Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Yogi at the Intersection of Myth and Reality?

I recently finished reading a book called "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramahansa Yogananda.  This is a very interesting book.  The writing is beautiful--at least in my estimation.  Many seem to feel the prose is overwrought, but I think it conveys a sense of peace and spirituality.  The subject of the book is the author's life, the life of his guru and that of his guru's guru.  All of these yogis demonstrate miraculous powers with astonishing frequency.  The tale is presented as non-fiction, but a pragmatic mind can't help but wonder about all those miracles. 

The book was first published in 1946 and deals with the relationship between western and eastern spirituality and also the author's mission to bridge the cultural divide between India and the West.  In doing so, he comes across as an unabashed cheerleader for India--but one can't fault the author for patriotic ardor.  Given that the author founded a spiritual organization that persists to this day, I have a level of skepticism about the book given the potential for self-aggrandizement for financial gain (like Dianetics).  Still, I am intrigued by many of the spiritual ideas presented in the book.  I think of these spiritual ideas as assertions whereas the book treats them as "scientifically" vetted truths (proven via the practice of Kriya Yoga which the author equates to a science).  For instance, the author presents the idea that the Earth plane of existence is bordered by a higher "astral" realm and an even higher realm beyond that.  I could write a full blog post on that topic, but that idea resonates with my theories and spiritual experience. 

An example of the way the author tries to tie eastern and western religion together is by claiming there are subtle references to reincarnation in the bible (e.g.:  John the baptist is the reincarnation of Elijah, etc.).  What the author doesn't explain is how the metaphor of suffering as purification that the story of Jesus (and Christianity in general) seems to be infused with relates to eastern religion.  I don't get the sense that eastern religions see suffering as the best path to enlightenment, so I'm curious how the author would have explained that difference.  I can imagine the author responding that being apart from God is terrible suffering--but I am making a distinction between that and physical suffering like what Jesus endured.  The stories of these three yogis aren't laden with an excess of suffering.  Despite the almost mythical level of miracles presented and what I perceive as the lack of a complete analysis of the relationship between eastern and western religion, the book proved to be entertaining to read, inspirational and also thought provoking.  And that's about as much as I hope for in a book.

I have a vacation coming up later this month and I am looking forward to completing Hemlock book four on that trip.  I'm often bored to tears on the beach; so, instead, I envision myself perched on a nice ocean front balcony typing away.  That sounds like a serene setting in which to bring the Hemlock series to a close, and I am looking forward to it!  If you are in the Americas, I hope your summer has gotten off to a good start.  I look forward to sharing the results of my vacation writing with you very soon!