Autobiography Of A Yogi
In view of the fact that the author of this book is also the publisher of East-West, we have decided against the usual type of book review-written by the Editor. Critiques are now appearing in nationally distributed magazines and in newspapers throughout the country. East-West's contribution to the growing file of comments will therefore consist of a review compiled from a cross-section of opinions expressed spontaneously by readers of the book. We have confined our selection to a few letters which give an idea of the general scope of the book, its value in acquainting the Westerner with the East, and its powerful spiritual impact on the minds and souls of earnest seekers.
First, we present the contribution of a man who has had much experience with the exponents of, various religious beliefs - James Warnack, Church Editor of the Los Angeles Times. In the following paragraphs Mr. Warnack gives his reactions to what he calls:
Yogananda's Fascinating Book
I have read Paramhansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi and I cannot resist the urge to write something about my reaction to the perusal of that remarkable volume. I am trying to forget (for a little while) that I have known Yogananda pleasantly for many years. In this brief article, I am recording mainly my reaction to the reading of the book. Briefly, it is this: the book fascinates me, challenges me mentally and spiritually arouses my curiosity, causes me to doubt, but also increases my faith and inspires me with the wish to live more nobly, more in accordance with that glorious inner "self" which I feel myself to be. My few "super- sensuous" experiences and my native faith in "the unseen universe" have a tendency to overcome many of my doubts and almost to compel me to believe the marvelous accounts given by one whose veracity I never have had occasion to doubt.
A truly rational mind (and I like to believe I possess such a mentality) should not, will not, declare a thing to be untrue merely because it has not come within the scope of its experience. On the other hand, it is not unreasonable to believe that many things, for which empirical science can give no explanation, may be true. If God is eternally manifesting "miracles" (and He is doing so, for who can "explain" the existence of any phenomenon?) why is it unreasonable to believe that "miracles" can be performed by souls in touch with Him and His creative genius? The evidences of such "miracles," throughout history, are too numerous to be lightly dismissed by the skeptic.
We of the western world are too prone to condemn or, rather, to deny the existence of Oriental masters of magic, to say nothing of masters of wisdom. Intelligent and devoted attention to any science is the key to its understanding. Anything to which the attention is devoted will come to be understood, in some degree, by the devotee. That rule, or law, holds good in the realms of all sciences, philosophies and religions. National ideals, when pushed to their extremes, may not always end desirably, but at least they demonstrate the old adage that "practice makes perfect." The western mind has been devoted, to no little extent, to mechanical sciences and to finance, and the result is apparent. The Indian (Hindu) mind has focalized on the ideals of spiritual perfection, and has produced many spiritual giants. When an Occidental (regardless of ancestral background) concentrates on spiritual matters, he learns something of the life spiritual. When the Oriental mind places its attention on science, it is rewarded by scientific discoveries.
Regardless of one's opinion of Yogananda's book, the writing of it was justified because it arouses curiosity, inspires thought and awakens the desire of the reader to know himself and to get in touch with that Divine Source of things of which most men are dimly aware. It is a worthwhile book because of the inspiration it provides, because of the "keys" to be found in the lives and words of the great sages and saints. Omar, the Persian poet, began his great poem with the word "Awake!" That is the challenge of all poets, of all spiritual teachers. all truly great philosophers, scientists and artists. I like The Autobiography of a Yogi because it says to the reader, "Awake!"
Scope of the Book
Many autobiographies arouse interest only in the personal life of the author, but in this one events share honors with the author's background, religion, philosophy and "way of life." Our reader-reviewers are impressed by the scope of the book. Here are the opinions of three, chosen at -random. Robert W. Smith of Cincinnati feels that:
It is not only an autobiography of yourself, but of Yoga-of India
-of the world-of life itself. I do not believe it second to any book available to mortals-for it contains, as I conceive it, the essence of the totality of eternal existence. . . .
The content combines the life of an individual who expresses the life of the race. I am Profoundly consoled by the human errors to which you have fallen victim as a youngster - and equally inspired and encouraged by your surmounting of all obstacles. A wonderful book-wonderful teachings-all of a wonderful exemplar of the East in the West.
From San Diego, Wesley H. HusIon writes:
I have just finished reading Autobiography of a Yogi. Just a word of appreciation. I feel that I have been in another world. One cannot help but live through the years and the experiences, feel the
sad and the glad, and the inspirations as they unfold, together with the revealing wisdom of mankind's relation with the Masters.
Some books have come before my attention that were written about India's Masters and Holy Men but by questionable authority, and one never knew how much was true; but this book alone is a beacon light for those in this world who in their hearts desire to know and dare to read. It seems like this is God's hand reaching through from behind the atoms, beckoning a fallen world back Home.
And Julia Trask of La Jolla writes:
For my part, I feel gratified and deeply grateful that the Autobiography of a Yogi has joined the rapidly swelling stream of works bringing knowledge of India's religion to the West.
I am grateful for the courage that has set down the wonders you have seen and experienced without capitulation to Western skepticism. This is what I have been calling the shock system, and I am delighted that your book is destined to strike another powerful blow. As it appears to me, at any rate, these books which tell us of the profound, the great, Spiritual Truths of India not as marvels but as simple matters of fact, will not in themselves convert. They will fulfill the important function of accustoming the Western mind to these truths, until familiarity slides easily into acceptance. That the divinity of the soul is the unshakable basis of life is known to millions in the West, but what that fact means in detail-what power of accomplishment is implicit in that fact-is for India to teach us. And we are learning. As a phenomenon, the atomic discoveries are as nothing in comparison with the way God appears oftener and oftener on the printed page. My faith is unswerving that, as the Light intensifies, the glare of the atomic bomb will be engulfed and its terrible force be directed to useful channels. It is a deep pride with me that my beloved Guru is a sovereign dynamo for making the Light ever more brilliant.
As to what I think of the book, I have only one criticism-1 could wish that the chapter on your great Master's resurrection had closed the book. It is the natural climax the high point-everything that follows, however interesting in itself, is anti-climax. The eagerness that carries one forward reaches the summit in Sri Yukteswar's awesome revelation.
The book has a charming story quality and the free use of dialogue gives it a lightness of touch which will float it where a heavier work, telling exactly the same things, might sink. And thank you for the laughter in it. It is wonderful to be gay with God.
Readers of a magazine such as East-West-devoted principally to spiritual subjects-will want to know more about the "powerful spiritual impact on the minds and souls of earnest seekers" ascribed to the book at the beginning of the review. To us, that is the greatest proof of its importance. But the readers who act as our -reviewers, illustrating this point by means of brief excerpts from their enthusiastic letters, must iremain anonymous since their expressions are so personal in nature.
In the pages of this book, some have found answers vainly sought for many years. As one of them says: "This is the work, the real gospel that 1 have waited for during the long years of spiritual researches." And another: "I pounced on the book like a starved man who had been lost in the jungle for weeks, and in the true sense your book and your great teachings have made me realize just how dense a jungle I had been living in for many, many years. Every word in your book was a banquet for me. It was worth waiting for, believe me. There were hundreds of questions which often I wanted to ask you but which for some reason I held back. The book has answered them all. . . . I know there are many starved spirits whom this book will lift and guide to the Path. By now you are receiving their vibrations of gratitude and those vibrations will increase day by day for years to come."
Some who have already felt the power of this book, foresee the effect it will have on future readers: "What a book! And how the truth rings long in it. It will shake quite a number of Sleepy Souls. Some will resent it and some will be happy and excited!"
Many students who are already on the spiritual path are encouraged, and inspired to intensify their efforts: "Each time I pick it up, I feel I cannot put it down until I have finished it," says one student, "but the terrific impact of the divine messages makes me so introspective I seek my own meditations with renewed zeal - saving the next chapter for more divine inspiration." Another declares: "Many, many times more will I read the pages of your Autobiography and may God help me to understand the meaning of it all. For almost twenty years I have been in contact with your teachings and I will try to work harder with your spiritual help."
It is not a book to he read and forgotten, but rather: "It is the kind of book that will stay near me--ever through the months and years, and each time I read it-I shall discover a new wisdom; How it will feed many a hungry soul! You have no idea how much I value your friendship--how honored I am to have touched even the outer rim of your wonderful orbit. I am being inwardly cleansed of many things, the old cloak of my outer life is being shed."
Some feel particularly drawn toward one or another of the saints and gurus depicted in the book. For example: "Though I found it all spiritually stimulating, I was particularly drawn by the account of the 'Blissful Mother.' Being a woman myself and feeling deeply the part woman must play in the coming day, I felt myself reaching out to Ananda Moyi Ma-yearning for the same type of consciousness." And another: "I have felt your master, his power so strong with me that I could not read any more, for some time I was just speechless, just sat quiet in that great power and held my head. Dear Master Guruji, I cannot express in words the blessing I have received. . ."
Last of all, we want to mention the astonishing fact that in some instances long-desired manifestations have occurred during the reading of this book: "I wish to report to your fine group that upon reading twelve chapters in this marvelous book I experienced an amazing healing from a terrible psychological affliction which had been with me since I was fourteen. I am so deeply thankful for this that I am dedicating the rest of my life to living the truth as taught by Yogananda and by helping to lift others into light. . . Be sure to inform Yogananda of this. He is indeed a great saintly light in this day! "
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