‘Awake’ a vivid glimpse of West’s 1st meditation guru

A scene from "Awake."
A scene from “Awake.”
(Counterpoint Films)

Fittingly enlightening, “Awake: The Life of Yogananda” is a vivid, elegantly assembled portrait of the savvy guru with the cherubic face and penetrating gaze who brought meditation to the West.

Although the name Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952) may not ring a bell, his teachings had a lifelong influence on the likes of George Harrison and Steve Jobs, who kept a digital copy of “Autobiography of a Yogi” on his iPad.

Heeding a metaphysical calling to leave India for materialistic America, Yogananda initially landed at Boston Harbor at the dawn of the Roaring ‘20s but eventually realized that Los Angeles would offer a greater wellspring of disciples looking to get their om on.

His first Self-Realization Fellowship was established atop Mt. Washington, drawing a range of ardent followers, including insurance tycoon and benefactor James J. Lynn.


But when Yogananda took his teachings to the South, he experienced a rude spiritual awakening upon discovering orange robe-wearing, long-haired, brown-skinned men weren’t exactly warmly embraced.

It wasn’t long before he was smeared as the leader of a love cult preying on married women.

Funded by the Self-Realization Fellowship but co-directed by Paola Di Florio and Lisa Leeman with an open, inquisitive mind, the film offers an absorbing glimpse into the life and times of the world’s first superstar swami.

“Awake: The Life of Yogananda.”

MPAA rating: PG.

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.

Playing: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles.