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This Book that Started it All!

August 15, 2018

This Book that Started it All!

Frequent visitors of our website may have noticed that “Heart Thoughts” and the “Reader's Blog” have disappeared – and are now replaced with a single blog, “The Journal.” My name is Ethan, and I am one of the editors. “The Journal” will still have all of the inspiring content we have brought before, including crystal thoughts, reader’s blogs, and inspiration for your daily life.  

Given that we are now re-envisioning our blog, I thought it would be appropriate to recall the roots and history of East West Bookshop, and being a bookshop, we can trace our roots back to a single book: Paramhansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi (AY).  Hailed by many as one of the most important spiritual books of the 20th century, it has also been found on the bookshelves of many celebrities, billionaires, academic critics, and spiritual leaders. Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, had a copy of this book given to everyone who attended his funeral. But the AY is more than just a famous book – it is the seed from which sprouted many spiritual trees, and it is from one of these trees that East West Bookshop was born.

In the late 1940s, Swami Kriyananda (then Donald Walters) read the AY and immediately set off to become a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda. In his own words, Swami Kriyananda wrote, “Autobiography of a Yogi remains the greatest book I have ever read. One perusal of it was enough to change my whole life. From that time on, my break with the past was complete. I resolved in the smallest detail to follow Paramhansa Yogananda’s teaching” (Kriyananda, “The New Path” 147). Kriyananda’s reaction, while miraculous and profound, was not unique. His enthusiasm for the book and its teaching was shared by thousands of readers. It was this spiritual magnetism that lead to the success of Paramhansa Yogananda’s organization, Self Realization Fellowship, and later, this same energy lead Swami Kriyananda to found his own organization, Ananda.

Ananda is a spiritual community that follows the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, and it is here that roots of East West begin to truly grow.  Paramhansa Yogananda’s mission was to unite the East’s spiritual efficiency with the West’s material efficiency.  The great Himalayan master, Babaji, said to Yogananda’s guru Swami Sri Yukteswar, “‘East and West must establish a golden, middle path of activity and spirituality combined… India has much to learn from the West in material development; in return, India can teach the universal methods by which the West will be able to base its religious beliefs on the unshakable foundations of yogic science’” (Yogananada, “Autobiography” 326). In 1989, three members of Ananda in Seattle founded East West Bookshop in order to work together in the same mission set forth by Babaji and Paramhansa Yogananda – to share the spiritual wisdom of the East and West to all with the desire to learn.

In the AY itself, Yogananda tells the story of his childhood and his early search for Self-realization and enlightenment. He details his personal meetings with various saints and spiritual figures and tells how he was able to expand his consciousness through meditation. He includes many accounts of his own personal contact with the Divine, and to some, including Yogananda's disciples, the events of the book can seem too miraculous or farfetched to be true. On this point, Swami Kriyananda writes, “Miracles abound in this book. Many of them, I confess, were quite beyond my powers of acceptance at the time. Instead of dismissing them, however, as I would certainly have done had I read about them in almost any other book, I suspended my incredulity. For the spirit of this story was so deeply honest, so transparently innocent of pride or impure motive that it was impossible for me to doubt that its author believed implicitly every word he wrote” (Kriyananda, 147). In order to get the full value of this book, it is this attitude of openness that is required of readers.

But to all readers, skeptics included, the AY offers an inspiring promise underneath the fantastic tales of miracles and saints – the promise that anyone, no matter their past, can achieve Self-Realization in this lifetime.  In Yogananda’s book, How You Can Talk With God, he writes, “Talking with God is a definite fact.  And all of you, also, may communicate with Him; not a one-sided conversation, but a real talk wherein you speakto God and He responds” (Yogananda, “Talk With God” 7). This statement, direct and profound, is demonstrated throughout the entire AY, and reiterated with different words.  In the chapter in which Yogananda explains Kriya Yoga, he says, “Aum is the Creative Word, the sound of the Vibratory Motor. Even the yoga-beginner soon inwardly hears the wondrous sound of Aum” (233).  For truth seekers everywhere, and perhaps even to those who are ambivalent towards the idea of a higher truth, there can be nothing more exciting than the prospect of hearing, seeing, and feeling the Divine. The possibility of inner communion with the Divine is what Yogananda wanted to share with the western world, and is what guides and inspires us at East West.

Ethan Barker
East West Bookshop


All of the texts cited are available at East West Bookshop. 

Kriyananda, Swami. The New Path. Crystal Clarity Publishers: Nevada City, 2009.

Yogananda, Paramhansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. 1946. Crystal Clarity Publishers: Nevada City, 2011.

---. How You Can Talk with God.  1957. Self-Realization Fellowship: Los Angeles, 2016.

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