An Explanation For Why We Humans Suffer, from “Autobiography of a Yogi”

I am reading a worldwide bestselling book, Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda, the beloved guru who came to America in the 1930s to establish the Self Realization Fellowship (as in the Realization that we are made of light); and to show that the universal threads of the teachings of the great masters of the Eastern world are one with the non-manipulated teachings of the extraordinary master of the Western world, Jesus Christ.I first read the book when I was 23. I was astonished, on the one hand, by the stories of the Indian swamis, saints and gurus who, among other things, appeared in two places at one time, levitated, and manifested objects from ‘thin air;’ on the other hand, I was struck by the rigorous discipline and profound devotion to God that was prevalent in India. (Attendance at our American weekend church services is mere fellowship in comparison.) Reading the book again in later years I thought, “Is there any human who loves God more than Paramahansa Yogananda?”

I have long struggled with accepting that all the suffering in the world is an aspect of God’s teaching plan; and with the idea that Mother Nature (who, at the very least, provides us all with our sustenance) is an illusion. Every time I stand in awe of a sunset, make friends with a critter, or hug a tree, I am blessed. I want to share a passage from the book here because it is the best explanation of what is real and what is not that I’ve ever seen:

Excerpted from Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda, paperback, pages 319-321:

“One day I entered a cinema house to view a newsreel of the European battlefields. The First World War was still being waged in the West; the newsreel presented the carnage with such realism that I left the theater with a troubled heart.

“Lord,” I prayed, “why dost thou permit such suffering?”

To my intense surprise, an instant answer came . . . “Look intently!” A gentle Voice spoke to my inner consciousness. “You will see that these scenes now being enacted in France are nothing but a play of chiaroscuro. They are the cosmic motion picture, as real and as unreal as the theater newsreel you have just seen —a play within a play.”

My heart was still not comforted. The Divine Voice went on: “Creation is light and shadow both, else no picture is possible. The good and evil of maya must ever alternate in supremacy. If joy were ceaseless in this world, would man ever desire another? Without suffering, he scarcely cares to recall that he has forsaken his eternal home. Pain is a prod to remembrance. The way of escape is through wisdom. The tragedy of death is unreal: those who shudder at it are like an ignorant actor who dies of fright on the stage when nothing more has been fired at him than a blank cartridge. My sons are children of light; they will not sleep forever in delusion.”

Although I had read scriptural accounts of maya, they had not given me the deep
insight that came with personal visions and with the accompanying words of consolation. One’s values are profoundly changed when he is finally convinced that creation is only a vast motion picture; and that not in it, but beyond it, lies his own reality.” End quoted paragraphs.

P.Y. then shares an experience of seeing his body as particles of light he calls “lifetrons,” projected by “the cosmic motion-picture mechanism. . . As the illusion of a solid body was completely dissipated, and as my realization deepened that the essence of all objects is light, I looked up at the throbbing stream of lifetrons and spoke entreatingly.” He asks to be drawn up to heaven and adds the light instantly disappeared and, in his endearing way, that, “My time to leave this earth had apparently not arrived.”

My understanding, at this point anyway, is that Love and things of beauty are expressions of the light. War, poverty, disease, cruelty, abuse, famine, drought, etc., are shadows of the light–the painful ways in which we humans must learn.

2 thoughts on “An Explanation For Why We Humans Suffer, from “Autobiography of a Yogi”

  1. Great post. Something inspiring for me on this Sunday morning. Thank You. !!!

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