Friday, December 30, 2011

Book Review: Autobiography of a Yogi

Why not read some third-grade fiction this weekend? Pick up a copy of "Autobiography of a Yoga" by Paramhansa Yogananda.

The book is about a "yogi", a person who has attained enlightenment of some sort. However, the book reads like a supernatural fairy tale. The very first chapter started off with this hoot of a passage.
The helpless humiliations of infancy are not banished from my mind. I was resentfully conscious of not being able to walk or express myself freely....  Psychological ferment and my unresponsive body brought me to many obstinate crying-spells.
The author claims that he was fully conscious of his infancy, and that he cried because he couldn't express himself. This is pretty damn hard to believe. Of course, the author is gone now, and no supporting evidence can be obtained. From what we know about brain development, it is difficult to believe that any child could have such capability. A few sentences before that, he claims that in his previous birth he was a Himalayan yogi. You would think such a highly perceptive creature would wait for the infancy days to get over before trying to talk.

A few pages later,  we get another passage tailor-made for the gullible audience:
An immense flash of light at once manifested to my inward gaze. Diving shapes of saints, sitting in meditating posture in mountain caves, formed like miniature cinema pictures on the large screen of radiance within my forehead.
"Who are you", I spoke aloud
"We are the Himalayan yogis." The celestial response is difficult to describe; my heart was thrilled.
"Ah, I long to go to the Himalayas and become like you!" The vision vanished, but silvery beams expanded in ever-widening circles to infinity.
"What is this wondrous glow"
"I am Iswara, I am Light." The voice was as murmuring clouds.
"I want to be one with Thee!"
It is as poorly written as it is imagined. In the first chapter, he had recognized himself as a Himalayan yogi from a previous birth, and now that he sees a few people more, he needs them to positively identify themselves. The book is filled with extravagant recounting of supernatural events. Looks like the author lived in a charmed world, only dimly aware of laws of Physics. The miracles themselves are difficult to take seriously. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, none of which is provided by the book. And they aren't even written in a funny or engaging manner. They're stated with a nonchalance that suggests that this is commonplace. Even if this were a work of fiction I'd pass it by.

The lesson from the book is that you are a yogi if unnatural stuff happens to you. If it doesn't, tough luck. Maybe next birth pal. Wait this life out. Even as a spiritual text the book is abysmal. It has no lesson about how to live a good life, or how to achieve peace. A much more concise and beautiful lesson is the one-liner from Mae West, "You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough."

I am amused by "Autobiography of a Yogi". It comes highly recommended from seemingly sane people. People swear by it, and say that it changed their life. You have to be very desperate for meaning if this book gives you any. It is like finding deep meaning in "Baa Baa Black Sheep".

Due to the poorly imagined plot, and the haphazard story-line, I didn't read too far. If someone could point out passages that they thought were spiritually enlightening, I'd be happy to revise my opinion.

(In case you are offended by this: Calm down. If this guy is half as divine as he claims, he won't mind it.)