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Don’t be worried if you’ve never heard of this man

Bill Fox

Bill Fox

By Bill Fox/Columnist

One of my sons gave me some inspirational books written by one of the great spiritual figures of our time, Paramahansa Yogananda.

Admittedly, I’d never even heard of Yogananda before.

At his memorial, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had arranged for Yogananda’s autobiography to be given to all 500 guests.

I have yet to read this autobiography, which was often referred to as “The Book that Changed the Lives of Millions.” It has sold several million copies and has been translated into 45 languages.

In 1999, it was named one of the “100 Most Important Spiritual Books of the 20th Century” by HarperSanFrancisco.

The autobiography has been an inspiration for many people including George Harrison, Ravi Shankar, and Jobs

In the book Steve Jobs: A Biography, the author writes the face of Apple first read the autobiography as a teenager, before reading it again in India. Then, while preparing for a trip, he downloaded it onto his iPad, and would read it once per year until he died.

Born in northern India in 1893, Yogananda graduated from Calcutta University in 1915 before taking formal vows as a monk of India’s Swami Order.

In 1920, he went to Boston as the delegate of India at the International Congress of Religious Liberals. For most of the next 32 years he remained in the United States, setting up a base in California.

In his autobiography, he records how he became the guru of Mahatma Gandhi on one of his many visits back to India.

He also met several other celebrated spiritual personalities of both the east and west.

In 1946, Yogananda published his life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi.”

He was the first prominent Indian to be hosted in the White House after receiving an invitation from then President Calvin Coolidge in 1927.

Yogananda’s early acclaim led to him being dubbed “the 20th century’s first superstar guru,” by The Los Angeles Times.

According to Wikipedia, he visited other living western saints like Therese Neumann, the Catholic Stigmatist, and places of spiritual significance such as Assisi, Italy to honour Saint Francis, the Athenian temples of Greece, the prison cell of Socrates, and Cairo, Egypt to view the ancient Pyramids.

He was always considered a son of India, and as such, in both 1977 and again in 2017, commemorative stamps featuring his face were issued.

On March 7, 1952, he attended a dinner for the visiting Indian ambassador to the United States in Los Angeles.

Yogananda spoke of India and America, their contributions to world peace and human progress, and their future cooperation expressing his hope for a united world that would combine the best qualities of “efficient America” and “spiritual India.” As he finished his speech, he fell to the floor. The official cause of death was heart failure.

When Yogananda died, the director of the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, where his body was received, embalmed and interred, wrote in a notarized letter,  “…the absence of any visual signs of decay in the dead body of Paramahansa Yogananda offers the most extraordinary case in our experience… No physical disintegration was visible in his body even 20 days after death… No indication of mold was visible on his skin, and no visible drying up took place in the bodily tissues. This state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary annals, an unparalleled one… No odor of decay emanated from his body at any time…”

In my next column, I would like to share some of Yogananda’s thoughts, but let me leave you one of his observations: “If you watch your life, you will see the innumerable ways in which God works through it… they little know what radical changes are possible through prayer.”

I’m at bdfox@rogers.com if you have thoughts to share or questions.

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