Awake – The Story of Yogananda

Awake – The Story of Yogananda

Last month, I attempted to see the film Awake movieAwake – The Story of Yogananda but the show turned out to have been sold out for 2 weeks. Happily, they brought it back for a few more showings.

Yogananda was the swami who wrote the very well-read book Autobiography of a Yogi and founded the Self Realization Fellowship (SRF). He came to the US in the 1920’s and was a pioneer of eastern ideas in the west. He spoke of Realization, Yoga and a scientific approach to spirituality at a time when people got news by writing letters or reading the paper. His master was Sir Yukteswar, a very insightful jyotishi I’ve mentioned here prior.

The film tells Yogananda’s story using old photos, bit’s of old film, re-enactments, narration of his own words, and various effects. There is extensive short interviews with a wide range of people. This is not a dry documentary nor is it a film version of his Autobiography. It is freshly and thoroughly researched. They also don’t gloss over the challenges he faced and the bad press that came later.

I quite enjoyed the film although it was mostly about historical events and only lightly touched on his teaching and realization. It certainly filled in a few gaps in my own understanding of his life. There was a subtle emphasis on concentration and renunciation although Yogananda did support householders. They also dwelt a little on yogic powers, with an amusing clip with a well-known modern yoga teacher who leaned on abilities and power rather than realization. I was surprised they gave him that much screen time. As the film noted, the Yoga Yogananda was teaching was not about flat abs.

The Trailer:

More information on the film. The SRF site.

I hope more such films about pioneer Yoga teachers will get made. As the book American Veda describes, their impact on western thought and culture should not be underestimated. (the author is in the film too)

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  1. Michael Jaksch

    Thanks for the info.
    Yes he brouhgt kriya yoga to the West though he simplified it and left some parts out. It is still powerful but not AS the more original Versions.
    But no need to go into the on going kriya wars 🙂
    From monday on i will be 2 Weeks in Thailand.

    All the best to you David!

  2. Hi Michael
    Well – even introducing Yoga to the west was a big step. An introduction. Many of the successful teachers brought a simplified version and a science orientation to the west so we could relate.

    Have a great trip!

  3. Davidya, I’m so glad you wrote about this film. I meant to blog about it but found it such an intimate experience, I couldn’t readily share it, even among Blog-Buddies.

    How that documentary made me long, momentarily, for the great love story of Yogananda and his guru (although the film glossed over difficulties they had, recounted more fully in the “Autobiography of a Yogi”).

  4. Another point, Michael and David, Yogananda succeeded in elevating some of his followers to Enlightenment. And back in the day, that was quite some big deal.

    Who among us knows how many have attained Enlightenment through Yogananda’s sacred work?

    It was fascinating for me to pause at certain times during the film to read auras of some of his closest disciples… and find magnificent states of consciousness.

  5. One other thing about this movie was very special to me and I wonder if other readers (who saw this movie) noticed it as well:

    We got a good clear view of Yogananda’s guru after making his transition. First time I ever have gotten that close to a “dead” person.

    Wow, he really had no aura left.

    How beautiful, to me, that this was included.


  6. Hi Rose
    Thanks for your feedback. Yes, he was a very well respected teacher, even by his peers. And I agree – some of the “brothers” in the film were very clear.

    I’m surprised that you’ve never been with someone passing or seen their photo. Though we don’t usually keep the body around after death in the west as much. But there’s usually some sort of family death that shows up. With everything else you’ve seen, it’s curious what you haven’t. 😉

    It’s been decades since I read his Autobiography. Might be worth reading that again now…

  7. Michael Jaksch

    Thanks David!
    Your are very right. He needed to modify Kriya Yoga especially at that time. We know that he taught the unmodified version to his closest disciples. i personally like that there are different versions of it. Even Lahiri Mahasaya himself seemed to have modified it to suit it to the capabilities of his students.

    Yes Rose he really was a Master with a mission. The mix of being in his presence combined with devotion to god and Kriya Yoga was very, very powerful.

    much love to both of you!

  8. Hi Michael

    Well – I’m not sure I’d frame it that they “modified” it. Usually a tradition hands down a teaching carefully. They know from history the importance of keeping it intact.

    However, I’d certainly agree the emphasis may be modified for the time and place. It would also be normal for only the close students to get the full teaching.

    Perhaps this was your point, but I wanted to be clear on that. If you train in a lineage, the importance of this becomes very clear.

  9. Michael Jaksch

    Hi David!

    Here i have to disagree. In the kriya yoga Tradition it is very known that there are different versions, that is why there is literally a battle about “who has the most original teaching”.

    Of course there is strong attachment to the techniques. But lahiri was very strict about this and there have been a lot of changes, so much that a lot say that the original form is now lost.

    There are now some researchers that try to get it back to its more original form. And there are lineages who are closer to the original than others.

    I am in a lineage to which i was guided by lahiri who came to me. However….this is just sharing of what is going on with kriya….i am not interested in this very much…..what i have been taught works and all this “being more in love with the techniques than with god” seems to be a distraction from whats important in this path.

    Thanks for the migration to rose!

    Much love

  10. Hi Michael
    Ah, OK. I’m not familiar with this or the controversy. You made the point in your original comment. The people I know who are involved with SRF have said otherwise.

    Most traditions are well versed in the hazards of adaptation. But this takes a keen understanding of what is the core teaching and what is the form of expression. I’ve seen groups rigid in their “purity”, not distinguishing explanatory ideas from core teaching and fading from relevance. And I’ve seen core teachings adapted to their demise. It’s a fine line.

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