“God is not someone who allows things to happen or not happen. The real question I need to ask [ is ] how can God help me find the strength to deal with what happens? By reframing the question, I opened myself up to other possibilities.” — Rabbi Laura Geller, IN SWEET COMPANY: CONVERSATIONS WITH EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN ABOUT LIVING A SPIRITUAL LIFE
It’s been thirty-six years since I first labored over the pronunciation of the names of the Indian saints and sages featured in the pages of Autobiography of a Yogi, unaware of how the unfamiliar marriage of letters would one day roll off my tongue and become music to my ears. At some point in my life the words “Books are your friends” popped into my head and has proven true time and again—particularly with Autobiography of a Yogi. Recently, I bought my fifth copy of the “AY,” Paramahansa Yogananda’s spellbinding account of his search for God, and will soon read it again—underlining phrases, dog-earring pages to the point where eventually it, too, will need to be replaced.
I like to believe everyone has a “friend” like this, a book they turn to for inspiration and comfort, that fascinates them, that brings order and meaning to their life. Though I can effortlessly quote lines from its pages, each time I read the AY I feel like I am reading it for the first time; I “discover” ideas I did not notice before, I connect with a story on a deeper level. Each new Voila! is powerfully relevant to what is occurring in my life and I marvel at the seemingly serendipitous appearance of the right words at the right time.
One of the surprising things about Autobiography of a Yogi is that it is witty as well as profound. I did not expect a book of such spiritual heft and depth to be light-hearted. Paramahansa Yogananda was a spiritual adept, an eminent sage, and an ardent lover of God with a first-rate sense of humor. He expertly puns and teases, gently guiding his reader to not take their humanity too seriously. His humor also bears witness to the great joy that permeated his consciousness.
Mostly when I read the Autobiography of a Yogi, I feel as if I’ve come home. Though I did not conceptualize my quest for meaning and happiness in spiritual terms when it began—and was quite surprised to discover it was God I was, in fact, seeking—the validation and belonging I felt when I first read the AY made it perfectly clear developing a personal relationship with God was the sum and substance of my search.
Though the AY has been acknowledged as a classic in spiritual literature for over sixty-five years, has been translated into twenty-six languages, and is used as a text in colleges and universities around the world, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. I do believe, however, that we all need books like this, books that are our friends, that make us feel stronger, smarter, braver, a part of something greater than ourselves and, thus, immensely grateful. As the heroine of another well-loved book once said, “there is no place like home.”