At day, in the hustle and bustle, we do not see them perhaps. And in the daily routines we may sense no asatrulogical influence (Joking).
However, the question pertained to "astrology" ;).
Q: Do the stars really affect us or is that just nonsense?
The guru of Yogananda and Yogananda himself teach that they do, but also that there are means to counteract unfavourable patterns, if it seems good. Have you heard of astrological bangles of such as intertwined gold, silver, and copper? Or gems used for similar ends? It is possible to get a "Sri Yukteswar bangle" from an Ananda-linked smith. [Read more]
Q: I'm confused. I don't feel alone.
"If you can't get a horse, ride a cow. (American)".
Q: Why am I different?
Everybody is different (to some degree). Fingerprints, DNA profile, and – if Carl G. Jung is right (again), one's identity, individuality.
Q: Could it be that everyone is in the same situation? Can you shed some light on my situation?
Your situation seems to be: Delving is not enough. Asking things is not enough. A bangle of gold and silver might help – according to Sri Yukteswar and Yogananda. The latter was equipped with two; he was in "astrological trouble" (deep shit, even) then, according to his autobiography. He survived thanks to Sri Yukteswar and some others, he tells in his autobiography.
Did you interpret things that way?
No, I found it IS possible to go deep inside without trying, you see, and I try not to speak against my experiences.
Q: I wondered how one is supposed to "doze off" so to speak and remain conscious?
When we doze off, certain energies are turned inward, and we stop experiencing a lot through the senses. If this turning is accomplished while being conscious, that is called the pratyahara (withdrawal) stage of contemplation/meditation in yoga literature. Patanjali's yoga classic Yoga Sutras explains more of it.
Q: For after my meditations my mind seems as restless as it was near the beginning. I am basically using Hong-Saw. I feel alert and more peaceful after practice and I take that I am doing something right by that. But I find it incredibly hard to control my thoughts – I seem to have two minds at once, one at the front where I say the sound medley (mantra) mentally, and the other at the back where there seems to be a constant musical occuring. Is that normal?
One should strive to establish the mantra/method focused enough at the start in order to get beyond memories or whatever.
Q: What path would you suggest for me?
The best one (at hand).
One thing is methods, another thing is what gurus you get involved with. You have been initiated by a guru, yes? That counts too. I have not been told what deal was set up between you (and his line of gurus through that, and so on).
There is some documentation about some methods. And Ananda tells that 20 million Americans are doing yoga - according to CNN (but add "more or less" yourself – estimates may range from 15 to 28 millions).
As for path, "marga", Ramakrishna swamis have found that even though there are many paths, such as karma (of works), jnana (of sagacious discernment), and so on, in actual practice one sticks to hallmarks of MANY of them: A balanced, measured all-round synthesis can be of some help.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1918 – 2008) has pointed out that the inward-going (called meditation) by TM and activities (work in the world) need to get balanced – like night and day – and that inward-turning helps inward-tuning. Yogananda too has spoken for a quite similar balancing.
One balance is of yin and yang. If you steadily give out or give up more than you get from it, you get depleted, and that could turn harmful if it takes place at length.
To trust in many others instead of your inward sides, may turn fatal. The inwardness (psyche and spirit of oneself) has to be developed. Good contemplation favours that in general. But do not think there are no intricacies and subtleties involved. There are lots and lots of them. For example, Vedanta and some forms of Buddism differ on some such points. Vedanta teaches there is a Self, an Atman, while Buddhists have misunderstood some words by Buddha to mean there is no Atman, tells Dr Richard Gombrich What the Buddha Thought (2009): The most common Buddhist doctrine today holds there is no Atman (soul, spirit God alike). Gombrich says that doctrine is rooted in a mistranslation of:
Things are impermanent, i.e., ever-changing, and by that token they are not satisfactory, and by that token they cannot be the atman [spirit].
Later Buddhists came to interpret this to mean 'not having a self or essence', but that was not its original meaning - Gombrich finds upon much study that both Pali grammar and a comparison with the Vedanta show that the true meaning is 'is not atman' rather than 'does not have atman'. And comparison with the Vedanta further shows that the translation 'self' is appropriate, Dr Gombrich sums up (p. 69-70).
If you say "there is no Self," you yourself are none, and your words fit "from nothing nothing comes." Not even a donkey thinks so little of himself. On the other hand, if you ascribe to the Self, as many Buddhists do too, for example Padmasambhava, the originator of Nyingma Buddhism -, you are someone, and on safe ground.
You may go on and ask, "How does the Self relate to the world at large? It is possible to say it is simple words. Some are found in the Vedic literature, such as Upanishads. Mahavakyas, great sayings in them include:
This Self (Atman) is Brahman. (Mandukya Upanishad 1.2)
There are many other statements. Brahman means the Absolute, Highest Truth, Consciousness Itself, Intelligence and much else. It all goes to say, "Do not set your aims too low, and not too high either." We are into subtleties. In many traditions, there is talk of the ether as the subtlest part of matter. It is a difficult subject to deal with and handle well enough. Better put it aside for the sake of deep meditation. However,
The word 'ether' has extremely negative connotations in theoretical physics because of its past association with opposition to relativity. This is unfortunate because . . . it rather nicely captures the way most physicists actually think about the vacuum. . . . Space is more like a piece of window glass than ideal Newtonian emptiness. It is filled with 'stuff' that is normally transparent but can be made visible by hitting it sufficiently hard to knock out a part. The modern concept of the vacuum of space, confirmed every day by experiment, is a relativistic ether. But we do not call it this because it is taboo,
says Robert B. Laughlin, Nobel Laureate in Physics. (A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from Bottom Down, 2007:120-121).
Sankara and the Buddhists he worked among, held different views on 'ether' too. Natalia Isayeva writes in Shankara and Indian Philosophy:
In the Sautrantika section of Sarvadaranasiddhantasahgraha [IV.3.5] one might find a definition, according to which
Also know who your genuine friends are. Some have none of the sort.
Much of this was to say that balancing the elements of our everyday(s) is part of the great art of living, and that a fit balance between elements that suit us in our state of life and the stage (arena(s)) we are on, may be worth aiming for and keeping up.
We should not weaken our minds and organisms. Good yoga is meant for the opposite of that. And teachings that tell you to recede from natural, good and cosy family life, may not really be very good.
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Feuerstein, Georg. The Deeper Dimension of Yoga: Theory and Practice. London: Shambhala, 2011.
Gombrich, Richard F. What the Buddha Thought. London: Equinox, 2009.
Isayeva, Natalia. Shankara and Indian Philosophy. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993.
Laughlin, Robert B. A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down. Paperback ed. Cambridge, MA: Basic Books, 2006.
Nikhilananda, Swami, tr. The Gospel of Ramakrishna. Abridged ed. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1974.
Prabhavananda, Swami, and Christopher Isherwood, trs: Shankara's Crest-Jewel of Discrimination. 3rd ed. Hollywood: Vedanta Press, 1978.
Satyeswarananda, Swami, tr. Complete Works of Lahiri Mahasay Vol. III: The Upanisads: The Vedic Bibles. San Diego: The Sanskrit Classics, 1992.
Shankara. Crest-Jewel of Wisdom, tr. John Richards. (2001). Online.
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