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An Immersive exploration of the iconic “Autobiography of a Yogi”

Course content:
We will read, ponder, and discuss Autobiography of a Yogi from start to finish, covering approximately fifty pages in each session. We will examine deeply the specific events depicted in the book in their historical, cultural, spiritual, and thematic context. The first 27 years of Yogananda’s life unfolded mainly in Bengal at an important moment in Indian history; he spent virtually all of the next 32 years in America (with the notable exception of one year in his homeland), spanning the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and World War II. His classic autobiography was published in December, 1946. Themes to be examined include: Yogananda’s descriptions of core Hindu teachings; his skillful adaptation of Hindu dharma to modern American culture and values; his attempts to balance innovation and tradition; the nuances of the guru-disciple relationship (Yogananda was both a devoted chela and a guru to many); the racism and bigotry he encountered as a public-facing Hindu in America; Yogananda as an example of a renunciate in the world, and of someone deeply committed to his dharma; how to understand the miraculous feats of yogic mind power his book famously depicts.
Importantly, the course will also emphasize what Yogananda left out. As the author of the groundbreaking biography The Life of Yogananda, Philip Goldberg will fill in the many gaps, bringing to light facts about the writing of the book and its publication, plus important details about Yogananda’s complex and fascinating life that are not mentioned in Autobiography of a Yogi—or, in many instances, anywhere else. Yogananda’s book is as relevant today as it was 75 years ago. The life it depicts is unique in many ways, but it is also a model for all who strive for spiritual advancement amidst the challenges of worldly life.

Course Learning Objectives:
In this course students will be able to:
a) Explore deeply the seminal book that has launched millions of spiritual quests and illuminated millions of lives throughout the world.
b) Examine core principles and practices of Hindu Dharma through the work of the most influential guru to come to the West.
c) Better understand the challenge of adapting Dharmic teachings to Western culture, values, and beliefs in the scientific era.
d) Evaluate Yogananda’s contribution to the meeting of East and West, spirituality and science, ancient and modern.
e) Better understand how yogic principles and practices can enhance everyday life in the modern world.
f) Internalize key lessons from Yogananda’s life to uplift our own.

Class Structure
There will be ten lessons of 90 minutes each. The class will be structured in a way that promotes discussion, with an initial overview and orientation followed by a facilitated conversation. At the end of the course, students will be asked to submit a short essay based on self-reflection on their most important takeaways from the course.

Area of Study: Yoga Studies

Prerequisites: None

Required / Elective: Elective

Faculty/InstructorDr. Philip Goldberg

Start Date: January 18, 2022

End Date: March 22, 2022

Day: Every Tuesday

Time: 08:30 pm EST – 10:00 pm EST

Quarter Offered:  Winter 2022

How Hindu Dharma Transformed America

Course content:

In rigorously exploring the history and influence of Hindu Dharma, the course will be organized mainly around the key disseminators who forged a vital connection between the ancient rishis and the modern West. First among those Vedic transmitters were the swamis, gurus, and yogacharyas who brought their gifts to the West, from the earliest (Swami Vivekananda and Paramahansa Yogananda) to those who established a foothold in the 1960s and 70s (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Srila Prabhupada, Swami Muktananda, and others) to those teaching today (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Mata Amritanandamayi, Sadhguru, etc.) – as well as luminaries who strongly impacted America without ever coming here (Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, and others). We’ll examine both the diversity and commonalities of teachings that penetrated America’s spiritual soil, and show how the core principles were skillfully adapted to the language, values, and communication methods of the new cultural context—and the tradeoffs that were made in the process. The obstacles the ambassadors from India had to overcome—racism, religious bigotry, colonial assumptions, finances, etc.—will be discussed as well. Also covered will be the prominent Westerners who imbibed Vedic wisdom through gurus and/or texts, integrated what they learned into their personal lives and their areas of expertise, and ultimately disseminated what they valued most to vast numbers of people. This second-hand transmission was sometimes explicit and properly attributed, and at other times altered so much (in style if not substance) that the original source was either vague or entirely obscured. In that context, we’ll examine the contribution of philosophers and public intellectuals (from Emerson to Aldous Huxley to contemporary scholars); psychologists (William James, Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow); scientists (Nikola Tesla, Erwin Schrodinger); and artists, including novelists (Herman Hesse, J.D. Salinger), poets (W.B. Yeats, Allen Ginsberg), filmmakers (George Lucas), and musicians (the Beatles especially).  The course will also describe how Hindu Dharma has influenced certain Christian and Jewish leaders, leading to significant shifts in religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. The course will conclude with a look at the future in light of recent phenomena such as the medical embrace of hatha yoga and meditation and the assimilation of Hindu citizens of Indian descent since 1965.

Course Learning Objectives:

In this course students will be able to:

  1. Understand the profound impact of Hindu Dharma on American institutions, culture, and spirituality.
  2. Appreciate the remarkable achievements made by gurus, swamis, and yogacharyas in the face of challenges, obstacles, and resistance.
  3. Identify and evaluate the subtle (sometimes hidden) ways that Vedic principles changed American psychology, medicine, the arts, and religion.
  4. Distinguish between skillful adaptation and misappropriation in the Western embrace of Hindu Dharma.
  5. Discover the enormous breadth, variety, and depth of the Dharmic teachings that came to America.
  6. Learn about American history from different angles.
  7. Contemplate the future of Hinduism in America and how to safeguard the integrity of the ongoing adaptation to Western culture.

Class Structure

The class will meet once a week for up to 90 minutes. The teacher’s presentation, with the help of audio and video recordings, will last approximately 60 minutes. The remaining time will be devoted to questions and open discussion. There will be 10 such sessions followed by an additional session devoted to the presentation and discussion of student’s reflections regarding what they learned from the course and how they expect it will influence their lives.

Required/Elective: Elective

Area of Study: History & Methods

Prerequisites: None

Faculty/InstructorPhilip Goldberg

Start Date: October 12, 2021

End Date: December 21, 2021

Day: Every Tuesday

Time: 08:30 pm EST – 10:00 pm EST

Quarter Offered: Fall 2021