was born Mukunda Lal Ghosh in Gorakhpur, West Bengal, India into a devout
Bengali family. From his earliest years, his awareness and experience
of the spiritual was far beyond the ordinary as can be seen from his
autobiography. In his youth he sought out many of India's Hindu sages
and saints, hoping to find an illumined teacher to guide him in his
met his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, in 1910, at the age of 17. After
passing his Intermediate Examination in Arts from the Scottish Church
College, Calcutta, he did his graduation in religious studies from the
Serampore College, a constituent college of the University of Calcutta
and in 1915, he took formal vows into the monastic Swami Order and became
Swami Yogananda. In 1917, Yogananda began his life's mission with founding
and running a school for boys in Ranchi, India that combined modern
educational techniques with yoga training and spiritual ideals.
In 1920, he
went to the United States as India's delegate to an International Congress
of Religious Liberals convening in Boston. That same year he founded
Self-Realization Fellowship to disseminate worldwide his teachings on
India's ancient science and philosophy of Yoga and its tradition of
meditation. For the next several years, he lectured and taught on the
East coast and in 1924 embarked on a cross-continental speaking tour.
The following year, he established in Los Angeles an international headquarters
for Self-Realization Fellowship, which became the spiritual and administrative
heart of his growing work.
years of his services in the West, Sri Yukteswar conferred upon him
the title Paramahansa, which means "supreme swan."
taught his students the need for direct experience of truth, as opposed
to blind belief. He said that “The true basis of religion is not
belief, but intuitive experience. Intuition is the soul’s power
of knowing God. To know what religion is really all about, one must
know God.” (from The Essence of Self-Realization)
To that end,
he taught scientific yoga techniques that help the student achieve Self-Realization.
He said that “Self-Realization is the knowing in all parts of
body, mind, and soul that you are now in possession of the kingdom of
God; that you do not have to pray that it come to you; that God’s
omnipresence is your omnipresence; and that all that you need to do
is improve your knowing.” (The Essence of Self-Realization)
work is continued by several organizations. Self-Realization Fellowship,
which he founded, is headquartered in Los Angeles and has meditation
centers and temples across the world. The current head is Sri Daya Mata,
a direct disciple of Yogananda.
another organization, founded by direct disciple Swami Kriyananda. Ananda
is unique in that it expresses an aspect of Yogananda's vision for world
brotherhood colonies. Ananda Village is located in Nevada City, California,
while other Ananda "colonies" are worldwide. Ananda also has
centers and meditation groups throughout the world.
Song of the
Morning Retreat Center, near Vanderbilt, Michigan, was founded by a
chief disciple of Yogananda's: Yogacharya Oliver Black. As of September
2004 work is continuing on building the Clear Light Community on the
800 acre retreat property. The retreat center offers classes on yoga
and meditation and hosts programs featuring visiting spiritual teachers.
Roy Eugene Davis founded The Center for Spiritual Awareness, located
in Lakemont, Georgia. The CSA publishes books and audio cassettes, and
offers meditation seminars at its retreat center headquarters on a voluntary
India, ashram of Yogananda's guru Sri Yukteswar Giri continues to this
Yogananda's guru lineage was responsible for providing him with a central
discipline of his teachings. Sri Yukteswar was the disciple of Lahiri
Mahasaya, in turn the disciple of the mythical guru Mahavatar Babaji,
who had revived and through his disciples begun the spread of Kriya
Yoga, described as a "spiritual science of Self realization."
It was through Yogananda that Kriya Yoga was brought to the West.
of a Yogi
In 1946, Yogananda published his life story, Autobiography of a Yogi,
which was instrumental in introducing vedic philosophy to the West.
It has since been translated into eighteen languages and remains a best
seller. It includes Yogananda's and Sri Yukteswar's attempts to explain
certain verses and events of the Bible such as the Garden of Eden story,
and descriptions of Yogananda's encounters with leading spiritual figures
such as Therese Neumann, the Hindu saint Sri Anandamoyi Ma, Mohandas
Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, noted plant scientist Luther Burbank (the
book is 'Dedicated to the Memory of Luther Burbank, An American Saint'),
and Nobel Prize winning physicist Sir C. V. Raman.
Some of Yogananda's
followers have made claims of his bodily incorruptibility. As reported
in Time Magazine on August 4, 1952, Harry T. Rowe, Los Angeles Mortuary
Director of the Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, stated in a notarized letter:
of any visual signs of decay in the dead body of Paramahansa Yogananda
offers the most extraordinary case in our experience.... No physical
disintegration was visible in his body even twenty days after death....
No indication of mold was visible on his skin, and no visible drying
up took place in the bodily tissues. This state of perfect preservation
of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary annals, an unparalleled
one.... No odor of decay emanated from his body at any time....
to Yogananda's death certificate, which indicates his body was embalmed.
They claim the full text of Rowe's letter, as included in a memorial
booklet put out by the SRF, indicates his surprise at the described
effect was based merely on the lack of use of special creams in addition
to the embalming fluid.
Yogananda was a practitioner of Kriya Yoga who recorded his spiritual
journey in the classic work "Autobiography of a Yogi". He
was born in Calcutta in 1893. His autobiography was first published
in 1946, twenty-six years after he was instructed by his Guru to leave
India and go to America to spread the teachings of Kriya Yoga (literally,
the Yoga of "ritual action").
events are recounted by his mother concerning his early life in the
autobiography. His mother described how once when visiting her spiritual
teacher, the guru asked her to come forward from the back of a crowd
of people and took the young Yogananda in his lap. The master said:
mother, thy son will be a yogi. As a spiritual engine, he will carry
many souls to God's kingdom".
event she recollected occurred when an unknown monk came to her door
and told her she did not have much longer to live. He then explained
to her that an amulet would materialize in her hands during meditation
and that she should make sure that her son Yogananda was given the amulet
a year after her death.
describes how "a blaze of illumination" came over him and
how "many dormant memories were awakened" when he was given
the silver amulet by his brother, who explained to him its significance.
Yogananda believed the amulet was a gift from teachers in his former
lives who were "invisibly guiding" the course of his current
writings document his early life in Calcutta, his college days, his
efforts to visit the Himalayas to find a teacher, his meetings with
various saints, his finding a guru at age seventeen, and finally his
becoming a monk. Later in life, he founded a school in Ranchi, Bihar,
based on yogic principles. He later went to live in America for many
years. There he lectured widely, wrote books on yoga, and started the
Self-Realization Fellowship, an organization dedicated to teaching the
art of Kriya yoga to Westerners.
spiritual experiences fit into two general categories: the yogic type
which focuses on the experience of "cosmic consciousness"
and altered perception, and the devotional type which focuses on worship
in the following section of the biography is on Yogananda's spiritual
experiences. The first three experiences mentioned here are of the yogic
type. In the first, Yogananda has just returned to visit his teacher
from an unsanctioned trip to the Himalayan mountains. After apologizing
to his teacher for making the trip without his permission, Yogananda
went off to meditate, but his thoughts were uncontrollable "like
leaves in a storm".
sensed his mind was disturbed and called him back, expressing sympathy
that his trip to the mountains did not produce any tangible spiritual
results. The teacher then comfortingly said "your heart's desire
will be fulfilled" and struck him gently on the chest above the
heart. Yogananda described his experience in the following words.
became immovably rooted; breath was drawn out of my lungs as if by some
strange magnet. Soul and mind instantly lost their physical bondage
and streamed out like a fluid piercing light from my every pore. The
flesh was as though dead, yet in my intense awareness, I knew that I
had never been so fully alive. My sense of identity was no longer narrowly
confined to a body but embraced the circumambient atoms. (Autobiography
of a Yogi by Paramahamsa Yogananda, p. 148)
saint induced the second spiritual experience in Yogananda. It had some
similarities with the first experience as both were induced by the same
means. The saint tapped him on the chest above the heart, as both of
them stood on a busy Calcutta street. Yogananda described the transformation
in his perception that occurred:
silence ensued. Just as the modern "talkies" become inaudible
motion pictures when the sound apparatus goes out of order, so the Divine
Hand, by some strange miracle stifled the earthly bustle. Pedestrians
as well as passing trolley cars, automobiles, bullock carts, and iron-wheeled
hackney carriages were all noiseless transit. As though possessing some
omnipresent eye. I beheld the scenes behind me and to each side as easily
as those in front. (Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahamsa Yogananda,
described his initiation into Kriya yoga by his guru in this third yogic
a transforming power; at his touch a great light broke upon my being,
like a glory of countless blazing suns together. A flood of ineffable
bliss overwhelmed my heart to the innermost core.
late in the afternoon of the following day before I could bring myself
to leave the hermitage." (Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahamsa
Yogananda, p. 109)
wrote later that his guru Sri Yukteswar taught him "how to summon
the blessed experience at will, and also to transmit it to others"
when their intuitive channels were developed.
type of experience mentioned by Yogananda is devotional in nature. In
this experience, he had a vision while meditating on a statue of the
goddess Kali in the Dakshineswar temple. This is the temple near Calcutta
where the noted nineteenth century saint Ramakrishna Paramahamsa worshiped
and had many visions of the divine mother in the form of the goddess
sister had complained to him that her husband was ridiculing her religious
practice of maintaining pictures of saints in a meditation room in their
home. She told her younger brother she had great faith in him and asked
for his help. Yogananda went to the temple to ask for the intercession
of the "divine mother" to influence his brother-in-law to
be more open and accepting of his sister's spiritual interests.
at the temple at 7AM and began meditation in front of the statue of
Kali. He was visualizing her inwardly, and he prayed that she would
appear before him in a vision. By noon he had still not received a vision
and the temple doors were closed, as was customary. He got up discouraged
and walked into the courtyard stepping on the hot pavement. He inwardly
addressed the divine mother saying he wanted to offer a prayer to her
on behalf of his brother-in-law, but the statue was now hidden from
his view with the closing of the temple doors. He describes the vision
petition was instantly acknowledged. First a delightful cool wave descended
under my back and over my feet, banishing all discomfort. Then, to my
amazement, the temple became greatly magnified. Its large door opened
slowly, revealing the stone figure of the goddess Kali. Gradually the
statue changed into a living form, smiling, nodding in greeting, thrilling
me with joy indescribable. As if by a mystic syringe, the breath was
withdrawn from my lungs; my body became very still, though not inert.
enlargement of consciousness followed. I could see clearly for several
miles over the Ganges River to my left, and beyond the temple into the
entire Dakshineswar precinct. The walls of all the buildings glimmered
transparently; through them I observed people walking to and fro over
distant acres. (Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahamsa Yogananda, p.
goes on to describe how only the goddess statue and the temple were
enlarged, how his body seemed to be "composed of some ethereal
substance", and how he could read his companions thoughts when
he gazed at him through the now transparent temple walls. At this point,
Yogananda addressed Kali asking her that his sister's husband be changed
spiritually. Kali spoke to grant his wish and the scene changed back
the temple staff then offered the two visitors a good meal following
the vision. The brother-in-law had been angry at Yogananda for making
him miss the temple lunch prior to this. After this unlikely event,
the brother-in-law became pensive. Yogananda claims his bother-in-law
changed from that point on and became increasingly interested in spirituality.
described his relationship with his guru in some detail. Several chapters
are devoted to descriptions of how his guru handled different situations
at the Serampore ashram. Yogananda was always off doing work for his
teacher, and as a result had little time for his university studies.
He describes how on a variety of occasions, his guru took steps to make
sure "the mad monk" as he was known at school would pass his
examinations. He considered his final graduation from college a miracle
considering how little time he spent in class.
The guru also
predicted a variety of sicknesses that would affect visitors and friends,
and helped in the cure of some of them. Yogananda also described how
on one occasion, his guru manifested a physical body out of thin air,
and addressed him telling him about a change of plans and his coming
arrival by train that evening.
became a monk and was initiated by his guru into the "Giri"
or mountain branch of the Shankaracarya order, one of India's largest
and most respected yogic lineages. He wrote a number of books and lectured
widely in Europe and the United States before his death in 1952. His
organization "The Self-Realization Fellowship" is very much
alive in the United States and continues to teach thousands of students
the art of Kriya yoga.
Yogananda was born on 5 January, 1893, near the Himalayas, in Gorakhpur.
His parents, brothers and sisters were all saintly and pious, but Mukunda
(the boyhood name of Yogananda) was unique amongst all of them. He displayed
his spiritual gifts and powers even from his childhood.
of Gurus descended from Babaji, the deathless Guru said to be the reincarnation
of Lord Krishna. Babaji’s disciple was Lahiri Mahasaya, who in
turn had as his disciple, Sri Yukteswar. It was Sri Yukteswar who was
destined to be the spiritual master of Paramahansa Yogananda.
For ten years
Yoganandaji trained for his high duty at the Ashram of his Guru, pursuing
his university career at the same time. After his rigorous training,
filled with the light of God-vision, he was now ready to undertake the
mission entrusted to him by his line of Gurus.
of the youth was always dear to the heart of Yoganandaji. He set up
his first school in Bengal in 1917. Its curriculum includes the standard
high school subjects as well as Yoga concentration, meditation and the
Yogoda system of physical development.
Yoganandaji went to America as a delegate from India to the International
Congress of Religions at Boston, and from then on America became his
home. Five years later he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship with
its head quarters at Mount Washington, Los Angeles. In his famous Autobiography
of a Yogi, Yoganandaji has given graphic descriptions of his spiritual
experiences and his contact with the great Yogis of India. This book
has since become one of the greatest spiritual classics in the world
and has been translated into many languages.
Yogananda had a broad and liberal heart. Even though he himself was
a great Master, he approached other saints with great reverence.
was the method of God-realisation taught by Yoganandaji. His mission
in the West was to spread the knowledge of Yoga practices, by which
man can enter into union with God. Yoganandaji also gave new explanations
to the teachings of the Bible, showing the similarity of its teachings
with that of Hinduism. He promoted the cause of a better understanding
between the East and West. Numerous students got personal instructions
in Yoga teachings in the classes conducted by him in his ministry of
thirty-two years. He spoke in churches, societies, universities and
Yoganandaji’s class instructions were published in the form of
lessons and mailed to students all over the world. In India the same
teachings were spread by the Yogoda Satsanga Society, with its headquarters
Fellowship today has hundreds of centres throughout the world. There
are seven large centres in California, where renunciates stay to serve
and practise Yoga. A number of trained monks tour all over the world,
giving discourses and Kriya Yoga initiation to students.
instructions on Yoga and balanced living, SRF also conducts many social
services, especially in India.
attained Mahasamadhi on March 7, 1952. The great Master showed his power
over death, for his body did not decay for many weeks.