Last week I watched the documentary and read, the Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yoganada (1945). A book so life changing that it was handed out to each guest at Steve Jobs’ funeral. Widely read across the world and translated, it had a deep impact on Hollywood celebrities and everyday people alike. Among yoga reading lists, it tops the list.
This was the first yoga book I that disappointed me.
I wanted to like it. How often do we get a first person account of yoga mastery? The authenticity and sincerity of his voice are undeniable. And, yet, the too numerous to count accounts of yogis who can’t be photographed, who don’t sleep, who don’t eat, who have premonitions, who heal, who appear elsewhere, who can foretell the future, who tame lions and in general exhibit superhuman powers seem unhelpful to me, a suburban dance mom just trying to survive dinner and correct carpooling. I particularly disliked his use of yogic powers to help his sister gain weight so she might be attractive to her husband.
Maybe I don’t have the faith needed to believe in such extraordinary feats, maybe I just don’t see the value of these yogic powers for me and my family. Maybe I’m too much of an American yogi, corrupted by everyday banality, science, and technology. I just want to sit and breathe without feeling rushed or pulled apart. Perhaps, I aim too low.
I did enjoy learning about Yogananda’s struggles to establish his yoga centers, his travels and search to learn and share. I wish he wrote more about navigating his disappointments about schooling, organizational and management issues, money issues, travel constraints and living in America.
As you can imagine my favorite quote involves Yogananda describing the daily routine of his self-supporting guru, Sri Yukteswar,
Daily life at the ashram flowed smoothly, infrequently varied. My guru awoke before dawn. Lying down, or sometimes sitting on his bed, he entered a state of samadhi. It was simplicity itself to discover when Master had awakened: abrupt halt of stupendous snores. A sigh or two; perhaps a bodily movement. Then a soundless state of breathlessness: he was in deep yogic joy.
Breakfast did not follow; first came a long walk by the Ganges……..A bath, then the midday meal. Its preparation, according to Master’s daily directions, had been the careful task of young disciples. My guru was vegetarian. Before embracing monkhood, however, he had eaten eggs and fish. His advice to students was to follow any simple diet which proved suited to one’s constitution.
Master ate little; often rice, colored with turmeric or juice of beets or spinach and lightly sprinkled with buffalo ghee or melted butter. Another day he might have lentil-dal or channa curry with vegetables. For dessert, mangoes or oranges with rice pudding, or jackfruit juice.
Visitors appeared in the afternoon.
Even yogis with super powers had to eat (except for the lady yogi who went without eating).
Like yoga itself, we all have to find books that speak to us and resonate with our own experiences. I often find that I learn about myself from books I struggle with the most. This was the case for Autobiography of a Yogi. Read it for yourself to decide if it works for you. There are no reviewed shortcuts to mindful awareness.
Wishing you happy reading,