Changes to Autobiography of a Yogi Alter Vibration and Meaning
Autobiography of a Yogi is the centerpiece of Yogananda’s spiritual legacy. Swami Kriyananda aptly describes it as “almost alive in its power to convey, not merely ideas, but new states of awareness.” Yogananda said simply, “That’s because it has my vibrations in it.” (The Path) Many devotees count the first day of their spiritual journey as the day they began to read the Autobiography.
First published in 1946, it is now in its thirteenth edition. In all these fifty-five years, SRF has never stopped editing the book. They have made changes in the text and have added photographs, captions, end pages, footnotes, and publishers’ notes.
SRF offers two explanations for all they’ve done to the Autobiography. One is that they have to keep the book up-to-date. The second is that all the changes they have made “reflect our Guru’s stated intentions.” (November 1995 letter)
“That he requested more than a handful of these changes is a myth,” Swami Kriyananda states. “SRF has effective control over his material, and can make changes in it with impunity, with the claim that he authorized them. I was there at the time myself, however, and was actively involved in editorial activities. I know that the greater part of those changes were not authorized by Master.”
There is a pattern to SRF’s editing, easy to discern: to imbue the book with a sense of institutional authority—delightfully absent from the first edition. There is a 500% increase in the number of times SRF is mentioned between the first and the thirteenth edition. An increase of this magnitude changes the vibration of the whole book.
Only recently has the first edition become widely available again—ironically, because of SRF’s lawsuit against Ananda. You can even get it online. Now it’s easy to compare and decide for yourself whether you think Yogananda actually requested all the changes you’ll see.
Here are a few examples. Page numbers are for the Crystal Clarity reprint of the first edition, copyright 1946, and for the paperback SRF twelfth edition, copyright 1993.
Babaji and Lahiri in the Himalayas
“‘Be it so. The divine wish has been expressed through you.’ With these simple words, the merciful guru banished the rigorous safeguards that for ages had hidden Kriya from the world. Give Kriya freely to all who humbly ask for help.” (1st edition, p. 307)
In the first edition, Babaji, “banished the rigorous safeguards” that kept Kriya hidden, and tells Lahiri to give it “freely” to all who ask. By the twelfth edition, due to SRF editing, Babaji does not banish any rigorous safeguards, and Lahiri can give Kriya, but not freely. Thirty-two lines of Publisher’s Note explain the stages the transmittal of Kriya has gone through since Lahiri received it from Babaji. (lst, p. 307; 12th, p. 367)
Yogananda Explaining Kriya
“Because of certain ancient yogic injunctions, I cannot give a full explanation of Kriya Yoga in the pages of a book intended for the general public. The actual technique must be learned from a Kriyaban or Kriya Yogi; here a broad reference must suffice.” (lst edition, p. 231)
In the first edition, Yogananda says simply, Kriya must be learned from a Kriyaban or Kriya Yogi. No institution is mentioned; disciples of all our gurus qualify. Yogananda’s words beautifully match Babaji’s statement that Kriya should be given freely. By the twelfth edition, SRF editing has Yogananda saying that the Kriyabans have to be “authorized” and from SRF or YSS. (lst, p. 231; 12th, p. 275)
Devotees in the World
“A true yogi may remain dutifully in the world; there he is like butter on water, and not like the easily-diluted milk of unchurned and undisciplined humanity. To fulfill one’s earthly responsibilities is indeed the higher path, provided the yogi, maintaining a mental uninvolvement with egotistical desires, plays his part as a willing instrument of God.” (1st edition, p. 222)
Householder devotees receive profound support from Paramhansa Yogananda in the first edition. He declares simply that the householder path is the “higher path.” By the twelfth edition, householders are not denied their chance at God-realization, but they no longer hold the honored position Yogananda gave them. (1st, p. 222; 12th, p. 263)
Communities for Householders
“… a project I have long considered is beginning to take definite form. In these beautiful surroundings [Encinitas] I have started a miniature world colony… A small harmonious group here may inspire other ideal communities over the earth… Far into the night my dear friend—[Dr. Lewis] the first Kriya Yogi in America—discussed with me the need for world colonies founded on a spiritual basis…. By stress on spiritual values, self-realization, a colony exemplifying world brotherhood is empowered to send inspiring vibrations far beyond its locale.” (1st, p. 469)
“A (SRF) World Brotherhood Colony in Encinitas, envisioned in 1937 and firmly established by 1947, serves as a model for several smaller SRF colonies. An urgent need on this war-torn earth is the founding, on a spiritual basis, of numerous world-brotherhood colonies. (3rd edition, 1951, p. 480, hardback)
Yogananda ends the first edition of the Autobiography with a discussion of the colony he is starting at Encinitas, as a model for others “over the earth.” He talks “far into the night” about the need for such colonies. By the 1951 edition, Yogananda declares the Encinitas colony “firmly established” and is serving as a model for other SRF colonies. He also speaks of the “urgent need” for founding more such colonies. By the twelfth edition, SRF edited out all references to world brotherhood colonies. All reference to colonies was also removed from Yogananda’s Aims and Ideals. (1st, p. 467-469; 12th, no reference)
References to SRF
This is a comparison of how many times the organization Self-Realization Fellowship is referred to in various editions of Autobiography of a Yogi. Initials and derivatives were included in the count: SRF, the Fellowship, and Self-Realization when it was used to refer to an SRF entity, like a Self-Realization Church. Cover and opening pages were counted, also footnotes and publisher’s notes. But the index, table of contents, and list of illustrations were not included.
These counts were done carefully, but by human beings, not by machines. A recount might reveal some small percentage of error, but the basic picture will not change. Three editions of Autobiography of a Yogi were counted, identified by their copyright dates.
There is a seven page section at the end of each edition primarily about the growth of SRF. This count includes those seven pages:
1946: 25 times
1951: 82 times
1998: 128 times
This count does not include the seven page section describing SRF:
1946: 16 times
1951: 28 times
1998: 110 times
You should know, SRF challenges the accuracy of these numbers. In a letter dated November 1995, they claim that from the first to the twelfth edition (the thirteenth wasn’t out yet) “one will find approximately 50—not 100—additional references to SRF.” They do not say what has been included in their count, so we can’t make a side-by-side comparison. Suffice it to say that this is what happens when we count it.