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Book Review - Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography Of A Yogi.

 

How can a book be rubbish and brilliant at the same time? This one achieves it. Yogananda cornered the market in telling tall stories with a straight face, and making people swallow them. The plot of this long autobiography (fiction to the core) is straightforward enough. Yogananda traces his life story from infancy to when he took his place as a fully qualified Yogi. He is half-reluctant to take on such a role at first, for being unsure of himself and the temptations to take his life in other directions. He goes on to meet a series of incredibly remarkable people with occult powers beyond anything you’d see in The X-Files, but all of whom seem to take their abilities for granted. In fact, they actually find him the oddity for not having mastered such wonders. The ludicrous things he sees are legion, but my favourite is the one armed-policeman who has lost his arm to a tiger in the jungle. On meeting him again, Yogananda is somewhat surprised to see the man has two arms again. The man seems rather puzzled that Yogananda doesn’t know you can grow them back at will.

Bemused and amazed by the various sages and miracle workers he encounters, Yogananda slowly grows more confident of his own abilities, and takes his place as a Yogi accordingly. For a supposedly true story, it reads with astonishing clarity and beguiling charm. Of course, it’s all straight out of Alice In Wonderland, but the sincerity oozes through every page with frightening ease. Many people utterly failed sadly to notice that they had been sold a yarn by a master story teller, and set off for India to see for themselves. Yogananda had effectively helped launch the migration to the East of many westerners, who disillusioned by Christianity, turned not to Humanism (which was too middle class to notice a gap in the youth market) but to the gurus and swamis who promised that they were just like Yogananda. Tragically, many of those gurus also realized the importance of selling their mysticism directly to the West, and the 1970’s saw the rise of cults ruled by Atavistic Maharajis, swamis, and Bhagwans. Yogananda’s book sold well in the early days of that invasion of the minds of the young; Yogananda was fully aware that he was contributing to this; he concludes the ‘autobiography’ by talking of meetings with western saints able to do equally impossible things before breakfast. So, a book can be rubbish and brilliant at one and the same time. I suppose that is a miracle of sorts.

Arthur Chappell

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