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The Autobiography of a Yogi, written by Paramahansa Yogananda, is a captivating book that recounts the author’s life journey and spiritual quest. Published in 1946 after over 10 years of writing, it quickly became a bestseller and has inspired numerous people worldwide.
I first came across this book in Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson, where he mentioned that Jobs had read it as a teenager, revisited it in India, and reread it every year since. Attendees at Jobs’ funeral were even given a copy of the book. This piqued my curiosity, prompting me to wonder why Jobs was so drawn to this book and how he still maintained controversial behavior despite repeatedly reading such a spiritual work.
I started reading the book in May 2023, and it didn’t take long for me to be carried by its 700 pages.
Yogananda’s personal story, from his childhood in India to his quest for truth and self-realization through yogic and meditative practices, is shared in the book. He describes mystical experiences and spiritual achievements, as well as encounters with numerous saints and sages.
The autobiography also portrays other Kriya Yoga spiritual masters such as Sri Yukteswar Giri, Yogananda’s own guru, Lahiri Mahasaya, the guru of his guru, and Mahavatar Babaji, the guru of his guru’s guru. Yogananda recounts witnessing paranormal phenomena, including individuals capable of producing various scents, appearing in multiple locations simultaneously, sustaining themselves without the need for food, and his own master’s ability to read thoughts.
While these mystical phenomena might initially deter scientifically-minded readers, they are presented from the beginning of the book to illustrate that we are more than just material bodies. The intention is not to pursue magical powers but rather to open ourselves to the possibility that our reality extends beyond what we can perceive.
The autobiography of a yogi has been revised and corrected by Tara Mata, a disciple of Yogananda, who gave the book an enjoyable non-linear structure. The mystical experiences are presented progressively, leading readers to first accept a certain level of magic and eventually consider the divine nature of Babaji, culminating in the eagerly anticipated reappearance of Sri Yukteswar Giri after his passing. Sri Yukteswar Giri’s description of other astral and intermediate worlds towards the end of the book is, in my opinion, the most important information conveyed in this autobiography.
Additionally, the book contains moments of humor, particularly in the chapter dedicated to the cauliflower incident (Chapter 15).
There is also valuable information throughout the book that can be shared as anecdotes. It mentions a few recommended readings as well.
As someone interested in astrology, particularly Hindu astrology, for several years, I particularly enjoyed Chapter 16 on the subject, which I have revisited numerous times. Yogananda presents the astral theme as a means to awaken within humans the desire to escape the prison of the universe. He also mentions the use of gemstones according to the Dasha system to minimize or neutralize the negative effects of karma. Sri Yukteswar Giri, Yogananda’s guru, seems to have a profound knowledge of astrology and religious texts. I have read his only book, “The Holy Science,” and I was not disappointed. After reading it, I developed a great admiration for Sri Yukteswar Giri, perhaps influenced by the love Yogananda had for him.
Yogananda was also an expert on the Bhagavad Gita, to the extent that he wrote two volumes on this mystical text from the Mahabharata epic. This text clearly had a significant influence on him, as evidenced by his frequent references to it.
The book also touches on the Indian caste system, explaining how it was originally based on an individual’s inherent abilities rather than the circumstances of their birth. The author emphasizes the importance of character and conduct in determining caste affiliation, highlighting that each caste plays a specific role in serving humanity.
Among the other subjects addressed in the book are tips on traveling safely in the Indian jungle by using flypaper to repel tigers, as well as reflections on the nature of reality and illusion, the power of mantras, and the symbolic meaning of the biblical Genesis.
This book has had a significant impact on Western spirituality and has inspired many readers to explore yoga, meditation, and the spiritual quest. It offers an intriguing perspective on the possibility of leading a spiritual life while being engaged in worldly and materialistic activities.
However, one critique that can be made about the book is its emphasis on Kriya Yoga. It is understandable that Yogananda, with the mission of introducing Kriya Yoga to the West, highlights this practice. However, the book seems to downplay this approach later on, particularly with Sri Yukteswar Giri’s teachings, suggesting that someone who has attained the sabikalpa stage will have access to a higher astral world but still an intermediate realm, not the Absolute. Thus, the book suggests that there are still three types of worlds to traverse before reaching Total Liberation, even for practitioners of Kriya Yoga.
The precise techniques of Kriya Yoga are not detailed in the book, as each practitioner must be initiated by a guru to ensure their protection. However, Yogananda mentions that Kriya Yoga involves a special breathing technique that regenerates the brain and spinal centers by transmuting oxygen atoms into vital currents.
It is important to research and seek appropriate protection before embarking on any spiritual practice, as the book highlights that the average human body cannot withstand the power of Kriya Yoga without adequate preparation. Excessive practice of Kriya Yoga can have negative effects on the body.
In summary, the Autobiography of a Yogi provides a captivating exploration of Paramahansa Yogananda’s spiritual journey and presents many groundbreaking ideas at its time. The book delves into topics such as ultimate reality, astral worlds, the nature of the mind, and the universe while highlighting Kriya Yoga as a fast track to spiritual realization. However, it is important to maintain a critical mindset and seek further information before engaging in spiritual practices.
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