2006 Marks 60th Anniversary of Autobiography of a Yogi
By Jill Mangino
It is a rare occasion when you find a book that has made as indelible an impact on humanity as “Autobiography of a Yogi” (Self-Realization Fellowship) by Paramahansa Yogananda, a book that continues to inspire spiritual seekers around the globe. Celebrating 60 years of continuous print, the enduring appeal of this spiritual classic seems only to increase with time.
First published in 1946, the critically-acclaimed book is recognized as a masterpiece of spiritual literature and considered one of the most widely-read and respected books ever published on the wisdom of the East. It is both a beautifully-written account of Yogananda’s exceptional life and a profound introduction to the ancient science of Yoga and its time-honored tradition of meditation.
Yogananda is widely revered as one of the preeminent spiritual figures of our time and is regarded as the father of Yoga in the West. His teachings have influenced a diverse array of luminaries, from peace apostle Mahatma Gandhi to legendary star Elvis Presley.
“You would be hard-pressed to find anyone on the spiritual path whose life has not been influenced by this profound work of literature,” states author Jack Canfield, co-creator of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul®” series, whose own personal journey began by reading “Autobiography of a Yogi”.
When asked by The New York Times which book he would most like to have written, Andrew Weil, M.D., health expert and author, responded, “The Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda, because then I would have had all of the fabulous experiences he described growing up in India in the early part of this century.”
With great humility, warmth and wit, Yogananda chronicles his profound encounters with India’s myriad saints and sages on his youthful search for an illumined teacher. In 1910, at age 17, he met the revered Indian sage, Swami Sri Yukteswar, in whose hermitage he spent the better part of the next ten years. After graduating from Calcutta University in 1915, he became a monk of India’s venerable monastic Swami Order, at which time he received the name Yogananda (signifying bliss, ananda, through divine union, yoga).
Yogananda began his life’s work with the founding, in 1917, of a “how-to-live” school, where modern educational methods were combined with yoga training and instruction in spiritual ideals. Visiting the school in 1925, Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “This institution has greatly impressed my mind.”
In his autobiography, Yogananda recounts the remarkable foretelling of his arrival in the United States. While still in his native India, he had a vision of America: “America! Surely these people are Americans! This was my thought as a panorama of Western faces passed before my inward view.” The very following day he received an invitation to serve as the delegate from India to an International Congress of Religious Liberals in America.
Soon after this, Yogananda had another vision, of the great immortal saint Mahavatar Babaji, the guru of his paramguru Lahiri Mahasaya in which Babaji addressed him, “You are the one I have chosen to spread the message of Kriya Yoga in the West. Long ago I met your guru Yukteswar at a Kumbha Mela; I told him I would send you to him for training.”
In 1920, Yogananda set sail for America as the Indian delegate to the International Congress of Religious Liberals, convening in Boston, and founded Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) that same year.
In 1925, Yogananda took up residence in Los Angeles where he established an international headquarters for his society. Over the next decade he traveled and lectured extensively, speaking to capacity audiences in major cities throughout North America and Europe. To the tens of thousands of Westerners who attended his lectures, his discourses on the unity of “the original teachings of Jesus Christ and the original Yoga taught by Bhagavan Krishna” were a revelation. Not only did Yogananda teach the underlying unity of all the great spiritual traditions — devoting himself to fostering greater harmony and cooperation among all religions, races and nationalities — he also brought the knowledge of Yoga and meditation to millions through his public lectures and writings, as well as through the many SRF meditation centers he founded (and that are still flourishing today).
From his Los Angeles International Headquarters, he also printed the Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons on the science of Kriya Yoga meditation and the art of spiritual living; these lessons continue to reach students worldwide. The emphasis on these teachings is balanced development of body, mind and soul; their goal is direct personal experience of God.
The writing of “Autobiography of A Yogi” was prophesied in the 19th century by the revered Indian master Lahiri Mahasaya: “About fifty years after my passing, an account of my life will be written because of a deep interest in yoga that will arise in the West.” Years later, Mahasaya’s exalted disciple Swami Sri Yukteswar related this prophecy to his disciple, Paramahansa Yogananda: “You must do your part in spreading that message and in writing that sacred life.” It was in 1945, exactly 50 years after Lahiri Mahasaya’s passing, that Yogananda completed work on the book.
Yogananda did most of his writing at the beautiful coastal hermitage of Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas, California, the society’s retreat in the California desert, and at the Los Angeles headquarters of
SRF. The book has been translated in over 20 languages and has sold millions of copies worldwide.
“Autobiography of A Yogi” is a must-read for those on the spiritual path. A
popular audiobook edition, narrated by Sir Ben Kingsley, is now also available
from Self-Realization Fellowship.
SRF has many temples and meditation centers located throughout the Southern California area, where weekly meditation and inspirational services are held.
For a schedule of services and other programs, or for additional information about SRF, books and recordings by Paramahansa Yogananda and his monastic disciples, visit: www.yogananda-srf.org or call Self-Realization Fellowship Los Angeles headquarters at (323) 225-2471.
Return to the November/December Index page