Study of my own life's discoveries works to realize the efficacy of Socrates' famous quotation, "The unexamined life is not worth living."
Introduction: Realizing the Soul
I follow the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, who in 1920 founded Self-Realization Fellowship, because those teachings make sense to me. Paramahansa Yogananda teaches that we are immortal souls, already connected to the Divine Reality, but we have to "realize" that divine connection. Knowing the Great Spirit (God) is not dependent upon merely claiming to believe in a divine personage, or even merely following the precepts of a religion such as the Ten Commandments.
Knowing the Creator is dependent upon "realizing" that the soul is united with that Creator. To achieve that realization we have to develop our physical, mental, and spiritual bodies through exercise, scientific techniques, and meditation. There are many good theorists who can help us understand why proper behavior is important for our lives and society, but Paramahansa Yogananda’s teachings offer definite, scientific techniques that we practice in order to realize our oneness with the Divine Power or God. It makes sense to me that my salvation should be primarily my own responsibility.
No Religious Tradition
I did not grow up with a religious tradition. My mother was a Baptist, who claimed that at one time she felt she was saved, but then she backslid. I learned some hymns from my mother. But she never connected behavior with religion. My father was forced to attend church when he was young, and he complained that his church clothes were uncomfortable as was sitting on the hard pews.
My father disbelieved in the miracles of Jesus, and he poked fun at people who claimed to have seen Jesus "in the bean rows." My mother would not have doubted that a person might see Jesus, because she saw her father after he had died. My mother characterized my father as agnostic, and she lived like an agnostic, but deep down I think she was a believer after the Baptist faith.
Here’s a little story that demonstrates how ignorant about religion I was as a child: When I was in first or second grade, I had a friend named Caroline. At recess one day at the swings, Caroline wanted to confide something to me, and she wanted me to keep it secret. She said I probably wouldn't believe it, but she still wanted to tell me. I encouraged her to tell me; it seemed exciting to be getting some kind of secret information. So she whispered in my ear, "I am a Quaker."
I had no idea what that was. I thought she was saying she was magic like a fairy or an elf or something. So I said, "Well, do something to prove it." It was Caroline's turn to be confused then. She just looked very solemn. So I asked her to do something else to prove it. I can't remember the rest of this, but the point is that I was so ignorant about religion.
The Void in My Life and My First Trauma
Looking back on my life as a child, teenager, young adult, and adult up to the age of 32, I realize that the lack of a religious tradition left a great void in my life. Although my father was on the fence regarding religion, he would listen to Billy Graham preach on TV. I hated it whenever Billy Graham was preaching on TV. His message scared me. Something like the way I felt when my father's mother would come and visit us, and when my father would let out a "Goddam" or other such swear word, she would say he was going to hell for talking that way. I was afraid for my father. And Billy Graham made me afraid for myself and all of us because we did not attend church.
I never believed that things like swearing and masturbation could send a soul to hell. But then back then I had no concept of "soul" or "hell." I believed it was wrong to kill, steal, and to lie. But I'm not sure how these proscripts were taught to me. I guess by example. It seems that I had no real need for God and spirituality until I was around thirty years old.
My life went fairly smoothly except for two major traumas before age thirty. The first trauma was experiencing a broken heart at age eighteen and then undergoing a failed marriage, after which I thought I would never find a mate to love me. But I did meet a wonderful soulmate when I was 27.
Heretofore I had thought finding the proper marriage partner would solve all my problems, but I learned that my difficulties were very personal and at the level where we are all totally alone, despite any outward relationships.
The Second Trauma
A second trauma that added to my confusion was being fired twice from the same job at ages 22 and 27. At age 27 things started to make no sense. And it started to bother me intensely that things made no sense. I had always been a good student in grade school and high school, and I was fairly good in college, graduating from Miami University with a 3.0 average. That grade point average bothered me, because I thought I was better than that.
But then not being able to keep my teaching job and not being able to find another one after I had lost it very much confused me. It seemed that I had lost touch with the world. School had been my world, and my teachers and professors had expected great things from me. But there I was at age 27 and couldn't get connected to school again.
Feminism and Zen
I began reading feminist literature starting with Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, continuing with Ms. Magazine, and many others. The result of taking in the feminist creed led me to believe that I had someone to blame for my failure—men; men had caused the world to be arranged so that women cannot succeed outside the home. I began writing again, an endeavor I have sporadically engaged in most of my life from about age sixteen.
I decided to apply for a graduate assistantship in English at Ball State University, feeling that I was ready to get out in the man’s world and show it what a woman could do. I felt confident that I could succeed now that I knew what the problem was. But that didn’t work out either. I finished the year without a master’s degree in English, and then there I was, confused again, and still searching for something that made sense.
I had heard about the Eastern philosophy known as "Zen" at Ball State, and I started reading a lot about that philosophy. Zen helped me realize that men were not the problem, attitude was. I kept on writing, accumulating many poems, some of which I still admire. And I kept reading Zen, especially Alan Watts, but after a while the same ideas just kept reappearing with no real resolution, that is, even though the Zen philosophy did help me understand the world better, it was not really enough. I got the sense that only I could control my life, but just how to control it was still pretty much a mystery.
Autobiography of a Yogi
Then in late 1977 on one of our book shopping trips, I spied a book, Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, and I recommended it to my husband, because he liked biographies. I purchased poetry books, and we purchased the autobiography for him. He did not get around to reading it right away, but I did, and I was totally amazed at what I read. It all made sense to me; it was such a scholarly book, clear and compelling. There was not one claim made in the entire 500 plus pages that made me scratch me hand and say "what?" or even feel an uncertainty that this writer knew exactly whereof he spoke.
Paramahansa Yogananda was speaking directly to me, at my level, where I was in my life, and he was connecting with my mind in a way that no writer had ever done. For example, the book offers copious notes, references, and scientific evidence that academics will recognize as thorough research. This period of time was before I had written a PhD dissertation, but all of my years of schooling had taught me that making claims and backing them up with explanation, analysis, evidence, and authoritative sources were necessary for competent, persuasive, and legitimate exposition.
Paramahansa Yogananda's autobiography contained all that could appeal to an academic and much more because of the topic he was addressing. As the great spiritual leader recounted his own journey to self-realization, he was able to elucidate the meanings of ancient texts whose ideas have remained misunderstood for many decades and even centuries.
The book contained a postcard that invited the reader to send for lessons that teach the techniques for becoming self-realized. I sent for them, studied them, and I have been practicing them since 1978. They do, indeed, hold the answer to every human problem.
I know it is difficult for most educated people to believe that all human problems can be solved, but that’s because they get stuck in the thought that they cannot. If you believe that you can never really know something, then you can’t, because if you believe that you can never really know something, you won’t try to know it.
Yogananda gives a map with directions to reaching God, and realizing that one’s soul is united with God brings about the end of all sorrow and the beginning of all joy. Just knowing the precepts intellectually does not cause this realization, but it goes a long way toward eliminating much suffering. The faith that we can overcome all suffering is a great comfort, even if we are not there yet. I realize that God is knowable, but most important is that I know now that I am the only one who can realize for myself the connection my soul already has to God—and that is the spiritual journey I am on.
Autobiography of a Yogi
© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes