There are several inroads to putting Autobiography of a Yogi into perspective. "First study a thing. Consider what it might bring. Aim to ennoble or enrich your life if you can." You could also profit from studying mind mapping. [Cf. Mmb; Mum; Tor, and Idea-maps].
Yogananda wants followers to "give up the ego" and "kill the ego." It is better to keep one's ego healthy, and one's common sense. A smooth-functioning everyday life depends a lot on it. For such reasons I would give up Yogananda and his anti-ego teachings. Being realistic is fair.
There is normal egohood and not normal egohood, though. Dysfunctional egohood gives burdens, but normal and sane egohood is good to have and good to develop, no matter what blunderbuss decrees SRF's Yogananda might repeat to the contrary. We need a normal egohood and the development of mind that is a function of it.
The Ego of Freudianism is not the same as selfishness, and this has to be pointed out. To go for and foster normal egohood development is fit, and also contrary to Yogananda's hasardous "attack-the-ego" teachings. [More]
Good and staunch rationalism is much due to normal egohood development. Egohood is to be developed in stages and along very many alleys of man. It allows for rational handling, rational coping, and much life goes down the drains for lack of it. The effects of stunting normal and sane egohood are not health-promoting, and may foster creeps and devoted-looking ones.
You had better bulwark all that is precious to have, against insane leaders and their rallies against what truly serves humans. In totalitarian, authoritarian environments, like severe cults, they find it fit to molest sound ego development in followers. Forewarned is forearmed. In cultish settings such attacks serve submission or obedience.
Being skilful, updated and thriftily balancing on a fit track could help towards enlightenment.
It is far better to clarify one's concepts than to switch to and fro between the self-contraditions, and Yogananda talks against himself all too often. Expect it to backfire.
Buddha permits many to check and verify the value of his teachings. Yogananda is into the same thing in some places, but is he consistent at it?
Religion is often dogmatic. . . . It breaks my heart when I see blind dogmatism. Yogananda [Ak 48]
However, Yogananda's over-all work is one of blunderbuss attempts at "convincing others":
If I had a thousand mouths, I would speak through them all to convince you - Yogananda, [Ak 111].
Yogananda means to convince us to believe we can know by ourselves. Hence, read him in such a "light of freedom": that you should not absolutely believe or be totally convinced that you will know everything valuable by yourself either. Buddha offers a good, sensible approach: [Kalama Sutta]
Speaking of gullibility, the autobiography contains many fantastic stories, for example about resurrecting oneself in three bodies, materialising a palace, and further. In the light of the foregoing, remain alert that in at least one case we have to deal with one man's version (tale). A tale may or may not be literally true. It is so-called anecdotal evidence, with a proof value that is low in scientific circles. Truth be told.
The way to deal with strange tales is marked by some reserve at first, "Maybe so, maybe no, what do I know?" The interesting stuff may be explored; that comes next. Much of this is at bottom of rational inquiries. In the case of the tale where a palace appears overnight, there are other versions around [Ysl], and the tale of Aladdin in Arabian Nights. There, too, a palace came into being overnight through wishful thinking.
The autobiography, specked with tales of miracles, resurrections and lots of gurus in a lovable setting that is in part furnished by author descriptions, may easily capture juvenile fancy and ideation. If romanticism gets the better of guys, they may end up in a cult. Even though what the guru set up in 1935 was called a non-sectarian church of all religions by him then, in recent times words like "cult" and "sect" are used to describe it, even by former SRF monks and nuns "Between 2000 and 2005 more than fifty monks and nuns are reported to have left the organization," writes attorney Jon Parsons in A Fight For Religious Freedom: A Lawyer's Personal Account of Copyrights, Karma and Dharmic Litigation.(2012:170)
Good ways and means can be found by careful study of such as research results and not committing altogether at first glance. A warning Ramakrishna tale:
Some plunderers go about looking religious
There was a goldsmith who kept a jewelry shop. He looked like a great devotee, with beads round his neck, rosary in his hand, and the holy marks on his forehead. Naturally people trusted him and came to his shop on business. They thought that, being such a pious man, he would never cheat them.
Whenever a party of customers entered the shop, they would hear one of his craftsmen say, "Kesava! Kesava!' Another would say after a while, "Gopal! Gopal!' Then a third would mutter, "Hari! Hari!' Finally someone would say, "Hara! Hara!'
Now these are different names of God. Hearing so much chanting of God's names the customers thought that this goldsmith must be a very superior person.
But can you guess the goldsmith's true intention? The man who said " Kesava! Kesava!" meant to ask, "Who are these? - Who are these customers?'
The man who said "Gopal! Gopal!" conveyed the idea that the customers were merely a herd of cows. That was the estimate he formed of them after the exchange of a few words.
The man who said " Hari! Hari!" asked, "Since they are no better than a herd of cows, then may we rob them?'
He who said " Hara! Hara!" gave his assent, meaning by these words, "Do rob by all means, since they are mere cows!"
[From Tales and Parables of Sri Ramakrishna.sc, Tas No. 8, slightly abridged]
Getting skilful in good yoga techniques is the main way against getting looted. Consider that Yogananda also teaches the world is unreal, against the Gita teaching that those who teach like that, are demoniacs:
Those who are demoniac . . . say that this world is unreal, with no foundation . . . [Bhagavad Gita 16:7-8]
Yogananda taught both valuable yoga teachings and inferior teachings. The solution to this problem is not to claim that all his guidelines are infallible or get disillusioned about everything and every guru, but to prefer the higher teachings and focus on what seems best out of the medley that is published by his church, without succumbing to it, him or them.
Some gurus teach abstinence, others not. Since abstaining from a fulfilling and rewarding life brings about many unneeded, accruing troubles, it makes sense to abstain from abstaining much. That is akin to the firm Avadhut counsel: "Renounce the world, and also renounce renunciation, and even give up the absence of renunciation. (Avadhut Gita, 4:21)
When about one third of Self-Realization Fellowship Church's monastic disciples left the premises between 2000 and 2005,, some had severe problems. [Link].
A good way to win a lot of tricks is to see them in advance and take measures against them too, according to "Forewarned is forearmed," "A stitch in time saves nine," and so on. A good way to avoid becoming a sad and disappointed SRF monastic is not to enter the sect in the first place, thanks to being forewarned. Otherwise, wise actions to avoid damages may be called for, but it may not save the day. By lending ears to those who have just hindsight, there may lie helpful foresight for newer Mom devotees - maybe or maybe not.
The swami Yogananda stated he had a devotional temperament. Devotional Hinduism arose between the 300s and 1000s AD. Many forms of yoga existed before that, and many different forms of Hinduism too. Along with the rise of Hindu devotionalism came up to over-fervent worship coupled to various gods, images, statues and so on. A "guruism of crazed devotionalism" does not look wise.
❋ Be geared to what is of current value, at any rate.
"Religious life is sustained by dualistic concepts." [EB, s.v. "Indian philosophy"]
Now, it is feasible to probe into qualitative nuances of words and term and concepts. The term "semantic differential" seeks to describe a way here. In such cases you may form an opinion of how warm or friendly certain words or perspectives seem to yourself; you feel your way into how different words may be attitudionally charged. However, it many not be easy to do these things, and there is not always one correct answer to be had either. And since the more or less culturally determined, in part subjectively added 'overtones' or association medleys of terms vary and differ among us, there is no reason to make a big deal of these things here.[Cf. Trap]
Many shades and nuances and particular meanings that are put into words can differ much, so it could pay to be quite tentative when it comes to qualitative studies of this and that form of literature.
But there is an instructive study of how often and in what sense(s) Yogananda uses words denoting ego in his autobiography text and further: [Link]
❋ You may study words and their connotations in order to get closer to the outlooks of the author or perhaps his background - or the Western audience he went for.
In a pragmatic literature analysis, what may be called the mental charge of terms can be investigated quite tentatively, perhaps a bit too subjectively. While making little of wild faith may be fit in many a setting, being a trifle putative, assuming things on the basis of meagre evidence, may cause controversies.
Some recurrent terms in Yogananda's autobiography revere holiness or sacredness in an Indian way, and some very frequent terms may not be familiar to all of us. Readers or listeners of the autobiography could try to note the effect on themselves of what they encounter.
For example, you could do a lot worse than reflecting on how great and worthy you feel after reading or listening of superhuman feats like flying from mountain top to mountain top, yogi christs, divine descensions (avatars), miracle-working supermen and gurus. Then try to get down on your feet in a different setting, considering what would help what you want to go after yourself. Is it self-sufficient communities promoted by Yogananda in his autobiography, a vision clipped by his own SRF after his death? You had better be warned that Yogananda's fellowship has largely backed off from them. Too bad, some think, including Ananda Sangha, an SRF spin-off in some ways.
❋ Yogi training consists in letting go of ideas in a process of inward-turning (interiorisation). Hopes and fixated urges hinder that inward-turning. Self-supporting communities were supposed to help meditative living.
Towards the end of his life, St. Denis, patron saint of France, once walked six miles with his severed head in his hands. "The beginning is the most difficult (Proverbial)." [Op] Later, things could get out of hand anyway, just as Jean-Jacques Rousseau sums up in the very first lines of his novel Emile: "Everything deteriorates in the hands of man." It may not be true in all cases, though. There could be figuratively fine and useful points in a legend anyway. One of them could be:
❋ What actually happened may not have been as impressive as what is told and retold later on.
What about how-to-live schools a la Yogananda?
What about enrolling in a sect with semi-ritualised crying for Mother God - "and she will come," on Yogananda's word. He does not say when She will come, and that she will smile either. Will She come in a trillion years in an eternal Now, for example? You may find there is not time enough for great "Yoganandic crying" until old age.
A reading of Yogananda's book entices many to enroll in SRF. Refrain, and you may escape getting disappointed. By refraining you may keep your Tao, Way in life, and avoid being screwed up. For example, that Yogananda's first teachings that Satan is merely metaphoric, came to be counteracted by his retelling of an episode where a horrible Satan attacked him in Bombay in 1937 - according to himself. He also went on to read Satan into Maya, and Maya as Satan in Bible teachings, but without good clues, alas. [The tale]
Conflicting utterances by a sect founder is a gate to problems. Another is when founder words and founder deeds do not match. For example, Yogananda said something like, "You must waken your indomitable will. I did. I can created everything I want by my will power. Where there is a will, there is a way. He said much in such a vein (Cf. Jse 140; 365). The point is "Just don't trust. It pays to check first."
So Yogananda talked big and worse: on one occasion judge James MacLachlin found that Yogananda's money charges against a former fellow worker were false and untrue and judged in favour of the other, against Yogananda. [Yogananda's court case shame]
Yogananda had become an orator who said such as, "If you think money will give you happiness, you are wasting your time; it will never do so. [Dr 75]". However, his fellowship, asks for donations and like to inherit money -
Money does give much happiness. It can build a basis for soundness on many levels. Do not swerve from building a wealthy, fruitful life for yourself and your dependants. Buddhism teaches it is all right, and so does Hinduism, where wealth, artha, is one of the four main life goals set up. Balanced development is what Buddha calls to.
❋ Do not waste your time in being indoctrinated that money does not bring happiness. It often does.
An ounce of forethough might work better than a pound of bitter, disappointing experiences by and by. "Prevention is better than cure (Proverb)." It is better to be informed beforehand against too big words and the problems they may cause others later, little by little, perhaps. If you are forewarned, what strikes you eventually may not be like a lightning. So keeping at least an ounce of savoury scepticism intact could do you much good later.
Old Indian teachings vary considerably, and there are very different views in ancient teachings too. Besides, much has changed over the centuries. There is not always agreement in a tiny nest either.
People often choose the ones they give ear to, for good or for bad or somewhere in between. Reflect on what is tidy and easy enough to follow. Watch out for possibly neurosis-forming attitudes and:
If you do not keep a vigilant eye, you become like a serf - that is sect member.
A master brain like that of Mussolini does more good than millions of social organizations of group intelligence . . . Socialism, consisting of evolved individuals, will prevail in the end, but as long as people are not highly evolved, individualism will keep coming to the surface. Individualism exists only for the ushering in of Spiritual socialism. - Yogananda [More, and a PDF download]
Learn to ask for a qualified second opinion in good time," is the counsel against being fooled by Lorelei or someone else, fooled far away from proper, frivolous ways.
Yogananda claims he was attacked by Satan, yet said your greatest enemy the bills, yourself, moods, anything that weakens your mind, bolshevism (communism), Satan of ignorance, and the body. So beware of confusing teaching that weaken your mind. [Yogananda says he was attacked by Satan, and more about his manifold "greatest enemy"]
❋ "Fair play is a jewel;" clean dealings are boons too.
Parsons, Jon R. A Fight For Religious Freedom: A Lawyer's Personal Account of Copyrights, Karma and Dharmic Litigation. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity, 2012.
Ak: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Man's Eternal Quest. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1982.
Ha: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. 12th ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), 1981.
Jse: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Journey to Self-realization: Discovering the Gift of the Soul. New ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1997.
Lort: Freud, Anna. Jeg'et og forsvarsmekanismene. (The Ego and the Defence Mechanisms) Rev. ed. Oslo: Gyldendal, 1964.
Op: Simpson, John, and Jennifer Speake. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Tas: Ramakrishna. Tales and Parables of Sri Ramakrishna. 5th ed. Madras: Ramakrishna Math, 1974.
Trap: Nida, Eugene, and Charles Taber. The Theory and Practice of Translation. Leiden: United Bible Societies / Brill, 1974.
Ysl: Bhattacharya, Jogesh Chandra. Yogiraj Shri Shri Lahiri Mahashaya. Kadamtala, Howrah: Shrigurudham (Ghosh), 1964. On-line read-only text at Yoganiketan, Portland, Mn:
Via: Nikhilananda, swami. Vivekananda. The Yogas and Other Works. Rev. ed. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1953.
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