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.