I like reading biographies, autobiographies, though I have not read too many of them. They reveal the intimate details not only about the person, but also about the era in which they lived. These provide documentation references to culture, and society. I also have translated biography of Amirbai Karnataki last year to Marathi from Kannada. It was much appreciated by people in Maharashtra as it provided lot of material and information about her era as see by people from Karnataka.
This particular book was on my list for quiet some time, but other priorities were pushing my reading it down. I finally was lent a copy of it by a friend of mine, and I decided to read it and got over it this Diwali. Spirituality usually is associated with cults, which I try to stay away from-that also could have been the reason to not have picked up this book till now. Spirituality is going beyond human intellect and thoughts.
I did not know anything about the author-Paramhansa Yogananda, earlier, except the fact that I had seen him associated with Ananda Sangha advertisements in the newspapers in the past. The book is about his life, his gurus, yoga, meditation system called Kriya Yoga. I am not going to talk anything about his teachings on yoga or spirituality, as I am no expert and reading the autobiography does not make me one. Because of my interest in Indology, I have studied aspects of Indian culture and tradition, which includes six systems of Indian philosophy(yoga is one of them. I have discussed the other system Nyay here on the blog). I also have written about Philosophy Of Bhakti(devotion, also referred as Bhakti Yoga) on the this blog in the past. My interest in these topics is academic as of now, have not yet been into it deeply from practicing perspective.
It was amazing to know that Paramhansa Yogananda spent most of his life in USA. He went to the USA in 1920. Now this is very interesting. I sometimes used to wonder what is the history of yoga in the western world, who introduced it there, what made it so popular. Few names always popped up such as Swami Vivekanada, Osho etc. But strangely enough, his name never came forward.
The book is very detailed, and is full of footnotes, many times by publisher. Like many yogis in India, he also attained enlightenment in Himalayas, found his guru there. The book has detailed account of all that. The details of his USA travel on a boat, his interactions with and observations of Mahatma Gandhi, Christian mystic saints, make the book very interesting. He founded two organizations named Yogoda Satsang Society and Self-Realization Foundation. One of the centers is in Los Angeles also, which I could have visited, during my stay there couple of years ago, had I had know of it. He also founded a school in Ranchi as well. During his meeting with Rabindranath Tagore about which he talks in one of the chapters, where he says that he and Tagore compared their approach. The chapter in which he describes his encounter with Indian scientist Jagdishchandra Bose is also interesting, both in UK and later in India.
He also mentions of his experience with movies, which were novelty that time. Whenever he traveled back to India, he brought with him the Ford car, and traveled in that during his stay in India. He visited Mahatma Gandhi in his ashram in Wardha in this car. The chapter in which he talks of his visit to south India, specifically, details on his visit to Mysore, Maharaja’s palace, throws interesting details of that age. He also has vividly captured details of his travel across the USA such as visit to Yellowstone National Park, Desert National Park etc.
The book discusses many concepts such as spirituality, cosmic consciousness, Christ Consciousness, Science of Kriya Yoga, super-consciousness and also subconsciousness. I would have liked to see some discussion on spirituality and relation with atheism.
As mentioned earlier, I had seen the author associated in the advertisements of Ananda Sangha, but after reading the book I came to know that Ananda Sangha was formed much later after him and that also has interesting history related to organizational disputes leading to separation. It seems that they have made a film on his life called ‘Finding Happiness’-need to catch hold of that and watch sometime to know more.
Few years back, I had read a Hindi version of book by Bimal Dey, and the name was ‘Mahatirth Ke Antim Yatri’ which is about Bimal Dey’s adventurous travel to Tibet. I somehow recalled that, when I read this biography especially, parts where he talks of his travels. More about that book later, though.