As a voracious reader, when the library that I frequent had shut down for the second time due to local Covid 19 outbreaks, it forced me to review some oldies on my own book shelves. My previous posts on self-realization etc., reminded me that one of my earliest experiences with that subject had to be when I read Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. Loved that book—still do. His quiet, unpretentious personality gently flows from the pages long after his death in 1952.
It’s a very different ‘feel’ from reading Jiddu Krisnamurti or Ramana Maharshi or Swami Muktananda, or even Anandamayi Ma. The subtle energy emitted from reading the words of Yogananda were both soothing and reassuring to me. The book inspired me to further explorations into the yogic traditions of those previously-mentioned others above.
Through his gentle words recounting his simple and yet miraculous life, he introduced me to his personal journey of self-discovery and his own quest for life’s true meaning.
I can’t say that I understood everything about the Hindu culture or focus, or that I could even begin to comprehend the extreme sacrifice that many personally made to achieve those unbelievable levels of higher consciousness, but I did know that I wanted to learn more about their experiences and HOW they reached those amazing heights of cosmic union and spiritual ecstasy.
This recent remembrance of Yogananda’s early influence led me to the book I’m reviewing at present, which I also enjoyed immensely at the time because it explained a bit of the ‘yogic mystique’ that I had failed to grasp in the other reads—primarily because it was told by a Westerner who was also a practicing psychotherapist teaching at Kripalu Yoga Institute in Massachusetts. I highly recommend this book: The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker’s Guide to Extraordinary Living by Stephen Cope.
From Cope’s book I realized that there are other forms of yoga besides ‘hatha’—the physical body focus on stretching poses. What appealed more so to me was Rāja yoga—or Royal Road of Yoga—the exploration of ‘consciousness’ itself. Cope explores the metaphoric, symbolic, and literal embodiments of Patanjali’s ‘Yoga Sutras’ as he slowly narrates his own quest for better understanding them. Here are a few early quotes:
“…Patanjali views every aspect of living as an opportunity for practicing WISDOM. He is concerned with how we think and act, how we breathe, move, sleep, dream, and speak. Every aspect of our motivation, cognition, and behavior is of interest to Patanjali. …”
“….a little bit of study reveals a stunningly clear exposition of the structure of human consciousness, and the path of optimal living.” (xvi-xxviii)
“…Wisdom is a knowledge or understanding that we gain as a result of having seen or perceived the world directly. It is understanding gained through careful examination of direct experiences. Above all, WISDOM is a practical knowledge about how things work—how LIFE works.”
“…All wisdom traditions insist upon a healthy mistrust of other people’s answers—or even the revealed experiences of others. Yoga, at its truest, insists upon not giving us answers but ‘a way’ to find our own answers. …”(xxxi)
“…Shiva (the Transformer) is an embodiment of the central discovery of the Strivers; the world is NOT as it appears to be. Hidden beneath the veil of our ordinary lives lie astonishing potentials of mind and body. … (xxxiii)
Anyway, I could go on and on but my main point is that I highly recommend Stephen Cope’s book for his amazing narrative skills on how he LIVED the Yoga Sutras explanations; and how as a practicing psychotherapist he saw the examples playing out all around him while he reached for a greater understanding of YOGA itself.