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Paramahansa Yogananda book reviews
Sheep prefer leaves to books with hooks.

Briefing

The story that you hear you might think rather queer. - Donovan, in Gold Watch Blues

Unproved claims may be made up, wholly or in part - or distorted. What then? Consider well; it often helps.

In the fellowship the Americanised guru Yogananda (1893–1952) founded, Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), they are fond of presenting him as a love guru, without singing with U2, "Oh love . . . you're so cruel." They have striven to present him favourably and "gild" him after his death if not before. They also praise his talks and "his" writings a lot. They also helped him with his autobiography, editing it for decades after his death (!).

What Yogananda might have done to millions of souls

Yogananda was born on January 5, 1893, in Gorakhpur, India. His parents were disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya. Lahiri Mahasaya blessed him, telling that "he will carry many souls to God's kingdom." It is in the Autobiography.

What Yogananda might do to other souls than those, is not told of there, but he hailed Mussolini and dictatorship in his forties. He also told, reportedly, that he had influenced Hitler to expand the World War II eastwards (by some Black Arts). If he actually did it, millions on millions could have been maimed and killed because of the Black Arts of Yogananda - if it was not an empty boast.

Consider the tens of millions of maimed and killed victims of Operation Barbarossa that aimed at conquering the Soviet Union, and also the sort of evidence that Yogananda actually was magically behind it. Look out for alternative lessons also (Kriyananda 2011:131; 2004, No. 289) (Wikipedia, "Operation Barbarossa")

There may still be eye witnesses that Yogananda said he had influenced Hitler's mind to attack Russia in the summer of 1941 - some may still be alive. How willing they are to tell, is quite another matter, and what they heard him tell might be so too. That cleared up so far, there are people that the Yognananda's direct Kriyananda told these Yogananda things to. Mind, still, they are stories of Yogananda claims Yogananda disciples and disciples of disciples. Thus, a pinch of salt or three could well be in place so far, until reliable evidence is forthcoming in the matter.

He seems to have said it, but was what he told reliable? That is the second part of this. Black Arts, or influence by magic, is outside of the realm where many good proofs are found in such amounts and of such quality that the majority of scientists and sceptics may support that Art. However, there is evidence that Yogananda had a leaning towards the occult Lola Williamson writes:

As a youth, Mukunda [Yogananda] learned how to hypnotize others and was also able to induce spirit-possession. He often used his brother to accomplish his experiments with fortune-telling, calling a spirit to enter his brother, who would then answer. . . . At times, the experiment backfired when the spirit refused to leave. Mukunda apparently took pride in his occult talents . . . To demonstrate his hypnotism abilities for officials at a nearby school, Mukunda asked his brother to eat dirt, telling him it was sweet and delectable. . . .

Yogananda's search for . . . yogic powers continued throughout his life. When he returned to India for a short period from 1935 to 1936, he traveled around [and his biographer] Satyananda summed up Yogananda's attitude toward the miraculous: "Direct encounters with ascended beings, the radiant and divine appearances of supernatural power-endowed realized beings, the arrival of the spirit of a dead person in the midst of mesmerized people and speaking with that spirit, and ordinary sightings of ghosts and such were things that he believed in, and pursued with concentrated means . . . his belief in these remained firm and unshakable throughout his whole life." (Williamson 2010:71, extracts)

Dasgupta's biography (2006) also contain tales about how Yogananda scared a cook by "freezing" his arm, he got afraid of a ghost on a cot and had to have someone sleeping in the same room to prevent it from entering through the door when it was closed.

So Yogananda was more than a little interested in the occult. How accomplished he got in the Black Art of influencing Adolf Hitler's mind so that he launched an attack on the Soviet Union, remains in the dark. What is told in the Yogananda biography, is that he could not influence Hitler to meet him when Yogananda toured Germany in 1935 and wanted to see him. Adolf Hitler declined.

Now, we are left with tale that Yogananda made claims to have swayed Hitler to make more war, according to a disciple of a direct Yogananda disciple. It is something, but how substantial it is, could be another matter.

Yogananda travelled and lectured

At seventeen, Yogananda became a disciple of Yukteswar and was disciplined a lot - but was it enough, or well enough to last? Such questions are not always asked, although they might be needed in the light of his excessive loyalty oath.

Yogananda graduated from Calcutta University as a BA in 1915, and became a monk of the Swami Order. In 1917, a maharaja let him set up a "how-to-live" school for boys at a site the maharaja owned. This happened after Yogananda had tricked the maharaja a bit, as described in the Yogananda biography. One day in the school, in 1920, Yogananda saw it was time to go to the West. He left at once for Calcutta, and became India's delegate to a congress of religious liberals, convening later that year in Boston. Yukteswar said to him: "It is now or never."

The young swami arrived in Boston in September 1920. He delivered a speech at the congress, and it was well enough received. The first SRF meditation centre was started in Boston with the help of Dr. and Mrs. M. W. Lewis and Mrs. Alice Hasey. All three were to become lifelong disciples.

For several years, Yogananda lectured and taught on the East Coast. In 1924 he embarked on a cross-continental speaking tour. Between 1924 and 1935, Yogananda travelled and lectured widely - from New York's Carnegie Hall to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium.

Strange claims abound

Yogananda first taught that his mission was to teach Westerners how to die consciously - or almost die in such a way - through a method he told had been kept secret. It says in The Science of Religion that "we ought not fear to practise death, i.e., give rest to the internal organs. Death will then be under our control. (Yogananda 1926:80)."

It may sound like a joke - Well, the die-marketing may not have been a success and way to proceed either, if possible? So Yogananda soon enough promoted it as a very secret method, kriya yoga. Now, the trouble here is that the core part is one of the breathing methods in hatha-yoga, and public knowledge. It is the publicly known pranayama method ("way of breathing") called ujjayi in Sanskrit. Besides, calming ujjayi or kriya yoga practice is described in books too. (Hewitt 1991; Satyananda 1981; 2001; Niranjanananda 2009).

"Feather by feather the goose is plucked (Proverb)."

Five years or so after Yogananda came by boat to America, he had changed his death-by-kriya marketing, and claimed that Jesus was one of the gurus behind his efforts. Marshall Govindan has commented on it:

After five years of effort in America, beginning in 1925 . . . Yogananda began to modify and adapt his teachings to the West . . . to overcome the . . . resistance of Christians who were suspicious of the foreign teachings of a Hindu swami. As a result, Yogananda began to enjoy remarkable popularity. . . . However, . . . most readers of his "Autobiography" . . . are left with many unrealistic expectations. - Marshall Govindan. [◦Link]

So now the main marketing punch had got another direction: The purpose of life is to experience God, find great joy, and that Yogananda had a method for it: kriya yoga. He let over 100,000 men and women in the West learn it fter extracting an oath from most of them: they had to swear an oath of loyalty and unconditional devotion oath to him for it, in part in the name of Jesus who in cited to say no-no to swearing. It is in the Bible. However, the guru Yogananda meant to bind people to him and the Indian line of gurus - four in all, including himself. He added Jesus to the line of gurus after about five years, and the fellowship he left behind, thought it fit to add Krishna to its gurus too, aiming at a warmer welcome in India, perhaps.

Followers who were given kriya yoga have to swear unconditional devotion to those six. The basis for it is against gospel sayings against swearing, as ascribed to Jesus.

The worst part, which SRF might have avoided to reveal until 1974, was that Yogananda meant the oath to be binding for up to lifetimes. To extract an oath like that is not what Human Rights laws in many countries aim at. People should be free enough not to be slave-bound for many lives to come, loyalty oaths or not.

A double-bottomed oath, perhaps. SRF extracts an oath from all who may want to learn kriya yoga. When you look into that "suitcase", it speaks of unconditional loyalty to unmet ones, which means renouncing a lot. If you look harder, you should find there is a false bottom there. Are you free to leave? Really? SRF does not think it is possible to leave Yogananda with so many claims. It is in a notarised letter, that "sooner or later, every Truth-seeker [who dropped Yogananda, for example] will unfailingly find his way back to his God-given guru . . ." [Letter] The words seem nice, but there is much more involved when the guru is one of Black Arts. Mind how "SRF appears to smuggle a lifetimes-oath on people," in part through overdone demands, without telling that you are really free to leave Yogananda all along - according to him. The Black Arts guru writes in the Self-Realization magazine that the kriya oath forms a bond to last for up to many lives. If so, he and SRF should inform about that and what it might entail if Yogananda goes to hell. If . . .

YOGANANDA DEPICTED If you turn away from the emissary of God, He [decides] "Now you shall have to wait long . . . Several incarnations at least must pass before he will have another such opportunity (etc.). [Source: SRF Magazine, spring 1974, p 6.]

One snag is that SRF does not seem to present the kriya yoga pledge in that light. There is good reason to point out that the SRF kriya pledge should not get additions to it that nobody tells about before the oath is made, since that is unfair and unfit - for up to lifetimes -

It is not really fine to violate Human Rights so that once you have signed, the addition hinders you from leaving, or fear does.

Well, prepare for the worst case scenario before time is running out, and consider decency and the Human Rights that have been established in many countries by now to protect citizens from abuse in the name of religion, sectarian sway and much else.

Swamis have also questioned Yogananda's mass-propagating methods (Dasgupta 2006:79-80, for example). [◦Sanskrit Classics] Be that as it may, in 1929, he was welcomed to Mexico by its then president, Dr. Emilio Portes Gil, an admirer.

Some fellow disciples from India and early Yogananda disciples helped him build the Self-Realization Fellowship - an organisation he later described as his horrible blunder (!) in a hand-written letter. ""I have committed a great blunder by starting an organization."." [◦Source]

After he died from a heart attack in 1952, successors have lead the Self-Realization Fellowship. It edits, expands on and publishes many of his dictated or written works. Examples follow in this series. The current leader's monastic name and title is Mrinalini Mata. She was born Merna Brown. She is in her eighties (2017).

Yogananda talks and classes in the earliest years in America were recorded - at first only now and then, and later seriously. Daya Mata (born Faye Wright) recorded hundreds of lectures, classes, and informal talks. Some are published by Self-Realization Fellowship - and some by a spin-off society called Ananda.

During the 1930s, after he had praised Mussolini and dictatorship in an issue of the SRF magazine (1934), Yogananda withdrew much from public lecturing.

Yogananda visited India in 1935-36 and thereby escaped being dragged to court to pay money he owed - a case marred by untrue claims by Yogananda, against documents that were found as the court case proceeded. Yogananda lost the case. [◦More]

His aged guru in India thought that Yogananda did low things, and commented on one of them thus: "Shame! Shame!" Yogananda's biographer Dasgupta (2006:71) tells. On one occasion Yogananda fell out with his aged guru Yukteswar too, as described by that eye-witness biographer (2006:85).

In seclusion in the USA, dictating also

In late 1936, Yogananda returned to America. There he remained for the rest of his life, and increasingly in seclusion, although he still worked and did not end the fellowship he had founded and one day regretted he had founded.

At Encinitas in California, Yogananda spent years working on his autobiography and other writings, helped by a good deal of secretaries, his co-writing "committee", as Daya Mata put it in court. He founded several Self-Realization Fellowship temples (Encinitas, Hollywood, and San Diego), speaking regularly there, and largely without preparations, on a wide range of spiritual subjects. Many of these stenographed talks have since been published by SRF in three volumes of collected Yogananda talks and essays and in Self-Realization magazine. The works contain a host of interpolations by editors. That explains why Yogananda works published by different editors or publishers differ a great deal, as for example his Wine of the Mystic. [Editorial strives]. The work reflects the guru's lack of fair and wise enough handling skills in dealing with a set of poems. See for yourself - [An overall commentary on the work is here]

Forgery is bad. The Yogananda approaches with some big claims

It stands out that Yogananda was unskilled as an interpreter of scriptures. His commentaries on the Rubaiyat and Bible parts show it well. The method he used was reading things into works, often against good evidence, and never adjusting to good, textual Bible criticism - so his commentaries reflect his shortcoming approaches. Yogananda treated gospel parts with much outward show of reverence by way of phrases and language, claimed Jesus as a guru in SRF (most likely for social acceptance in his time), read yoga content into texts, and seemed marringly unaware of scholarly findings or ways of handling much. So his writings may soon enough feel unprofitable. [More]

With the assistance of secretaries, Yogananda had his Autobiography of a Yogi written and published by 1946. The book was significantly expanded in subsequent editions by SRF, for decades after his death. The ghost writer was hardly Yogananda. They changed his autobiography and forged his signature too, from Paramhansa to Paramahansa. Forgery is so bad. What else?

Yogananda wrote home to India that having started an organisation was a big blunder, and spent his final years largely in seclusion (Dasgupta 102). He slept little or nothing for years, suffered from high blood pressure, and in 1952 fell to the floor during a banquet in downtown Los Angeles, at the Biltmore Hotel. A medical doctor concluded it was a heart attack. His organisation publishes "his" or "his-their" writings to this day. In Swami Kriyananda's Yogananda for the World (2012b), there is this key: "The former SRF president [Daya Mata] "signed a declaration, under oath, that Autobiography of a Yogi had not been written by Yogananda himself, but by a committee" (Chap. 16)." Thus one may say, "writings by Yogananda and/or unnamed others, including SRF editors)" or "his-their" writings, in other words.

Conflicts, inner and outer

In the years after Daya Mata became its leader in 1955, "older disciples of the order either removed themselves from the central organization or were forced out - not only in America but in India as well." (Dasgupta 2006:85). By way of example, see how badly treated an elderly woman disciple of Yogananda was:

Kamala Silva first heard Yogananda speak in 1925 . . . Soon thereafter, she became a close disciple [and] was ordained by him as a minister, and served as a householder-minister for SRF in Oakland, California. . . . [Then,] when Kamala was in her eighties and unable to care for herself physically or mentally, Self-Realization Fellowship refused to assume responsibility for her care. Ananda took her in despite the fact that Kamala had in the past spoken against Ananda and Swami Kriyananda (the spiritual director of Ananda). . . . [◦Source]

An old fable about goats comes to mind

The goatherd and the wild goats

A goatherd was tending his goats out at pasture when he saw a number of wild goats approach and mingle with his flock. At the end of the day he drove them home and put them all into the pen together. Next day the weather was so bad that he could not take them out as usual, so he kept them at home in the pen and fed them there. He only gave his own goats enough food to keep them from starving, but he gave the wild goats as much as they could eat and more; for he was very anxious for them to stay, and he thought that if he fed them well they wouldn't want to leave him.

When the weather improved he took them all out to pasture again, but no sooner had they got near the hills than the wild goats broke away from the flock and scampered off. The goatherd was very much disgusted at this, and roundly abused them for their ingratitude. "Rascals!" he cried. "To run away like that after the way I've treated you!"

Hearing this, one of them turned round and said, "Oh, yes, you treated us all right - too well, in fact. It was just that that put us on our guard. If you treat newcomers like ourselves so much better than your own flock, it's more than likely that, if another lot of strange goats joined yours, we should then be neglected in favour of the last comers."

[Jones 2003, No. 282]

In SRF's spin-off society Ananda they are able to tell you more about how SRF has treated old members. They also tell how SRF took Ananda to court. The expensive legal strife over copyrights and such things lasted for twelve years. The Palo Alto lawyer Jon Parsons has written a commendable book about it (2012). During the twelve years, about one third of SRF's monastics left the premises for the sake of better living conditions, after they had found their leader, Daya Mata, had done something similar for thirty (!) years: she preferred living in a villa with a view to living with other Yogananda disciples, and kept it secret to almost all of them.

Granted all of it, life in SRF is not always a dance on roses, not so easy. Better be forewarned of the climate among monastics that serve it. Forewarned, forearmed. SRF fails in giving facts and forewarnings against itself . . . Sailendra Dasgupta (2006:106) describes earlier troubles in that arena, and Lola Williamson gives a lot more detail in a good book, Transcendent in America. (2010). Extracts are here. [More]

Some have invested a lot in publishing Yogananda and in making him look good, at least OK. Authenticity and fairness should not be lessened or wholly wasted in that process.

It might be a life-saver to see through facades and make out what is really at work - and the wider scenario - mainly before we get tricked, duped and bound, even for lifetimes..

Contents


Yogananda book reviews, books by Yogananda commented on, Yogananda literature with annotations, Literature  

Dasgupta, Sailendra. Paramhansa Swami Yogananda: Life-portrait and Reminiscences. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2006.

Hewitt, James. The Complete Yoga Book: The Yoga of Breathing, Meditation and Posture. London: Rider, 1991. ⍽▢⍽ A part of the book goes back to Hewitt's Yoga (Its first edition: London: The English Universities Press, 1960). The Complete Yoga Book is comprehensive encyclopaedia of yoga, illustrated with many pen drawings. It comes with programmes, and how to do a variant of ujjaji, core kriya yoga, is described among other pranayama methods. It is an excellent book to learn from.

Jones, Vernon, tr. Aesop's Fables. Aesop. Introduction, D. Ashliman. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003.

Kriyananda, Swami. Conversations with Yogananda: Recorded, with Reflections, by His Disciple Swami Kriyananda. . Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity, 2004.

⸻. Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography with Personal Reflections and Reminiscences. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity, 2011.

⸻. Yogananda for the World. 3rd, rev ed. Nevada City, CA: Crystal clarity, 2012b. Online as well.

Niranjanananda, Swami. Prana and Pranayama. Munger, Bihar: Yoga Publications Trust, 2009. ⍽▢⍽ How to do ujjaji, or core kriya yoga, is described with variants. Personally, I like James Hewitt's yoga-book better.

Parsons, Jon R. A Fight for Religious Freedom: A Lawyer's Personal Account of Copyrights, Karma and Dharmic Litigations. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity, 2012. ⍽▢⍽ An account of SRF's 12-year long legal battle against its spin-off Ananda.

Satyananda Saraswati, Swami. Kundalini Tantra. 8th ed. Munger: Yoga Publications Trust, 2001. ⍽▢⍽ A sequel to the next book by him.

⸻. A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya. Munger: Yoga Publications Trust, 1981. ⍽▢⍽ Long, detailed, maybe daunting.

Williamson, Lola. Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion. London: New York University Press, 2010.

Yogananda, Swami. The Science of Religion. 5th ed. edition. Los Angeles: Yogoda and Sat Sanga Headquarters, 1926. ⍽▢⍽ Swami Dhirananda, is presented on the title page as an associate. In a note on page v, Yogananda thanks him and some others for "various forms of help". Later the tone changed as a court case between them developed, a case that Dhirananda won. It was a case in which Yogananda was caught telling such untruths or lies that the judge did not believe him.

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