Shadows and light from the beam |

Shadows and light from the beam

Paramahansa Yogananda resonates on the spiritualist spectrum somewhere between Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi and George (The Beatles) Harrison.

George Harrison said, “Give me hope. Help me cope.”

Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Yogananda said, “Yoga is not about flat abs.”

OK, he didn’t say that. Whatever it all amounts to, however, Yogananda had as much to do with seeding Western culture with Eastern mind/body practices as anybody. That includes yoga. He did say things such as, “Live quietly in the moment and see the beauty of all before you. The future will take care of itself.”

Whether you’re familiar with him or not, the film “Awake: The Life of Yogananda” is an engaging exposure to a curious injection into American culture. He felt his destiny carry him to the United States. In his 20s during the 1920s, this first popular figure from India could fill a Los Angeles auditorium of 6,000. He attracted benefactors, toured the country, built a following. He was quite adept at marketing himself.

By age 35, this guru felt compelled to return to his homeland to rejuvenate with his own guru. Yogananda said that it was wonderful being with people who didn’t need coaxing to be spiritual. He also felt compelled to return to the USA to rework his organizational effect on spiritual practice.

This being a film review, it is worth noting that Yogananda compared life with the movies. He said that movies are shadows and light. He said that there is one purpose: “to get to the beam.” The film has a nice journalistic way and makes good use of vintage film clips. It rarely misses a chance to share this man’s piercing window-like gaze, set in a serene, portly body.

Yogananda’s Eastern philosophy actively embraces Jesus (a pretty accomplished guru in his own right). However you are drawn to “divine reception,” however you are drawn to finding spirituality in the busy, busy, busyness of living life, consider seeing “Awake: The Life of Yoganada.” It’s a good biographical textbook-on-film about a fairly influential niche figure in history.

“Awake: The Life of Yogananda” plays at 10 a.m. (note the untypical time), Saturday, at the Del Oro in Grass Valley.

Chuck Jaffee of Nevada City likes to plug people into the spirit of independent filmmakers. Find his other articles for The Union at

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