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Book Summary of Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda

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What is the book about?

Autobiography of a Yogi introduces the reader to the life of Paramahansa Yogananda and his encounters with spiritual figures of both the Eastern and the Western world. Paramahansa Yogananda was born as Mukunda Lal Ghosh in Gorakhpur, India, into a Bengali Hindu family.

The book begins with his childhood family life, to finding his guru, to becoming a monk and establishing his teachings of Kriya Yoga meditation. The book continues in 1920 when Yogananda accepts an invitation to speak in a religious congress in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. He then travels across America lecturing and establishing his teachings in Los Angeles, California. In 1935, he returns to India for a yearlong visit. When he returns to America, he continues to establish his teachings, including writing this book.

Autobiography of a Yogi is an introduction to the methods of attaining God-realization and to the spiritual wisdom of the East, which had only been available to a few in 1946.

The author claims that the writing of the book was prophesied long ago by the nineteenth-century master Lahiri Mahasaya (Paramguru of Yogananda) also known as the Yogiraj and Kashi baba. Before becoming a yogi, Lahiri Mahasaya’s actual name was Shyama Charan Lahiri.

It has been in print for seventy years and translated into over fifty languages by Self-Realization Fellowship.

Autobiography of a Yogi summary

Book summary of Autobiography of a Yogi

Paramhansa Yogananda, widely credited with bringing yoga to the west, tells the story of his remarkable lifelong spiritual journey in Autobiography of a Yogi. 

From a very young age, Yogananda, born Mukunda Lal Ghosh, was clearly more spiritually natured than most.  He grew up one of eight children to his mother, a “queen of hearts,” and his father, a strict disciplinarian who held a high position in the Bengal-Nagpur railway. 

His parents were disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya, the guru of Yogananda’s own guru, and they enjoyed a calm and loving marriage.  Aside from young Mukunda’s strong spiritual yearnings, he and his siblings appeared to have a typical lifestyle.

When he was 11 years old, Yogananda’s mother appeared before him in a vision that foretold her death.  He would continue to have similar premonitory visions throughout his life.  Soon after his mother’s death, Yogananda began feeling drawn toward the Himalayas and planned a pilgrimage.  He was stopped by his older brother, Ananta, but Yogananda did not stop seeking his spiritual teacher, who he finally found at the age of 17.

Though he first distrusted his instincts, Yogananda knew immediately who Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri was when he saw him in a Benares market.  He had seen him in visions and his appearance had been announced that morning by a “divine womanly voice.”  During those first few moments of the meeting, the two promised each other unconditional love. 

Soon after, Yogananda gave responsibility for his life over to his guru though he didn’t like all of his master’s suggestions or his “cold” manner at times.  Sri Yukteswar was firm but loving, and he had an intense impact on Yogananda.

The guru-disciple relationship, which according to Yogananda began lifetimes ago, is a key aspect of the book.  Yogananda’s devotion to Sri Yukteswar only grows stronger with time.  At times he stays at Sri Yukteswar’s ashram, delighted to hear stories of Sri Yukteswar’s life.

Sri Yukteswar initiates him into Kriya yoga, something he had experienced twice before but which he only feels the transformative power of when under his master’s auspices.  During his time at Sri Yukteswar’s ashram (which was near the Serampore College Yogananda attended), he sometimes struggles to perform the mundane tasks that are required.  He’d prefer to be meditating. 

Sri Yukteswar teaches him the importance of serving one’s worldly purposes.  At other times, the two live continents apart.  Even when they are living far apart, however, Yogananda claims his master appeared before him in a vision.  He also appeared, in flesh and blood, from beyond the grave.  This type of otherworldly experience pervades the book until it just appears a typical fact of life for Yogananda.

Yogananda received his Bachelor’s degree from the Serampore College in Calcutta in 1915, though he made no attempt to say he was a good student – he grudgingly did the minimum to get by in school, as he was only interested in the spiritual path.

 In 1917, Yogananda founded a school for boys in Dihika, West Bengal, where yoga was taught along with the typical curriculum.  In 1920, Yogananda went to the United States where his talks about religion and yoga were enthusiastically received. He founded the Self-Realization Fellowship and lectured widely. 

In 1925, he established the Self-Realization Fellowship headquarters in Los Angeles, California.  He met with various eminent spiritual figures and other notable people, including Therese Neumann, Sri Anandamayi Ma, Mohandas Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Sir C. V. Raman, and Luther Burbank.

Though Yogananda was Hindu, he respected and seems to have resonated with all religions.  He often shared the teachings of Jesus Christ and quoted various other religious figures.  His ability to transcend religion attracted numerous devotees and earned him respect among the masses.

The Key Takeaways of Autobiography of a Yogi

Self-Realization 

The knowing -in body, mind, and soul- that we are one with the omnipresence of God; we do not have to pray that it come to us, we are not merely near it at all times, but that God’s omnipresence is our omnipresence. We are just as much a part of Him now as we ever will be. All we have to do is improve our knowing. 

Living a Life of Happiness 

Live quietly in the moment and see the beauty of all before you. The future will take care of itself. 

Making others happy, through the kindness of speech and sincerity of right advice, is a sign of true greatness. To hurt another soul by sarcastic words, looks, or suggestions, is despicable. 

Be comfortable within your purse,” he often said. “Extravagance will buy you discomfort. 

Look fear in the face and it will cease to trouble you. Forget the past, for it is gone from your domain! forget the future, for it is beyond your reach! control the present! Live supremely well now! This is the way of the wise. 

Ordinary love is selfish, darkly rooted in desires and satisfactions. Divine love is without condition, without boundary, without change. The flux of the human heart is gone forever at the transfixing touch of pure love. 

Living in Purpose and Being Purposeful 

The more deeply we perceive, the more striking becomes the evidence that a uniform plan links every form in manifold nature. 

Man’s conscious state is an awareness of body and breath. His subconscious state, active in sleep, is associated with his mental, and temporary, separation from body and breath. His superconscious state is a freedom from the delusion that “existence” depends on body and breath. God lives without breath; the soul made in his image becomes conscious of itself, for the first time, only during the breathless state. 

Worldly people do not like the candor which shatters their delusions. 

“Since you alone are responsible for your thoughts, only you can change them.” 

Being in Service 

Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others! 

The human mind is a spark of the almighty consciousness of God. I could show you that whatever your powerful mind believes very intensely would instantly come to pass. 

The deeper the Self-realization of a man, the more he influences the whole universe by his subtle spiritual vibrations, and the less he himself is affected by the phenomenal flux. 

There is a magnet in your heart that will attract true friends. That magnet is unselfishness, thinking of others first; when you learn to live for others, they will live for you. 

Always remember that you belong to no one, and no one belongs to you. Reflect that someday you will suddenly have to leave everything in this world-so make the acquaintanceship of God.

Remain calm, serene, always in command of yourself. You will then find out how easy it is to get along. 

The Law of Success: Using the Power of Spirit to Create Health, Prosperity, and Happiness 

The Power of Thought 

You demonstrate success or failure according to your habitual trend of thought. In you which is the stronger —success thoughts or failure thoughts? If your mind is ordinarily in a negative state, an occasional positive thought is not sufficient to attract success. But if you think rightly, you will find your goal even though you seem to be enveloped in darkness. 

Will is the Dynamo 

Along with positive thinking, you should use will power and continuous activity in order to be successful. Every outward manifestation is the result of will but this power is not always used consciously. There is mechanical will as well as conscious will. 

You Can Control Destiny 

The mind is the creator of everything. You should, therefore, guide it to create only good. If you cling to a certain thought with dynamic will power, it finally assumes a tangible outward form. When you are able to employ your will always for constructive purposes, you become the controller of your destiny. 

But you should always be sure, within the calm region of your inner Self, that what you want is right for you to have, and in accord with God’s purposes. You can then use all the force of your will to accomplish your object; keeping your mind, however, centered on the thought of God—the Source of all power and all accomplishment.   

Fear Exhausts Life Energy 

It is one of the greatest enemies of dynamic will power. Fear causes the life force that ordinarily flows steadily through the nerves to be squeezed out, and the nerves themselves to become as though paralyzed; the vitality of the whole body is lowered. Fear doesn’t help you to get away from the object of fear; it only weakens your will power.

Fear causes the brain to send an inhibiting message to all bodily organs. It constricts the heart, checks the digestive functions, and causes many other physical disturbances. When the consciousness is kept on God, you will have no fears; every obstacle will then be overcome by courage and faith. 

Failures Should Arouse Determination 

Even failures should act as stimulants to your will power and to your material and spiritual growth. When you have failed in any project it is helpful to analyze every factor in the situation in order to eliminate all chances in the future that you might repeat the same errors. 

The Need for Self-Analysis 

Another secret of progress is self-analysis. Introspection is a mirror in which to see recesses of your mind that otherwise would remain hidden from you. Diagnose your failures and sort out your good and bad tendencies. Analyze what you are, what you wish to become, and what shortcomings are impeding you. 

The Creative Power of Initiative 

What is the initiative? It is a creative faculty within you, a spark of the Infinite Creator. It may give you the power to create something no one else has ever created. It urges you to do things in new ways. The accomplishments of a person of initiative may be as spectacular as a shooting star. Apparently creating something from nothing, he demonstrates that the seemingly impossible may become possible by one’s employment of the great inventive power of the Spirit. 

See the Image of God in All Men 

Many people excuse their own faults but judge other persons harshly. We should reverse this attitude by excusing others’ shortcomings and by harshly examining our own. 

Habits of Thought Control One’s Life 

Success is hastened or delayed by one’s habits. It is not your passing inspirations or brilliant ideas so much as your everyday mental habits that control your life. Habits of thought are mental magnets that draw to you certain things, people, and conditions. Good habits of thought enable you to attract benefits and opportunities. Bad habits of thought attract you to materially minded persons and to unfavorable environments. 

Power of Divine Will 

Divine Will has no boundaries; it works through laws known and unknown, natural and seemingly miraculous. It can change the course of destiny, wake the dead, cast mountains into the sea, and create new solar systems. 

From the Ocean of Abundance 

Just as all power lies in His will, so all spiritual and material gifts flow from His boundless abundance. In order to receive His gifts, you must eradicate from your mind all thoughts of limitation and poverty. Universal Mind is perfect and knows no lack; to reach that never-failing supply you must maintain a consciousness of abundance. Even when you do not know where the next dollar is coming from, you should refuse to be apprehensive. When you do your part and rely on God to do His, you will find that mysterious forces come to your aid and that your constructive wishes soon materialize. This confidence and consciousness of abundance are attained through meditation. 

The Way of Meditation 

By the power of concentration and meditation, you can direct the inexhaustible power of your mind to accomplish what you desire and to guard every door against failure. All successful men and women devote much time to deep concentration. They are able to dive deeply within their minds and to find the pearls of the right solutions for the problems that confront them.

If you learn how to withdraw your attention from all objects of distraction and to place it upon one object of concentration, you too will know how to attract at will whatever you need. 

Success is Measured by Happiness 

Consider whether fulfillment of the goal you have chosen will constitute success. What is success? If you possess health and wealth but have trouble with everybody (including yourself), yours is not a successful life. Existence becomes futile if you cannot find happiness.

When wealth is lost, you have lost a little; when health is lost, you have lost something of more consequence; but when the peace of mind is lost, you have lost the highest treasure. 

Put God’s Power Behind Your Efforts 

Release for constructive purposes the power you already have, and more will come. Move on your path with unflinching determination, using all the attributes of success. Tune yourself with the creative power of Spirit. You will be in contact with the Infinite Intelligence that is able to guide you and to solve all problems. Power from the dynamic Source of your being will flow uninterruptedly so that you will be able to perform creatively in any sphere of activity. 


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summary of Autobiography of a Yogi
Book summary of Autobiography of a Yogi

Adapted from Joseph Rodrigues Mindmap, Yoga Moods blog post, Wikipedia

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