Are you old enough to remember when the Beatles had a brief fling with Indian spirituality? In 1968, the group went to India to visit Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the leader of the Transcendental Meditation movement. While the trip ended abruptly, due to some questionable behavior by the Yogi, it was part of the spiritual development of George Harrison. Something about India stuck.
Disillusioned by money and fame, Harrison had begun seeking deeper meaning in his life, a quest that eventually led him to Hindu mysticism. He would discover the book Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda. Though he never met Yogananda (who passed away in 1952), his message so impressed Harrison that he used to give away copies of the book to any person he believed needed a “regrooving.” During a visit to the White House in 1977 he gave a copy to then President Gerald Ford.
Trivia note: Harrison saw to it that the face of Yogananda was included in the sea of people on the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album cover. See if you can locate it.
When it comes to gurus, Yogananda is somewhat unique in that he wanted people to follow his message, and not him personally. His teachings combined both Hinduism and Christianity and he quoted Jesus frequently. Yogananda believed in Christ Consciousness, an awareness of our oneness with God that was achieved by Jesus. He teaches that Jesus did not come to earth to draw people to himself. He came to draw them to the truth which Jesus said “shall make you free.” In Yogananda’s words, “Discover who you are, behind your outer trappings, and you will discover who Jesus was.”
What follows are insights from The Essence of Self-Realization, the Wisdom of Paramhansa Yogananda. The book contains the teachings of Yogananda as recoded and compiled by a direct disciple, Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters) who was with the guru during the final years of his life. When Yogandanda spoke, or was asked questions, Walters dutifully wrote down his words and the book captures the essence of Yoganada’s core teachings.
I have lightly edited and reordered the information from the book below, turning some thoughts into questions. It should give you a sense of Yogananda’s life philosophy which many spiritual people find is easily relatable. (For additional insights from Yogananda, see my story on life tips from Steve Jobs’ guru.)
8 Spiritual Insights from Yogananda
- “What is the purpose of life?” Your purpose is to find God, that is the only reason for your existence. Jobs, friends, material interests—these things in themselves mean nothing. They can never provide you with true happiness, for the simple reason that none of them is complete. Only God encompasses everything.
- “Where can I find God?” Its within your own self that God must be realized. Your own body is the temple of God. Whatever places you visit outwardly, or whatever rituals you perform, the ultimate pilgrimage must be within.
- “How do I locate God within?” Close your eyes and concentrate at the point between your eyebrows. Gaze deeply into the darkness and penetrate the thick veil. In time, you will see the inner light, for it is always there, shining in your forehead. Just like everyone has eyes, everyone has this spiritual eye within their forehead. It is discovered through deep concentration within.
- “Can God also outside be found outside the body?” Walk outside your door and consider that everything around you is a part of your own awareness of God. Sense the leaves trembling on the trees, the meadow grasses as they wave in the wind. God is present. Listen to the birds singing, feel the sun’s rays on your skin. God is present. Imagine the breeze as God’s breath, inspiring all things and giving them life.
- “How should I pray?” When you pray to God, pray from your heart. Say what you really feel, not what you think. Be completely sincere. Heartfelt prayer gives power to your thoughts. While it is alright to pray for things, it is better still to ask that God’s will be done in your life. God knows what you need and will do much more for you than the best you can imagine for yourself.
- “What is the key to happiness?” When you are right inwardly, all things are right, for you see everything as part of God. You then accept all things as they are, without judgement, and look with kindness and sympathy on everyone. Make up your mind to be happy and no one on earth can take that happiness from you.
- “What is the best religion?” It is not a religion at all, but self-realization, knowing that your true self is not the ego, but God, the vast ocean of Spirit. It is knowing that in all parts of your body, mind and soul, you are now in possession of the Kingdom of God. You do not have to pray for it to come to you. God’s omnipresence is your omnipresence. All you need to do is improve your knowing.
Some final words of advice from Yogananda:
When you are with others, be with them wholeheartedly. But when you are by yourself, be alone with God.