Film star Rajinikanth rates this as his most favourite book in a Youtube video and calls it a ‘life-changer’. So does a friend of mine from my schooldays. Watching the video perchance and a healthy review by my friend prompted me to read it. The motive was to find the higher purpose in life I have been seeking over the last year and a half in the wake of unimaginable loss and trauma. To me, this book holds within it, the truth(s) that may set me free – or rather make me realise that my soul is not a caged bird. Neither were the souls of near and dear ones I have lost.
As a probing, truth-seeking rationalist I often felt confounded by blind beliefs held by staunch adherents of religious faiths. But as Paramahansa Yogananda writes and reminds readers ever and anon in the book, seeking is a painful and frustrating process but then the answers are received by the grace of God. Some serendipitously are led to their ‘gurus’ (which the Yogi reminds readers, actually means ‘a person who helps you to come out of darkness’) as if by destiny. This happened to the author himself, to his own guru (Yukteshwar Giri), and his guru’s guru (Lahiri Mahasya) too. Whether or not such things happen in the 21st century, can be answered simply by reading the anecdotes about the 20thcentury, narrated by the author in his book. True stories of time travel, clairvoyance, materialising and dematerialising at will, miracle-healing – not the ones which people do for money or fame or favours, but rather to pursue the God-assigned tasks of educating and guiding humans along the less-trodden spiritual path – are interspersed amidst expositions of the spiritual sciences! Evidently, Paramhansa Yogananda could easily read the minds of readers in the years to come, and knew that attention can be sustained by mixing anecdotes with abstruse theory, and in the process, also make the theory understandable.
Written in exquisite English, and illustrated with priceless photographs, the book provides a look-in to the author’s life from his childhood days right up to his setting-up of the Self Realization Fellowship in California. It is a self-learner for those who are interested in seeking spiritual growth, and by the time you complete reading it, you must be completely convinced about the fact that everything gross perceived by the sense organs is essentially a ‘play of light’, a manifestation of divine vibrations in a form which can be sensed by humans through the external sense organs. They are mere ideas in God’s mind (which Albert Einstein) said, he was keen to understand the working of), and humans are challenged to look for the subtle beyond the gross, the light behind matter, the unmanifest behind the manifested.
Yogananda introduces the readers to several spiritualists, true men and women of God…some lesser known ones too, who thanks to him and the book, have become known to millions of readers. He frequently refers to Jesus Christ and quotes from the New Testament, as that surely would have been the best way to bond with disciples in the USA (it is there that he wrote this book) and explain the conspicuous parallels and similarities among the teachings of prophets of different religions. For those who do not know, Jesus in an earlier incarnation was Elijah’s disciple; Elijah was reborn as John the Baptist! Yogananda, in the Newtonian spirit of standing on the shoulders of giants, venerates Manu (while clearing all misconceptions the West may have about the origin and the purpose of the caste system in Hindu society), Adi Shankara the Buddha, Swami Vivekananda (who had predicted the arrival of Yogananda in the USA, to an American disciple in Chicago), Ramkrishna Paramhansa (the guru Vivekananda was automatically led to, by God’s decree), Aurobindo Ghosh (the silent man, who spoke very less), and Mahatma Gandhi (the ‘political saint’ who popularised non-violence).
Mumbai story – three bodies for a soul
The author narrates an incident from the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, when his guru Yukteshwar Giri, appears resurrected, after having left his mortal frame a few months ago, and explains that the soul has three different bodies belonging to three different cosmoses – physical (on earth), astral (in the astral cosmos) and causal (in the causal cosmos). The astral and causal cosmoses, in Yukteshwar Giri’s words, are very vast, and vis-à-vis them, the physical universe which we are familiar with is but a small bag hanging at the tip of an expansive balloon. Souls assume human lives in this ‘bag’, play out their karma, and on leaving the mortal casing, ascend up to the astral realm for a period of rest. Those which have not shed their desires, return back – reincarnate – and keep oscillating in this birth-death cycle.
Some make a concerted effort to commune with God, and ascend on the spiritual ladder, and ultimately are able to escape the ‘bag’ altogether. However, there is one more cycle to break – the astral-causal one, before the soul merges with God, the Oversoul, the non-material world of ideas. While human beings access the astral realm and are often said to be able to communicate with the souls of departed near and dear ones in their dreams (by tapping into their sub-conscious), this is not akin to communing with God. It is super-consciousness cultivated by some yogis which enables their souls to experience the Bliss of the causal cosmos even when housed in the bodily encasements on earth. The gist of the book, or the reason why many readers may wish to read and grasp the advice given in it, is what is called Kriya Yoga – a science of body, mind and spirit. It is a breathing technique which when consistently and persistently practised, enables humans to ‘comprehend the tremendous potential inherent in them’.
Reviewer merely enabler
Do read the book. It is also downloadable as a PDF online (a shorter version though). It is a must-read while we are struggling on Terra Firma and battling menaces like Covid and the like. The sooner the spiritual journey commences in a human’s life, the better. It is not advisable to wait till one’s Sannyasashrama or Vanaprasthashrama. God knows, if these ‘ashramas’ will even appear in one’s life on earth, given all the uncertainties that prevail. Doomsday-thinking, some may complain! Well, after reading the book, you will agree with me that there is no doomsday per se. It is all a Maya.