Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda’s description of the life and trials of a yogi, has been a rather intriguing read. While I knew I’d come across some ideas that I wouldn’t be totally inclined to believe, I tried to read the book with an open mind. There is definitely a lot to be learnt from it. Sometimes, when religion and the existence of God don’t entirely make sense in the wake of all the trouble around us, this book comes as an affirmation of faith. The inclination to question and to look for proof is getting stronger as the days pass by and misery seems to dog people around the world; why is it important to keep faith in a God that nobody has seen?
Perhaps it is because faith helps, and can possibly serve as a deterrent to further misery. It can drive people to do good and help, instead of being constantly cynical and waiting for miracles to come about through means other than themselves. There are many instances in Autobiography that seem absolutely incredible to me; however, if they have been so openly described and circulated through an increasingly cynical world, there must be some truth to these inexplicable miracles.
The mysteries of life and death yet remain unsolved. The idea of an astral world after the casting off of this human body to which we are unduly attached, and then a causal world, can seem absurd and unrealistic. However, can such claims be made without some kind of substantiation? I hardly know what to make of it all. Astral travel, interestingly, has been mentioned in Paulo Coelho’s book Veronika Decides To Die- here, the woman experiencing the phenomenon feels disembodied and sees other disembodied people wandering around in a different plane. Some of these spirits have perfected this art and are here on their own (like the state of samadhi?), while some others don’t know they are here because they are asleep. Another idea mentioned in Autobiography is that pure-minded children can see fairies and other astral beings; Coelho talks of something similar in The Valkyries, where he mentions how children communicate with their angels when they are young, and as they grow up, are convinced by ‘wise’ adults around them that such outer-worldly beings don’t exist, so that they gradually give up all such associations.
Autobiography says we are constantly working off the results of the karma accumulated in previous births. This is one concept that I have found extremely difficult to understand. Are we wholly responsible for our own actions? I always thought it was God who guided people, for isn’t it to Him that we pray when we need strength and guidance, or when we want something to happen. Many people, with good and evil intentions, put their trust in God. I believe that nobody is intrinsically evil- it is certain circumstances and situations that influence a person’s actions. In that case, the circumstances are created by powers beyond our comprehension. Or do we create them? I don’t understand why anybody should be made to do evil and then be forced to pay for his actions through future incarnations. If the world is all delusion, why has it been created? Or doesn’t it exist at all?
According to Autobiography, things don’t end with death on this planet, for they are followed by work in the astral and causal universes to get rid of whatever vestiges of karma remain. I cannot comprehend these various levels of consciousness, and the bigger question automatically arises- what is the purpose of it all? To which, of course, there is no answer. It is just explained away as one of the mysteries of God to be left unsolved for the moment, the solution to which God will Himself reveal when the time is right.
The book explains God wants to drive us to search out the truth of our lives. A bothering aspect of this idea is why He should want us to go through so much suffering. Perhaps it is to strengthen and condition us; but there are certain forms of exploitation and evil that are just too complex to comprehend. The mind has to be free of all desire to finally proceed to the next level. Another question that came to me: What is the difference between ambition and desire? There are techniques mentioned through which ordinary people can work towards elevation; what of the uneducated or ignorant who never even come to hear of such ideas? I don’t expect a man struggling for a square meal a day, sleeping on the pavement in the bitter cold of winter, to worry about spiritual elevation; he is more likely to be thinking of how to earn his next meal or find shelter. Especially when everything often comes at a price- even spiritual enlightenment.
I like Autobiography for its philosophy, intrigue and mystery, and for the deep faith it promotes. For, certainly, Paramahansa Yogananda didn’t have everything come to him on a platter. He had to work for what he gained, go through misery, but he remarkably kept his faith through it all. It talks of different religions as different paths of reaching God, and attempts to explain the fact through examples. Autobiography mystifies and inspires the reader to set out on further journeys of seeking and learning.