India from a Yogi’s perspective

Hello! Recently, I read the book “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda. I found the book interesting, deeply immersive, and highly elevating. Paramahansa Yogananda was an Indian yogi and guru who introduced millions of westerners to the teachings of meditation and Kriya Yoga. Although “Autobiography of a Yogi” primarily deals with Yoga, the mysticism surrounding it and entertaining stories of numerous accomplished Yogis of India, I found a particular piece of text in the book pertaining to India’s past, her colonisation and what the future holds for her. I found it quite interesting and I have reproduced it below. “Autobiography of a Yogi” is highly recommended for those who want to explore and understand in simple language the world of “Yoga” and the powers of various Yogis who inhabit the magical land called “India”. Happy Reading!


The idea of a well-rounded civilization is not a chimerical one. For millenniums India was a land of both spiritual light and widespread material prosperity. The poverty of the last 200 years is, in India’s long history, only a passing karmic phase. A byword in the world, century after century, was “the riches of the Indies”. Abundance, material as well as spiritual, is a structural expression of rita, cosmic law or natural righteousness. There is no parsimony in the Divine, nor in its goddess of phenomena, exuberant Nature.

The records of the history present India, up until the 18th century, as the world’s wealthiest nation. Incidentally, nothing in Hindu literature or tradition tends to substantiate the current Western historical theory that the early Aryans “invaded” India from some other part of Asia or from Europe. The scholars are understandably unable to fix the starting point of this imaginary journey. The internal evidence in the Vedas, pointing to India as the immemorial home of the Hindus, has been presented in an unusual and very readable volume, Rig-Vedic India, by Abinas Chandra Das, published in 1921 by Calcutta University. Professor Das claims that emigrants from India settled in various parts of Europe and Asia, spreading the Aryan speech and folklore. The Lithuanian tongue, for example, is in many ways strikingly similar to Sanskrit. The philosopher Kant, who knew nothing of Sanskrit, was amazed at the scientific structure of the Lithuanian language. “It possesses,” he said, “the key that will open all the enigmas, not only of philology but also of history.”

The Bible refers to the riches of India, telling us (II Chronicles 9:21,10) that the “ships of Tarshish” brought to King Solomon “gold and silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks” and “algum (sandalwood) trees and precious stones.” from Ophir (Sopara on the Bombay coast). Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador (4th Century B.C) has left us a detailed picture of India’s prosperity. Pliny (1st Century A.D.) tells us that the Romans annually spent fifty million sesterces on imports from India, which was then a vast marine power.

Chinese travelers write vividly of the opulent Indian civilization, its widespread education and excellent government. The Chinese priest Fa-Hsien (5th Century) tells us the Indian people were happy, honest, and prosperous. See Samuel Beal’s Buddhist Records of the Western World (India was the western world to the Chinese!), Trubner, London, and Thomas Watters’ On Yuan Chwang’s Travels in India, A.D.629 – 45, Royal Asiatic Society.

Columbus, discovering the New World in the 15th century, was in reality seeking a shorter trade route to India. For centuries Europe was eager to possess the Indian exports – silks, fine cloths (of such sheerness as to be deserve their descriptions: “woven air” and “invisible mist”), cotton prints, brocades, embroideries, rugs, cutlery, armor, ivory and ivory work, perfumes, incense, sandalwood, potteries, medicinal drugs and unguents, indigo, rice, spices, coral, gold, silver, pearls, rubies, emeralds and diamonds.

Portuguese and Italian merchants have recorded their awe at the fabulous magnificence throughout the empire of Vijayanagar (1336 – 1565). The glory of its capital was described by the Arabian ambassador Razzak as “such that eye has not seen, nor has ear heard of, any place to equal it on earth.”

In the 16th century, for the first time in her long history, India as a whole fell under non-Hindu rule. The Turkish Baber invaded the country in 1524 and founded a dynasty of Moslem kings. By setting in the ancient land, the new monarchs did not drain it of its riches. Weakened, however, by internal dissensions, wealthy India became the prey in the 17th century of several European nations; England finally emerged as the ruling power. India peacefully attained her independence on August 15, 1947.

Like so many Indians, I have a now-it-can-be-told story. A group of young men, whom I had known in college, approached me during World War I and urged me to lead a revolutionary movement. I declined with these words: “Killing our English brothers cannot accomplish any good for India. Her freedom will not come through bullets, but through spiritual force.” I then warned my friends that the arms-laden German ships, on which they were depending, would be intercepted by the British at Diamond Harbour, Bengal. The young men, however, went ahead with their plans, which proceeded to go awry in the manner I had foreseen. My friends were released from prison after a few years. Abandoning their belief in violence, several of them joined Mahatma Gandhi’s ideal political movement. In the end they saw India’s victory in a “war” won by peaceful means.

The sad division of the land into India and Pakistan, and the short but bloody interlude that ensued in a few parts of the country, were caused by economic factors, and not essentially by religious fanaticism (a minor reason often erroneously presented as major one). Countless Hindus and Muslims, now as in the past, have lived side by side in amity. Men of both faiths, in immense numbers, became disciples of the “creedless” master Kabir (1450-1518); and to this day he has millions of followers (Kabir-panthis). Under the Moslem rule of Akbar the Great, the widest possible freedom of belief prevailed throughout India. Nor is there today any serious religious disharmony amongst 95% of the simple people. The real India, the India that could understand and follow a Mahatma Gandhi, is found not in the large restless cities but in the peaceful 700,000 villages, where simple and just forms of self-government by panchayats (local councils) have been a feature from time immemorial. The problems that beset a newly freed India today will surely be solved in time by those great men whom India has never failed to produce.

-Paramahansa Yogananda


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