A private screening of “AWAKE”, the film of the life of Paramahansa Yogananda, was held in the House of Lords hosted by Lord and Lady Popat with Mrs. Pratibha Sachdev in association with the Self-Realisation Fellowship; attendees included the Deputy High Commissioner of India Dr Virander Paul, Parliamentarians Lord Suri, Lord Loomba and Lord & Lady Sheikh, and representatives of the Armed Forces, the Metropolitan Police, ISKCON, Brahma Kumaris, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Anoopam Mission, the Zoroastrian Centre of Europe and the City Hindus Network.
The film is in the new genre of assembling original b/w footage and new colour dreamlike sequences with contemporary commentary, interspersed with current day interviews and quotes from artists and monks.
A glittering watery opening simulates the thoughts of the embryo Yogananda and after emerging into consciousness explains how he saw his life as a film.
Yogananda attributed all his intuitive powers to Lahiri Mahasaya. He was affectionate towards Christianity and even placed Jesus on his altar with Krishna, he believed that “Christianity and what the Ancients taught in India had both been lost and forgotten — those are to be revived as one highway to the infinite”.
Yogananda had an awareness that most westerners could not comprehend but he taught his Kriya Yoga technique to all sincere seekers, regardless of their religious background, he connected Christians, Muslims and Jews with their own divinity.
A meditative vision of America took his mystic teachings to the west in 1920’s, at first he felt alone and separate, as an “exotic” Swami in orange robes and a turban he was mocked.
In his first lecture The Science of Religion: the Science of Soul and Spirit, he talked of what we now call neuroplasticity before the west had really understood the meaning of the word.
In 1925 in Los Angeles 6,000 people listened to his talk about how to have a personal relationship with the divine. His compellingly beautiful eyes, long hair, powerful voice and message that there is more to life than experience, attracted many American devotees. James Lynn, oil and insurance magnate, became a significant benefactor, enabling Yogananda’s HQ which he called his “spiritual lighthouse” on Mount Washington and the building of many “How to Live Schools”.
Swamy Dhirananda, a childhood friend from Kolkata, arrived to teach while Yogananda travelled his teachings throughout the United States. His Washington audience was larger than ever before but he was appalled to find only white people were allowed to his classes thus he founded the Afro-American Yogoda Centre.
Yogananda had extraordinary yogic powers to perceive events, including two world wars.
Amongst the events that inspired Mahatma Gandhi towards a civil rights movement were the Klu Klux Klan marches of that time.
Yogananda promoted the Mahatma but US paranoia and suspicion were aroused, there followed a war against yoga in the media, prestitutes spoiled his pitch, feverous objections from the deep south resulted in ”get the Hindu” and Yogananda was disinvited to speak in major cities.
Mexico and the pyramids came next, he prayed to his mother goddess to return to India but she chose for him to live the godly life in the jungle of civilization. In 1929 he rebuilt his American vision and some disciples took monastic vows of simplicity, celibacy, loyalty. After 15 years in US in 1935 he was haunted by his guru to return to India, Yogananda visited Gandhi, the two prayed together. Yogananda was comforted and happy to work with people who did not need coaxing to be spiritual.
He dedicated his life to expanding his teachings, through correspondence courses on how to perfect yourself, the power of willpower, how to change thought into energy, to learn to realise man’s supernatural cosmic power. He wanted to align the technology and scientific understanding of the west with the spirituality of the east, to make a unified approach for life on earth. This resulted in “The Autobiography of a Yogi” and other scholarly works. He simultaneously built temples and spiritual communities during the same time as the first atomic bomb was exploded.
Yogananda had extraordinary yogic powers to perceive events, including two world wars. In Bareily one night he had a vision of his mother dying of cholera in Kolkata, distraught to find it was true, he accepted she was now his cosmic mother. In 1936 he was summoned to the Puri Ashram only to find Shri Yuktshwar Mahasamadh, the Lion of Bengal, was lifeless, he was devastated. In March 1952 the Ambassador of free India was visiting Los Angeles, Yogananda was invited to welcome him at the Biltmore Hotel, he collapsed and died at the end of his emotional speech. In yoga tradition there is a sacred practise of knowing when you will leave your body.
Yogananda’s ideals live on worldwide through the Self-Realisation Fellowship, interestingly at Steve Job’s memorial service a book called “Actualise Yourself” was handed out to all.
“Awake – Life of Yogananda” is available on Netflix in India