In Steve Jobs' bio, it said he read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda every year. So I figured there must be something to it. (I had also heard of the book several times from other yogis and figured I would give it a try.)
The book was slow to start (and sometimes included way too much detail), and I had trouble getting used to the writing style for a while. I also didn't really understand the overall point or trajectory of the work. Then, part of the way through, I began to enjoy it, and I noticed more and more pearls of wisdom on the pages.
The book is about religion, but it's also not about religion. It's about faith and spirituality and the common one-ness uniting everyone, and I like those ideas. (The book is not about doing yoga sports exercises. It's about meditation and mind control, some of the most difficult and rewarding activities a human can apparently engage in.) The book featured many accounts of supernatural episodes (visions, reincarnations, levitation, and teleportation); those didn't sit well with me, but I will tolerate it as there's enough good elements in the book ignoring the supernatural events.
After reading the book, I'm wondering what parts of it appealed most to Jobs. Meditation? Spirituality?
Below are my notes. I apologize for butchering the spellings of many of the people and places mentioned in the book; I was listening to the audio version (which again unfortunately but understandably featured a reader with an English accent).
Ch. 1: My parents and early life
Ch. 19: My master
Ch. 21: We visit Kashmir
Ch. 42: Last days with my guru
Ch. 43: Resurrection of Sri Yukteswar
Ch. 46: The woman who never eats
A friend of mine recommended to me The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, which recently won the Man Booker Prize. The book explores the question of religious (Jewish) identity in modern times through one man's daily life experiences. The book features both Jews and non-Jews, and the different levels of religious observance (or anti-observance, including self-hatred) tell the story of how different people viewed religious identity differently. I found it remarkable how various non-Jews in the book, like the main character, did more to be Jewish (and wanted to become Jewish), while the Jews behaved in the opposite manner. The book raised many questions, like the meaning of religion and its differences from culture and family (style and tradition).
Overall, the book started very slowly and was quite a long read. It takes place in England, and the audio version featured a reader with an English accent. While this was "authentic," it was painfully difficult to understand (at double or triple speed like I like to listen to audio books); it took me about half the book to get up to triple speed with good comprehension. (Audio books should be offered with multiple speakers to choose from!)
I found the book mostly depressing and sad (this was also the main character's recurring personality), with many themes related to mourning and death and little in the way of humor or comedy. I guess it's not my preferred genre, but after making it through to the end, I do realize why the book won its prize, and the central questions of religious identity and cultural tolerance the book raises are important for everyone to consider. I did enjoy the actual language and literary style as there were many plays on words and cool language tricks that I appreciated.
My notes on the book are below; I'm sure I must have messed up some chapter numbering (and name spelling) at some point, but I hopefully captured the main elements of the plot and my most important takeaways.
The high holydays this year have passed, and it was a time of deep introspection and re-thinking of life for me and my family.
I particularly enjoyed hearing my rabbi's sermon this year, and I wanted to share it with anyone interested. It's a lot more wisdom than religion, and I think it has something for everyone. Below are my main takeaways from it; the full speech can be read here.