In 1946, Paramahansa Yogananda
(January 5, 1893–March 7, 1952), published his life story,
Autobiography of a Yogi
, which introduced
many westerners to meditation and yoga. It has since been
translated into 25 languages, and the various editions published
since its inception have sold over a million copies
The book describes Yogananda's search for a guru, and his
encounters with leading spiritual figures such as Therese Neumann
, the Hindu saint Sri Anandamoyi Ma
, Mohandas Gandhi
, Rabindranath Tagore
, Nobel Prize
-winning physicist Sir C. V. Raman, and noted American plant
scientist Luther Burbank, to whom it
, one of the
most famous opera singers of the early twentieth century, said
about the book:
Amazing, true stories of saints and masters of India,
blended with priceless superphysical information–much needed to
balance the Western material efficiency with Eastern spiritual
efficiency–come from the vigorous pen of Paramhansa Yogananda,
whose teachings my husband and myself have had the pleasure of
studying for twenty years.
Autobiography of a Yogi is the most popular of Yogananda’s books.
, it was designated as one of the
"100 Most Important Spiritual Books of the 20th Century"
by a panel of theologians
convened by HarperCollins
Yogananda met many of India’s greatest sages. The book Mejda:
The Family and Early Life of Paramahansa Yogananda
, written by
his younger brother Sananda Lal Ghosh, sheds much light on the
depth of his spiritual attainment well before his graduation from
high school and his training with his guru, Sri Yukteswar.
Yogananda recounts many of his spiritual experiences and meetings
with Indian saints, which began when he was only a boy.
An authoritative text on the spiritual science of yoga (not merely
the Hatha Yoga postures so familiar in the West), the book is not
so much a year by year chronicle of Yogananda's life, as it is a
study of meditation and yoga, and the saints who had a profound
influence on his life.
The story of Yogananda's meeting and relationship to his guru, Sri
Yukteswar, is highlighted throughout Autobiography of a
, along with the importance of the guru–disciple
relationship. The chapter "Years in My Master's Hermitage" is the
longest in the book. The importance that Yogananda gave to that
relationship is made clear by the very first paragraph of his
The characteristic features of Indian culture have long
been a search for ultimate verities and the concomitant
My own path led me to a Christlike sage whose beautiful
life was chiseled for the ages.
He was one of the great masters who are India’s sole
Emerging in every generation, they have bulwarked their
land against the fate of Babylon and Egypt.
Spiritual quest begins in childhood
Yogananda at age six, from Autobiography of a
writes openly about his intense desire, even in childhood, to know
what lay behind all the experiences of life and death. As a child
he asked, "What is behind the darkness of closed eyes?" The death
of his mother when he was 11, to whom he was deeply devoted,
greatly intensified his personal search for God. He states "I loved
Mother as my dearest friend on earth. Her solacing black eyes had
been my refuge in the trifling tragedies of childhood." Later
Yogananda states that in a spiritual vision God, in the aspect of
Divine Mother, told him, "It is I who have watched over thee, life
after life, in the tenderness of many mothers. See in My gaze the
two black eyes, the lost beautiful eyes, thou seekest!"
While still a student in high school, Yogananda, with three
friends, attempted to run away from home and find his long sought
guru amid the Himalayan mountains. But it was not until after his
graduation from high school, which he had promised his father he
would finish, that Yogananda was to meet Swami Sri Yukteswar
Spiritual lineage and influences
Lahiri Mahasaya was the guru of Yogananda's parents and also the
guru of Sri Yukteswar, Yogananda's guru. At the age of eight,
Yogananda was instantly healed of cholera after his mother's
insistence that he pray to Lahiri Mahasaya. Beginning with chapter
31 of his autobiography, Yogananda spends the next five chapters
interweaving the life of Lahiri Mahasaya with that of Lahiri
Mahasaya's guru, Mahavatar Babaji
Using the stories and biographical facts collected on his return
trip to India in 1935 from various disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya
(including the wife of Lahiri Mahasaya) as well as Yogananda's own
personal testimony, he pays tribute to the three individuals whose
lives and collective influence became inseparable from his own life
and teachings: Mahavatar Babaji, his chief disciple Lahiri
Mahasaya, and his own guru Sri Yukteswar.
The guru–disciple relationship
's lifelong search for his guru
ended when he
met Swami Sri Yukteswar. Even though Yogananda described many
saints and miracle workers in his book, his relationship with Sri
Yukteswar was unique. Yogananda spent several years being trained
by Sri Yukteswar for the ultimate mission of spreading the science
of yoga to the west. The wisdom of Sri Yukteswar, and the many
spiritual lessons that Yogananda learned at his guru's feet are
described in the chapter Years in My Master's Hermitage. His guru
also bestowed on Yogananda the experience of samādhi
, the ultimate goal of the yogi, as
described in the chapter My Experience in Cosmic
Yogananda explains the importance of his relationship with Sri
Yukteswar, and the eternal bond between guru and disciple:
Retracing my steps as though wing-shod, I reached the
My quick glance revealed the quiet figure, steadily
gazing in my direction.
A few eager steps and I was at his feet.
“Gurudeva!” The divine face was none other than he of
my thousand visions.
These halcyon eyes, in leonine head with pointed beard
and flowing locks, had oft peered through gloom of my nocturnal
reveries, holding a promise I had not fully
“O my own, you have come to me!” My guru uttered the
words again and again in Bengali, his voice tremulous with
“How many years I have waited for you!”
We entered a oneness of silence; words seemed the
Eloquence flowed in soundless chant from heart of
master to disciple.
With an antenna of irrefragable insight I sensed that
my guru knew God, and would lead me to Him.
The obscuration of this life disappeared in a fragile
dawn of prenatal memories.
Past, present, and future are its cycling
This was not the first sun to find me at these holy
Sri Yukteswar and Yogananda
then spent the better part of ten years under his guru's strict
discipline. Excerpts from Chapter 12: Years in My Master's
Discipline had not been unknown to me: at home Father
was strict, Ananta often severe.
But Sri Yukteswar’s training cannot be described as
other than drastic.
A perfectionist, my guru was hypercritical of his
disciples, whether in matters of moment or in the subtle nuances of
“If you don’t like my words, you are at liberty to
leave at any time,” Master assured me.
“I want nothing from you but your own
Stay only if you feel benefited.”
“I am hard on those who come for my training,” he
admitted to me.
“That is my way; take it or leave it.
I will never compromise.
But you will be much kinder to your disciples; that is
I try to purify only in the fires of severity, searing
beyond the average toleration.
The gentle approach of love is also
The inflexible and the yielding methods are equally
effective if applied with wisdom.
You will go to foreign lands, where blunt assaults on
the ego are not appreciated.
A teacher could not spread India’s message in the West
without an ample fund of accommodative patience and forbearance.” I
refuse to state the amount of truth I later came to find in
In Master’s life I fully discovered the cleavage
between spiritual realism and the obscure mysticism that spuriously
passes as a counterpart.
My guru was reluctant to discuss the superphysical
His only “marvelous” aura was one of perfect
In conversation he avoided startling references; in
action he was freely expressive.
Others talked of miracles but could manifest nothing;
Sri Yukteswar seldom mentioned the subtle laws but secretly
operated them at will.
The science of Kriya Yoga
is a specific technique of
meditation that is referred to throughout Yogananda's
autobiography. Yogananda writes in Chapter 26: "Kriya is an ancient
science. Lahiri Mahasaya received it from his great guru, Babaji,
who rediscovered and clarified the technique after it had been lost
in the Dark Ages." In Chapter 4 Lahiri Mahasaya is quoted in
regards to Kriya saying, "This technique cannot be bound, filed,
and forgotten, in the manner of theoretical inspirations. Continue
ceaselessly on your path to liberation through Kriya, whose power
lies in practice."
Yogananda goes on to say in Chapter 26:
Kriya Yoga is a simple, psychophysiological method by
which the human blood is decarbonized and recharged with
The atoms of this extra oxygen are transmuted into life
current to rejuvenate the brain and spinal centers.
By stopping the accumulation of venous blood, the yogi
is able to lessen or prevent the decay of tissues; the advanced
yogi transmutes his cells into pure energy.
Elijah, Jesus, Kabir and other prophets were past
masters in the use of Kriya or a similar technique, by which they
caused their bodies to dematerialize at will.
Kriya is an ancient science.
Lahiri Mahasaya received it from his guru, Babaji, who
rediscovered and clarified the technique after it had been lost in
the Dark Ages.
“The Kriya Yoga which I am giving to the world through
you in this nineteenth century,” Babaji told Lahiri Mahasaya, “is a
revival of the same science which Krishna gave, millenniums ago, to
Arjuna, and which was later known to Patanjali, and to Christ, St.
John, St. Paul, and other disciples.”
Kriya Yoga is referred to by Krishna, India’s greatest
prophet, in a stanza of the Bhagavad Gita: “Offering inhaling
breath into the outgoing breath, and offering the outgoing breath
into the inhaling breath, the yogi neutralizes both these breaths;
he thus releases the life force from the heart and brings it under
his control.” The interpretation is: “The yogi arrests decay in the
body by an addition of life force, and arrests the mutations of
growth in the body by apan (eliminating current).
Thus neutralizing decay and growth, by quieting the
heart, the yogi learns life control.”
God, miracles, religion and science
Some 20 chapters of Yogananda's autobiography are expressly written
about one or more miracles. Chapter 30, entitled "The Law of
Miracles", attempts to explain a scientific understanding of the
miraculous powers of saints, and the eternal relationship between
God, human life, religion and science.
Referring to the natural fascination with miracles, and those who
possess miraculous power, Yogananda at the end of chapter 35 quotes
In reference to miracles, Lahiri Mahasaya often said,
“The operation of subtle laws which are unknown to people in
general should not be publicly discussed or published without due
discrimination.” If in these pages I have appeared to flout his
cautionary words, it is because he has given me an inward
Also, in recording the lives of Babaji, Lahiri
Mahasaya, and Sri Yukteswar, I have thought it advisable to omit
many true miraculous stories, which could hardly have been included
without writing, also, an explanatory volume of abstruse
Founding a school and going to America
Yogananda attending religious congress in 1920, upon arrival in
America, from Autobiography of a Yogi
1915 Yogananda became a monk of the Giri branch of the swami order.
In 1917 heeding the counsel of his guru, "Remember that he who
rejects the usual worldly duties can justify himself only by
assuming some kind of responsibility for a much larger family",
Yogananda founded a boys' school in Dihika with just seven
children, that was moved to Ranchi in 1918. About education he
The ideal of right education for youth had always been
very close to my heart.
I saw clearly the arid results of ordinary instruction,
aimed at the development of body and intellect only.
In chapter 37 "I Go to America", Yogananda describes a vision that
occurred in which he realized "the Lord is calling me to America."
He quickly assembled the faculty of the school and gave them the
news that he was going to America. Within a few hours he was on a
train to Calcutta.
When an invitation to serve as the delegate from India to a
religious conference being held in Boston suddenly arrived,
Yogananda sought out his guru to ask if he should go. His reply was
simply, "All doors are open for you. It is now or never." Yogananda
received financing for the trip from his father who said "I give
you this money not in my role as a father but as a faithful
disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya. Go then to that far Western land;
spread there the creedless teachings of Kriya Yoga."
Yogananda was 27 years old when he left India on The City of
Sparta, which docked near Boston on October 6 1920. It was the
first passenger boat to America after the close of World War I. He
continued to live in the United States until briefly returning to
India during a year-long trip through Europe and the Holy Land in
Changes to Autobiography of a Yogi over the years
There have been a number of editions of "Autobiography" published
over the years. These can be separated into 1) editions published
prior to and within months after the author's death, and 2)
editions published many years after his passing that have created
Three editions of Autobiography of a Yogi
during Yogananda's lifetime. A fourth edition was published in 1952
within months after his death in March of that year. These editions
were published in the public domain by Philosophical Library
, and do not
contain contended edited material. The issue of whether Yogananda's
edits appear in their entirety in the 1951 or 1952 edition is
addressed on this page, below. Additions to the third and fourth
editions were made by Yogananda, and are detailed below.
Details of the material in editions through the fourth edition are
as follows: The first in 1946, a second in 1949 (with the identical
text of the 1946 edition), the 1951 volume which included a new
chapter entitled "The Years 1940-51" with updated information about
the author and the Self-Realization Fellowship, and the fourth
edition in 1952, is the text of the Third Edition with an added
page noting Yogananda's death, and a revised dust jacket that
contains on its reverse, a description of the undecayed state of
Yogananda's body many days after his death. Note: in the
seventh edition, the Publisher's Note states that revisions drafted
by Yogananda in 1951 did not appear in the 1952 fourth edition,
given publishing logistics. Please see below for a more
detailed explanation of the 1951 revisions by Yogananda, and where
the revisions appear.
The later editions, beginning in 1956, four years after Yogananda's
passing, are a point of contention. The controversy has arisen over
two major issues: the appropriateness of a change in spelling of
Yogananda's name in his signature that appeared in the 1958
edition, and the integrity of edits - to what degree Yogananda's
own edits were incorporated, and whether Yogananda's writings were
preserved, given thousands of editorial changes made between 1952
and 1958. There are two prevailing views regarding the changes. The
publisher, Self-Realization Fellowship, claims that Yogananda
authorized the changes. Others point out that there is no written
record that Yogananda approved the changes.
Self-Realization Fellowship's view
According to "Author's Revisions and Wishes for Later Editions of
Autobiography of a Yogi
" available at the Self Realization
Fellowship website honoring the 60th year of the book's
"Three editions of Paramahansaji's autobiography appeared during
his lifetime. In the third edition, published in 1951, he made
significant changes -- revising the text thoroughly, deleting
material, amplifying various points, and adding a new final
chapter, 'The Years 1940-1951' (one of the longest in the book).
Some further revisions made by him after the third edition could
not be incorporated until the publication of the seventh edition,
which was released in 1956."
Additionally, the following Publisher's note was printed in the
"This 1956 American edition contains revisions made by Paramahansa
Yogananda in 1949 for the London, England, edition; and additional
revisions made by the author in 1951. In a 'Note to the London
Edition,' dated October 25, 1949, Paramahansa Yogananda
"'The arrangement for a London edition of this book has given
me an opportunity to revise, and slightly to enlarge, the
text. Besides new material in the last chapter, I have
added a number of footnotes in which I have answered questions sent
me by readers of the American edition."
Also from the same Publisher's note:
"Later revisions, made by the author in 1951, were intended to
appear in the fourth (1952) American edition. At that time the
rights in Autobiography of a Yogi
were vested in a New
York publishing house. In 1946 in New York each page of the book
had been made into an electrotype plate. Consequently, to add even
a comma requires that the metal plate of an entire page be cut
apart and resoldered with a new line containing the desired comma.
Because of the expense involved in resoldering many plates, the New
York publisher did not include in the fourth edition the author’s
"In late 1953 Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) bought from the New
York publisher all rights in 'Autobiography of a Yogi'. SRF
reprinted the book in 1954 and 1955 (fifth and sixth editions); but
during those two years other duties prevented the SRF editorial
department from undertaking the formidable task of incorporating
the author's revisions on the electrotype plates. The work,
however, has been accomplished in time for the seventh
Critical view of changes made by Self-Realization Fellowship to
later editions of the book
Some of the changes made over the years include: significant edits
to Yogananda's poem Samadhi, the removal of two poems ("God, God,
God" and "The Soundless Roar"), the addition of numerous footnotes,
and the editing of many passages, including direct quotes.
Yogananda wrote a note announcing his editing changes for the 1951
edition (see above), the last published during his lifetime. There
was no note from Yogananda in later editions to confirm that he
wanted changes made to his autobiography after his death.
A representative sample of changes made in
Autobiography of a Yogi between the 1951 and post-1956
|1951 Edition (the last edition edited by Yogananda)
||Editions after 1956
|"Because of certain ancient yogic injunctions, I cannot give a
full explanation of Kriya Yoga in the pages of a book intended for
the general public. The actual technique must be learned
from a Kriyaban or Kriya Yogi; here a broad reference must
||"Because of certain ancient yogic injunctions, I may not give a
full explanation of Kriya Yoga in a book intended for the general
public. The actual technique should be learned from an
authorized Kriyaban (Kriya Yogi) of Self-Realization Fellowship
(Yogoda Satsanga Society of India). Here a broad reference
|In response to the question 'which is greater, a swami or a
yogi?': "To fulfill one's earthly responsibilities is
indeed the higher path, provided the yogi, maintaining a
mental uninvolvement with egotistical desires, plays his part as a
willing instrument of God."
||"Fulfilling one's earthly responsibilities need not
separate man from God, providing he maintains mental
uninvolvement with egotistical desires and plays his part in life
as a willing instrument of the Divine."
|"An urgent need on this war-torn earth is the founding, on a
spiritual basis, of numerous world-brotherhood colonies."
||(This passage was deleted entirely)
|"...Sri Yukteswar bestowed on me the further monastic title of
||"...Sri Yukteswar bestowed on me the further monastic title of
Among the many changes made long after Yogananda's death were significant editing changes to his poem "Samadhi". Yogananda told people that he originally wrote the poem while in the superconscious samadhi state. The original unedited poem can be read at Wikisource. Fourteen lines were removed for the 1956 edition, including the significant lines:
- "By deeper, longer, thirsty, guru-given
- Comes this celestial samadhi."
Change in the spelling of "Paramahansa"
The change in spelling of Yogananda's title from "Paramhansa" to
"Paramahansa", with the insertion of an extra "a" is the subject of
controversy. During his lifetime, Yogananda always signed his name
with the spelling "Paramhansa", without the extra "a". That was the
title and spelling as it was given to him by his guru, Sri
Yukteswar, in 1936. In the 1959 edition of the Autobiography of
, seven years after Yogananda died, the publishers
altered the signature by copying and pasting an extra "a" from a
different part of the signature.
In Indian tradition, both spellings are widely used. This is common
with Sanskrit words that have been transliterated into the more
restricted Roman alphabet. In this case, opponents of the extra "a"
point out that the "a" is not pronounced when "Paramahansa" is
spoken, and therefore "Paramhansa" is the proper spelling.
Proponents claim that the missing "a" changes the meaning of the
word. However, Sanskrit has a number of Romanization schemes
, which is
why there is wide acceptance of both spellings, along with yet
another version, "Paramahamsa", with an "m" rather than "n" near
the end of the word.
Putting aside the issue of scholarship, the spelling in current
editions published by Self-Realization Fellowship is not the
version used by Yogananda himself. Nor is it the version given to
him by his guru, Sri Yukteswar, who was conversant in Sanskrit (his
book, The Holy Science
English translations of Sanskrit slokas).
For further study in regards to the different English spellings of
Paramahansa, see Paramahansa
Editions currently available
There are at least four versions of Autobiography of a
published as of August 2009:
1. The version published by Self-Realization Fellowship. ISBN
2. A reprint of the first edition published by Crystal Clarity
Publishers in 1993. ISBN 1-56589-734-X
3. An additional [print] version of the 1st ed. published by
Crystal Clarity in 2005 that includes the extra chapter (No. 49,
published as an appendix) added by Yogananda in 1951. ISBN
4. An Online version of the 1st ed. published by Ananda
Sangha/Crystal Clarity in 2009 that does not includes the extra
chapter (No. 49, published as an appendix) added by Yogananda in
As titled in the 1997 Anniversary Edition:
1. My Parents and Early Life
2. My Mother's Death and the Mystic Amulet
3. The Saint with Two Bodies (Swami Pranabananda)
4. My Interrupted Flight Toward the Himalayas
5. A "Perfume Saint" Displays His Wonders
6. The Tiger Swami
7. The Levitating Saint (Nagendra Nath Bhaduri)
8. India's Great Scientist, J. C. Bose
9. The Blissful Devotee and his Cosmic Romance (Master
10. I Meet my Master, Sri Yukteswar
11. Two Penniless Boys in Brindaban
12. Years in my Master's Hermitage
13. The Sleepless Saint (Ram Gopal Muzumdar)
14. An Experience in Cosmic Consciousness
15. The Cauliflower Robbery
16. Outwitting the Stars
17. Sasi and the Three Sapphires
18. A Mohammedan Wonder-Worker (Afzal Khan)
19. My Master, in Calcutta, Appears in Serampore
20. We Do Not Visit Kashmir
21. We Visit Kashmir
22. The Heart of a Stone Image
23. I Receive My University Degree
24. I Become a Monk of the Swami Order
25. Brother Ananta and Sister Nalini
26. The Science of Kriya Yoga
27. Founding a Yoga School in Ranchi
28. Kashi, Reborn and Discovered
29. Rabindranath Tagore and I Compare Schools
30. The Law of Miracles
31. An Interview with the Sacred Mother (Kashi Moni Lahiri)
32. Rama is Raised from the Dead
33. Babaji, Yogi-Christ of Modern India
34. Materializing a Palace in the Himalayas
35. The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya
36. Babaji's Interest in the West
37. I Go to America
38. Luther Burbank – A Saint Amid the Roses
39. Therese Neumann, the Catholic Stigmatist
40. I Return to India
41. An Idyl in South India
42. Last Days With My Guru
43. The Resurrection of Sri Yukteswar
44. With Mahatma Gandhi at Wardha
45. The Bengali "Joy-Permeated Mother" (Ananda Moyi Ma)
46. The Woman Yogi Who Never Eats (Giri Bala)
47. I Return to the West
48. At Encinitas in California
49. The Years 1940-1951
- Bowden, Henry Warner (1993). Dictionary of American
Religious Biography. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313278253. p.
- Ananda Sangha. About This Edition [1946 1st ed. Online].
- Yogananda, Paramhansa (2005). Autobiography of a Yogi,
1946 1st ed. endleaf. Crystal Clarity Publishers. ISBN
- Ghosh, Sananda Lal. Mejda: The Family And Early Life of
Paramahansa Yogananda. Self-Realization Fellowship. ISBN
- Ananda Sangha India (2007). A Comparison of
- A Graphic Comparison of the signatures from the 1952 and
1959 versions of Autobiography of a Yogi
- Spiritual dictionary : Sanskrit words and their
- Sanskrit Glossary
- A Glossary of Sanskrit Terms in Integral Yoga
- Srimad Bhagavatam: Glossary of Sanskrit Terms:
- Glossary of Sanskrit Terms