The Atman

There is confusion in the minds of many people regarding the Buddhist denial of the existence of Atman. This is really a red herring. Nearly all the Eastern (and Western, too, for that matter) spiritual traditions are in agreement that ultimate reality is a state of nonduality (or non-triplicity)—a realization that self, world, and deity are not three, but a single whole. But they reach that understanding through different logical pathways. The first duality that must be overcome is that between subject and object. Some of those traditions reach the Absolute by denying objectivity—referring to the objective world as illusory, as Maya. This is the path of Advaita Vedanta. The second path is to deny the reality of subjectivity, which is the Buddhist approach of denying the existence of Atman. However, Sat Yogis agree with both paths. It is true that there is no Atman. That is, there is no positive entity that can ever be found that corresponds to an Atman. But, as the Buddhists would agree, there is an essence—whether one refers to that essential nature as Buddha-nature, Shunyata (Emptiness), Brahman, Shiva, God, or even no-Atman—some final term must be used to refer to that which is the source of Mind.

Atman was the original term, and is as good as any, so long as one remembers that Atman is No-Atman, the Real Self is No-Self. Problems arise with any term. Even the term Emptiness creates misunderstandings, because although in the Absolute there is emptiness of ego, there is fullness of love, wisdom, bliss, and power. In the same way that Self is No-Self, Sat Yogis would aver that God is No-God, in the sense that Otherness dissolves in the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi (the state of meditative absorption in the Supreme Reality beyond concepts). In that state of Absolute Realization, there is no God as an Other (separation is overcome), there is no self as an entity, and there is no world of objects. Ordinary language cannot describe such a transcendental state of awareness. When descriptions are attempted, one must fall on one side or another of the subject/object antinomies, and this leads to the false sense that different religions are describing different ultimate realities, when they are not. All the different practices also come down to the same goal of stopping the chain of conceptual thoughts that are responsible for delusion and bringing an end to the enmeshment of awareness with signifiers. Even the physical practices of asanas, pranayamas, chi kung, and tai chi have this as their primary intention.

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