Those who practice yoga and meditation, or have benefitted from India’s vast spiritual insight, are in some way indebted to Paramahansa Yogananda (1893–1952), the first major teacher from India to settle in America. His spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi, chronicles the Hindu swami’s youthful encounters with saints and sages during his search for an enlightened teacher; his decade of devotion in the hermitage of his revered yoga master; and the 30 years he lived and taught in America.

“The value of Yogananda’s Autobiography is greatly enhanced by the fact that it is one of the few books in English about the wise men of India which has been written, not by a journalist or foreigner, but by one of their own race and training—in short, a book about yogis by a yogi,” writes W. Y. Evans-Wentz, author of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, in his forward to the book.

Yogananda’s Story

The chief disciple of the Indian sage Sri Yukteswar Giri, Yogananda—who claimed the writing of his book was prophesied long ago by the 19th-century Kriya Yoga master Lahiri Mahasaya (who was chosen by Mahavatar Babaji to reintroduce the lost yoga practice to the world)—was sent by his teacher in 1920 as his emissary to the West. Autobiography of a Yogi chronicles his journey to America, where he lectured to thousands—from New York’s Carnegie Hall to Los Angeles’ Philharmonic Auditorium—and in 1924, established his permanent home in Los Angeles, as well as the international headquarters for his Self-Realization Fellowship; his visit to India in 1935, where he encountered spiritual figures such as Mahatma Gandhi (who requested initiation in Kriya Yoga) and Rabindranath Tagore; and his return to the West, where he continued to establish his teachings in America, including writing his autobiography in 1946 at his hermitage in Encinitas, California.

Yogananda’s reverence for all spiritual paths—those of Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Muslims, humanists and scientists alike—emphasized the underlying unity of the world’s great religions, and offered universally applicable methods for attaining direct personal experience of God. To serious students of his teachings, he taught the soul-awakening techniques of Kriya Yoga (which means “Divine Union”), initiating more than 100,000 men and women during his 30 years in the West.

According to Philip Goldberg, who wrote American Veda: How Indian Spirituality Changed the West, “…the Self-Realization Fellowship which represents Yogananda’s Legacy is justified in using the slogan, ‘The Book that Changed the Lives of Millions.’” Autobiography of a Yogi has sold millions of copies in more than 40 languages, and remains the perennial book for seekers worldwide.

 

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About the author

Justine Amodeo is a contributing editor to Bodhi Tree and the editor of Pacific Coast Magazine and Montagemagazine.com. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of California, Irvine, and has been a student of Kashmir Shaivism and the Feminine Wisdom Tradition work of Nisha Bhairavi for many years.