Category Archives: Philosophy

The review of Autobiography of a Yogi

Portrait of Steve Jobs holding Autobiography of a Yogi

Autobiography of a Yogi, as the name suggests, is an autobiography of an Indian yogi named Paramhansa Yogananda. Prior to becoming a yogi, his name was Mukunda Lal Ghosh and was the fourth child of a financially comfortable Bengali family.

From his childhood itself he was drawn towards spiritualism, search for God and finding the true meaning of life. Once he scared his little sister by drawing three paper kites (being flown by other kids on other roofs of the adjacent houses) to him successively by simply wishing for them to come to him. His father, Bhagabati Charan Ghosh, was employed on a high post in the Indian Railway in British India.

There are many books in my Kindle collection that have just been randomly added for many years. A few times it has so happened that I have come across a book while reading something else and thought of purchasing it. While purchasing I’ve discovered or realized that I already have that book with me. Autobiography of a Yogi is one such book. I had purchased it many years ago and then forgotten about it. Forgotten in the sense that normally when I was browsing through my index, I often used to come across this face of a yogi with a flowing mane staring at me (the cover of the book), I would look at the title and then move onto another book.

Now I don’t remember why recently I started reading Autobiography of a Yogi but I do remember someone telling in a YouTube video that Steve Jobs used to read this book once every year and he would often gift the book to family, friends and colleagues, as a source of self-realization. Perhaps that was also one of the reason why I started reading the book (you see, we Indians have this tendency of finding things more fascinating when they have been accepted and endorsed by Westerners).

But that was not the only reason (Steve jobs reading and recommending Autobiography of a Yogi) why I kept reading the book once I started reading it (I mention this because these days I don’t waste my time if I don’t find a book worth reading, just because I have purchased it).

In the beginning of 2015 I chanced upon a great book called Law of Attraction (another book in my collection that has been there for years, unread) and once I started reading it, I found myself agreeing to almost the entire content of the book and ever since then, have applied many suggestions given in the book to my own life. Not that my life has miraculously changed or anything, but everything described and documented in the book is so logical that even believing in miracles doesn’t seem illogical.

The events described in Autobiography of a Yogi are just a continuation of the central theme of Laws of Attraction, that you are the one responsible for whatever is happening in your life. If you want to remain healthy, you just need to will to remain healthy, if you want things to happen the way you want them to happen, you just need to will them to happen just the way you want them to happen. It may seem absurd, but if you read Laws of Attraction and then Autobiography of a Yogi, you will find a great similarity. What has been described in Laws of Attraction in theory, has been demonstrated as real-life examples in Autobiography of a Yogi. The fundamental philosophy of life remains unchanged, whether it’s the West or the Orient.

The only difference between both the books is that Autobiography of a Yogi doesn’t mince the words when describing miracles. For example, when Paramhansa Yogananda (Mukunda) was a teenager he fell so sick that he would have died any minute. His mother fervently prayed to the family’s spiritual guru Shri Lahiri Mahasaya and even urged Mukunda to pray to the great Yogi, which the child did with great concentration. There was a flash of light in the room and Mukunda was instantly cured, reaffirming his faith in the supreme power of sadhana.

Throughout the book he gives ample examples of yogis appearing and disappearing from and into thin air, of them travelling through length and breadth of the country while sitting in meditation, and controlling the matter and the laws of physics and drawing solid things out of nothingness.

Everything is explained scientifically so there is no miracle. There are many things that are very difficult for us to understand simply because we don’t have that sort of insight and intelligence. You need to read the book with an open mind if you really want to complete it and even if you don’t believe in the miracles described in the book, the philosophy explained in the book will give you an insight into how one should live his or her life.

The lives of many saints have been chronicled in the book, especially of the yogis and gurus that directly influenced Paramhansa Yogananda. There are a couple of chapters on Lahiri Mahasaya who was one of the greatest yogis despite remaining married and having kids.

Then there is the mention of Babaji who is described as an avatar, or rather, Mahavatar. It is believed that Babaji never dies. He lives like a true yogi, mostly in Himalayan caves, and he is also believed to have given yoga initiation to Adi Shankara and then later on, after many centuries, to Kabir. Babaji tutored Lahiri Mahasaya and initiated him, then Lahiri Mahasaya tutored and initiated Sri Yukteswar and then Sri Yukteswar tutored and initiated Yogananda Paramhansa. Once Babaji decided to leave this world but his divine sister urged him not to and then he declared that he would never leave this world, so he is still supposed to be alive.

There are many instances of yogis achieving higher realms of living and being a yogi doesn’t mean that you have to be from India. Paramhansa Yogananda, after having moved to the United States on the instruction of his master (the entire line of masters including Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya and Sri Yukteswara it seems have been preparing Paramhansa Yogananda to spread the knowledge of yoga in the Western world), was returning to India once and on his way he visited a Bavarian stigmatist Therese Neumann who would manifest the wounds of Christ (called stigmata) every Friday. She never ate food. Every morning at 6 AM she would just eat one consecrated wafer. There are a few other yogis who don’t need to eat food because they can survive on the cosmic energy.

The most fantastic aspect of the book is the chapter where Paramhansa Yogananda writes about the coming back of his own guru, Sri Yukteswar, after death. Sri Yukteswar tells Yogananda that after leaving Earth, he went to another planet called Hiranyaloka as saviour of more advanced beings (compared to the beings on Earth). At the time of the writing of the book, Sri Yukteswar was aiding the superior beings of Hiranyaloka to liberate them from astral karma. The inhabitants of that planet have already gone through the cycle of life and death on Earth and have attained a higher form of consciousness before they can rise further. On that planet or in that realm of consciousness, they are still trapped in some form of karmic cycles which they need to get rid of before getting nearer to the God being and Sri Yukteswar, being an enlightened being himself, was helping the inhabitants of the planet.

The world as we know, according to the revelations made by Sri Yukteswar after his resurrection, exists as different layers of consciousness. In the consciousness where he was living at that time, there was no sadness and pain and everything was beautiful. He describes in detail in how much bliss the inhabitants of Hiranyaloka live and through what spiritual and physical processes and births the people of Earth have to go through before landing on such a planet. Sri Yukteswar verifies the infinite universes and parallel existences described in the Hindu Upanishads, written thousands of years ago.

Personally the only nagging point in the book is that although the book has been written in and around 1945 and it describes a period between somewhere around 1915-1940, not even once he talks about India’s freedom struggle. He goes meets great scientists Bose, he also interacts in detail with Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, but he never talks about the various events unfolding at that time in British India.

Understandably the book has been written more for Western readers rather than Indian readers and you can make this out from ample examples from Bible and other Christian saints. He constantly calls various Indian saints and yogis “Christlike”.

Would I recommend the book? Yes. Would you trust or believe the events, phenomenon and personalities described in the book? It depends on your personal belief. In order to believe what’s written in the book you don’t need to believe in the supernatural or the miraculous. I’m not a superstitious person but I do believe beyond an iota of doubt that there are many aspects of this world that we don’t understand. Modern-day science was once considered witchcraft. Scientists were put to death for saying that the earth goes around the sun instead of the sun going around the earth. So maybe the miracles that seem miracles may no longer remain miracles once someone can properly explain them and prove the science behind them.

Simply earning lots of money doesn’t make you powerful

In the morning a client called and it was crystal clear from his tone that he is totally into bossing people around (he was making his secretary talk to me). He was trying to tell me how much he was going pay and when.

I politely asked his secretary to tell him that as a policy (so please don’t take this personally) I don’t alow my clients to dictate terms and it’s I who decides how much a client needs to pay and when. Deciding who decides my payment terms is not the main issue. The issue is, how a person thinks of himself or herself when he or she thinks that earning more means you are more powerful than the other person.

Power depends on lots of factors; of course money is one of them, but it is not the only factor that makes you powerful. Your power is gauged by the degree of influence you weild in this world.

Influence, and also independence. How powerful you are also is reflected by how independent you are. Suppose you think that you are powerful because you own an Audi? Then you sense of power depends on the fact that you own an expensive car or you have the means to own it.

A person who cannot afforf an Audi and doesn’t need an expensive car to feel powerful is much more powerful than you. I know this is rhetorical, because having money didn’t just mean owning an expensive car; it also means you can provide worldclass opportunities to your family in terms of education, medical care (when needed) and general quality of life. Just random thinking.

Why we exist

Just an hour ago my wife and I had an argument over our neighbor and I cut her short telling her I wasn’t interested in these types of inanities (I know, I know, telling this to your wife can be disastrous).  We’re still not talking but I found this engaging essay on "Why we exist" and I couldn’t help wondering, "Exactly what happened during the Big Bang that led us to this argument?"

Whenever life throws at me existential perplexities I usually think about my place in the universe and why things happen the way they do.  I am not referring to cause and effect.  As the essay says billions of things exactly had to be the way they were in order to enable us to exist.

Even setting aside the issue of being here and now, the probability of random physical laws and events leading to this point is less than 1 out of 100,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, equivalent to winning every lottery there ever was.

Personally I believe our perception of the universe and the life as it exists is based on our current knowledge.  There was a time when people thought the earth is flat and the sun goes around the earth. This perception existed for thousands of years until scientists discovered, over a period of some centuries, that the earth is not flat and the sun does not go around the earth.  The essay says if the chain reaction that happened during the Big Bang had even slightly altered life wouldn’t have existed.

I think we very easily believe that there is just one big bang in the history of the known universe and there were no other big bangs.  For all you know big bangs are happening all the time in the universe.

And life must also be different in different cases and we may not be even able to define or recognize different definitions of life.  It is all about perception.  Right now we believe life is all about thinking, feeling and understanding things around us or beyond our consciousness. Life may hold altogether a different meaning in another part of the universe.  Maybe intelligence doesn’t even need a body to exist or to feel.  Maybe there are big globules of intelligence floating around the sizes of suns and stars in various parts of the universe.

Coming back to why we exist and why things happen the way they do.  It will certainly take us a while to understand this if at all we understand one day.  I don’t believe that the history of our perception begins with the Big Bang because lots of stuff must have happened in order to trigger the mother of all the bangs (according to history of the bangs we know). It may not usually be a scientific question.  Intelligence and human emotions are beyond science.

There is another realm we are unaware of.

Does time travel both ways

Recently I stumbled upon a scientific link (unfortunately I lost it) that talked about certain regions in the universe where time travels backwards and even both ways sometimes.  Can it really happen?

I personally feel time is a human concept.  It goes in one direction because we age more and not less and therefore we see everything else around us with that perception.  Of course we come from matter and then go back to matter and this can be something like going back in time but it’s not like you can go back 2 weeks and take care of chores you missed. My limited knowledge of science doesn’t let me see time as a physical entity.  It is there, we are all aware of it, we have clocks to track it but we cannot actually see it or feel it.  So it is hypothetical and it is primarily used to organize and synchronize our activities.

Why scientists think that time can travel backwards is because right now our universe is expanding.  From a center it is going away so time is moving in a particular direction. Once our universe has expended enough it will start contracting (something like yo-yo) and this will how the time will start moving backward.  It doesn’t make sense.  Whether our earth moves from left to right or from right to left (in relation to the sun) and provided no disaster occurs how is it going to affect the way we grow old or build bridges or destroy forests?  If the earth changes direction the bridges are not going to disappear all of a sudden and children are not going to enter the wombs.

Or maybe I don’t understand the concept of time properly and somewhere I’m confusing it with present, past and future.  Maybe present, past and future have got nothing to do with time.  Any ideas?

Does God really not exist?

Stephen Hawking thinks according to laws of physics the universe could have happened on its own and we don’t need a god to create it. According to him and many other scientists there is a theory that can explain every existing law of physics and if we are able to understand that theory we have understood the mind of God.

I think all the scientists jump the gun when they denounce the existence of some unknown power that we often prefer to term as “God” at the drop of a hat. You cannot say things just happened. I know, I may have a limited knowledge of time and I may not be aware of the true concept of what is beginning and what is end and in what direction moves what, the commonsense says there has to be something or someone eventually. You may not like to call it God but whatever triggered the current universe must have some kind of origin. It’s like, although you can say that a marble will roll down a slope automatically, someone puts that marble at that place from where it can roll down. So there is some force that somewhere initiated something that resulted in the kind of universe that we currently have.

Scientists perhaps get mixed up with that original “God” with mythical and prophetic worldly gods. For instance, Christians say that God created this world in “n” days, Muslims say something else and Hindus have their own idea of creation and destruction. These gods may be just works of fiction or delusion but it doesn’t mean that there is no ultimate power. It may not be human or something we can relate to. It can be a complex blob of intelligence that just floats around creating universes, or anything.

With our limited understanding it won’t be humanly possible to go to the beginning of things because if you actually think there can be no beginning because there is always something before the beginning. Something like, before you were born there were your parents and before they were born there were their parents and before our ancestors were born there were apes and monkeys and before apes and monkeys were born there were other forms of lives and before those other forms of lives came into existence there were some chemical reactions and before those chemical reactions there were some chemicals that caused some other reactions, so on and so forth. It doesn’t seem to end and I don’t think it can ever end because before everything there is something else. This seems so bizarre that even before God there has to be some super God that gave rise to the god that created the universe.

Maybe that’s why we come up with simple explanations and routine denials because once you start thinking about that literally, there is no end to it. That’s why we talk of the origin of the universe or the big bang theory and were normally don’t talk about what was there before that.