Yogananda’s “Autobiography of a Yogi” — A Summary
A Brief Summary
Paramhansa Yogananda, widely credited with bringing yoga to the west, tells the story of his remarkable lifelong spiritual journey in Autobiography of a Yogi. From a very young age, Yogananda, born Mukunda Lal Ghosh, was clearly more spiritually natured than most. He grew up one of eight children to his mother, a “queen of hearts,” and his father, a strict disciplinarian who held a high position in the Bengal-Nagpur railway. His parents were disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya, guru of Yogananda’s own guru, and they enjoyed a calm and loving marriage. Aside from young Mukunda’s strong spiritual yearnings, he and his siblings appeared to have a typical lifestyle.
When he was 11 years old, Yogananda’s mother appeared before him in a vision that foretold her death. He would continue to have similar premonitory visions throughout his life. Soon after his mother’s death, Yogananda began feeling drawn toward the Himalayas and planned a pilgrimage. He was stopped by his older brother, Ananta, but Yogananda did not stop seeking his spiritual teacher, who he finally found at the age of 17.
Though he first distrusted his instincts, Yogananda knew immediately who Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri was when he saw him in a Benares market. He had seen him in visions and his appearance had been announced that morning by a “divine womanly voice.” During those first few moments of meeting, the two promised each other unconditional love. Soon after, Yogananda gave responsibility for his life over to his guru though he didn’t like all of his master’s suggestions or his “cold” manner at times. Sri Yukteswar was firm but loving, and he had an intense impact on Yogananda.
The guru-disciple relationship, which according to Yogananda began lifetimes ago, is a key aspect of the book. Yogananda’s devotion to Sri Yukteswar only grows stronger with time. At times he stays at Sri Yukteswar’s ashram, delighted to hear stories of Sri Yukteswar’s life. Sri Yukteswar initiates him into Kriya yoga, something he had experienced twice before but which he only feels the transformative power of when under his master’s auspices. During his time at Sri Yukteswar’s ashram (which was near the Serampore College Yogananda attended), he sometimes struggles to perform the mundane tasks that are required. He’d prefer to be meditating. Sri Yukteswar teaches him the importance of serving one’s worldly purposes. At other times, the two live continents apart. Even when they are living far apart, however, Yogananda claims his master appeared before him in a vision. He also appeared, in flesh and blood, from beyond the grave. This type of otherworldly experience pervades the book until it just appears a typical fact of life for Yogananda.
Yogananda received his Bachelor’s degree from the Serampore College in Calcutta in 1915, though he made no attempt to say he was a good student – he grudgingly did the minimum to get by in school, as he was only interested in the spiritual path. In 1917, Yogananda founded a school for boys in Dihika, West Bengal, where yoga was taught along with the typical curriculum. In 1920, Yogananda went to the United States where his talks about religion and yoga were enthusiastically received. He founded the Self-Realization Fellowship and lectured widely. In 1925, he established the Self-Realization Fellowship headquarters in Los Angeles, California. He met with various eminent spiritual figures and other notable people, including Therese Neumann, Sri Anandamayi Ma, Mohandas Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Sir C. V. Raman, and Luther Burbank.
Though Yogananda was Hindu, he respected and seems to have resonated with all religions. He often shared the teachings of Jesus Christ and quoted various other religious figures. His ability to transcend religion attracted numerous devotees and earned him respect among the masses. To this day, Autobiography of a Yogi is widely lauded as one of the most important spiritual texts of our time.