I was totally committed to finishing this book so somehow it got completed but if I was constantly looking for inspiration in its text, it’d have carried on a couple more weeks in view of its length and language. I should quickly add though that there were many enjoyable elements to the book–the writing style had much humour even if it was highly ornate, many sadhu-performed miracles felt believable and I’ve had some takeaways and accounts to ponder further.
First, the high points of the read. I liked knowing about all the miracles covered in the book. How the amulet given to Mukund disappeared from a sealed box as prophesied; how as a teenager, he made flying kites act per his wishes; how he found the young dead disciple Kashi in his next birth by constantly scanning the atmosphere or higher planes; how he felt forced to move towards Sri Yukteshwar and adopt him as his guru; and then all the experiences his guru made possible for him. I was fascinated by the idea of a deathless sadhu like Babaji who lived in the Himalayas but showed up in flesh and blood through generations to Yogananda, his guru, or the guru’s guru, Sri Lahiri Mahasaya. And then the most profound of all revelations was Sri Yukteshwar’s resurrection and description of life after death. Of how a realized soul like him had directly reached Hiranyalok, even retained his earthly form despite being buried on earth, and was managing other souls going through their karmic cycles. It read unreal and yet very believable to an Indian mind like mine that has been fed the Bhagwad Gita’s message on the soul being deathless. It’s for this chapter (43) alone that I can easily believe readers revisiting the book. In my first read itself, I’ve tried to read through this chapter thrice and would need to revisit it soon to remind myself of various astral planes, their rules and lives lived on them. Is that the truth though? Well, I’ve to make a beginning in believing some life-death accounts so till I learn more, I’d start with this one. Plus, I’d love to know more about Kriya Yoga that Yogananda used to promptly teach anyone showing any interest in spirituality and which can only be taught by a Kriya yogi. I learned that 1000 Kriya practiced in eight hours gives the yogi in one day, the equivalent of 1000 years of natural evolution, and that in 3 years, a Kriya Yogi can accomplish the same result which nature brings to pass in a million years. I’m intrigued enough about Kriya Yoga to want to learn it although I can hardly meditate even at this stage of my life.
Yoganand Paramhansa tries to describe the science behind some miracles and it felt that it was done mostly for the benefit of his western audience so they didn’t label all the spiritual talk as mumbo jumbo. Many times, however, such scientific explanations took away the pleasure out of the knowledge I derived —it could just be me feeling that way though. The fact that Yoganand was enamoured with the west, and America in particular, further trivialized the experience of knowing about his life. He said that he was ‘unusually happy to be conducting a class for English students.’ That his ‘London class members laughed appreciatively; no political turmoils ever disturbed our yoga peace.’ He enjoyed eating, worried about his weight, stayed in luxury hotels on his return from America and thoroughly enjoyed the comforts of carrying his Ford car through sea or land journeys so he could commute easily. Well, I accepted that outlook in the interest of much that he had to do. He was committed to propagating Kriya yoga and spirituality in the US and constructed many Ashrams through local public support.
He passed away at an early age of 59 in 1952 and it’s admirable that he had achieved much recognition by then. However, the autobiography finishes abruptly and doesn’t include his own spiritual discoveries after his return to the US in 1936. He remained busy with his lectures and running of his Ashrams is all one can gather. I found some recordings of one of his American disciples on http://www.kamalasilva.org/music but those I heard didn’t say anything other than the messages covered in the autobiography itself.
The book was long, had sections on some yogis Yogananda met through his life but particularly it was his insistence on keeping the tone discernible to the western reader that took away some pleasure of reading about an Indian yogi.
And yet, other than chapter 43, I’d like to remember these statements from the book:
Attachment is blinding; it lends an imaginary halo of attractiveness to the object of desire.
Look fear in the face and it will cease to trouble you.
Pain and pleasure are transitory; endure all dualities with calmness, while trying at the same time to remove their hold. Imagination is the door through which disease as well as healing enters. Disbelieve in the reality of sickness even when you are ill; an unrecognized visitor will flee!
Straightforwardness without civility is like a surgeon’s knife, effective but unpleasant. Candor with courtesy is helpful and admirable.
A child is born on that day and at that hour when the celestial rays are in mathematical harmony with his individual karma.
Every religious or philosophical practice means a psychological discipline, that is, a method of mental hygiene.
The yogic science is based on an empirical consideration of all forms of concentration and meditation exercises. Yoga enables the devotee to switch off or on, at will, life current from the five sense telephones of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Attaining this power of sense-disconnection, the yogi finds it simple to unite his mind at will with divine realms or with the world of matter.
Each man’s intellectual reactions, feelings, moods, and habits are circumscribed by effects of past causes, whether of this or a prior life. Lofty above such influences, however, is his regal soul.
“Remember,” he had said slowly, “that he who discards his worldly duties can justify himself only by assuming some kind of responsibility toward a much larger family.”
Using a secret yoga technique, I broadcasted my love to Kashi’s soul through the microphone of the spiritual eye, the inner point between the eyebrows. With the antenna of upraised hands and fingers, I often turned myself round and round, trying to locate the direction in which he had been reborn as an embryo. I hoped to receive response from him in the concentration-tuned radio of my heart.
Creation is light and shadow both, else no picture is possible. The good and evil of maya must ever alternate in supremacy. If joy were ceaseless here in this world, would man ever seek another?
Only one reason, therefore, can motivate Babaji in maintaining his physical form from century to century: the desire to furnish humanity with a concrete example of its own possibilities.
Physical death is attended by the disappearance of breath and the disintegration of fleshly cells. Astral death consists of the dispersement of lifetrons, those manifest units of energy which constitute the life of astral beings.
Astral desires center around enjoyment in terms of vibration. Astral beings enjoy the ethereal music of the spheres and are entranced by the sight of all creation as exhaustless expressions of changing light. The astral beings also smell, taste, and touch light. Astral desires are thus connected with an astral being’s power to precipitate all objects and experiences as forms of light or as condensed thoughts or dreams.