Awake: Life of Yogananda or Propaganda?

The guru who brought kriya yoga to the West is the subject of a documentary exploring his lasting influence

awake credits

Awake: The Life of Yogananda Official Trailer

Below are excerpts of three movie critic reviews and a probe: is the film Awake about the man, Yogananda, or religious propaganda?

The Hollywood Reporter:

Published in 1946, Autobiography of a Yogi is still in print in dozens of languages, and has been a gateway to Eastern philosophy for countless readers. The Indian author, Paramahansa Yogananda, is generally considered the man who brought kriya yoga to the West, arriving in Boston in 1920 and soon establishing a foothold in Southern California. The documentary Awake: The Life of Yogananda, designed for the uninitiated but sure to please followers, draws upon a rich archival cache to bring that East-meets-West period to life. Even so, it doesn’t delve deep beyond the surface of a New Age hero.

Directors Paola di Florio (Home of the Brave) and Lisa Leeman (One Lucky Elephant) combine historical and new footage, dramatic reenactments and impressionistic imagery that embraces the meditative aspect of kriya. They don’t always find the right balance. The doc, which was commissioned by the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), the international organization that Yogananda founded and which carries on his teachings, offers discerning commentary yet too often has the ring of a promotional presentation.

Paramahansa Yogananda, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Paramahansa Yogananda, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Beyond his exceptional spiritual aptitude, there’s little sense of the man, even as he inspired Roaring Twenties industrialists and other wealthy disciples to bankroll his mission.

The Bottom Line:
Intriguing archival material can’t quite compensate for a tendency toward proselytizing

The Village Voice

While celebrity devotees turn up throughout (George Harrison, Russell Simmons), what’s most fascinating here are the physicists and neuroscientists discussing how the yogi’s insights on the workings of the world and the brain were decades ahead of science. They suggest that science still hasn’t caught up to him.

The New York Times

The film’s storytelling is straightforward, almost standard-issue, but the story itself is compelling, as is the testimony of devotees. It’s not surprising to see interviews with Ravi Shankar, Deepak Chopra and George Harrison (who died in 2001).

Much is made of a report that the only book on Steve Jobs’s iPad was Yogananda’s “Autobiography of a Yogi.” That’s enough to make a modern soul look inward.

Awake: Yogananda or Propaganda?

Yogananda, much-loved spiritual leader, and his followers were sincerely committed to finding the ‘right’ answers to their questions, and to shaping their lives in the light of the highest ethical principles. They were also swept, as we all are, by the waves of myopic interpretations of history. Unacceptable reasons for poor journalism. Awake: The Life of Yogananda lacks credibility, because:

1. The film was funded and produced by SRF, the religious institution. PEW Research Principles of Journalism demand: “While editorialists and commentators are not neutral, the source of their credibility is still their accuracy, intellectual fairness and ability to inform–not their devotion to a certain group or outcome”.

2.  The man, Yogananda, is missing from the film. Instead, Awake presents superficial images of a New Age hero.

3.  The film is SRF’s competitive reaction to arch-rival Ananda Worldwide’s 2013 release of Yogananda: The Movie (trailer below). The bitter rivalry between SRF and Ananda is told in a 2010 LA Times article.


Competitor, Ananda Worldwide’s Yogananda: The Movie trailer

Awake: The Life of Yogananda presents a fascinating story of a new age mystic, but the film lacks credibility.

Read years as an SRF monk and monastic life

Question for readers: What are your thoughts of films like Awake? Do films like this convert viewers?

0 comments

  1. SkepticMeditations

    @uwsboi14: Great points! You said it better than I did that experience itself is material, even though we’d like to think it may be immaterial. Yet, Brian and his god-hypothesis arguing friends will start from the premise there is a god (though there’s no evidence other than personal experience/revelation) and work backwards to try to “prove” there is that god and that we just are not smart enough, surrendered, obedient, or “attuned” enough to perceive It.

    Thanks for your comment. I hope Brian and his friends get the opportunity to read your comment and reply.

  2. uwsboi14

    Hi gents, first want to say I very much enjoyed reading your exchange of ideas. I won’t take sides, but ask a couple of questions instead. I don’t know if Brian is still around to read this.

    1) Why do we put so much importance on experience, especially that which we call a spiritual experience?
    2) How is the experience of causeless happiness any different to happiness caused by looking at a beautiful sunset?
    3) Is not all experience in essence the same, regardless of its nature?

    Regardless of the origin of our experience, I would argue that once we start professing that ours is more valuable than another person’s, we immediately raise ourselves to a position of owning something of superior quality. It’s true that there is a special pleasure to be had in thinking one has secret knowledge that others aren’t privy to. However, the reality may be that our spiritual experience is simply a more refined version of pleasure and therefore no better than anyone else’s. If this is true, than comparing experiences, high or low, sacred or profane, is the same as saying my brand of jeans is better than someone else’s. It’s just an experience, caught in time, and therefore experience itself is born of materialism. One we say we know Spirit, we don’t anymore.

    I think I just got myself into trouble….

  3. Brian

    BTW, I never intended to convince you of anything as originally stated in this post. I was just sharing. The reason I left this communication is that I perceived a basic disrespect and desire to do to others what you fancied I was me to you.

    And the main reason was that you referred me to “experts” on the matter instead of engaging in questions.

    By referring me to “experts” on the matter I realized you were not interested in a dialog, but were in fact doing to me what you thought I was doing to you: proselytizing.

    There is a condescension to your approach. I am just sharing my experience with you. And in that condescension I experienced a prison of belief based on blind doubt fueled by a sense of “I know and you are foolishly deluded.”

    That is what comes across Scott. Maybe you could look at that.

    You are doing to others that which you don’t want to be done to you.

    Thanks for your patience.
    Brian

  4. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    @Brian: Personal experiences are, well, “personal”. I don’t discredit the value of personal experience. However, when we discuss our personal experiences out in the public square, and when we make claims that our personal experiences are divine revelations, benevolent powers that others are too blind to see, I think its fair, adult, and mature, that we challenge such claims and allow open debate. Extraordinary claims need to be backed up with extraordinary evidence–not insults or attacks on character but objective data that other people can assess and verify.

    I understand your feelings of disappointment with me, because to large degree I no longer agree with your worldview in some Benevolent Power. I used to “believe”, experience, feel that and I realize that its hard to understand why I might not anymore. I’m ok with that. And, I’m ok to respectfully disagree. And, glad to leave it at that. Merry Christmas.

  5. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    Hey Brian: You may not be concerned about “god-apologists” but many of your comments are stock “god-apologist” arguments for claims of Benevolent Beings or Divine Intelligence (whatever name you want to give a god).

    I don’t discount your personal experiences have value to you. But please don’t tell me your inner experiences should somehow convince me there’s a Benevolent Force in the world and I’m just too blind to see it.

    I’ve got to run so I can pray to my boogie man now.

  6. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    Hey Brian: Of course, there’s something going on in meditation. I’ve never said there was nothing going on nor have I ever equated meditation states with superstition. What I’m saying is what is going on may (MAY…MAY…MAY) not be what many people “believe” or claim, eg. magical energies, mystical powers, and spine tickling from some Transcendent Parent in the sky.

    All the Benevolence and Magical Energies, yada yada, are possible. Probable? Eh. I’d give it 10-20% possible, and 80-90% improbable and made-up, feel-good human ideas.

    Gray matter can be rebuilt and grown by reading, learning languages, many cognitive exercises (in addition to meditation practices). Not sure why meditation is so special on the gray matter front, except for modern folks feel better when their salvation techniques seem to have some scientific benefit.

    Because I don’t agree with you about your claims of a Benevolent Transcendent Reality- you seem to over and over again imply that your “doubt” is constructive, while mine is “blind destructive” doubt. And, that I cannot see the beauty or marvel.

    I’m insulted that you belittle my 14 years as wholly committed and dedicated monk, you dismiss my sincerity and honesty at practicing meditation for decades, my devotion to god and the masters of all religions, my dedication to truth. As if you know what I think, experienced, and if I don’t believe in your god or your “Reality” that I must be faulty and willfully spurning the Invisible Benevolent Force.

    If you don’t want your assumptions challenged you are free to visit another blog and comment there. You don’t have to agree with me, but you need to back up your Claims with sound arguments or evidence, if you’re going to get my serious reply from here forward. My site, so I get to set the tone and agenda of discussion.

  7. Brian

    I have given many examples of meditation. But it is now my experience that you do not engage in deep varied thoughts about the meditation experience, but you instead defaulted to discrediting them by filtering them through a Michael Shermer belief system. Nor did you respond to the link from Harvard below about meditation.
    No big deal. I don’t take it personally. But it is revealing of your need to define other’s experience only against your own with only an appearance of interest in clarity or truth.
    You say you are having a dialog here about meditation, but you are only referring people to read others thoughts that discredit.

    If you were truly interested what other’s experience is, you would ask more questions about those experiences, with them, so you can have a better understanding and thus respond more in context and intelligently. But I see you are an evangelist of sorts, stuck in the fixed idea of superior reason, with condescending views cloaked in “open-mindedness”.

    I believe you are interested only in discrediting others experience rather than engage in adult discussion.

    That is my conclusion because if you read my prior posts, I agreed with you on many occasions on how the spiritual life can be delusional sometimes.
    On the other hand you only discredited and never once revealed the downside to your argument.

    If being in a relationship is important, that approach to dialog will put you in the doghouse!

    Merry Christmas Scott, May you find what you are looking for.

  8. Brian

    BTW, I am not concerned about what “god apologists” say or do. My views come from my experience not what other people say. I have quoted no books. I have only communicated what is true for me by way of experimentation and outcome.
    But since you, Scott, only prayed and meditated on boogie men/women, when you were in the monastery, you will only see others doing the same and judge them thereby.

    Some of us Scott, do not pray to boogie men and have bridged the gap between theory and experience.

  9. Brian

    There is something going on in meditation. To equate meditation and related experiences with superstion only, and to not look at the evolving science behind it, is to be a blind doubter. Below is a present study done at Harvard on how the brain builds grey matter from meditation.

    There is a force, Scott, that is within YOU. That IS you. It’s not some hocus pocus god in the sky.

    I have bridged the chasm between the theoretical and experiencial. You are still in the theoretical trying to disprove the boogie man while there is real science ocurring in the cognitive fields. Science is only now beginning to feel their way through consciousness studies.

    Science and meditation will more and more walk hand in hand as we continue.

    That which is considered prehistoric brain farts and unlettered rube mentality by blind believers (Fundamentalists Christians will not like meditation being validadted) and blind doubters ( those who hang their hat of reason on materialism being the highest knowledge of life and the spiritual dimension being a fools fantasy) – is being studied by Harvard and many more centers.

    Very soon, there will be a time, when those who decry the spiritual dimensions of life, will be seen in the same light that they try to paint we who experience the spiritual side of life. Their credibility as hard core rationalists will be devolved into closed minded fundamentalists who are cloaked in the sophistry of make believe scientism.

    They will become the person they are trying to expose: closed minded, fixed, irrational, unwilling to look, unwilling to change. Being identified with the ego of reason, they will arrogantly continue to be condescending to those of us who EXPERIENCE spirituality and not just believe in ghouls and goblins.

    Meditation is being taught in all the major universities though out the world. More and more cognitive science will show more and more benefit to meditation. And the “non believers” will have to change their mind (if they are truly about science) or inevitably become the Cult of the Blind Doubter, with recognition of the spiritual dimension of life acting like the concept Satan to these people.

    Constructive doubt is a beautiful mindset. Blind destructive doubt is cult mentality because it refuses to see the facts but only sees through the limited mind filters of their belief system.

    There is a Benevolent Transcended Reality. Look around and marvel. It beautiful.

    http://www.feelguide.com/2014/11/19/harvard-unveils-mri-study-proving-meditation-literally-rebuilds-the-brains-gray-matter-in-8-weeks/

  10. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    Hey Brian: You are essentially using “The Argument from Design”. (See link for full argument and discussion of its flaws).

    Are you aware that your comments are using one or more of these stock arguments used by god-apologists (see the link above). This blog is about exploring the hidden side of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. There are plenty other websites where you can debate the god question. I welcome comments about yoga, meditation, or mindfulness as they relate to this blog’s posts. Thanks

  11. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    Hi Brian: Yes, I see and experience wonder all around. Though, I’m not filling in a god into the gaps. I don’t know all the answers to life’s mysteries: like why my heart pumps or that I can’t see love.

    Check out the Argument from Sublimity (below). Seems that it captures the gist of your argument in your comment of 12/2/14 8AM. The link to the source is on my resources page but here’s a direct link for your reading pleasure36 Arguments for the Existence of God:

    The Argument from Sublimity
    1. There are experiences that are windows into the wholeness of existence—its grandeur, beauty, symmetry, harmony, unity, even its goodness.
    2. We glimpse a benign transcendence in these moments.
    3. Only God could provide us with a glimpse of benign transcendence.
    4. God exists.

    Flaw: An experience of sublimity is an aesthetic experience. Aesthetic experience can indeed be intense and blissful, absorbing our attention so completely, while exciting our pleasure, as to seem to lift us right out of our surroundings. Aesthetic experiences vary in their strength, and when they are overwhelming, we grope for terms like “transcendence” to describe the overwhelmingness. Yet, for all that, aesthetic experiences are still responses of the brain, as we see from the fact that ingesting recreational drugs can bring on even more intense experiences of transcendence. And the particular triggers for natural aesthetic experiences are readily explicable from the evolutionary pressures that have shaped the perceptual systems of human beings. An eye for sweeping vistas, dramatic skies, bodies of water, large animals, flowering and fruiting plants, and strong geometric patterns with repetition and symmetry was necessary to orient attention to aspects of the environment that were matters of life and death to the species as it evolved in its natural environment. The identification of a blissfully aesthetic experience with a glimpse into benign transcendence is an example of the Projection Fallacy, dramatic demonstrations of our spreading ourselves onto the world. This is most obvious when the experience gets fleshed out into the religious terms that come most naturally to the particular believer, such as a frozen waterfall being seen by a Christian as evidence for the Christian Trinity.

  12. Brian

    A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. (Albert Einstein)

  13. Brian

    Ha ha, more thoughts:

    You take glucosamine and the molecules only go to build cartilage. Everything is moving in order. Atoms are structured beyond the talents of any architecture. Everywhere we look there is order. Even in chaos.

    It is all around us, in us, IS us. The design of all space and objects is so totally exquisite. So totally intelligent in its stark wildness.

    The materialist Achilles Heel: if you take a 100 trillion letters and throw them into the air, it will fall together as a dictionary. To associate rational thinking with not seeing the amazing Intelliegence all around us may be a diservice to the idea of rationality. 🙂

    It’s ubiquity obviscates it’s obviousness to the blind doubter.

  14. Brian

    You can see the seed become a tree. You can see and feel your heart pump. The exquisite design of the body with all of its intricate workings are obvious. but you can’t see the energy that guides it.
    Can you see love? Can you put it in a test tube.

    You are a fish in the ocean claiming water is a pipe dream of unlettered rubes.

    It’s all around you Scott. Incredibly engineered intelligence. It takes more blind faith to not see it. Belief has nothing to do with it. Just look. You must get passes belief and non belief. But that would mean really embracing doubt and open to questions.

    You have made your mind up. And discredit anything else. That is blind doubt. The same as a fundamentalist Christian on the flip side.

    We both did our best. Thanks for the interchange. I learned a few things. 🙂

  15. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    Hey Brian: I proportion my belief and credibility to the evidence and coherence of the claims. The burden of proof is on those who make extraordinary claims. Claiming a “Benevolent Transcendent Reality” is an extraordinary claim. I am over it–no longer buy into vague, esoteric claims. How perfect that the things claimed are invisible. Only special people can see or feel them. I once thought I was special. Funny, I still see and feel the same things as before but no longer feel the need to call them supernatural.

    It’s simpler and easier than you think to not believe. The absence of belief is not belief. It’s called not wasting one’s time and energy. (Of course, those who believe find value in what they believe and their beliefs are not a waste of time–to them).

    Cheers.

  16. Brian

    1) your joy is still the memory of an object. Even a thought of external happiness. Your happiness comes from a memory of an external experience. it is still a stimuli. My experience is the neutralization of these memories.
    That happiness has no cause. Thoughts are gone, memories are gone, something surfaces in that stillness. There is no external trigger.

    I can understand you have not experienced this so it would not be available for you as an experience to remember and talk about intelligently. And since you have as a goal to discredit these things, things you have not experienced, things that you filter through your own beliefs, it could be impossible to continue. Impasse 😉

    2) ha ha, again it is simple. You used to see happiness coming from outside sources, gods and gurus. You are the subject. You are not an object. I am therefore I think is the correct sequence.

    3) I believe I answered that regarding the soul. You are stuck in concepts and beliefs and I am communicating experiences. But you cannot see the difference and you can only interpret my experience as a thought or belief. And since your belief system defaults to all these experiences as being superstition you will not get it. To you the thought of a soul and the experience of it are the same. Impasse 🙂

    The simplicity of a contemplative life that I have presented, which brings me spiritual happiness from a deeper spiritual source, and which is taught in hospitals, by mental health practitioners etc. is much simpler than you think. I have communicated my process for a happy life. And you have seen my illustrations as a mindless belief system ready to be explained by your own beliefs. I know, that’s where you are right now on all of this. I am completely ok with it. 🙂

    I see your path, at the moment, is to see anything spiritual through your own belief system of materialism. And anything other than materialism is superstition.

    So yes my brother! An impasse indeed. I have communicated to you here many times of the definite pitfalls in spiritual practice. Some of what I have considered delusion. And we found common ground. But you have not communicated to me the pitfalls in your faith. It is possible you are a blind doubter.

    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

    Something I wrote on the subject of a Benevolent Transcendent Reality. Maybe my last thought to you:

    “Every time I work on live wires, wires carrying electrical current, I feel power and a due respect for it.

    The electricity is invisible yet who says it does not exist? It lights up whole continents with the power of nightly vision. How is that nonexistent? Science doesn’t understand it! Does their lack of understanding have any relevance to it’s obvious existence or power?

    Prana, Chi, Elan Vital, Life Force, Spirit etc. All invisible! Yet see how it pumps your heart and causes digestion, elimination, crystallization and absorption. See it make a seed into the mighty oak!

    It takes more blind belief, to not cognize, the Electric Magnificence of the Invisible Intelligence manifest in all things!

    Yes I put that in Caps……….. big deal….. There is a Benevolent Transcendent Reality …….. get over it !! Look around! And marvel!”

    Brian

    Peace out and thank you for the dialog. Keep an open mind :-))

  17. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    Hi Brian: Here’s my response to your thoughts–

    1) The joy or bliss you speak of that is “causeless” from meditation seems, to me, to be caused from meditation or philosophy of it. One example: I can lay in bed and daydream about being on a white sand beach in Tahiti, bikini clad babe next to me, Corona Extra with lime in hand, sunsetting on our golden bodies. Joy, bliss, happiness wells up from within. Are my daydreams, imaginations, and feeling not caused by internal stimuli? I don’t see your causeless joy being any more unique than that I can feel love, happiness, or fear bubble up from internal stimuli. And, we don’t need to be conscious of the cause or reason why it’s bubbled up from our unconscious. What we feel and experience is internal–an interpretation of some external, speculated cause.

    2) The consciousness you speak of seems to be enmeshed in point #1 above. How can anyone be so certain of direct connection between cause/effect? Correlation is not causation. Human consciousness is a mashup of internal and external experiences. Do we ever really “experience” external stimuli. Our experiences are fundamentally interpretations after external and internal stimuli passes through our nerves, brains, and cognitive filters. I used to interpret joy as coming from gods or gurus. Now I see these experiences can come from whatever I interpret or attribute them to come from, or from nothing particular at all–just random that I can’t know for certain any specific cause(s).

    3) I wonder where your “experience”, your philosophy or ideas of this soul come from. Pure experience? My old convictions that I had a soul were indoctrinated and propagated through my Catholic upbringing, Christian acculturation, and SRF/Yogananda primarily–in addition to a million other untraceable experiences or concepts that were transmitted to me or that I interpreted.

    I respect people, though we all hold some wacky ideas. My old ideas (of souls, gods, occult energies) didn’t seem wacky to me at the time. I think we are talking in maddening circles–if all we have to justify our knowledge and truth claims–is personal experience. I don’t want to take your personal experiences away from you. Not my aim or interest.

    Cheers

  18. Brian

    Hey Scott, here are some thoughts:

    1) Divine Being: “Sure, we could call whatever god, but how does that help me? How does labeling something god or divine bring clarity? Why not just stop and call joy joy, love love, light light? Is there something else these are? If you know or believe, what is that?”

    There is a difference. That is why different words. One happiness or joy has an object. The other does not have an object. For instance: If you give me a million dollars that will make me happy. If I fall in love that brings me joy. If I sit and look at a sunset that may bring me peace. All of these are reactions to outer stimuli. So we call it happiness, joy etc.

    When I sit to meditate, close my eyes and ears and turn my attention within, there is no external object, yet I can increase my happiness and joy. That happiness, joy or light etc. does not have an external object or cause . Therefore we need different terminology to describe the difference. That is, if being clear is important.

    One is based on external stimuli, an object. And one is based on he causeless subject. There is no outer cause to that happiness. That is why it is so wonderful to master. If no outer circumstance gave it to me, none can take it from me.

    If you don’t like the terminology, soul-divine-spiritual etc. I have no problem with that. Make up your own. But they are different experiences. And this view is my experience not a belief.
    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

    2) “We are that light or joy”, you say. ( Please read your post so I don’t have to take up so much space)

    Yes we experience that dark and sad. But that dark and sad or cancer are modifications of thinking, feeling and biology, which are activities we engage in but are not who we are. Consciousness is the fulcrum, the witness and observer, upon which occurs mental and physical change. These are not beliefs someone crammed down my naive brain. These are experiences from which thoughts happen. Thoughts and beliefs did not cause my experience. On the contrary: the neutralization of them is what laid bare before me the self evident truths of my very conscious existence.
    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

    3) “Soul, sentient being” you claim. “Again, what are all the thoughts that go into believing in a soul.”

    I use to believe in a soul. I do not any more. An analogy: If I want to learn to play the piano, I may seek a teacher because I believe I can play. But once I study with a teacher for some years and someone says ,”Do you believe you can play the piano?”. I would not say yes I believe I can play the piano. I would say belief has nothing to do with it. I play the piano.
    But since you, Scott, still see these things, the soul etc, as beliefs and projections that are outside of yourself, you will not know what I am talking about. You will only see it according to your belief system as thoughts. Thoughts that are superstition.

    “To experience anything requires awareness and perception (thoughts).”

    Not true. Yes it requires awareness and perception, but it does not require the thinking process. Thinking and awareness are two different functions. The dreamless sleep for instance. There is awareness of having a deep sleep but no thoughts to be aware of. Thoughts are not necessary for awareness to occur.

    “Is it possible to have a soul without a brain?”

    I don’t know this. I believe the soul can exist without one but I do not have experience of that. Master Yogis say yes, but that is their knowledge, not mine. What I have experienced though, supports the belief that it is true.

    “I broke my chains of the thoughts that created them in my brain. If you can demonstrate their existence without thought or brain, I’d be quite impressed”

    You broke a belief, in an idea, that the soul is something other than you. If in your sadhana you always thought of “having” a soul, of possessing some spooky hocus pocus superstition than maybe where you are now is more truthful than when you where a monk.
    No one can demonstrate for you who you are and what is the real nature of life and death:existence. I applaud your constructive doubt. Constructive doubt- that which does not allow preconceptions to be the final arbiter of rational conclusions but allows every question to be embraced.

    I have not quoted Yogananda once. I am not sharing with you Yogananda’s experience. I have not shared with you anything that I have not myself experienced.

    I have proved these things to myself because of consistent outcome and direct experience: Happiness that needs no object. I have no more belief in the matter. Belief and non belief are meaningless as far as truth is concerned. My fingers are on the piano and I am playing a happy tune.

    Namaste Scott, may you find your happiness always, in all you do and be. 🙂

  19. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    Hey Brian: Thanks for sharing. I feel your maturity through your words. Let me try to respond to the 2-3 points you made to start.

    1) Divine Being: In tone I understand you are “balanced”. In words, to me you seem to be saying light, love, joy (whatever) could be called god or divine. Sure, we could call whatever god, but how does that help me? How does labeling something god or divine bring clarity? Why not just stop and call joy joy, love love, light light? Is there something else these are? If you know or believe, what is that? If you don’t know, then why not admit? I may not be nailing what you meant. If I’m off, it’s not that I’m trying to twist. I’m just reading what you read and trying to understand what you mean. It’s not clear.

    2) “We are that light or joy”, you say. I get the concept, having been a theist meditator, reader of yoga books, and so on. But are we also that dark and sad? Or, that cancer and laughter? Maybe I’m hung up on the light and joy, as it reminds me so much of Yogananda’s god is light, joy, etc. Am I misunderstanding you? You might think I’m overthinking this, but I’m actually not reading more into light or joy than just light or joy, but I’m wondering if you are overthinking what those are–like they are god or divine? Maybe?

    3) “Soul, sentient being” you claim. Again, what are all the thoughts that go into believing in a soul. To experience anything requires awareness and perception (thoughts). Thought is the medium through which we perceive. Some stimuli triggers a nerve impulse that fires in the brain, we think. If no brain, no stimuli, no thought, no experience. Is it possible to have a soul without a brain? If you think yes, how do you know since we perceive everything with our brains? Even in the so-called thoughtless, samadhi states, as far as I understand and experience, we have to think to know we had that experience.

    Is it impossible to perceive anything without our brains? Our brains are limited and fallible…that argument also seems to get used by some for rationalizing or believing in souls or gods, supernatural stuff. It’s a circular logic. I avoid that argument, that rationalization or thinking belief now. Hence no need for me to waste time and energy on divine beings, souls… I broke my chains of the thoughts that created them in my brain. If you can demonstrate their existence without thought or brain, I’d be quite impressed. Alas, all the elaborate arguments to rationalize their existence and the apologists who struggle with their burden of proof using incoherent arguments.

    I like your analogy of Lewis and Clark (in your addendum comment). I just watched a Ken Burns film about their Journey to find the NorthWest Passage. The discovered the Missouri River journey wasn’t what they originally dreamed: a secret waterway to the exotic east. The real and new world they discovered in the NorthWest was more simple, natural, and beautiful than their imaginations.

    Cheers.

  20. Brian

    “of that I am certain” was not an alluding to one day we will have flying yogis, it was an acknowledgement that there is a whole future of evolutionary unfoldment of human potential. And a happy feeling that there are dedicated researchers on the frontline. Evolution seems to go from the improbable to the possible with truth and knowledge as the Lewis and Clark. Life is great.

  21. Brian

    Intellect versus Devotion:
    yes I agree, new agey type yoga can be very lacking reason. Actually I believe those people would be that way in any thought club: political, religious etc. It’s where they are in their development. On the other hand the corollary is true: those stuck in the intellect only can have their own brand of dysfunction.
    Balance is king. Because these are two forms of perceiving reality-what we experience

    You said, “So I don’t attribute my feeling to a divine being.”

    I do not see any difference. Divine simply means “light”. The feeling of joy in mediation, to me is a feeling and perception of lightness and light. What you just said here, in the understanding that you presented, I completely agree with. There is no “otherness” to your “youness”. If by divine being you mean some made up imagination projected outward into a fantasy reality than we are in agreement.

    We are that joy and light. There is no “other.”

    Regarding the soul. It’s not for me anymore a “thought” a doctrine or belief. I am a conscious being because I am aware of being aware. The word soul is simply a word. But the experience of it is simply an experience of it. Whatever self that is me, whatever it is that experiences experience, that is the “I”. The witness, the observer etc. This is not a theory, a doctrine of some thought club, not something to believe in or disbelieve in. It is a direct experience/perception of the observer minus all the mind noise. Those who know it know it. Those who don’t don’t. It has been double blinded by countless sages. And I give my testimony to the reality of the sentient being.

    My experience is that you have issue with the Bhakti yogic path. The path of personal relation and love. Many feel the same. I always say to folks who have a problem with concepts of God to become a Buddhist or simply practice Raja. Whatever is there, when the mind is still will reveal whatever is there. Our beliefs are meaningless in that state.

    Bhakti can be considered unreasonable by those who see mostly with the intellect. And those who practice Bhakti can see folks who only give credibility to the intellect to be limited by it.

    The down side to Bhakti is fanaticism
    The down side to Jnana(intellectual pursuits) can be arrogance (proud of rationality and over intellectualizion of simple things)

    Years ago I had a proceedural conflict regarding my practice. I was meditating and this complete statement just popped into my mind, like how lyrics or melodies come (I’m a composer and songwriter). I was meditating and BOOM:
    “The validity of a process is determined by the quality of outcome.”

    That answered so much for me. Each of us must approach our growth experience with respectful consideration to our own natures. That best road in life, the best proceedure, is that which brings the desired outcome, as we see it. Some people can be proceedure fundamentalists. They only give credibility to a philosophy or spiritual discipline if it fits into their acceptable proceedures.

    And to me, happiness is the gold standard. A sense of welbeing and hope for the goodness in life.

    And if concepts of God or anything spiritual is not your cup of tea, I support you on your journey! We all work within the confines of our experience and what the mind has concluded to be “reality”

    But……… what was that about more space between atomic particles than atomic mass?

    What in the world would a rationalist in the 17 century have said that there is more space that mass?

    What in fact is the limit of human potential? 10% of brains being used?

    I love this journey. I am in awe of the vast intelligence that plays upon the screen of space. And when my heart
    leaps I see the universe how we see that rose. And I am turned inside out with wonder. It is at those times I arrive at the cliffs end of rationalization’s capacity to perceive that which is vastly greater than the extrapolations of the intellect with its proofs and labels, catagories and filings, arguments pro and con.

    And in that blooming of the heart, I am a Bhakti Yogi, with the need to give thanks and gratitude for the wonders of life. Pronaming to everywhere and seeing no difference between the “I” and the “Thou.”

    Thanks Scott. It’s an honor to share with you:-)

  22. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    @Brian: You got me. I am not certain of these things. But, know when certain claims seem spooky–to me at least. Yogi’s flying through the air would be one of them. A “flying” person (without the aid of technology) is highly improbable. Superman and Aquaman can fly too, but only in the comic books. I discuss meditation, yoga, and siddhas to explore the borderlands between science and supernatural. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  23. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    Hi Brian:
    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I like your sense of humor, stories, and honesty.

    Roses: I understand your metaphor about the rose. But understand, I don’t analyze roses. I feel and experience their beauty. Unless someone claims roses have magical healing powers, I won’t spend my time to analyze them.

    Intellect versus Devotion: My observation is that reason loses out to devotion in yoga and new age circles. “Serious intellectual endeavors are often denigrated in the world of Modern Yoga”. See my post Origins of Modern Yoga.

    Experiments: I applaud your experiments and testing theories for yourself. I too have conducted many experiments on myself. Sounds weird! And, I too find stillness and insight in meditation (more often though I find chaotic thoughts and feelings inside–I’m human and no amount of meditation will suppress that). I feel the same whether or not I meditate and whether or not I attribute causation to some divine being. So I don’t attribute my feeling to a divine being. Perhaps true causelessness is not attributing joy to any Cause [absolutely no entity or no being]?

    Uncertainty: I prefer uncertainty now to saying I have a soul. Maybe I do. Maybe there’s UFOs and aliens. I used to think so. But, thinking about soul or aliens doesn’t do squat for me anymore. Just me. I feel the bliss and joy of the moment. The preciousness of pure existence without need for elaborate theologies or concepts. If I get snuffed out…that too shall be bliss…just like before I was born (I suppose).

    Cheers mate.

  24. Brian

    Addendum: it was not the fasting from the faith based thoughts that had an effect on my happiness factor. In fact, I dumped a lot of faith based thinking during this experiment. But the one practice that withstood my test was the practice of stillness, the practice of meditation.

    Meditation became for me scientific. Because I got results. It became a tool to use, not a superstition to believe in. And my repeated efforts yielded a consistency of expanded happiness and expanded inspiration and an ever expanding joy for being alive. Not a superstition – not a belief – not a religion – not a dogma.

    Can Yogis fly through the air? Who knows

    Could past scientists ever conceive of a phenomenon that Einstein called “Spooky action at a distance”?

    I am sure past scientists would have been relegated to shaman witch doctor status for daring to talk of such pairing of photons.

    Are there things we think are impossible now that science will reveal as axiomatic? Absolutely

    And in the realm of human potential time, space and objects may take on a new dimension hither to unknown.

    Of that I am certain

  25. Brian

    I respect your questioning and may I say admire it. I have been meditating since I was 16. I am almost 62. I came into this life hardwired for this search. I practiced Buddhist meditation for a while as a teenager and pissed off the Jewish mothers in the neighborhood because I was influencing their sons. It was somewhat hilarious.

    Regarding thinking critically: I am all about that. That is why I can admire your doubt. If you do not know something to be true than you do not know something to be true. It ends there. We must consider our capacity to be reasonable for us to be reasonable people. But reason is not the only way to perceive. If we look at a rose only thinking about how much water, how much light, how much food, how many leaves, how many thorns, the correct way to grow them etc, we may miss the simple experience of feeling the existence of the rose with a sense of wonder. Is that sense of wonder not valid? Is the rose not beautiful as well as scientific? That is why I believe we need to balance reason with feeling. That is my view, not just Yogananda’s. One without the other is an unbalanced way of perceiving reality.

    I have stayed as a meditator because of personal results. For the first many years my meditations were spotty and a lot of sleepatations. But because of a peak experience as a young boy I was convinced, at least convinced to my satisfaction, that materialism is not the final say. That there is a spiritual dimension to life. I had no more doubt. Yet I continued to scrutinize and ask questions.

    After some time, I started seeing my happiness factor go up. I started seeing my interactions with others smoothing out. And my creativity as well. Because my mind loves challenges I did a few experiments over the years. Maybe three times. I went on a God fast, a meditation fast. Everything to do with the guru or anything else I put a stop to. My intention was to observe my mental and emotional state with extreme dispassion, be the unbiased witness, to the best of my ability. My goal was to only think with things I had personal knowledge of and refuse all faith based impressions rolling around in my mind.
    What I discovered, in my experience of course, was that I started feeling more concerned for the future in a negative way and more thinking about the past. My happiness factor went down and I started feeling like I was becoming less aware of a feeling of well-being.
    After doing these three experiments I found that my perception of things experienced a sort of upgrade. I dumped some thoughts and approaches and found certain principles validated. The most important for me was: happiness. The only reason I continue with the rigors of spiritual discipline is because that. Naught else.

    My sense of wonder sometimes reminds me of how I felt as a very young boy playing in my yard, getting down on the ground and following ants as they make their way over the tall seemingly un-passable blades of grass. And that sense of wonder seems to have no limit and it is very joyful. But the greatest joy I have found is causeless. In deep silence it is like a river I can tap into anytime, anywhere with anyone. And it has no external cause so no external cause can take it from me. It is marvelous simply marvelous and the greatest possession I own. So it is reason and critical analysis that dictates that I continue meditating as my happiness factor seems to be expanding.

    Another perk is this: as my body gets older some of my acquaintances complain about getting older and talk of fear of pain and death. I do not have that and find myself helping others to be cheerful. And I do. People come to me sometimes for advice. It is because death for me is unreal. I have had enough experiences on the inside to know I am a soul. If you call that being deluded than I am dedicated to it and proud t be a deluded person.

    Happiness, that is what its all about.

    In Truth,
    Brian

  26. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    Hi Brian,

    1) There’s danger in claiming we make-up our own reality…Is reality really that subjective? Is there no objective reality? How much is subjective/made-up versus objective/hard-reality? If I bash my dream skull against a dream wall I’m going to hurt. That’s a hard-reality. Yet when it comes to belief in unicorns, gigantic cauliflowers, or gods all we have are vague feelings or experiences. These latter seem to be many peoples made-up “reality”.

    2) Your PEW citation and survey is interesting. Thanks for sharing that. Warning flags shoot up when I hear statements of “all”, “never”, “always”. Black and white thinking is dangerous. There’s usually a spectrum. Are not some methods of thinking and gathering knowledge are more reliable than others? Scientific method being one of, if not the most reliable, currently known to man. Whereas, arguments from authority–whether claims from scientists or spiritual teachers–are allowed a “free pass” without scrutiny if we allow them. That’s how I roll these days–after decades of being a monk and a spiritual seeker, and as a student in University of Hard Knocks.

    3) To your questions in all caps: No, I don’t think we have independent, sovereign thought. Nor, do I think humans are a chaotic jumble of brain forces. Humans are complex systems that evolved from environment, culture, and species, and continue to. But science’s or my inability to explain the mysteries of life and the universe doesn’t lead me to the leap of faith required to believe in some divine intelligence in space. It’s possible a god is real. Theology doesn’t provide meaning to my life anymore. My heart and mind have crossed the point of no-return. I know too much now. I don’t see how I could ever go back to theology.

    4) To answer you final questions: No. The SRF monastics I knew weren’t Bible thumpers. However, many SRF monks and members would often repeat, like robots, the sayings of Yogananda or the gurus. I did it too. I hung my hopes and my salvation on the words and promises of the gurus and gods. “Follow blindly if necessary”. I did for decades. Now I question everything. I fail. Sometimes I wish there was a Sky Mommy here holding my hand through life! “It’s too late to turn back now…”

    I’m not trying to convince you or anyone of anything–other than to think critically.
    Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts.
    Best.

  27. Brian

    Firstly, I never said these stories I stated are proof of anything. It is impossible to argue the existence of God. Although it is fun. To be clear, I stated these as circumstantial evidence. That is all. If you have already declared a verdict and the case is closed, and you have tried this case and hang your reputation on it, then any circumstantial evidence will be rejected. But if the case is still open, then all I offer is circumstantial evidence.
    Again, for the record, your reality is your own. I do not need you to agree, believe, validate anything I say. I am fine with my experiences being perceived as gibberish and prehistoric brain firings.

    ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

    If Scientific minds and the scientific process is the final arbiter of these topics, then I am infinitely unqualified to argue them, as
    the Pew Research has done the work. 51% of Scientists believe in some form of God, be it a Universal Intelligence or whatever, and these men are trained in the investigative rigors you so confidently hitch your beliefs to. The majority of humans that follow this discipline of determining a truth, through science, do not agree that it is all superstition.

    The only conclusions could be that:
    1) All scientists that believe in or experience God are deluded and not real scientists.
    2) All scientists that don’t believe in, or have no God experience are truly enlightened humans and know the truth
    3) All scientists that believe in or have a God experience are correct: there is a spiritual dimension
    4) All scientists that believe the spiritual dimension to be the prehistoric brain throwback of unlettered rubes are wrong.

    here is the link

    http://www.pewforum.org/2009/11/05/scientists-and-belief/

    So to be clear, all of the arguments for or against God or synchronicity, in these articles, are fun, but truly not the correct questions, IMO. I cannot disprove that there is not a gigantic cauliflower eating the universe. Consciousness cannot be measured by the same rigors as matter……….. at this time in our development, I believe.

    In my view the real question, the quintessential question, minus all the ineffectual “God no god” argumentation is this:

    CAN YOU HAVE AN INDEPENDENT, SOVEREIGN THOUGHT? or ARE YOU SIMPLY A CHAOTIC CONGLOMERATE OF BRAIN FORCES?

    I have another question for you. Did you have any bad experiences with nasty nuns or bible thumping monastics while you were in the monastery? Just curious, because I know the reputation of some there to be nasty.

    Namaste to you my friend,

    Brian

  28. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    Hi Brian: And, if your aborigine does not see an airplane fly, ever, is that blind doubt? I see no “airplane”, no god. I see no “shoes”. I might, if you were to point me to verifiable, objective data. I don’t expect that to be possible, since the very nature of the god claim is unverifiable, unfalsifiable. Scientific method is not about proving something is right, looking for hits. It’s the opposite.

    Respectfully. I’m not poo-pooing your opinion. I relate, having had Yogananda as my teacher, etc. Perhaps after you have had time to review some of the new resources I recommended we will find a way to exchange our arguments or agreements. I’d like that. It’s difficult online but the best we have at this time. Short correspondence forces us to be concise, clear, and logical. Thanks for your consideration and visits.

  29. Brian

    And yes, I agree! I am such a fan of dialectics. I practice putting myself with those who disagree with me. I force myself to listen to news sources I disagree with. It is through reasoned exchange that deeper truths can be found in civil dialog: the laurel wreath of civil society!

    When I have time I will read what you ask and reply to the best of my reasoning.

  30. Brian

    Will respond more in detail later.
    But one thought: the same holds true for all the “hits” with blind doubt. It is reversed. So for instance, a native who sees an airplane fly for the first time may still believe heavy objcets can’t fly.

    He is missing the laws of aerodynamics. Your off the cuff “I really know what happened to you Brian” and you don’t, is similar in my view. You are assuming many things about my story seen through the filters of your belief system and seeing what you believe is true and what is not.

    If I was looking down at my shoes and knowing them to be brown and you tell me they are black, I would not be concerned about the color, but your capacity to see them

    So the “hit” thing works both ways. Blind believers never question the validity of their beliefs. They only question the validity of those who question them.

    If you really thought that I was just seeing certain “hits” empiricism by nature would ask more questions of me to ascertain more truth. You asked no questions of these events. You simply concluded by way of your beliefs.

    That is not a scientific approach 🙂

    Will get back

    Peace out bro!

  31. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    @Brian: Fascinating stories. I too have many like these and similar challenges too! (Though I’ve come to different conclusions than you did about benevolent transcendent reality). I lived for many years with a family member who was physically and psychologically ill. He had a brian surgery that saved his life, but that gradually deteriorated his mental stability. Seizures, emotional abuses, and paranoid hallucinations were common with him. The dysfunction in our family home drove me, in part, to seek peace in meditation and god in the ashram. Sorry you had to go through what you did.

    How cool is that that you lived with Devo drummer! Before Devo’s first album was released, I bought their first single “Ohio” with Satisfaction cover on the flip side. I was a punk. Purchasing obscure band’s singles was my passion. No divine coincidence there 🙂 This brings me to some of my observations about your stories.

    1) We tend to remember the “hits” and forget all the misses.
    a. Scientific method includes keeping track of the misses, not just the hits. Psychics, astrologers, and tarot card readers and so on work like this. People remember the hits; they forget the misses. To be scientific and avoid being misled we have to keep the whole database, and look to see if the number of hits is greater than the total number that you would expect by chance.

    b. All your stories seem to contain this problem of remembering the “hits” and forgetting the misses.

    c. Two lonely people are highly likely to be telling themselves “they just want to be held”. You remembered the “hit” of Bhaktananda mentioning divorce in hindsight, after the event occurred. Google “cognitive biases” and go to my Resources page. Read as many of these books as you can, especially The Believing Brain by Shermer, Think and 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True by Harrison. Our mind, emotions, and intuitions play many tricks on us. We are human. But you can learn how the brain works and be aware of our cognitive biases, the tricks it plays. It’s a matter of education and awareness. Not magic.

    2) Also, on my Resources page please read the 36 Arguments for the Existence of God. These are the most common arguments used. To start, I’d recommend you read, the three Arguments from Personal Coincidences, Answered Prayers, Miracles, and the Consensus of Mystics. These are 1/2 to 1 page outlining the arguments used by believers/apologists in god followed by the flaws found with these arguments. Your arguments in your stories or comments are either directly these or slight variations of these common arguments.

    See my post where I talk about the three main arguments that I believed most while I was in SRF and the ashram.

    3) I’m glad to hear to read that you are willing to doubt and question. That shows courage and intellectual honesty. Follow the truth wherever it leads you. It’s a process, never-ending. Some methods for coming to justified true knowledge are more reliable than others. Scientific Thinking and the Scientific Method is the most reliable method man has at his disposal. (I’ve posted an Introduction on my Resources page). Scientific Method doesn’t exclude feelings or intuitions. Scientific method uses them as data points along with physical data. No method is perfect. Don’t settle for answers you want or wish to hear. Dive with fearlessness and you will come to true knowledge.

    Thanks for sharing your stories. Let me know, after you check out these resources, if you want to discuss how they relate (or not if you are not ready to examine) to Yogananda’s teachings or meditation practices. If you are serious about exploring (even if its only to try to understand the atheist, skeptic position). We learn the most from other’s who don’t think like us.

  32. Brian

    MY FAVORITE DEFINITION OF GOD AND A CIRCUMSTANTIAL PRESENTATION OF AN EXISTENCE OF A BENEVOLENT TRANSCENDENT REALITY. (that reality is also immanent)

    Preface: 1) As it is impossible to prove or disprove the existence of god/God in a conversation I will present circumstantial evidence for the purpose of simply adding to information, for considerations sake, and not for the purpose of selling, convincing, making wrong or minimizing an atheist’s perspective. I respect atheists and believe they have a good sound argument.
    2) I am not an expert and do not consider myself god/God realized. I am a student.
    3) I am a natural skeptic and am repulsed by New Age thinking, going to psychics, always quoting others as a source of
    knowledge and reason, and only using meditation as a means of self betterment.
    4) I will not include subjective meditation experiences as these are subjective and arguing them is foolish.

    TWO DEFINITIONS OF GOD: 1) Satchitananda……. Sat – ever new existence, Chit – ever new consciousness, Ananda – ever new awareness of that existence being joyful.
    2) The ubiquitous intelligence inherent in all nature, that being all the laws that govern all external nature and internal subjective nature within the consciousness of man.
    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

    First I will define a term- WINKS FROM THE UNIVERSE

    A WINK FROM THE UNIVERSE is a synchronistic, harmonious and magical juxtaposition of events, when experienced, brings one face to face with circumstantial evidence, of a benevolent transcendent reality.

    All of these experienced happened to me – personally. I am excluding many and choosing those that happened in the real world.

    A) I was in a very dysfunctional relationship were I was abused physically. I was also an enabler. My wife was diagnosed undifferentiated schizophrenic. She was suicidal and a danger to herself and others. One Sunday I went to get counseling on a meditation related question with Brother Bhaktananda. At this time my relationship was going fine and Brother had no idea of my circumstance. I was the last person to be seen. He opens up the door to greet me and smiles and says, “Well are you divorced?’ I thought it was a very strange question as he did not even say hello. I said, in a sort of confused state, “no Brother things are going fine at the moment, no, we are not getting divorced.” He replied, “maybe not yet.” He was smiling all the while.
    I waked into his chambers and asked him some questions regarding my original reason for being there then I go home.
    That week my relationship went into a deep downturn and I silently made the decision to get divorced. My wife came home that day and, in a good mood, told me she wanted a divorce. I said, with a big smile, “me too.” And then I remembered what Brother had said. I went back to see him to ask him why he started off our last conversation the way he did. He had no conscious recollection of saying it and looked disturbed and then said, “I counsel people to stay together that does not sound like me.”
    I swore to him that is what he said. Then he said, “well maybe its a sign of things to come.” I said, it is, we are getting our divorce papers tomorrow.” He said, “continue being friends,” I left feeling a bit weird.
    In looking back, because I was an enabler, I would have gone back to her because she started behaving psychotic and felt if I don’t look after her no one will. Because of this strange event I reasoned ,”this weird experience told me something, it was time to move on.”

    B) MEETING MY PRESENT WIFE OF 22 YEARS. I spent two years soul searching with self inquiry and meditation after the divorce. I wanted to get to the bottom of the flaws in me that lead to this disastrous relationship. I avoided dating in order to clear myself of issues. I dealt with mom and dad stuff and really went deep.
    Two years after the divorce I was getting some physical therapy for a recurring headache. During the session I had this extremely light hearted epiphany. It felt very light and happy and the thought was,”I am now ready for a relationship.” Driving home, the feeling persisted until I got home. I was sharing a house in Studio City wit my friend Alan Myers (Devo Drummer, sorry, a name drop). I opened the door and immediately said to Alan, “hey Alan, I’m going to meet someone soon, I really feel it.” He looked at me with that “Brian stop being so over exited about gibberish look.”
    Half hour after getting home a women calls me on the phone to invite me camping. I had not gotten a call like that for years and years. An hour after that call a friend called to invite me to a party to me a friend named Margaret. I looked at Alan and said,” That’s two calls in an hour and a half to meet women.” He just started laughing.
    I decided to meet Margaret and not date the other woman.

    I go to that party, a two day affair, a sleep over with a pool. Margaret was supposed to show up Sat and we were told that we were the only one to know we were being set up. We though each other did not know. Well she did not show up on Sat. But that night, as I lay in my own bed and room I was given, I had a wistful thought with a strong yearning. I thought to myself prayerfully, “Lord, all I want is someone to hold me.” (Remember that line because it ties into what happens the next day). I had been aware that I’d not been in the arms of a women for two years and I was yearning for love an intimacy. I then fell asleep.

    The next day, Margaret arrived. We gave each other the look over and decided that we were not each other’s type. The party continued Margaret and I really exchanged no words. I had to get back to LA as I was in a rehearsal for a play and I was a main character so I had to go. The brother of the home owner became very agitated that I had to go and demanded I stay for a Margarita, that he made the best ones. I said no I am not much of a drinker. He just kept hounding me and I surrendered but said I had to go soon. The party went into the kitchen and I took my place on the floor lining against the cabinets and Margaret sat about 5 feet from me with a person or two between us. I was handed a Margarita and so was Margaret.

    I half mindedly glanced at Margaret and we were then eye to eye, we were not talking at all, and out of nowhere says, “All I want is someone to hold.” My brain exploded, my jaw dropped and I said, What!!!!. She repeated her statement and said,’ Hurry up before I change my mind.

    The night before I had a private thought before sleep which I told to no one,” Lord, all I want is someone to hold me.” And the next day Margaret originates out of nowhere,” all I want is someone to hold.” We have been happily married for 22 years. She is my best friend. If that Wink From The Universe had not happened we would not be together has we were not, at that time, attracted to each other.

    C) THE DEATH OF MARGARET’S MOTHER. Margaret’s mother was deathly ill and in the hospital for a long time. I have to first give a set up story to tie in these amazing events.
    I am an electrician. I was working for a student of Yogananda’s, an elderly women with a fixed income. At the end of the job I decided to not charge her. But I saw a picture on her wall of Yogananda on Hollywood Temple’s opening day. He was holding a gate open and welcoming people. I like the picture because I was serving at the temple then in children’s kirtan on Sundays playing the big drum and felt I wanted the picture. She said yes she would get me a copy. Months and months went by, I never got the picture so I just let it go.

    Next piece of the puzzle. My wife is a very knowlegeful practitioner of getting people out of pain. She has worked for sports doctors and is in the field from time to time with alternative medicine people. Three months before her mom dies Margaret is talking to this women about her mom suffering for so long. This women tells Margaret that she is a “medical intuitive” and that her mom is waiting for someone’s birthday before she dies. Well, Margaret and I do not give much credibility to such things and we just let it drop. But we in good humor saw 2 birthdays come and go. We spent many nights sleeping on the hospital floor with her mom keeping vigil. I left the hospital and went home alone. The next day was Sunday and I had to play in kirtan (spiritual chanting) for Sunday school. For some reason I was having an exceptional meditation, very joyful.
    Sunday school was over, I am walking out the door and I hear someone call my name. “Brian Brian I found a package for you in the lay disciple bin!” I opened the manilla envelope and there was the picture that I was promised almost a year ago. There was Yogananda opening the gate and my nerves exploded into goosebumps: That day was a commemorative for Yogananda’s birthday. I immediately got in my car and drove to the hospital. I was in Hollywood and the hospital was in Ventura about 70 miles away. I got to the hospital room. Showed everyone the picture. When everyone saw the picture, Betty died.

    For some reason, I have many of these stories, but I fear I have taken up too much of your time and blog space. I leave it up to you guys to consider me a fool, deluded, making up stories.

    But if you are not blind doubters, doubters who hold to fixed ideas like blind believers, and if you detect any characterization of sincerity in my communication, I would hope for you to at least consider these stories as circumstantial evidence of a benevolent reality that is not registered with the limited 5 senses. Information to use to think with, data in which to ponder possibilities in human potential.

    These things must be experienced directly for them to hold any degree of validity. What I am relating is words and words are only symbols. What occurred to me far surpasses metaphor.

    In Truth,
    Brian

  33. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    @David R: The person who makes the claim has the burden of proof.
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzAfn2NZ_sc&w=320&rel=0]

    I used to be gullible and want to believe in “miracles” and all sorts of supernatural claims. To be skeptical, especially of “miracles”, seems to me to be the most prudent, intelligent approach to extraordinary claims. We must exercise our critical thinking lest we waste our valuable time. Life is short.

    I have provided numerous book recommendations on my Resources page. They are really valuable resources to educate about the miraculous claims you mention above. We humans are gullible. I am. But less so these days.

  34. Brian

    One more clarification. I said blind doubters and blind believers. I love doubters. I never equated the two. Your read that into it.

  35. Brian

    Ah ha! An audience! Ha ha.

    I will tomorrow respond in detail. I need to go to my studio were my computer is so I can fashion my answers and edit better. My iPad will not do.

  36. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    @Brian:
    1) Jefferson, deism – Maybe that was my bad from bringing that topic up previously. I don’t see discussing either is fruitful for our current discussion.

    2) My views on the “god” thing – My posts on this site are indicators. The trouble I have with terms like “god” is that we need to define what you mean by god. I asked you earlier when you defined god as Ultimate Reality, and I posed questions about that term. I still haven’t received your response. If that’s not relevant to you anymore fine. But define what you mean by “god” thing if you bring it up. Because the word god is nearly useless to me without explaining exactly what you mean by god.

    3) Personal experiences like peace, bliss, wisdom/insight are feelings we get. Do I think god is the source? I doubt it. What’s your best argument for god as the source of these or anything you pick to be god?

    4) You say “blind” believers and doubters. No. Believers posit an answer, eg. god, or whatever they believe in. They claim to “know” what they believe. Or, they have a degree of probability of knowing. Whereas, doubters are not positing the god answer. That doesn’t necessarily mean a doubter, like myself, rules out some probability of a god.

    You claim god exists? Then, first please define what you mean by god. Simple 1-2 sentences to define one aspect or argument for that definition. And then give 1-3 supporting arguments for your claim. No more, don’t overcomplicate or distract with multiple points until after you nail your first claim.

  37. David R

    Brian, respectfully, if miracles have ever happened (and they have) then they are part of the “truth” not “window dressing”. The fact you see some kind of spiritual eye inside your mind materialising inside your field of vision is miraculous by most persons’ standards, not to mention gross phenomena like statues drinking milk, virgin Mary’s hovering in the air, and statues bleeding, amongst a plethora of other things that have been witnessed and documented and not debunked except by self styled “skeptics” assertions to the contrary.

  38. Brian

    Well we can agree to disagree regarding Providence. You down play the power of labels but the word Deist defines a view. I believe Providence was used many times to acknowledge an intelligence that is interactive. Just like our bodies nervous system: a holistic synchronism of events outside the limited rationale of the ego that functions intellgently. You can call my view black and white. That is your right.
    Jefferson bows before the “altar of God” in his monument statement regarding tyrants. But whether Jeffereson sees god or God as you think is truly irrelevant to our conversation. Who cares what he thought. It’s what we think. It is we having the conversation.

    Ok, so you think the whole God thing is bunk? 🙂 That’s your take? And the whole meditation thing is simply brain cells firing and creating cartoons? What’s your view. I ask respectfully.

    What I meant by window dressing is Yogananda’s many stories of miracles. What counts is the peace and wisdom found in being still. Stilling the wavelengths of thought as Patanjali says. And what opens up within us in the process of practice. The joy that bursts up and gives brightness to my day and intuitive guidance to my steps. Everything else is meaningless as the whole sales pitch is to arrive at that point: causeless happiness

    I have had so many experiences, in the real world Scott, since I was a young boy, that has proved to my conscious mind the reality of a benevolent transcsendence. I learned this years before I developed my relation with Yogananda.

    Brother Bhakananda use to tell me to not speak of them because folks may be jealous or think I’m looney. Some may think simply misled by wishful thinking. I will relate to you, if you choose, and don’t mind any of your reactions. If truth is truth, it invites scrutiny. Because if I am wrong and you can prove it to me then I must change and embrace what is true, if truth is my goal.

    New age pipe dreams and wishful thinking is ubiquitous in mysticism and religion, no doubt.

    But blind believers and blind doubters are the same person on the flip side. Both don’t know. Both are speculators of things not understood.

    So in a nutshell Scott, please give me your view on this matter of the soul, God etc.

    Then I can understand my approach in this fun topic! And fun it is 🙂

  39. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    @Brian:
    1) You’ll need to explain what you mean by window dressing “anything outside of one’s own experience in meditation”. Any meditator could “experience”, visualize, dream or feel almost any imaginable “thing” in the internal domain of their mind or feelings.

    2) Trying to define something by what it’s “not” is not explaining what it is. That approach to defining might be useful, but I’m not getting it yet.

    3) What are the “window dressings” you referred to? I’m asking in the context of our previous discussion and my questions I posed at the end of my response.

    Thanks for engaging.

  40. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    Hi Brian: Sounds like we have much in common then, regarding scrutinizing and doubting beliefs. Responding to your points:

    1) Deists like Jefferson using “Providence” doesn’t really prove anything except we should not use black and white labels. I know atheists who say god bless when people sneeze and, especially in politics, pander to audiences who find comfort in such euphemisms like “God bless America”. People are complex. Labels over-simplify, but are necessary starting places for discussion.

    2) Yes. Please continue to share your comments, relevant thoughts, and on-topic ideas relating to posts and content on the SkepticMeditations.com website. That’s great! That’s why I started this blog- for you and our other amazing visitors.

    3) Your background at Hollywood Temple and Burning Man sounds fascinating. I’m familiar with the Temple, having visited it numerous occasions and known many of it’s members. Each Temple has it’s own “vibe”, type of devotees. I know less of Burning Man, as I’ve not experienced that event firsthand.

  41. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    @David R: To respond to your questions-
    1) Yes, I experience(d) the spiritual eye, Om, and chakra sounds.

    2) Personal, subjective experiences, like seeing lights or hearing sounds in meditation, are peaceful, blissful but have never convinced me beyond doubt they are a result or proof of a divine being, supreme power, or god.

    3) There are other, more probable, explanations for these phenomena, including, my favorite, I don’t know what they are. Some experiences we do find rational explanations for.

    4) See my posts
    The Sound of OM,
    Lights In Meditation Similar To Visions Caused by Sensory Deprivation,
    “I Don’t Know”: The 3 Hardest Words In The English Language

    5) “I don’t know” is the only intellectually honest answer. Does anyone (including gurus) claim they “know” beyond doubt personal experiences are of god? Claims these experiences are from god or supernatural are an argument from ignorance which attempts to prevent further reasoning and objective inquiries. Saying we “know” the answer to the unanswerable-like I know its a god– ends rational discussion/examination.

  42. Brian

    By window dressing I mean anything outside of one’s own experience in meditation. Yogananda was a sizzle salesman ha ha !!. Yes, that discribes him. Was was and is the Cal Worthington of Vedanta.

    It is my opinion that if Autobiography was only about mediation and being a good Yogi it would not have sold as big as it did. I believe that was quite intentional. Some yogi friends think he relayed to much on communicating powers and supernatural. But like Madonna and her stage antics, Guruji flashed some neon for a materialistic age. I believe his motive was right on the money.

  43. Brian

    Greetings Scott:-) !

    First off a bit about me. I love love love constructive doubt. I love my ideas being scrutinized and I love to constructively scrutinize others. Nothing is too sacred to be scrutinized if truth is the goal.

    Regarding Deism: yes I am familiar with the claims of the founding fathers being Deists. But I had a realization a while back that a deist (one who believes that god after creation does not intervene) could never use the word Providence in any writings. These two words are 180 degrees opposed. And the founding fathers used that word Providence all the time.

    Regarding personalists and impersonalists:

    It is possible that this forum is not the place to have that discussion. I would love to, but because this topic has plagued me since I was a boy of 16, I am now 61, it requires a certain space for me to share my findings. I have actually lost sleep over trying to solve this seeming dilemma. I have solved it for myself. Not just intellectually, but within. I have no issues between the two anymore and have enough experience to share that experience in words.

    Yes I am a student of Yogananda. He is more like family to me than a hocus pocus god in the sky. I served at Hollywood Temple for some years as a lay disciple with Bro Bhaktananda. I don’t go much to the temple these days as I am learning great lessons out here in the world.
    I am a Burner (someone who goes to Burning Man and I’m sure would not go over to well with Temple People), which you can assume means that I am not a “true believer” in the sense of denying my own capacity to think for myself.

    Namaste:-)

    Shall we continue?

  44. David R

    Scott, perhaps I missed your answer before but I asked you about the spiritual eye vision and you referred to lights seen in meditation I think. So, I will ask you again: did you experience the spiritual eye as Yogananda described it?

    Forgive me if that sounds ill. It’s just that I would think that if I had had such an experience as the spiritual eye I certainly wouldn’t doubt that God existed.

  45. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    @Brian: Your assessment of Yogananda and his sincere followers seems fair. The majority of SRF monks and members I’ve encountered I consider my lifelong friends and regard for living by the highest ethical standards.

    Yet, Yogananda was, and his followers are, human and therefore fallible.

    Let’s unpack your statement “finding one’s own relation to Ultimate Reality”.

    I’ll assume by Ultimate Reality you mean that humans can relate to some Higher Source or Divine Intelligence. So, if Ultimate Reality “is the god-being or cosmic intelligence” beyond creation that being cannot be a personal god. We can not experience that which is beyond creation, of which we are in. Are you familiar with Deism? If not, you may want to investigate. Thomas Jefferson was supposedly a Deist.

    Yogananda was not a deist. He is a theist with his teachings about developing a personal relationship with a god (pick your version or aspect of god– theism or pantheism). Theistic gods are believed to intervene in our daily lives, answer prayers, part seas, resurrect the dead, materialize and dematerialize saints at will after they meditate and burn enough bad karma. Are these the window dressings you refer to?

    After we remove the “window dressings” from our stories about personal experiences what’s left? How would we know what is Ultimate Reality? Who could assess the truth of a claim that anyone has experienced Ultimate Reality?

    I welcome honesty and concise feedback. Thanks for engaging with this site.

  46. Brian

    Throughout Yogananda’a autobiography he is praising others. He is supporting other paths, sending students to other teachers.
    To me you can throw all the googoo gaga stuff away. What stands is simply this: stilling the mind and finding peace, finding one’s own sense of what is true, and finding one’s own relation to the Ultimate Reality.

    I have personally known direct students of Yogananda. Monks. They have been some of the most humble folks I have known.

    And I know many many folks who are on other paths other than Yogananda’s who found interests in their own path because of Yogananda.

    This is a very open source thing, this Yoga. Its not about his temples and aquisition of followers. It’s about ones own direct experience. The rest is window dressing.

    Brian

  47. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    @Dave Frank:
    1) Yogananda’s message is inspiring, but comes with many extraordinary and outlandish beliefs that are typical of most religions.

    2) Personal experiences and feelings are indeed important. I practice meditation. I experience the feelings you mention (and more) but I no longer interpret my personal experiences as signs of a god. See my post Spiritual Experiences Won’t Prove Existence of Gods

    3) I think I understand your position, as I used to be a follower of Yogananda. To respond to your challenge: If Christ were to appear, magically, in front of me. I’d think it was an illusion. I would’ve before even when I was monk. How would I know that my vision was real and not a hallucination? My feelings of peace, love and joy don’t prove anything except that they are personal feelings about my experiences. Why are feelings interpreted as christ or god?

    4) You seem to be proving my point inadvertently. You say my standards of reason are intellectually sound BUT my intellectual soundness “misses the point” of spiritual practice? If everything is spirit, and god gave me a brain and reason faculty would I not want to exercise my reasoning powers? I think rationality is scary for devotees because they know many of their beliefs don’t hold up to rational scrutiny.

    I appreciate the opportunity for dialogue. Respects.

  48. Dave Frank

    Yogananda’s basic message what that there is a definite way to achieve sustainable joy and to reduce human suffering through the study, and more importantly, the practice of scientific spirituality. The path he brought (by no means the only one that is valuable) includes understanding and applying universal laws that govern human life, all-around success, and suffering; and specific ways (practices) to establish a relationship with one’s higher power, aka God, which cannot be evaluated through rigorous academic processes but is something that one can verify by the positive effects one observes in his/her life, and the tangible FEELING and experience of joy, love, happiness, increased energy flows felt in one’s body and mind, and the opening of one’s heart to clearly perceive higher realities.

    Yogananada’s religion is real in that it is not based on archaic, vauge, untestable or ludicrous belief systems (common sense is a good guide here- 73 virgins to greet you when you kill people, insert any of the loony spiritual bullshit theories/stories that we’ve been brainwashed with from birth), but on personal experience that one can measure as a result of the various spiritual practices and life principles that one sets into motion through the study of his teachings and the practice of meditation. One can never argue with religionists who cling to their various dogmas, but can can be sure of one’s own experiences of heightened joy, peace and love felt by the heart, body and mind, and the reduction of pain one feels by study and practice.

    I think it is fair to say that the reduction of reduction of personal suffering and experience of joy, peace, heightened personal energy, health, and success in one’s life endeavors and relationships seems like a potentially huge benefit to mankind, in whatever form one can achieve this.

    Your concentration on the accepted standards of intellectual inquiry, while intellectually sound, misses the point of spiritual practice. If Christ was in front of you and could tangibly feel a previously unexperienced surge of power and happiness, one would not concentrate in that moment on the fine points intellectual scrutiny.

  49. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    @Dave Frank: Sounds like you were impressed by the movie. But, you don’t explain why others should be. Perhaps, you could be more specific:

    1) What message are you referring to? Yogananda and the movie have many. Pick one or two, your favorites or most important.
    2) What right does anyone have to claim that their religion is more “real” than anybody else’s? How would anyone know someone else’s religion is false?
    3) Which huge benefit to mankind are you referring to? Specifics.
    4) Why is my, in your words, “academic” take on the movie “ridiculous”?

    If you want to be taken seriously and as credible, feel free to respond with concise and convincing specific explanations. I’ll then reconsider your claims and my position on the making of the Yogananda film.

  50. Dave Frank

    This movie is SPECTACULAR, riveting, profound, and GREAT!! A fantastic tribute to the Father of Yoga in the West , travel with the GREAT GREAT Yogananda through his life and travels as he spreads the liberating truths of REAL religion to us all. Utterly uplifting and inspiring, don’t miss this! Your academic take on this is ridiculous. Any way this type of message can be spread to the world at large is of huge benefit to mankind. Everyone should be “proselytized” with Yogananda’s message.

  51. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    @saijanai: I agree all journalism is limited to the perspectives of the source or authors. When considering how reliable a source is for information, a good rule of thumb is looking for potential conflicts of interest. SRF produced a “documentary” movie about their founder. Not wrong, but the producers did not use principled practices of journalism. For example, using PEW Research 9 Principles of Journalism, Awake’s producers did well with principle #7, but the other 8 principles are lacking.

    Principles of Journalism
    1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth
    2. Its first loyalty is to citizens
    3. Its essence is a discipline of verification
    4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover
    5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power
    6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise
    7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant
    8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional
    9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience

    Thanks for sharing your comments and opinions.

  52. saijanai

    David Lynch is making an equivalent documentary about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The trailer of the documentary about David Lynch making the documentary is found here:

    at the other extreme, you have a rather cynical film about TM called _David Wants to Fly_ which has been hailed by many people as revealing the horrible truth about TM, etc: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Wants_to_Fly

    True Believer that I am, I preferred this review to the rest: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karin-badt/david-wants-to-fly_b_845857.html

    “The other flaw of Sieveking’s documentary is the punchline of TM as a nefarious cult. While the film does make clear that the organization is mixed with money (and big money), I did not detect the specific elements that distinguish cult practices: manipulation of members, traumatic brainwashing of those who wish to leave, coercing money, etc (see, par contre, my review of The Landmark Forum). If these are issues with TM (which they may very well be, for all I know), the director should have exposed them as well.”

    All documentaries are snapshots of reality or history from the filmmaker’s perspective and none of them are going to present all the facts and just the facts. Outside of a court of law, however, facts don’t matter as much as perspective, and perspective is always personal.

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