This book will change the lives of millions. It will be my messenger when I am gone.
2021 marks the 75th anniversary of Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, one of the world's most acclaimed spiritual classics.
As the life story of Paramahansa Yogananda — who is often referred to as the Father of Yoga in the West — this book has touched the hearts and minds of millions around the globe. Translated into over fifty languages, it has served as an ambassador for India's ancient science of yoga, introducing countless readers to the methods for attaining God-realization that are India's unique and lasting contribution to world civilization.
Hailed as a masterpiece from its first appearance in print in 1946, the book was honored in 1999 as one of “100 Best Spiritual Books of the Century.” Today, this story of a life of unmistakable greatness continues its success in opening to the public a realm of liberating spiritual knowledge previously accessible only to a few.
An Enduring and Universal Appeal
“I have been intensely moved,” Sri Yogananda wrote in an Author’s Note to the 1951 edition, “to receive letters from thousands of readers. Their comments, and the fact that the book has been translated into many languages, encourages me to believe that the West has found in these pages an affirmative answer to the question: ‘Has the ancient science of yoga any worthwhile place in the life of the modern man?’”
With the passing years “thousands of readers” became millions, and the enduring and universal appeal of Autobiography of a Yogi has become increasingly apparent. It is still appearing on spiritual and inspirational best-seller lists seventy-five years after it was first published — a rare phenomenon! Available in many translations, it is now being used in colleges and universities all over the world in courses ranging from Eastern philosophy and religion to English literature, psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, and even business management. By any measure, Autobiography of a Yogi has played a major role in introducing the science of yoga to the modern world.
“Paramahansa Yogananda, like Gandhi, brought spirituality into the mainstream of society.”
“Perhaps best known for his Autobiography of a Yogi, which has inspired countless millions around the world,” writes the metaphysical journal New Frontier (October 1986), “Paramahansa Yogananda, like Gandhi, brought spirituality into the mainstream of society. It is reasonable to say that Yogananda did more to put the word ‘yoga’ into our vocabulary than any other person.”
“Yogananda can be said to be the father of yoga in the West....”
The respected scholar Dr. David Frawley, Director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies, writing in the bimonthly journal Yoga International (October/November 1996), states, “Yogananda can be said to be the father of yoga in the West — not the mere physical yoga that has become popular, but the spiritual yoga, the science of Self-realization that is the real meaning of yoga.”
“…an Upanishad of the new age...”
Professor Ashutosh Das, Ph.D., D.Litt., of Calcutta University, declares, “Autobiography of a Yogi is regarded as an Upanishad of the new age....It has satisfied the spiritual thirst of truth-seekers throughout the world. We in India have watched with wonder and fascination the phenomenal spread of the popularity of this book about India’s saints and philosophy. We have felt great satisfaction and pride that the immortal nectar of India’s Sanatana Dharma, the eternal laws of truth, has been stored in the golden chalice of Autobiography of a Yogi.”
Even in the former Soviet Union, the book apparently made a deep impression on the relative few who had access to it under the communist regime. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, former judge of India’s Supreme Court, tells of visiting a town near St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) and asking a group of professors there “whether they had thought about what happens when man dies....One of the professors quietly went inside and came out with a book — Autobiography of a Yogi. I was surprised. In a country ruled by the materialistic philosophy of Marx and Lenin, here is an official of a government institute showing me Paramahansa Yogananda’s book! ‘Please realize that the spirit of India is not alien to us,’ he said. ‘We accept the authenticity of everything recorded in this book.’”
“...a book that opens windows of the mind and spirit.”
“Among the thousands of books that are published each year,” concluded an article in India Journal (April 21, 1995), “there are those that entertain, those that instruct, those that edify. A reader can consider himself fortunate if he finds one that does all three. Autobiography of a Yogi is rarer still—it is a book that opens windows of the mind and spirit.”
“…celebrated as one of the most entertaining and enlightening spiritual books ever written.”
In recent years, the book has been hailed by booksellers, reviewers, and readers alike as one of the most influential spiritual books of modern times. In a 1999 Harper Collins panel of authors and scholars, Autobiography of a Yogi was selected as one of the “100 Best Spiritual Books of the Century.” And in his 50 Spiritual Classics, which was released in 2005, Tom Butler-Bowden wrote that the book was “justifiably celebrated as one of the most entertaining and enlightening spiritual books ever written.”
In the book’s final chapter, Paramahansa Yogananda writes of the profound assurance which has been affirmed by saints and sages of all the world’s religions down through the ages:
“God is Love; His plan for creation can be rooted only in love. Does not that simple thought, rather than erudite reasonings, offer solace to the human heart? Every saint who has penetrated to the core of Reality has testified that a divine universal plan exists and that it is beautiful and full of joy.”
As Autobiography of a Yogi enters its 75th year, it is our hope that all readers of this inspiring work — those who are encountering it for the first time as well as those for whom it has become a long-cherished companion on life’s path — will find their own souls opening to a deeper faith in the transcendent truth that lies at the heart of life’s seeming mysteries.
The Writing of the Autobiography was Prophesied Long Ago
The writing of this work had been prophesied long ago. One of the seminal figures in the renaissance of yoga in modern times, the revered nineteenth-century master Lahiri Mahasaya (1828–1895), had foretold: “About fifty years after my passing, an account of my life will be written because of a deep interest in yoga that will arise in the West. The message of yoga will encircle the globe. It will aid in establishing the brotherhood of man: a unity based on humanity’s direct perception of the One Father.”
Many years later, Lahiri Mahasaya’s exalted disciple Swami Sri Yukteswar related this prophecy to Sri Yogananda. “You must do your part in spreading that message,” he declared, “and in writing that sacred life.”
It was in 1945, exactly fifty years after Lahiri Mahasaya’s passing, that Paramahansa Yogananda completed his Autobiography of a Yogi, which amply fulfilled both of his guru’s injunctions: providing the first detailed presentation in English of Lahiri Mahasaya’s remarkable life, and introducing to a world audience India’s age-old science of the soul.
An account of my life will be written because of a deep interest in yoga that will arise in the West. The message of yoga will encircle the globe.
The creation of Autobiography of a Yogi was a project that Paramahansa Yogananda worked on over a period of many years. Sri Daya Mata, one of his earliest and closest disciples, recalls:
“When I came to Mount Washington in 1931, Paramahansaji had already begun to work on the Autobiography. Once when I was in his study attending to some secretarial duties, I was privileged to see one of the first chapters he wrote — it was on ‘The Tiger Swami.’ He asked me to save it, and explained that it would be going into a book he was writing. Most of the book was composed later, between 1937 and 1945.”
From June 1935 through October 1936, Sri Yogananda had made a return trip to India (via Europe and Palestine) for a last visit with his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar. While there, he had compiled much factual data for the Autobiography, as well as stories about some of the saints and sages whom he had known and whose lives he was to describe so memorably in the book. “I had never forgotten Sri Yukteswar’s request that I write the life of Lahiri Mahasaya,” he later wrote. “During my stay in India I was taking every opportunity to contact direct disciples and relatives of the Yogavatar. Recording their conversations in voluminous notes, I verified facts and dates, and collected photographs, old letters, and documents.”
Upon his return to the United States at the end of 1936, he began to spend much of his time at the hermitage that had been built for him in his absence, in Encinitas on the southern California coast. It proved to be an ideal place to concentrate on completing the book he had begun years before.
“Still vivid in my memory are the days spent in that peaceful seaside hermitage,” recounts Sri Daya Mata. “He had so many other responsibilities and commitments that he was not able to work on the Autobiography every day; but in general he devoted the evenings to it, and whatever free time he could spare. Beginning around 1939 or ’40, he was able to concentrate full time on the book. And full time it was — from early morning until early morning! A small group of us disciples — Tara Mata; my sister, Ananda Mata; Sraddha Mata; and myself — were present to assist him. After each part was typed, he would give it to Tara Mata, who served as his editor.
“What treasured memories! As he wrote he relived inwardly the sacred experiences he was recording. His divine intent was to share the joy and revelations encountered in the company of saints and great masters and in one’s own personal realization of the Divine. Often he would pause for a time, his gaze uplifted and his body motionless, rapt in the samadhi state of deep communion with God. The whole room would be filled with a tremendously powerful aura of divine love. For us disciples, merely to be present at such times was to be lifted into a higher state of consciousness.
“Finally, in 1945, came the jubilant day of the book’s completion. Paramahansaji wrote the last words, ‘Lord, Thou hast given this monk a large family’; then laid down his pen and joyously exclaimed:
“‘All done; it is finished. This book will change the lives of millions. It will be my messenger when I am gone.’”
Tara Mata’s Role in the Book’s Publication
It then became Tara Mata’s responsibility to find a publisher. Paramahansa Yogananda had met Tara Mata while conducting a series of lectures and classes in San Francisco in 1924. Possessed of rare spiritual insight, she became one of the small circle of his most advanced disciples. He held her editorial abilities in highest esteem, and used to say that she had one of the most brilliant minds of anyone he had ever met. He appreciated her vast knowledge and understanding of India’s scriptural wisdom, and remarked on one occasion: “Excepting my great guru, Sri Yukteswarji, there is no one with whom I have more enjoyed talking of Indian philosophy.”
Tara Mata took the manuscript to New York City. But finding a publisher was not an easy task. As can often be observed, the true stature of a great work may not at first be recognized by those of a more conventional cast of mind. Despite the newly born atomic age having enlarged the collective consciousness of humanity with a growing understanding of the subtle unity of matter, energy, and thought, the publishers of the day were hardly ready for such chapters as “Materializing a Palace in the Himalayas” and “The Saint With Two Bodies”!
For a year, Tara Mata lived in a sparsely furnished, unheated cold-water flat while making the rounds of publishing houses. At last she was able to write with news of success. The Philosophical Library, a respected New York publisher, had accepted the Autobiography for publication. “What [she] has done for this book I cannot begin to describe...,” Sri Yogananda said. “But for her, the book would never have gone through.”
Shortly before Christmas 1946, the long-awaited books reached Mount Washington.
Outpouring of Critical Acclaim
The book was greeted by readers and by the world press with an outpouring of appreciative praise. “There has been nothing before, written in English or in any other Euro language, like this presentation of Yoga,” wrote Columbia University Press in its Review of Religions. The New York Times proclaimed it “a rare account.” Newsweek reported, “Yogananda’s book is rather an autobiography of the soul than of the body....It is a fascinating and clearly annotated study of a religious way of life, ingenuously described in the lush style of the Orient.”
A second edition was quickly prepared, and in 1951 a third. In addition to revising and updating portions of the text, and deleting some passages describing organizational activities and plans that were no longer current, Paramahansa Yogananda added a final chapter — one of the longest in the book — covering the years 1940–1951. In a footnote to the new chapter, he wrote, “Much new material in Chapter 49 has been added to the third edition of this book (1951). In response to requests made by a number of readers of the first two editions, I have answered, in this chapter, various questions about India, yoga, and Vedic philosophy.”
Additional revisions made by Paramahansa Yogananda were included in the seventh edition (1956), as described in a Publisher’s Note to this edition. All of Self-Realization Fellowship’s current editions incorporate Yogananda’s wishes for the final text of the book.
Evolution After the 1946 First Edition
Self-Realization Fellowship’s editions are the only editions that incorporate all of the author’s wishes for the final text of Autobiography of a Yogi — personally conveyed by him to the editor he worked with from 1924 until his passing in 1952, and to whom he entrusted all matters pertaining to the publication of his works.
Readers of Autobiography of a Yogi sometimes inquire about the differences between the current edition and the first edition published in 1946.
Three editions of Paramahansaji’s autobiography appeared during his lifetime. In the third edition, published in 1951, he made significant changes — revising the text thoroughly, deleting material, amplifying various points, and adding a new final chapter, “The Years 1940–1951” (one of the longest in the book). Some further revisions made by him after the third edition could not be incorporated until the publication of the seventh edition, which was released in 1956.
The following Publisher’s Note was printed in the seventh edition of Autobiography of a Yogi, giving the history of the author’s wishes for the book:
“This 1956 American edition contains revisions made by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1949 for the London, England, edition; and additional revisions made by the author in 1951. In a ‘Note to the London Edition,’ dated October 25, 1949, Paramahansa Yogananda wrote: ‘The arrangement for a London edition of this book has given me an opportunity to revise, and slightly to enlarge, the text. Besides new material in the last chapter, I have added a number of footnotes in which I have answered questions sent me by readers of the American edition.’
“Later revisions, made by the author in 1951, were intended to appear in the fourth (1952) American edition. At that time the rights in Autobiography of a Yogi were vested in a New York publishing house. In 1946 in New York each page of the book had been made into an electrotype plate. Consequently, to add even a comma requires that the metal plate of an entire page be cut apart and resoldered with a new line containing the desired comma. Because of the expense involved in resoldering many plates, the New York publisher did not include in the fourth edition the author’s 1951 revisions.
“In late 1953 Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) bought from the New York publisher all rights in Autobiography of a Yogi. SRF reprinted the book in 1954 and 1955 (fifth and sixth editions); but during those two years other duties prevented the SRF editorial department from undertaking the formidable task of incorporating the author’s revisions on the electrotype plates. The work, however, has been accomplished in time for the seventh edition.”
All of the changes, deletions, and additions between 1946 and 1956 were made at Paramahansaji’s request. Other editorial revisions — which were in all cases quite minor — were made later, according to guidance given by him before his passing to his longtime editor, Tara Mata, who had worked closely with him for over 25 years and in whom he placed his full trust for the posthumous publication of his writings in accord with his instructions.
Because Paramahansaji clearly foresaw that this book would continue to reach wider and wider audiences as the years went by, he instructed his editors to add — in the way of incidental footnotes, pictures, captions, etc. — whatever might be necessary in order to keep the book up to date.
Changes made since 1956 have consisted of what any publisher would normally do in the way of editorial adjustments in subsequent editions of a book that has remained continually in print for many decades (e.g., updating the list of other books by the author; addition of footnotes deemed of use to current readers — clearly marked as being added by the publisher, not the author; additional photos of the author and his activities; necessary changes to front and back matter, etc.).
Early editions of Autobiography of a Yogi gave the author’s title as “Paramhansa,” reflecting the common Bengali practice of omitting silent or near-silent a’s in spelling. To ensure that the sacred significance of this Veda-based title would be conveyed, in later editions the standard Sanskrit transliteration has been used: “Paramahansa,” from parama, “highest or supreme” and hansa, “swan” — signifying one who has attained highest realization of his true divine Self, and of the unity of that Self with Spirit.
Compared to the 1946 First Edition, Self-Realization Fellowship’s current editions of the Autobiography include an additional 20 pages of photos of Paramahansa Yogananda and other subjects discussed in the book, drawn from the organization’s archives to provide a fuller glimpse of the author and his activities for interested readers.
How Disciples of Paramahansa Yogananda Found Autobiography of a Yogi
It was in December 1946 that the first copies of Autobiography of a Yogi arrived at Self-Realization Fellowship International Headquarters from the printer in New York. On the occasion of the book’s 50th anniversary in 1996, several of Paramahansa Yogananda’s close disciples shared their reminiscences of the day the books arrived and the impact it had on their lives. They were among the first to experience the divine wisdom, love, and transforming vision of life emanating from its pages — pages that since then have changed the lives of millions.
Sri Daya Mata
The writing of Autobiography of a Yogi was a project that took many years of Paramahansaji’s time to complete. When I came to Mt. Washington in 1931, he had already begun work on it. Once when I was in his study attending to some secretarial duties for him I was privileged to see one of the first chapters he wrote — it was about “The Tiger Swami.” Gurudeva asked me to save it because it would be going into a book.
However, the greatest portion of his autobiography was composed during the period 1937–45. Paramahansaji had so many responsibilities and commitments, he was not able to work on his book every day; but in general, he devoted the evenings to it, as well as whatever other free time he was able to put his mind on it. A small group of us — Ananda Mata, Shraddha Mata, and myself — were around him much of that time, helping to type the manuscript. After each part was typed, Gurudeva would give it to Tara Mata, who served as his editor.
One day, while working on his autobiography, the Guru told us: “When I have left this world, this book will change the lives of millions. It will be my messenger when I am gone.”
When the manuscript was finished, Tara Mata went to New York to find a publisher for it. Paramahansaji had great respect for her knowledge and for her editorial abilities, and often praised her publicly. He said: “What [she] has done for this book I cannot begin to describe. Before she was to go to New York she fell violently ill. She left for New York just the same. But for her, the book would never have gone through.”
Gurudeva’s reaction to the completion of the book was joy that no words can express. He inscribed my copy, as he did for many of the other devotees who were here in the ashrams. When I received it, I knew, having helped to type the manuscript, that this was an immortal book — one that for the first time revealed hidden truths which had never before been presented in such a clear and inspirational way. No other author has approached Guruji’s explanation of miracles, reincarnation, karma, the afterlife, and the other wonderful spiritual truths contained in its pages.
What would be his reaction to the book’s renown today? He would be humbly touched that Autobiography of a Yogi has reached into all corners of the earth to people of every culture, race, religion, and age, and that it has been received with tremendous acclaim and enthusiasm throughout these fifty years. Though Guruji never dwelt on his own importance, he certainly did believe in the great value of what he wrote — because he knew he was writing Truth.
To our Laurie Pratt
“God and the Gurus ever bless you for your valiant & loving part in bringing this book out. P.Y.”
“At last the sacred fragrance of God, of my gurus and the masters have come out through the secret doors of my soul — after unending hazards and ceaseless efforts of Laurie Pratt and other disciples. All faggots of difficulties are burning in the everlasting flame of joy.”
One evening in the Encinitas hermitage, late in 1946, we younger devotees were busily engaged with our kitchen duties when Gurudeva came through the door. All activity stopped and our attention was fully concentrated on his broad smile and an even more beautiful than usual twinkle in his eyes. His hand was behind his back, concealing “something.” He called for a few others to come and had us line up in front of him. Then he displayed before us the hidden treasure — an advance copy of his book, Autobiography of a Yogi. Midst “Oh’s” and “Ah’s” we could scarcely express our joy to behold at last the long-awaited account of his life among the great saints and sages of India — with which he had so often enthralled us during precious hours in his company. He opened to a few pages, saving for last the illustration of Mahavatar Babaji. Almost breathlessly we offered our reverence and absorbed the blessing we felt to be among the first to glimpse the likeness of our Param-Param-Paramguru.
In early December, we were all summoned to Mt. Washington to participate in the arrival of parcels of books from the publisher, and in preparing them for posting to the many eager devotees — hundreds of back orders. Weeks ahead of time when any of us had free moments we were engaged in typing address labels on one of our old manual typewriters. Huge tables (flat boards on sawhorses) were set up in the office, ready for assembly-line wrapping of each individual book in brown mailing paper off a huge roll, hand-cutting it to just the right size, affixing labels and postage stamps moistened first from wet sponges. No automation or mailing machines in those days! But oh what joy to participate in this momentous event in Self-Realization Fellowship history. The world would know our blessed Master through this sublime ambassador.
In the third-floor sitting room, Gurudeva sat at a desk for hours without a break, autographing every book. The books were removed from the publisher’s shipping cartons, opened, and placed before him in a steady stream as he signed each one — emptying one fountain pen while another was being refilled.
It was late when he summoned me to come upstairs. He was still autographing books. The senior disciples urged him to take some rest, but he refused even to consider it until every book in that shipment was signed with his blessings. He had the most beatific expression on his face, as though a very real part of himself and his love for God were going out to all the world in those printed pages, and it should not be withheld one extra moment.
It was with inexpressible joy that we sat at his feet to meditate in the wee hours of the morning. The Master had handed each of us our personal copy of this treasure, and all other copies had been wrapped for mailing in the morning or packed for sending to his temples in Hollywood and San Diego. Autobiography of a Yogi was on its way to a divine destiny, ultimately to carry the Guru’s blessings and love for God to millions of seeking souls.
There were just a few of us living in the Encinitas Hermitage when Paramahansaji was writing Autobiography of a Yogi, a project that took him a number of years to complete. I was living there for part of that time.
Guruji did most of the writing of that book in his study at the Hermitage. I remember there were times when he might dictate all night long, and other occasions when it would continue for the entire day or even longer. I was not involved with the secretarial duties like Daya Ma and Ananda Ma, who would sometimes take down his words in shorthand and at other times use the typewriter. My responsibility was mostly cooking their meals so that they could work uninterruptedly!
When Autobiography of a Yogi arrived from the publisher, there was great jubilation. Right away Guruji wanted us to send out his book to all those who had placed advance orders! So after the initial celebration, we were very busy filling the big backlog of orders that had accumulated. Sister Shila and I wrapped many copies, stamped the packages, and got them all ready. Then we brought the car around, opening the trunk and all of the doors. When the car had been completely filled, we drove the parcels of books down to the main post office in Los Angeles. We were delighted: At last Autobiography of a Yogi was going to be available to people everywhere!
Shortly after I entered the ashram in 1939, Paramahansaji spoke with a couple of us on the verandah of the Administration Building at Mt. Washington. He remarked to us that God told him he was to write certain books during his lifetime; and when those books were finished, his mission on earth would be over. Autobiography of a Yogi was one of those books. When the Autobiography first came out, I read it from cover to cover in a day, or two — how wonderful and inspiring! I remember thinking that this book will play a major role in promoting interest in Paramahansaji’s teachings. To date we have seen only the tip of the iceberg.
When I met Paramahansa Yogananda in 1943 I was nine years old. My father was a Self-Realization Fellowship member and attended services at the temple in San Diego. In 1947 I read his copy of Autobiography of a Yogi, which Paramahansaji had given him. My father was very unassuming and never tried to influence others with his own beliefs. As a result, he never even showed me the book — I came across it accidentally. It took me a while to read it — I was quite young and the book contained some rather large words! But from the beginning, Autobiography of a Yogi has been a haven for me, a healing balm for my soul....Above all, Autobiography of a Yogi shows that it is possible for us to know God.
I remember my first Christmas in the ashram in 1946. Autobiography of a Yogi was completed, and Paramahansaji gave copies to all of us. How powerfully those pages conveyed our Guru’s vivid and delightful personality — the love and joy we felt in his presence. How uplifted we had been hearing him recount many of those same events personally, and through this book all can share in that.
I vividly recall when Autobiography of a Yogi was first released. Some time later I asked Paramahansaji if he would write a little thought in my copy. He wrote, “Find the Infinite hidden on the altar of these pages.” Sometimes when I’ve had a specific need, I have opened the Autobiography to some passage and thought, “I don’t remember ever seeing that before!” But it exactly addresses what I had to deal with at the moment. Though I would not have known where to go in the book to find it, it leaps off the page when I need to see it. I have found that the Master’s counsel is really true — you can find the Infinite hidden on the altar of those pages.
I was in my early teens when I spent a summer vacation with an aunt and uncle in the suburbs of Winterthur, one of the larger cities in Switzerland. My uncle was a musician, a member of a symphony orchestra. He too was on vacation, which he spent working in his large garden. I helped him. Since they didn’t have any children, my uncle took a great interest in me, and during the garden work there were long “talking sessions.” My uncle, I found, was deeply interested in Eastern philosophy, and I listened with rapt attention to his discourses on karma, reincarnation, the astral and causal planes, and particularly on saints — masters who had attained illumination.
He told me of Buddha and how he had reached this blessed state, and other saints, which kindled in me a deep desire to follow their example. I remember how I used to walk around repeating inwardly again and again: illumination, illumination. Even though I didn’t understand the full meaning of the word, of course, I knew that it was something far greater than what ordinary man had, no matter how accomplished he might be in his material or artistic career. I asked my uncle how one could achieve that state, but the only thing he could say was that one has to meditate. But how, he didn’t know. He said that one has to have a guru who could teach everything. When I expressed my great desire to meet one, he just shook his head and smiled. “My poor boy, there are no gurus in Switzerland!”
So I began to pray for a guru. My yearning for a master was so great that, after I had returned to my hometown, I used to go to the train station, waiting for hours, in the hope that “he” would come. But nothing happened.
After I finished my schooling, I worked in my father’s business for two frustrating years. By then, I had given up my interest in Hindu philosophy, since it seemed hopeless that I could find a guru. I embarked on a career in art, and after three years I was invited to go to the United States to study with Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous architect.
During my first week in America, I visited an uncle who had emigrated to this country in the 1920s. During a conversation he mentioned Hindu philosophy. When I told him that I had been interested in this subject years earlier, his face lit up and he took me to his private study and showed me Autobiography of a Yogi. Pointing to Paramahansa Yogananda’s picture on the cover, he asked: “Have you ever heard of him?” When I said no, he replied, “Greatest man I ever saw. He is a true master!”
“You have seen him?” I cried in utter surprise. “Where is he — not in America!?”
“Yes, he lives in Los Angeles.” Then he told me how he had attended a series of lectures and classes given by Paramahansaji soon after he had come to this country. To think of it, all these years when I had been longing for a guru, my uncle had known a master and his teachings!
I hungrily read the book. That was the first miracle. I was so fascinated that I didn’t even notice that this in itself was a miracle — I didn’t know enough English to read a book in that language. Frank Lloyd Wright too had written an autobiography, but I had tried in vain to read the first couple of pages. It took me a whole additional year of learning English before I was able to read that book. Yet I had been able to read Autobiography of a Yogi from cover to cover.
I knew in my heart that I had found what I wanted, and made up my mind to study the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda and find God.
It was some months later, after I had learned more English, that I was able to make a trip to Los Angeles, hoping to see the Master. As I entered the grounds of the Mother Center, I felt an overwhelming peace, like nothing I had ever experienced anywhere before. I knew I stood on holy ground.
Sunday morning I attended Paramahansaji’s morning service at the Hollywood Temple. It was the first time I would see him face to face. It was an unforgettable experience. After the service, the Master sat on a chair and most of the congregation went up to greet him. I can’t express in words how I felt as I stood in line. Finally when I stood before him, he took my hand in his and I looked into those deep luminous tender eyes. No word was spoken. But I felt an indescribable joy coming into me through his hand and eyes.
I left the temple and walked in a daze along Sunset Boulevard. I was so intoxicated with joy that I couldn’t walk straight. I tottered like a drunkard. Not only that, but I couldn’t contain my joy within, and kept laughing out loud. People on the sidewalk turned and stared; and those walking toward me moved off to the side, shaking their heads in disgust over what they assumed was public drunkenness on Sunday morning. I didn’t care. I had never been so happy in my life.
Not long after this experience, I entered the Self-Realization Fellowship ashram as a monk.
A monastic disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda for more than thirty-five years, Self-Realization Fellowship minister Brother Premamoy was responsible for the spiritual training of young monks of the SRF monastic communities until his passing in 1990. To them he recounted this story.
Brother Premamoy was born in Slovenia. Because of his family connections with royalty and others of influence, after the Communist takeover of his native land at the end of World War II he was forced to flee. In 1950, the U.S. Department of State invited him to immigrate to America.
Just before sailing to New York in the fall of 1950, Brother Premamoy was given a farewell gift by an old friend of the family, Evelina Glanzmann. The present’s shape led him to assume it was a box of candy, and on board the ship he opened it to share with fellow passengers. To his surprise, the package was not candy, but a book — Autobiography of a Yogi.
Even though touched by the gift, Brother did not immediately feel inclined to read it. Though he had been a voracious reader when younger, those days were over (he later said that he had read more books before the age of fifteen than he read for the entire rest of his life). Also, he was very familiar with Eastern philosophy, having fallen in love with the Bhagavad Gita when a teenager, and memorizing most of it. Now, seeing the subject matter of this gift book, his first reaction was, “I’m not going to read this — I don’t want to get hooked!”
In America, he became involved in various business undertakings, and was eventually offered a position as personal assistant to Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary General of the United Nations. (He declined the position before coming to California.) Months went by — and the Autobiography remained on the shelf, unread, at Brother’s home in New York. In the meantime, Mrs. Glanzmann (who was the translator of the Italian edition of the Autobiography) had been asking her friend’s opinion of the book. Still Brother Premamoy did not venture into its pages. Finally Mrs. Glanzmann wrote words to the effect: “Say you like it or say you don’t; but say something!” In a pensive mood — it happened to be his birthday, March 6, and he was pondering what to do with his life — he picked up the book and started to read.
Spellbound, he finished the entire book in one sitting. Recognizing that the author had spiritual insight beyond that of anyone he had ever encountered, Brother decided to write to Paramahansa Yogananda.
Little did Brother Premamoy know that as he mailed the letter, the Guru was living the last day of his earthly life.
Brother Premamoy learned of the Guru’s passing some time later, when Sri Daya Mata replied to his letter. Several months passed; Brother was unable to get the thought of the book and its author out of his mind, and that summer he decided to drive to Los Angeles to learn more about Paramahansaji’s teachings. As he walked onto the grounds of Self-Realization Fellowship headquarters for the first time, he was immediately approached by a smiling stranger. With a radiant smile, the man affectionately embraced him as if he were an old friend — long expected and most welcome. No words were exchanged, and it was only later that Brother was formally introduced to his new “old friend” — Rajarsi Janakananda, president of the society!
Thus, the book that Paramahansaji spoke of as his “ambassador” performed its magic on one more soul — for from that day on, the course of Brother Premamoy’s life was set.
It was 1952, and I was employed as secretary to the assistant manager at the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles: a fascinating job in an elite setting where I met a number of world-renowned personalities. But little did I know the impact upon my life the sound of one name would make when spoken in my ear.
On March 6, the secretary of a motion picture producer called the hotel and asked that a message be delivered to Paramahansa Yogananda. The moment I heard that name, a huge “gong-bell” rang in my chest; my head swam, joy welled up in my heart and mind, and I couldn’t even walk straight as I made my way to the reservations desk to arrange for the message delivery. I was told that no one of that name was registered at the hotel, although the Indian Ambassador and his retinue were currently in residence. All the way back to my office the name kept revolving in my consciousness and I became more and more filled with love and joy. After a short time the motion picture producer called and asked, “What name did my secretary give you?” I told him “Paramahansa Yogananda” and he exclaimed, “That’s what I thought I heard him say! That’s not the name I gave him. He doesn’t know why he said that!”
The rest of that day I remained in a strange state of inner awareness and experienced a deep sense of connectedness to that name. Then came March 7, the fateful day of Paramahansa Yogananda’s mahasamadhi. I read about it in the paper and felt that I had lost my best friend. It was devastating! It seemed my life was suddenly over. I kept thinking, I’ve missed him! I’ve waited all my life for him and I missed him! But I didn’t really know what I meant because I wasn’t looking for a teacher or a path. Even so, in the depths of my consciousness I knew it to be true, that I had missed the most important person in my existence.
From that moment on my well-ordered, rather glamorous life no longer suited me. I abruptly canceled important plans, stopped seeing people I knew and started seeking through books. It never occurred to me to see if Paramahansa Yogananda had ever written a book; I simply felt that he was gone and I had missed him. After reading four metaphysically oriented volumes which did not satisfy the depth of my need, I was again searching through the same row of books in the Hollywood Public Library with my mother, who had caught some of the fire that was burning within me. After almost passing the first section, which I felt I had already thoroughly perused, a book fell off the top shelf, hit me on the head, and bounced onto the floor. My mother picked it up and gasped as she turned it toward me — Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. There before me was the name my heart was reaching for, and the face with eyes that penetrated to the soul!
I read it at night and she read it while I was at work. “Reading” is perhaps inadequate to describe the way we engrossed ourselves in the experience of entering the world of Truth. The origin of life, discipleship, the dispensation of Kriya Yoga — all were made clear in Autobiography of a Yogi.
We attended a service at the Hollywood Temple, which overwhelmed me with the same “presence” that had been so dynamic the morning I first heard the Guru’s name spoken on the telephone. After the service Meera Mata was very gracious in receiving us and after a few moments suggested that I go to Mt. Washington Mother Center and meet her daughter, Mrinalini Mata. We did go and learned about the monastic order, and I was “captured” for the third time — first by Paramahansa Yogananda, second by Autobiography of a Yogi, and now, by the ideal of a life of renunciation devoted to God alone.
After recounting the story about the effect upon me of hearing Paramahansaji’s name on March 6, I learned he had been at the hotel on that morning attending a breakfast for the Ambassador from India, His Excellency Binay R. Sen. That breakfast took place in the room next to my office. The Master was sitting just on the other side of the wall from my desk at the time I received the call and heard his name.
The Guru is calling all of “his own” through his tremendous autobiography. Some of us just take a little too long to respond and have to be hit over the head, as did I! But how blessed is each one of the millions who hears his “voice” and answers his clarion call.
Comments on Autobiography of a Yogi
“As an eyewitness recountal of the extraordinary lives and powers of modern Hindu saints, the book has an importance both timely and timeless....His unusual life document is certainly one of the most revealing…of the spiritual wealth of India ever to be published in the West.”
— W. Y. Evans-Wentz, M.A., D.Litt., D.Sc.,
renowned scholar and author of many books on Eastern religion
“I am grateful to you for granting me some insight into this fascinating world.”
— Thomas Mann, Nobel laureate
“Few books…have had greater impact on popular theology than Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi.”
— Phyllis A. Tickle,
Author, God-Talk in America
“In [Yogananda's] celebrated Autobiography of a Yogi, he offers a stunning account of the 'cosmic consciousness' reached on the upper levels of yogic practice, and numerous interesting perspectives on human nature from the yogic and Vedantic points of view.”
— Robert S. Ellwood, Ph.D.,
Chairman, School of Religion, University of Southern California
“Autobiography of a Yogi is justifiably celebrated as one of the most entertaining and enlightening spiritual books ever written."
— Tom Butler-Bowdon,
Author of 50 Spiritual Classics: Timeless Wisdom from 50 Great Books of Inner Discovery, Enlightenment & Purpose
“One of the most charmingly simple and self-revealing of life-stories…a veritable treasure-house of learning. The great personalities one meets in these pages…return to memory as friends endowed with rich spiritual wisdom, and one of the greatest of these is the God-intoxicated author himself.”
— Dr. Anna von Helmholtz-Phelan,
Professor of English, University of Minnesota
“Decade after decade, Autobiography of a Yogi has been one of our best-selling books. While other books come and go, it sustains because critical inquiry over time has shown that it opens the way poignantly and sublimely to spiritual fulfillment."
— Bodhi Tree Bookstore, Los Angeles
“I keep stacks of Autobiography of a Yogi around the house, and I give it out constantly to people. When people need ‘regrooving,’ I say read this, because it cuts to the heart of every religion.”
— George Harrison
“You would be hard-pressed to find anyone on the spiritual path whose life has not been influenced by this profound work of literature. It started me in a path of yoga, meditation, and self-exploration that has continued until this day.”
— Jack Canfield,
co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul® series
“Autobiography of a Yogi is regarded as an Upanishad of the new age....It has satisfied the spiritual thirst of hundreds of thousands of truth-seekers throughout the world. We in India have watched with wonder and fascination the phenomenal spread of the popularity of this book about India's saints and philosophy. We have felt great satisfaction and pride that the immortal nectar of India's Sanatana Dharma, the eternal laws of truth, has been stored in the golden chalice of Autobiography of a Yogi."
— Dr. Ashutosh Das, M.A., Ph.D., D.Litt.,
Professor, Calcutta University
“There are many books in Western tongues that expound Indian philosophy and particularly Yoga, but none other reveals to us with such candor the experiences of one who embodies and lives these principles.”
— Dr. Kurt F. Leidecker,
Professor of Philosophy, University of Virginia
"I met Paramahansa Yogananda on two occasions in the 1930s as a boy....Twenty years later someone gave me Autobiography of a Yogi....The moment I started reading that book, it did something to me that I can't describe. I have read many books on yoga, by yogis; but I was never impressed as with this book. It has some magic in it."
— Ravi Shankar,
Indian classical musician
“The book I most wish I'd written is the Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, because then I would have had all of the fabulous experiences he described growing up in India in the early part of the century. Who would not want to have known genuine gurus and living saints?"
— Andrew Weil, M.D.,
Health expert and author, Eight Weeks to Optimum Health
"For those interested in learning about Eastern philosophy and meditation techniques....a book that enriched my life immeasurably, and remains the favorite of many thousands, [is] Autobiography of a Yogi....[Paramahansa Yogananda] was a prolific writer and an intensely devotional monastic and his autobiography is one of the most compelling books available today."
— Cate Tuttle,
San Diego Union-Tribune
Fifty editions of Autobiography of a Yogi, displayed by SRF monastics and employees at the SRF Publications Center
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