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Awake: the Life of Yogananda DVD CD-ROM – Import, 1 Jul 2016
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I was very surprised---and perplexed---to learn that the U.S. government had actually been spying on Yogananda because they apparently saw him as some sort of subversive. I found that really odd. I was also surprised to learn that “The Autobiography of a Yogi” was the only book which Steve Jobs had on his iPad. I also thought that it was surprising and cool that Paramhansa Yogananda also met President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933). When I had initially watched the trailer, I was initially perplexed at the references to Yogananda being tracked by the government and being vilified in the press, but with hindsight, now that I have watched the documentary, his chilly reception on the part of many Americans has to apparently be put in the context of the rabid racism and hostility towards minorities which was prevalent at the time combined with the fact that---at least in my view---disdain for the sacred has become a prominent feature of contemporary Western societies, particularly the United States.
This documentary is a must-see for anyone interested in religion, spirituality, yoga, Hinduism, the life and career of Paramhansa Yogananda in general, or related topics.
This 86 minute long documentary was made with the assistance of the Self Realization Fellowship, the organization which Paramahansa Yogananda founded [I am not a member]. I have known of Paramahansa Yogananda since reading his book, Autobiography of a Yogi, and bits of another very small collection of his meditations.
The biography contains a mixture of actual footage (mostly black and white motion picture and still photographs), interviews with people who knew him, and voice-over narration. It’s difficult to do an objective biography on such a dramatic figure as Yogananda: one whom some regard as a great mystic and others perhaps as a charlatan. The film claims that his Autobiography of a Yogi was the only book that Steve Jobs had on his iPhone when he died, and that his advice to people near the end of his life was to “actualize yourself” [wording that sounds very much like Yogananda].
Certainly there was a lot of detail about his life that I had either forgotten [if it was in his biography] or never knew in the first place—especially his struggles to establish a viable community in the United States. I also had not really considered how he would have to confront not only skeptics, but also racism in the U.S., as well as the media always hungry for scandals. The movie points out that though he was not the first Hindu to visit the US, he was the first Hindu or Yogi to actually REMAIN in the U.S. until the time of his death.
In a world filled with either skepticism or blind fanaticism, his message is a worthy message, and this film is worth watching.
There were also incidents that I was not aware of previously. His strong vocal support for Gandhi (even in the face of strong opposition), defying the ban on blacks to attend his classes by setting up separate meditation groups for them and encouraging inter-racial marriage (so many years ago), showed the Man that he was. Many speak of equality and ideals, but very few have the courage to match their acts with their speech when the world is against them.
I was also amazed, and witnessed his personal pain, at the loss of his long time friend and his life's work in USA, and then admired his determination to selflessly build up the work all over again. There are deep lessons to be learnt from these incidents, the way he braved his problems, the way he humbly and silently accepted his pain.
Leo Cocks' reminiscences were deeply touching - "I have given you my unconditional love, do not fail to take advantage of it".
The movie treads a fine balance between showing the great Yogi's divinity, visionary actions, and his humanity. Like the Autobiography, it is to be viewed again and again.