Hmmmm: maybe both? Paramhansa Yogananda, and his disciple, my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, taught that the concept of "nirvana" (emptiness) is all too often misunderstood. Kriyananda asks, tongue firmly in cheek, "Why would anyone want to aspire toward self-extinguishment? No wonder the Buddhist boddhisattvas decide to return to incarnations to help others: they took a "rain check" on spiritual suicide!"
We weren't created with this deeply rooted impulse to survive only to kill it, and by extension, ourselves! (Nor are we given the impulse to create, procreate, to love and to expand only to suppress it!)
Patanjali describes spiritual evolution and the desire to grow in truth and realization as smriti, or memory. The great teacher, the 19th century avatar Ramakrishna, described spiritual growth akin to peeling an onion: each layer of our delusions are peeled off until "no-thing" remains.
The process of emptying ourselves of false self-definitions and self-limiting desires, memories, and opinions is a necessary part of smriti. Ego transcendence has always been an essential element of the spiritual path in every tradition. So, YES: NIRVANA, a state where the ego is dissolved, is a true goal and a true state of consciousness.
St. John of the Cross, the great Christian mystic and contemporary of St. Teresa of Avila (being to him what St. Clare was to St. Francis, a spiritual companion on the path), spoke of this need. He wrote, now so famously:
But the question remains: is emptiness the end of all spiritual growth and seeking? Is God, as the Supreme Spirit, simply No-thing? Well, yes, as Pure Consciousness and as "thing" represents material objects, truly God might be described as "No Thing." But here the intellect, striving to reach beyond its own context of "subject-verb-object," fails to reach its goal. The intellect can describe the orange--its shape, color and sweetness and various biological attributes--but it cannot give to us the taste of the orange!
We live that we might live forever; we live that we might be conscious of life and ourselves; we live that we might enjoy Life and find unending satisfaction. To insist that we must kill our own consciousness to achieve, ah, what, exactly? This is absurd.
The great teacher, Swami Shankyacharya (the "adi" or first great teacher, or acharya, in the Indian monastic tradition) described God and the purpose and goal of God's creation and our own, human life, as one and the same: Satchidananadam: immortality, self-awareness, and joy. Or, as Paramhansa Yogananda rendered it: "ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new joy!" This is what our hearts seek through many lives and in an infinity of forms and experiences. No outer accomplishment, pleasure, or state, conditioned upon the ceaseless flux of outward conditions, can ever satisfy this eternal, God-knowing impulse.
But first we must empty ourselves of our own desires and ego self-affirmation. Our separateness, personified in the Goddess Kundalini and in her power to delude or to enlighten, is the "entrenched vitality of our mortal delusion" (quoting Swami Kriyananda from his classic text: Art and Science of Raja Yoga).
The reward of our emptying ourselves of all delusion and material desire and ego affirmation is the steady tsunami-like rise of the ocean of bliss into our consciousness. It starts as a little bubble of joy, born of meditation and right attitude in daily life. (Right attitude is self-giving and self-offering, inter alia.)
Thus meditation is both empty and full. Emptiness, as quietude and stillness experienced during meditation, is in fact felt as very dynamic, very full. There are times, however, when our emptiness is simply that: devoid of the little self and of all fluctuations. Indeed, Patanjali not only describes the spiritual path as a process of soul recollectedness (smirit-memory) but as the gradual subsiding of our energetic commitment to our likes, dislikes, desires, memories, and all self-involvement. His most famous sutra, well, second to the aphorism in which he lists the now famous eight steps of Ashtanga Yoga, is Yogas chitta vritti nirodha. Sometimes clumsily translated as "Yoga (state of Oneness) is the neutralization of the waves of mind-stuff!" (A singularly useless translation, I might add. Giving rise to more questions than answers.) But seen as the dissolution of ego involvement, it makes perfect sense.
Nor is the process and experience of meditation a linear one: first empty, then full---like doing the dishes, cleaning the kitchen or the workshop or your desk before beginning a new project. Yes it is that in the big picture but in sitting down, sometimes we are filled with devotion and longing for God; other times we are crushed by grief or disillusionment. The yin and yang of empty and full course through our psychic veins like the tides, or wind in the trees, or clouds scudding across the sky of our mind.
So, yes, friend, it is, once again, BOTH-AND reality. God is Infinity and more! Thus no thought, no definition can contain Him. The journey, while in essence the same for all, is, in its manifestation in time and space, uniquely our own.
Swami Hrimananda aka Hriman!