The Essence of Self-Realization: The Wisdom of Paramhansa Yogananda, recorded and compiled by his disciple, Swami Kriyananda

The story behind The Essence of Self-Realization is as much an expression of Paramhansa Yogananda’s teachings as the Master’s actual sayings, lovingly recorded and compiled by his disciple, Swami Kriyananda.

The year was 1990. Kriyananda was working on the collection of quotations by Yogananda that became the book. The book itself was particularly central to Kriyananda’s sense of discipleship, to fulfilling the service with which his Guru had entrusted him. Again and again, in his years with Yogananda, the Master had urged Kriyananda to write down the words he had just spoken — to keep a record of his words, not only for those with him at the time, but for the upliftment of future generations of devotees. Now, in the same month of Kriyananda’s beginning work on Essence,  a letter came threatening a lawsuit that conceivably could block publication of the book.

Seeing obstacles as blessings

Kriyananda’s response? To redouble his efforts on the book. He saw the possibility of a lawsuit not as God trying to stop his work for Yogananda, but as just the sort of obstacle God might throw in the way of any sincere devotee embarking on an important spiritual undertaking. As he put it in one talk, such obstacles should be taken as a blessing — as God’s way not only of ensuring the devotee’s sincerity but also of helping him sharpen the blade of his discrimination, to become perfectly clear in his spiritual intention, and to raise his energy to the level called for by the struggle involved.

However, there was another dimension to the spiritual challenge Kriyananda faced. How was he to share the Master’s exact words after so many years? Kriyananda was putting the book together in 1990, and Yogananda had passed away in 1952.

The Master had given his young disciple a grace — to remember precisely his words, even many years after. Kriyananda first realized this blessing during his years with his Guru. Kriyananda knew no shorthand, and he found that his handwriting could not begin to keep pace with the flow of Yogananda’s inspiration. And yet he discovered that he could later recall the Guru’s exact words. He could hear Yogananda speaking the words in his mind, and he would then commit them to paper.

The practice of attunement

Even the recorded sayings were not always the end of Kriyananda’s practice of attunement. If Yogananda’s words, as recalled, seemed somehow incomplete, Kriyananda would hold up inwardly his remembered experience of his Guru speaking, and would listen for other words, other actions that would corroborate, strengthen and complete the essential meaning.

In his introduction to The Essence of Self-Realization, Kriyananda prepares the reader for the power and depth of Yogananda’s words: “Even today, the memory of his words and of his voice rings clearly in my mind, rich with wisdom, divine love, and the fullness of spiritual power — frequently combined with a delightful sense of humor. His conversations were sprinkled with anecdotes; they sparkled with metaphors, and contained the deepest insight into all levels of reality, human and divine, that I have ever had the great blessing to encounter.”

The sayings in the book are chosen for their relevance to the central theme: Self-realization. This is a book for the sincere spiritual seeker — a book to meditate on over a lifetime on the path, to return to again and again as the seeker’s spiritual journey brings changing challenges, developing understanding, and awakening intuition.

The subjects of the book’s twenty chapters address the stages of every devotee’s spiritual journey. A few examples:

  • The Folly of Materialism
  • The True Purpose of Life
  • The Dream Nature of the Universe
  • One God, One Religion
  • The Law of Life
  • Sin Is Ignorance
  • Working Out Karma
  • Grace vs. Self-Effort
  • The Need for a Guru
  • Ways in Which God Can Be Worshiped
  • How to Pray Effectively
  • Self-Realization

The Master’s wise and compassionate guidance accompanies the reader and lights his way. He finds himself no longer alone in his search, but supported and blessed by one who has gone before and so knows the pitfalls and the joys of the journey.

A sampling of the book
To give just a small sampling of the wonders of the book, I have selected one excerpt from “The Folly of Materialism” (where for most of us the spiritual awakening begins) and one from “Self-Realization” (the true goal of all spiritual effort).

“The soul cannot find its lost happiness in material things for the simple reason that the comfort they offer is counterfeit. Having lost contact with the divine bliss within, man hopes to satisfy his need for it in the pseudo-pleasures of the senses. On deeper levels of his being, however, he remains aware of his former, supernal state in God. True satisfaction eludes him, for what he seeks, while rushing restlessly from one sense pleasure to another, is his lost happiness in the Lord.

Ah, blindness! How long must you continue before, suffering from satiety, boredom, and disgust, you seek joy within, where alone it can be found? (“The Folly of Materialism”)

When will you find god? When all your desires for other things are finished. When you realize that the only thing worth having is Him. When every thought, every feeling is drenched with the love of God.” (Self-Realization”)

May we all, as we read these sacred word, hear the Master’s voice speaking to us directly, within our own consciousness.

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