Autobiography of a Yogi is one of the 20th century’s best-loved spiritual classics. This book is the original edition first published in 1946.
It details the life of Paramahansa Yogananda — one of India’s Spiritual guru’s, who is often referred to particularly in the West as, the Father of Yoga. Yogananda chronicles his life’s journey and his many encounters with spiritual luminaries such as Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Therese Neumann, and many more. The result is wondrous, and profoundly inspiring.
On meeting Gandhi Yogananda observed…. “The tiny 100-pound saint radiated physical, mental, and spiritual health. His soft brown eyes shone with intelligence, sincerity, and discrimination; this statesman has matched wits and emerged the victor in a thousand legal, social, and political battles. No other leader in the world has attained the secure niche in the hearts of his people that Gandhi occupies for India’s millions.”
In 1935 Yogananda travelled to Bavaria to meet Therese Neumann, the famous Catholic Mystic who was also a stigmatic. It is said that Neumann survived without food or water and her only intake was one consecrated sacred Host a day. At his meeting with Neumann, Yogananda asked…. “Don’t you eat anything?” I wanted to hear the answer from her own lips.
“No, except a consecrated rice-flour wafer, once every morning at six o’clock.”
“How large is the wafer?”
“It is paper-thin, the size of a small coin.” She added, “I take it for sacramental reasons; if it is unconsecrated, I am unable to swallow it.”
“Certainly you could not have lived on that, for twelve whole years?”
“I live by God’s light.” How simple her reply, how Einsteinian!
“I see you realize that energy flows to your body from the ether, sun, and air.”
A swift smile broke over her face. “I am so happy to know you understand how I live.” “Your sacred life is a daily demonstration of the truth uttered by Christ: ‘Man shall not live by bread, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’”
In his foreword, Walter Evans-Wentz, the co-editor and translator of The Tibetan Book of the Dead observe; “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. As an eyewitness account of the extraordinary lives and powers of modern Hindu saints, the book has importance both timely and timeless.
To its illustrious author, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing both in India and America, may every reader render due appreciation and gratitude. His unusual life-document is certainly one of the most revealing of the depths of the Hindu mind and heart, and of the spiritual wealth of India, ever to be published in the West.
About the author
Paramahansa Yogananda is recognized as one of the greatest emissaries to the West of India’s ancient wisdom. His life and teachings continue to be a source of light and inspiration to people of all races, cultures and creeds.
Birth & Childhood:
He was born Mukunda Lal Ghosh on January 5, 1893, in Gorakhpur, India, into a devout and well-to-do Bengali family. From his earliest years, he developed a depth of awareness and experience in the spiritual. In his youth he sought out many of India’s sages and saints, hoping to find an illumined teacher to guide him in his spiritual quest.
It was in 1910, at the age of 17, that he met and became a disciple of the revered Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri. In the hermitage of this great master of Yoga he spent the better part of the next ten years, receiving Sri Yukteswar’s strict but loving spiritual discipline. After he graduated from Calcutta University in 1915, he took formal vows as a monk of India’s venerable monastic Swami Order, at which time he received the name Yogananda (signifying bliss, ananda, through divine union, yoga).
Beginning of World Mission:
Yogananda began his life’s work with the founding, in 1917, of a “how-to-live” school for boys, where modern educational methods were combined with yoga and spirituality. In 1920, he was invited to serve as India’s delegate to an international congress of religious leaders convening in Boston where he presented his discourse “The Science of Religion.” Shortly thereafter, he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) for the purpose of disseminating his teachings. His founding and ongoing development of his society was at the heart of his mission for the more than 30 years that he lived and taught in the West.
Pioneer of Yoga:
For the next several years, he lectured and taught on the East coast and in 1924 embarked on a cross-continental tour. Over the next decade, Yogananda traveled and lectured widely, speaking to capacity audiences in many of the largest auditoriums in the US - from New York’s Carnegie Hall to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He emphasized the underlying unity of the religions, and taught universally applicable methods for attaining personal experience of God. To serious students of his teachings he introduced the soul-awakening techniques of Kriya Yoga, a sacred spiritual science originating millenniums ago in India.
Among those who became his students were many prominent figures in science, business, and the arts, including horticulturist Luther Burbank, operatic soprano Amelita Galli-Curci, George Eastman (inventor of the Kodak camera), poet Edwin Markham, and symphony conductor Leopold Stokowski. In 1927, he was officially received at the White House by President Calvin Coolidge, who had become interested in the newspaper reports of his activities.
Return to India:
In 1935, Yogananda began an 18-month tour of Europe and India. During his yearlong sojourn in his native land, he spoke in cities throughout the subcontinent and enjoyed meetings with Gandhi, C. V. Raman, Ramana Maharshi and Anandamoyi Ma, among others. In this year his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, bestowed on him the title of “paramahansa” (supreme swan - a symbol of spiritual discrimination), that signifies one who manifests the supreme state of unbroken communion with God.
Books and Literature:
During the 1930s, Yogananda began to withdraw somewhat from his nationwide public lecturing so as to devote himself to the writings that would carry his message to future generations. Yogananda’s life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, was published in 1946 and expanded by him in subsequent editions. A perennial best seller, the book has been in continuous publication since it first appeared and has been translated into 18 languages. It is widely regarded as a modern spiritual classic.
On March 7, 1952, Yogananda entered mahasamadhi, a God-illumined master’s conscious exit from the body at the time of physical death. His passing was marked by an extraordinary phenomenon. A notarized statement signed by the Director of Forest Lawn Memorial-Park testified: “No physical disintegration was visible in his body even 20 days after death…. This state of perfect preservation of a body is… an unparalleled one…. Yogananda’s body was apparently in a phenomenal state of immutability.”
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Paramahansa Yogananda’s passing, India issued a special commemorative stamp was issued in his honor, together with a tribute that read, in part: “The ideal of love for God and service to humanity found full expression in the life of Paramahansa Yogananda….Though the major part of his life was spent outside India, still he takes his place among our great saints.”
Biography courtesy of
Based on Yogananda’s official biography at www.yogananda.com
The Levitating Saint
“I saw a yogi remain in the air, several feet above the ground, last night at a group meeting.” My friend, Upendra Mohun Chowdhury, spoke impressively.
I gave him an enthusiastic smile. “Perhaps I can guess his name. Was it Bhaduri Mahasaya, of Upper Circular Road?”
Upendra nodded, a little crestfallen not to be a news-bearer. My inquisitiveness about saints was well-known among my friends; they delighted in setting me on a fresh track.
“The yogi lives so close to my home that I often visit him.” My words brought keen interest to Upendra’s face, and I made a further confidence.
“I have seen him in remarkable feats. He has expertly mastered the various Pranayamas of the ancient eightfold yoga outlined by Patanjali. Once Bhaduri Mahasaya performed the Bhastrika Pranayama before me with such amazing force that it seemed an actual storm had arisen in the room! Then he extinguished the thundering breath and remained motionless in a high state of super-consciousness. The aura of peace after the storm was vivid beyond forgetting.”
“I heard that the saint never leaves his home.” Upendra’s tone was a trifle incredulous.
“Indeed it is true! He has lived indoors for the past twenty years. He slightly relaxes his self-imposed rule at the times of our holy festivals, when he goes as far as his front sidewalk! The beggars gather there, because Saint Bhaduri is known for his tender heart.”
“How does he remain in the air, defying the law of gravitation?”
“A yogi’s body loses its grossness after use of certain Pranayamas. Then it will levitate or hop about like a leaping frog. Even saints who do not practice a formal yoga have been known to levitate during a state of intense devotion to God.”
“I would like to know more of this sage. Do you attend his evening meetings?” Upendra’s eyes were sparkling with curiosity.
“Yes, I go often. I am vastly entertained by the wit in his wisdom. Occasionally my prolonged laughter mars the solemnity of his gatherings. The saint is not displeased, but his disciples look daggers!”
On my way home from school that afternoon, I passed Bhaduri Mahasaya’s cloister and decided on a visit. The yogi was inaccessible to the general public. A lone disciple, occupying the ground floor, guarded his master’s privacy. The student was something of a martinet; he now inquired formally if I had an “engagement.” His guru put in an appearance just in time to save me from summary ejection.
“Let Mukunda come when he will.” The sage’s eyes twinkled. “My rule of seclusion is not for my own comfort, but for that of others. Worldly people do not like the candor which shatters their delusions. Saints are not only rare but disconcerting. Even in scripture, they are often found embarrassing!”
I followed Bhaduri Mahasaya to his austere quarters on the top floor, from which he seldom stirred. Masters often ignore the panorama of the world’s ado, out of focus till centered in the ages. The contemporaries of a sage are not alone those of the narrow present.
“Maharishi, you are the first yogi I have known who always stays indoors.”
“God plants his saints sometimes in unexpected soil, lest we think we may reduce Him to a rule!”
The sage locked his vibrant body in the lotus posture. In his seventies, he displayed no unpleasing signs of age or sedentary life. Stalwart and straight, he was ideal in every respect. His face was that of a Rishi, as described in the ancient texts.
Noble-headed, abundantly bearded, he always sat firmly upright, his quiet eyes fixed on Omnipresence.
The saint and I entered the meditative state. After an hour, his gentle voice roused me.
“You go often into the silence, but have you developed Anubhava?”
He was reminding me to love God more than meditation. “Do not mistake the technique for the Goal.”
He offered me some mangoes. With that good-humored wit that I found so delightful in his grave nature, he remarked, “People in general are more fond of Jala Yoga (union with food) than of Dhyana Yoga (union with God).”
His yogic pun affected me uproariously.
“What a laugh you have!” An affectionate gleam came into his gaze. His own face was always serious, yet touched with an ecstatic smile. His large, lotus eyes held a hidden divine laughter.
“Those letters come from far-off America.” The sage indicated several thick envelopes on a table. “I correspond with a few societies there whose members are interested in yoga. They are discovering India anew, with a better sense of direction than Columbus! I am glad to help them. The knowledge of yoga is free to all who will receive, like the ungarnishable daylight.
“What Rishis perceived as essential for human salvation need not be diluted for the West. Alike in soul though diverse in outer experience, neither West nor East will flourish if some form of disciplinary yoga be not practiced.”
The saint held me with his tranquil eyes. I did not realize that his speech was a veiled prophetic guidance. It is only now, as I write these words, that I understand the full meaning in the casual intimations he often gave me that someday I would carry India’s teachings to America.
“Sir,” I inquired, “why do you not write a book on yoga for the benefit of the world?” “I am training disciples,” He replied. “They and their students will be living volumes, proof against the natural disintegrations of time and the unnatural interpretations of the critics.”
“Maharishi, I wish you would write a book on yoga for the benefit of the world.”
“I am training disciples. They and their students will be living volumes, proof against the natural disintegrations of time and the unnatural interpretations of the critics.” Bhaduri’s wit put me into another gale of laughter.
I remained alone with the yogi until his disciples arrived in the evening. Bhaduri Mahasaya entered one of his inimitable discourses. Like a peaceful flood, he swept away the mental debris of his listeners, floating them Godward. His striking parables were expressed in a flawless Bengali.
This evening Bhaduri expounded various philosophical points connected with the life of Mirabai, a medieval Rajputani princess who abandoned her court life to seek the company of sadhus. One great sannyasi refused to receive her because she was a woman; her reply brought him humbly to her feet.
“Tell the master,” she had said, “that I did not know there was any Male in the universe save God; are we all not females before Him?” (A scriptural conception of the Lord as the only Positive Creative Principle, His creation being naught but a passive Maya.)
Mirabai composed many ecstatic songs which are still treasured in India; I translate one of them here:
“If by bathing daily God could be realized
Sooner would I be a whale in the deep;
If by eating roots and fruits He could be known
Gladly would I choose the form of a goat;
If the counting of rosaries uncovered Him
I would say my prayers on mammoth beads;
If bowing before stone images unveiled Him
A flinty mountain I would humbly worship;
If by drinking milk the Lord could be imbibed
Many calves and children would know Him;
If abandoning one’s wife would summon God
Would not thousands be eunuchs?
Mirabai knows that to find the Divine One
The only indispensable is Love.”
Several students put rupees in Bhaduri’s slippers which lay by his side as he sat in yogic posture. This respectful offering, customary in India, indicates that the disciple places his material goods at the guru’s feet. Grateful friends are only the Lord in disguise, looking after His own.
“Master, you are wonderful!” A student, taking his leave, gazed ardently at the patriarchal sage. “You have renounced riches and comforts to seek God and teach us wisdom!” It was well-known that Bhaduri Mahasaya had forsaken great family wealth in his early childhood, when single-mindedly he entered the yogic path.
“You are reversing the case!” The saint’s face held a mild rebuke. “I have left a few paltry rupees, a few petty pleasures, for a cosmic empire of endless bliss. How then have I denied myself anything? I know the joy of sharing the treasure. Is that a sacrifice? The shortsighted worldly folk are verily the real renunciates! They relinquish an unparalleled divine possession for a poor handful of earthly toys!”
I chuckled over this paradoxical view of renunciation – sone which puts the cap of Croesus on any saintly beggar, whilst transforming all proud millionaires into unconscious martyrs.
“The divine order arranges our future more wisely than any insurance company.” The master’s concluding words were the realized creed of his faith. “The world is full of uneasy believers in an outward security. Their bitter thoughts are like scars on their foreheads. The One who gave us air and milk from our first breath knows how to provide day by day for His devotees.”
I continued my after-school pilgrimages to the saint’s door. With silent zeal he aided me to attain Anubhava. One day he moved to Ram Mohan Roy Road, away from the neighborhood of my Gurpar Road home. His loving disciples had built him a new hermitage, known as “Nagendra Math.”
Although it throws me ahead of my story by a number of years, I will recount here the last words given to me by Bhaduri Mahasaya. Shortly before I embarked for the West, I sought him out and humbly knelt for his farewell blessing:
“Son, go to America. Take the dignity of hoary India for your shield. Victory is written on your brow; the noble distant people will well receive you.”
Publisher: White Crow Books
Published July 2011
Size: 229 x 152 mm