Autobiography of a Yogi is a life-changing, paradigm-shattering book, rightly listed as one of the “100 most important spiritual books of the 20th century”.
Although first published over 70 years ago, it received renewed attention when it was revealed not only as one of Steve Jobs’ favourite books, but also his parting gift to friends and family upon his death.
All those who attended his funeral were given copies of Autobiography of a Yogi.
This was the visionary entrepreneur’s final message to the world, and it had nothing to do with iPods or iPhones.
The message was simple and clear — know yourself and actualise yourself.
The impact this book has made in the world cannot be understated.
It introduced whole generations in the West to previously unheard of concepts, such as yoga, meditation and the quest for Self-realisation. Whereas before few outside the East would have had access to such knowledge, it’s now estimated that 20 million people in the USA alone practise yoga. Talk about a cultural shift!
But while many see yoga as a means of attaining physical fitness, toned abs or mental well-being, there’s actually a great deal more to it. The very word ‘yoga’ means ‘union’ — referring to
The very word ‘yoga’ means ‘union’ — referring to experiential realisation of the Divine within.
The book is, as the title suggests, the life story of a yogi named Paramahansa Yogananda.
Born at the tail end of the 19th century to a Bengal family in India, Yogananda was consumed from a young age with a passion and fervour to seek and attain Self-realisation and enlightenment.
Autobiography of a Yogi is a wonderful portal into a different culture and age; one in which the pursuit of spiritual knowledge and liberation is a recognised as not only a valid and worthwhile endeavour — but the ultimate goal of life.
Although often eliciting the ire of his more worldly siblings, Yogananda was resolute in his determination to pursue his spiritual calling. The book recounts a number of his encounters with holy men, saints and mystics as he grows up.
Some might find these episodic tales somewhat incredulous, for they involve a number of miracles and mind-bending feats.
But whether one is sceptical or takes things at face value, one of the things Autobiography of a Yogi does is remind us that there’s far more to this existence than we are usually aware of as we live consumed by the mundane humdrum of everyday life.
Reading this book always reawakens a sense of wonder and possibility about life, and a sense of the divinity of all things. When we have the eyes to see it, life is full of magic and the very fact we exist is a miracle in itself.
This book provides a window to a completely different world, unveiling India’s incredibly rich spiritual culture.
While materialism and Westernisation have changed the country in the intervening years, I’ve spent some time in South India. I can attest that the spiritual dimension to life is still very much alive and evident in its iconography and daily practise.
Yogananda’s guru, the formidable Sri Yukteswar prophecised that Yogananda would bring the message of yoga to the soul-hungry West, and this he certainly did. Yogananda did so in a measured and scientific way, making these ancient teachings accessible to the modern Western mind in a way they perhaps wouldn’t have been before.
His central practice is kriya yoga, a form of kundalini yoga designed to move energy up the spine and through the nerve centres and what is known in India as chakras. He presents this as the scientific method for attaining Self-realisation and God-consciousness.
It was a number of years after I first read this book that I finally learned and began to practise kriya yoga. All I can say is that it works! At its heart is a simple and powerful practice involving breath, concentration and meditation, and it really can have incredible effects. I’d definitely encourage anyone serious about spiritual growth to check out this practise and give it a go.
Richly and colourfully written, Autobiography of a Yogi is a timeless read.
Sometimes the language and phraseology can be a tad archaic (every so often Yogananda uses phrases such as “I suddenly ejaculated”, which might raise eyebrows), but it doesn’t matter when it’s such an immersive and delightful journey.
From a purely psychological point of view, I’d have like a little more insight into Yogananda’s motivations and struggles on the spiritual path. I feel these were perhaps glossed over.
His time in America is only summarised briefly. Apparently, he found it an immense struggle and experienced a number of hardships, conflicts and betrayal. His own writings reveal times of great discouragement. This is not covered in the book at all.
I feel Yogananda chose to sidestep his own psychological struggles in favour of focusing on the wondrous experiences he’d had meeting remarkable yogis and saints. This may be both a sign of the times in which the book was written and cultural differences.
It’s impossible to say whether Yogananda was enlightened or not, but I am certain he was a genuine man of notable attainment and whose achievements literally changed the world.
Autobiography of a Yogi is a book I will never tire of reading.
More than just a book, it’s an experience and a glimpse into a world of transcendence and possibility. Anyone who has practised kriya yoga will know it’s possible to shift consciousness and at times even experience the truly miraculous.
Intriguing, entertaining, inspiring and at times deeply moving, this is a book that truly can change lives.
Buy it now on Amazon or elsewhere. I believe the first edition is now in the public domain, so it would be fairly easy to chase a free e-copy online!