Here are a few historical words on Yogananda’s famous spiritual classic and masterpiece, the Autobiography of a Yogi.
Yogananda worked for 25 years on his Autobiography of a Yogi, which must certainly be counted as one of the most important projects of his life. It was an essential part of his mission in the West, given to him by his Gurus and Paramgurus.
And indeed it was his Master, Swami Sri Yukteswar, who requested him to write the book. He knew that it had been prophesied long ago by Lahiri Mahasaya, and that Yogananda was the one to fulfill that prophecy. One reads in the Autobiography of a Yogi:
“About fifty years after my passing,” he (Lahiri Mahasaya) said, “my life will be written because of a deep interest in yoga which the West will manifest. The yogic message will encircle the globe, and aid in establishing that brotherhood of man, which results from direct perception of the One Father.”
“My son Yogananda,” Sri Yukteswar went on, “you must do your part in spreading that message, and in writing that sacred life.” Fifty years after Lahiri Mahasaya’s passing in 1895 culminated in 1945, the year of completion of this present book.”
In a later chapter, Yogananda continues:
“My object in seeking out Keshabananda was connected with this book. I had never forgotten Sri Yukteswar’s request that I write the life of Lahiri Mahasaya. During my stay in India I was taking every opportunity of contacting 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. My Lahiri Mahasaya portfolio began to swell; I realized with dismay that ahead of me lay arduous labors in authorship.”
Durga Ma writes that much of his authorship happened in Encinitas. Most of the time, as she relates, Yogananda wrote longhand. At other times he dictated to Daya Mata’s shorthand. Or Daya Mata and Mataji (Daya’s sister, Ananda Mata) would alternate in taking dictation on the typewriter. Yogananda liked it when they read the text back to him. The typed text, as Daya Mata recalls, was then given, piece after piece, to Tara Mata for editing. While writing, Yogananda would often pause, look up, and enter samadhi. In this way the Autobiography of a Yogi became a book charged with his superconscious vibrations. It was, Yogananda stated, “my principle work in life,” and will be “my messenger!”
The book was completed in 1945. Yogananda obviously expected it to be published in early 1946: in East-West (Jan.-March 1946), in the 1946 New Year’s message, he urged the readers of the magazine to “spread the message” by sharing with others their copy of the Autobiography of a Yogi, or by presenting copies to their friends. He also announced how he would use the proceeds of his book: to build the “Golden World City”(World Brotherhood Colony) in Encinitas.
But it took almost one more year before his masterpiece could reach his readers. The Autobiography of a Yogi was finally published in December 1946. The problem was to find a publishing house for it: innovative and challenging thoughts never tread a smooth path. This was a pioneering work, filled with unheard-of yogic stories of stunning miracles. Tara Mata in fact had to search for a long time. The publishing house which finally accepted the job was the Philosophical Library in New York.
It was definitively a challenging year for Tara Mata. Trying to get the book printed, she lived away from her ashram and her guru, alone, in an unheated cold-water flat in New York, hitting a worldly environment. “She almost died,” Yogananda is reported to have said. No wonder that later he gratefully exclaimed: “Without her, the book would have never gone through.” He expressed his gratitude to Tara, who was also the book’s editor, on the dedication page of his Autobiography of a Yogi, saying that he is “deeply indebted” to her “for her long editorial labors over the manuscript of this book.”
Once it was printed, the Autobiography of a Yogi started to “rouse the world” (using Yogananda’s words), and Yogananda received, as he wrote, “thousands of letters.”
All kinds of other wonderful feedback began streaming in: On the flap of the dust jacket comments from several famous persons were printed. Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann wrote Yogananda: “This renewed contact with the Yogi-sphere, its mental superiority to material reality, and its spiritual discipline, was very instructive to me, and I am grateful to you for granting me some insight in this fascinating world.”
The Autobiography of a Yogi soon began to conquer the globe, country after country, culture after culture. With it, a new era started for Yogananda’s mission: from now on, his was a world audience. As he wrote in his book: “Many spiritually thirsty men and women eventually found their way to the cool waters of Kriya Yoga. Just as in the Hindu legend, where Mother Ganges offers her divine draught to the parched devotee Bhagirath, so the celestial flood of Kriya rolled from the secret fastnesses of the Himalayas into the dusty haunts of men.” Through the Autobiography of a Yogi the mission of Kriya Yoga made indeed a major leap in all directions, everywhere, “into the dusty aunts of men.”
Yogananda was happy. There exists a beautiful picture of him, proudly holding his literary jewel.
Already during Yogananda’s lifetime the impact of Autobiography of a Yogi was stronger than his lecture tours, as he himself stated in 1948: his Autobiography was doing “what I meagerly did while traveling and lecturing to thousands.” Even today, the Autobiography of a Yogi remains Yogananda’s most important instrument to reach people everywhere. It has truly become his “messenger!”
Amazingly, still today, 65 years after its first appearance, the Autobiography of a Yogi is sometimes listed amongst the bestsellers in the spiritual field. It has been elected as one of the 100 most important spiritual books of the last century. And it is a book that will probably make even more history, if Yogananda’s statement will prove to be true: “The blessed role of Kriya Yoga in East and West has hardly more than just begun.”
Just think about it! Even today, without it, how many people would know about Kriya Yoga? Without it, how many disciples of Yogananda would be around? Without it, would the various Kriya teachers enjoy the same response they are getting from seekers?
Shibindu Lahiri (the great grandson of Lahiri Mahasaya) for example says that his success rests on the fame of the Autobiography of a Yogi.
Many different editions of the Autobiography of a Yogi have been printed from 1946 on. The book went through a lively development, especially after Yogananda’s passing. Tara Mata was not lazy.
Sister Gyananmata wrote how deeply she cherished and savored Yogananda’s divine vibrations in the Autobiography of a Yogi. For the first few months she was actually content just to possess it, to have it close to her. Later she read it only on her very best days. “I am absorbed in you through the book,” she wrote Yogananda in a letter. Gyanamata, as all other disciples, read the original edition, since she passed away in 1951.
In India both SRF and Ananda have both published that original 1946 edition, as a special historical document. In the West it is published as well, and has been posted on a growing number of sites, since now it is in the public domain. All can use it freely, including the photos. In this way it seems that the Autobiography of a Yogi has lately developed new wings. The Autobiography of a Yogi was, interestingly, Yogananda’s only book which he published through an outside publisher, selling the copyrights.
It broke Yogananda’s heart, by the way, that he couldn’t name his beloved disciple Rajarsi specifically in his Autobiography of a Yogi, because of business reasons. Later, after Rajarsi’s passing, finally he was mentioned by name.
Here is a question: What did Yogananda’s mostly want to accomplish with his Autobiography of a Yogi? Why did he work for 25 years on it?
One might answer:
“He wanted to make his SRF mission known.”
“He wanted spread India’s ancient yogic science of Self-realization.”
“He wanted to introduce the technique of Kriya Yoga.”
“He wanted to inspire the reader with God-love.”
“He wanted to uplift the general reader.”
“He wanted to unite East and West.”
Certainly true. But his universal and expansive mind, it seems, was even aiming at a further, a global goal: world-peace! Here are some of his quotes from the Autobiography of a Yogi (bold added):
“The yogic message will encircle the globe, and aid in establishing that brotherhood of man which results from direct perception of the One Father.”
“Toward realization of the world’s highest ideal–peace through brotherhood– may yoga, the science of personal contact with the Divine, spread in time to all men in all lands.”
“Kriya Yoga, the scientific technique of God-realization,” he finally said with solemnity, “will ultimately spread in all lands, and aid in harmonizing the nations through man’s personal, transcendental perception of the Infinite Father.”
“The effective League of Nations will be a natural, nameless league of human hearts…[flowing] from knowledge of man’s sole unity– his kinship with God.”
For his German readers, Yogananda wrote the following preface in Oct. 1950- a call for brotherhood, too:
“It is a great joy for me to hear that there will be a German edition of the Autobiography of a Yogi. Not less than seven German publishing houses wanted to translate and publish the book. This certainly proves that Germany is turning toward the thought of spiritual growth. After all, it was Germany in the late 18th century, where the vast Sanskrit-heritage of India found its first enthusiastic friends and translators. In 1936 I traveled by car through Germany. What a marvelous country! And how friendly its people! To my German readers I send this message: Let us walk forward together- Germans, Indians, the whole human race! What could delight the heart of our One Father more than when we rejoice in our brotherhood?”
Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi is full of fascinating stories. One story, however, which he originally intended to include, didn’t make it into the book. The point of the story, which one of Yogananda’s friends had personally witnessed, was to show that bodies can be changed “like car models!”
Here it is:
There was a young man in India who had died, and his body was lying ready for cremation. The family was about to set fire to the funeral pyre. At this moment an old yogi came running out of a nearby forest, shouting: “Stop it, stop it! I need that young body, cremate this one!” The family was utterly stunned. He fell to the ground, dead. A moment later the young man leapt up off the pyre; before anybody was able catch him, he ran off into the forest. The family could only cremate the old man’s body. That was a yogi who changed his “model.” His body had become too old- and so he got himself into a new “model.”
Yogananda relates that he couldn’t find his saintly friend who had witnessed this incredible scene- that’s why he chose not to publish it in his book.
The Autobiography of a Yogi transmits his vibrations, Yogananda said, maybe especially his vibrations of love. Beautifully, therefore, all editions end with these words from his heart: “Lord, Thou hast given this monk a large family.”
Here is a question: whom did he mean by “large family?” How big is his family? All Kriya Yogis? Or is his family much bigger?
Oh Lord, help us to understand Yogananda’s Divine Love!