I was tricked by reading "Autobiography of a Yogi" when I was a lot younger, and naive. ... I did order some tapes of Yogananda speaking, and he was a damn good speaker!
A year ago or so I was corresponding with someone who was recovering from SRF involvement. He had a really sharp mind and was able to hammer out in fiery and inspiring detail on how silly many of the concepts were that captivated him so much. It seemed that such a person was well beyond the point of possible relapse.
Going through the books to decide if he should throw them away or keep them for reference, he started reading and then something unexpected and terrible happened -- he got sucked in by the siren's call of submission to spiritual authority that promised the world and beyond. Even with a firm understanding of the many problems that arise when we submit ourselves to the projection of an external, all-knowing mystical parental figure, he nevertheless relapsed fully into the SRF fantasy world with its hierarchical zoo of magic saints and flying gurus.
Yogananda was very charismatic and a good writer and orator. [Although, he relied heavily on SRF editors to give a decent readable form to his material; and before SRF attracted skilled writers to their staff, he had partners (Dhirananda and Nerode) that helped him out with many early works, who later tried to sue Yogananda for taking all the credit.] I hate to use this over played out example, but it's very appropriate here -- Hitler was a very charismatic speaker just like Yogananda. That doesn't mean that he had any special spiritual insight or even a basic sense of morality.
I still get mail to this day from their center, from ordering something 15 years ago!!!!
A lot of ex-SRF people have mentioned this. Jokes have been made about how much paper and expense they waste on this. I still get mail myself.
I wonder if Yogananda was self-deluded? Do you think he really believed his own stories?
I personally don't think so. He spoke of the importance of subsisting on just enough of a vegetarian diet to keep the body healthy and to rely more and more on 'direct' [i:784edcb381]pranic[/i:784edcb381] energy to sustain the body. If he really believed this, why was he clearly overweight? He even spoke of people that had no need of food whatsoever. Being an advanced yogi himself, why could he not even control his own overactive appetite? If he really believed what he was preaching, I feel that he would at least have controlled his voracious appetite enough to try to live what he was teaching, at least to a slight degree, but it appeared that he even didn't try.
He also spoke of limiting the amount of sleep we get and to use this time for meditation and such. Limiting the amount of food and sleep we get is a very old technique for breaking down a person's will. Yogananda also taught meditation practices that incorporated oxygen and sensory deprivation techniques. To me, it appears that he was attacking our critical thinking abilities on all fronts.
Yogananda had his personal quarters surrounded by young nuns (the older ones were housed further away). SRF even admits that nuns were in and out of his bedroom at all hours of the night, but they claim that they were merely taking dictation as he had inspirations which many times came to him during the night. He spoke of the spiritual value of abstinence, but appears to have followed that as closely as the meager diet he taught.
Yogananda was a swami which is a Hindu monk (and then later supposedly got promoted to paramahansa, although some contend that he simply gave the title to himself). Like most monastics of various religions, the men and women are suppose to be housed separately for obvious reasons. If Yogananda truly believed in the value of the religion he preached, what was he doing violating this basic practice that he himself even enforced for his own SRF monastics?
In my opinion, Yogananda is a text book example of a cult leader. Just because he has written romantic religious lullabies, doesn't make him spiritual or even a decent human being.
After all, what he was talking about is pretty much in line with Hinduism and the Atman.
He created a strange mix of Christianity and Hinduism to attract a wealthy western crowd. But they really only mix superficially. Hinduism allows for deification of all kinds of saviors while Christianity only allows for one -- Jesus. By mixing the two, he took the fanatical devotion of the Christian mentality and projected it onto himself and his line of gurus. He got the best of both worlds, but I personally don't feel that the two religions are anything alike.
To make things worse, the concept of the Atman from the Upanishads is opposed to projected spiritual authority, even within the Hindu religion itself. I don't feel that the ideas of the Atman even mix with its parent religion, let alone Christianity:
... Now, if a man worships another deity, thinking: ‘He is one, and I am another’, he does not know. He is like an animal to the gods. As many animals serve a man, so does each man serve the gods. Even if one animal is taken away, it causes anguish to the owner; how much more so when many are taken away! Therefore it is not pleasing to the gods that men should know this. -- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, I. iv. 10
But Yogananda states that through worship you can reach a type of oneness described as the Atman/Brahman/Self and erroneously equates these concepts with 'God'. But in the Upanishads from which he pulled these concepts from, it's stated that worship of spiritual authority figures creates a division preventing the proposed perception of oneness.
Yogananda took ideas from different schools of Hinduism and then mixed in some Christianity to make the dish appear more palatable to a Western audience. What all these different elements share is that they're all emotionally charged concepts. They're all contradictory concepts as well allowing them to bypass reason, hitting you directly emotionally. Like a commercial, if they can hit you emotionally and bypass your reason, they got you. It's a marketing tactic and Yogananda like many others, played it well.
The idea of submitting to a spiritual authority figure as the answer to life's problems is very appealing because it's easy (or at least appears that way). It offers the answers to all our questions and offers a snug little womb to crawl back into. This is why people like Yogananda are so successful; they've learned how to reach people on this level. Reason goes out the window when people hear of a cosmic parental figure that's going to rock them in their arms for all eternity. This is why we can pick up a Yogananda [or insert your particular spiritual flavor of the month here] book and fall head first back into the fantasy world.
We need to examine our need for cosmic super-parents if we wish to truly recover from our cult involvement. We may become disillusioned with our particular cult, but if our need is still there, we'll just find another (one that hides their ugly side better perhaps).