Monday, November 17, 2014

"Awake: The Life of Yogananda" Film Review

AWAKE: The Life of Yogananda

This past weekend, my wife and I went to see a new film about
Paramahansa Yogananda, the founder of the Life Realization Fellowship. The film, AWAKE: The Life of Yogananda, is a well produced and colorful film, lasting about an hour and a half and provides an overview of the life and work of Paramahansa Yogananda.

You might be wondering what this has to do with Celtic Christianity? No, Yogananda was not born in Cork, Ireland, nor did he speak any Gaelic! However, as this is a blog about spirituality, and as someone interested in learning more about the practice of meditation, Yogananda is an important spiritual figure that one should know. Millions of people, including myself have read Yogananda's "Autobiography of a Yogi"(1946) and benefitted from reading it.  "Autobiography of a Yogi" is a funny and entertaining read, which describes Yogananda's encounters with spiritual men and women, and his coming to America. Not many people in the West were familiar with eastern spirituality in the 1930's but even then, there was an appetite for things Eastern. Yogananda gave thousands of lectures in America and started several communities across America, the main house being in Mount Washington near Los Angeles, California.  Yogananda's broad message was that self-realization was possible through yogic control of the mind and body which anyone could learn and practice.

If you've never read "Autobiography of a Yogi" then seeing this movie provides a fine introduction. The book is ranked as one of the top 100 religious books of the last century. Overall, I felt the film made some great points. Notably, that many Americans remain interested in spiritual practices, and in spiritual practices which include a deep sense of mystery (mysticism) and a kind of spirituality which embraces all aspects of one's self-not just the mind. Translation-many people find meditation and yoga so helpful, attractive and restorative because it is a mind PLUS body spiritually, which adds up to wholeness!

Moviegoers, I would also advise you to take the time to read the book which can be found in almost every second hand book shop. One sees it everywhere! The book provides a nice introduction to Hindu spiritual literature-the Vedas, Upanishads and the Mahabarata. And the book also has those fascinating and hilarious accounts of  holy saints; the Perfume Saint, who could conger scents at will; the Tiger Swami, who wrestled and defeated tigers; and the Levitating saint. You will also want to read about Yogananda's meeting with the Catholic Saint, Therese Newmann, who ate nothing but a communion wafer daily for years. And of course, you will learn about Yogananda's great teachers; Lahiri Mahasaya and Swami Sri Yukteswar. Much of this is passed over in AWAKE!

To be honest, having read the book, I was disappointed by the movie-which came off like a long ad for the Self-Realization Fellowship. I did enjoy aspects of the movie such as the old videoclips of Yogananda interspersed with comments by Steve Jobs, George Harrison and Deepak Chopra.  I also appreciated learning more about Yogananda's meeting with Gandhi.

Surprisingly, you can also learn something more about the Bible by encountering Yogananda.
Yogananda was well read in the Bible and expressed a reverence for Jesus, who he referred to as "the Galilean Master". Yogananda also wrote a commentary on the Gospels (something I wish I knew about when I was in seminary) called "The Second Coming of Christ" which many have find to be a fascinating blend of Western and Eastern thought. It's unlike any biblical commentary I have ever read and I found many of the interpretations to be fresh and new. For example, Yogananda interprets the second coming of Christ, as Christians living in the world and being Christ in the world. This seems to me a needed compliment to interpretations focused on a literal return of Christ.

A trailer for the film can be found here.

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