Hang around any ashram or yoga studio for 10 minutes and you’ll meet someone whose quest was sparked by Autobiography of a Yogi, the stranger-than-fiction account of how the Indian lad Mukunda became Paramahansa Yogananda — meeting possibly immortal Himalayan adepts, witnessing feats of superconsciousness, and attaining the light of Self-realization.
The Life of Yogananda
What’s to be gained from a second telling of a story that has already transformed so many lives? Plenty, as it turns out. Yogananda’s version mostly omits his career as the first global guru, with all the grunt work of expounding spirituality in a world where bills must be paid, misunderstandings addressed, and prejudices confronted — especially if you’re a brown man with throngs of adoring white female disciples.
Because that messy world is our world, this new version is, in some ways, actually more instructive than the first. After Yogananda’s years of awakening came decades of schlepping: homesickness, exhausting lecture tours, fraught organizational politics. Luckily, Philip Goldberg is a lively storyteller, and, as he showed in his indispensable American Veda: How Indian Spirituality Changed the West, he knows this territory like few others.
A tireless researcher, Goldberg has unearthed biographical nuggets that will surprise even the most devoted Yogananda disciple. And, crucially, he himself is a respectful, clear-eyed nondisciple who understands that even enlightened people are people. In sorting out the scandals and lawsuits, he draws careful lines between what’s known, what’s unknown, and what’s unknowable, and lets the reader decide how much any of it matters. Goldberg is a grown-up writer presenting a grown-up Yogananda for grown-up seekers. The Life of Yogananda is a must-read for anyone interested in the story of this influential teacher.
Dean Sluyter (DeanWords.com) teaches meditation in Santa Monica and leads workshops throughout the United States and beyond. His latest book is Fear Less: Living Beyond Fear, Anxiety, Anger, and Addiction.