Skip to main content

Paramahansa Yogananda's Book, "Autobiography of a Yogi"

Eastern & Western religious philosophy is one of my areas of interest about which I write essays exploring the nature of reality and being.

A Spiritual Classic

The opening statement from Autobiography of a Yogi: "The characteristic features of Indian culture have long been a search for ultimate verities and the concomitant disciple-guru relationship."

The final statement from Autobiography of a Yogi: "Lord, Thou hast given this monk a large family!"

Between these two statements the great guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, narrates his lifetime of spiritual searching that led to his amazing, life-changing teachings that, through his organization, Self-Realization Fellowship, he has disseminated world-wide to the delight and upliftment of thousands of grateful students.

The great guru's students, in fact, remain more than ordinary students; they are devotees as they practice the techniques that promise more than a moral life. They promise the one goal that every soul is craving, self-realization or soul-realization, which is nothing less than union with the Divine Creator.

Born Mukunda Lal Ghosh

Mukunda Lal Ghosh was born in Gorakhpur, India, January 5, 1893. He was one of eight children, the second son and fourth child, of Gyana Phabha Ghosh and Bhagabati Charan Ghosh. As an infant, he was aware of being unable to make his body move as he wished; even before he had learned to walk, he felt confused that he could not walk.

Mukunda remembered making sounds of languages that were not the Bengali language into which he had been born. That this is an unusual child becomes clear as we read about this aspiring yogi.

Very early in his life, the lad Mukunda wanted to know God; his parents were devout Hindus, but he knew that he did not want to follow the ways of the householder; he did not know want to marry and raise children. He discovered that his vocation was to be a monastic and serve God and to pass knowledge of God on to others.

A Strange Spiritual Journey

The following passage offers a glimpse of a strange journey through this autobiography, and the reader has not left the first page yet:

I find my earliest memories covering the anachronistic features of a previous incarnation. Clear recollections came to me of a distant life in which I had been a yogi amid the Himalayan snows.

These glimpses of the past, by some dimensionless link, also afforded me a glimpse of the future.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Owlcation

The great guru continues to explain his seemingly bizarre experiences:

My far-reaching memories are not unique. Many yogis are known to have retained their self-consciousness without interruption by the dramatic transition to and from life and death. If man be solely a body, its loss indeed ends his identity. But if the prophets down the millenniums spake the truth, man is essentially a soul, incorporeal and omnipresent.


Of course, the guru is referring to the concept of reincarnation. He does not even use the term yet, but by easing readers into the idea with his specific examples from his own memories, he is showing that the phenomenon is real. Most people meeting the concept of reincarnation for the first time either reject it or misunderstand it; for example, you've probably heard people say if they come back, they'd like to be a bird. But Yogananda explains that reincarnation is part of an evolutionary progress; therefore, coming back as a bird would be devolution, or going backward. Humans seldom come back as animals, unless they have lived an especially animalistic existence and need to learn a specific lesson by returning as a non-human animal in the animal kingdom.

Returning to earth in a body is an important concept in this yoga philosophy, and it works in concert with karma, which is similar to the biblical concept of sowing and reaping. Yogananda's explanation of these concepts is superb. He helps his readers understand why they are born on this earth, what their true goal is, and how they can achieve it.

Swami Yogananda

This yogi's life story naturally unfolds all the concepts and ideas in such a gentle way; readers never feel that they are being scolded or reprimanded. He writes with such love, compassion, and intelligence. He informs us with a wonderful clarity about the great mysteries of life.

Mukunda Lal Ghosh became Swami Yogananda in 1914, when he joined the swami order, after studying with his guru, Sri Yukteswar; then in 1935 his guru Sri Yukteswar bestowed on him the monastic title Paramahansa meaning highest swan in Sanskrit, so he became Paramahansa Yogananda.

Coming to America

Paramahansa Yogananda came to America in 1920 and in 1925 established Self-Realization Fellowship to disseminate his teachings. He had traveled and lectured widely in the United States during those five years, and his teachings had attracted many followers. Through the devotion and loyal support of his followers, he was able to establish Self-Realization Fellowship, which today continues to grow world-wide. The great spiritual leader remained in America for the rest of his life, traveling abroad only occasionally.

 Paramahansa Yogananda - "The Last Smile"

Paramahansa Yogananda - "The Last Smile"

Questions & Answers

Question: When was Autobiography of Yogi published?

Answer: In 1946.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

Related Articles