Listen to the review by David H. Anthony above, and read it below.
Awake: The Life of Yogananda, a film by Paola di Florio and Lisa Leeman
Some stories are so profound and meaningful that once you learn them they leave an indelible mark upon you. So it is with the biography of Paramahansa Yogananda. Awake: The Life of Yogananda by Paola di Florio and Judy Leeman. Born Mukunda Lal Ghosh in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh state, India, in 1893, the protagonist of the film was even as a youth consumed with spirituality and steadily seeking guidance in that realm. At 17 in 1910 he met his guru, Swami Yukteswar Giri, with whom he would begin formal study leading to his own mastery of the arts of yoga and meditation. Five years later in 1915 he took monastic vows and became Swami Yogananda Giri. In 1917, Yogananda founded a boys school in Dihika, West Bengal specializing in yoga and spirituality. In 1918 this school was moved to Ranchi, now capital of Jharkand. Eventually this school would become Yogoda Satsang Society, the Indian Branch of the American Self-Realization Fellowship, each brought into being by Yogananda.
In 1920, Yogananda traveled to the US at the request of religious liberals in Boston. Representing India at their international congress, Yogananda founded the Self- Realization Fellowship to spread his ideas on yoga. Embarking upon a multi-city tour within four years he had attained considerable popularity among rank and file and attracted serious attention from several celebrities in the arts. For the balance of his life, this American work was a major factor in familiarizing sympathetic US audiences to the value of embracing many of the sacred spiritual practices of India.
However, as the documentary also makes clear, in spite of what started as a string of triumphs, Yogananda and his beloved associates and followers too had their share of opponents who suspected them for ideological, cultural, political and racial reasons.
Awake is striking in its ability to convey the power of this extraordinary figure, by skillful use of stills, black and white and color film footage and sound recordings. It includes among its talking heads highly recognizable devotees from the late George Harrison to Herb Jeffries, a musician and cult figure in African-American film, known as the “Bronze Buckaroo,” to Italian coloratura operatic soprano Amelita Galli-Curci. These gifted personalities illustrated the tremendous debt each felt they owed guru Swami Yogananda, whom they credited with helping to bring out their inner talents.
This subtle film is densely packed with life lessons. For that reason viewers may be moved to see it more than once. Readers familiar with Autobiography of a Yogi will know the name and saga of Paramahansa Yogananda. The film Awake gives the tale texture and a special form of life, especially whenever we gaze into Yogananda’s fiery eyes. At such times there is no question of the power he was able to summon.