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Paramahansa Yogananda

Paramahansa Yogananda (January 5, 1893March 7, 1952), born Mukunda Lal Ghosh, was an Indian yogi and guru who introduced many westerners to the teachings of meditation and Kriya Yoga through his book, Autobiography of a Yogi.[1]




Yogananda at age sixYogananda was born in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, India to a devout family.[2] According to his younger brother, Sananda, from his earliest years young Mukunda's awareness and experience of the spiritual was far beyond the ordinary.[2] In his youth he sought out many of India's Hindu sages and saints, hoping to find an illuminated teacher to guide him in his spiritual quest.[3]

Yogananda's seeking after various saints mostly ended when he met his guru, Swami Yukteswar Giri, in 1910, at the age of 17. He describes his first meeting with Yukteswar as a rekindling of a relationship that had lasted for many lifetimes:

We entered a oneness of silence; words seemed the rankest superfluities. Eloquence flowed in soundless chant from heart of master to disciple. With an antenna of irrefragable insight I sensed that my guru knew God, and would lead me to Him. The obscuration of this life disappeared in a fragile dawn of prenatal memories. Dramatic time! Past, present, and future are its cycling scenes. This was not the first sun to find me at these holy feet![4]

Later on Yukteswar informed Yogananda that he had been sent to him by Mahavatar Babaji for a special purpose.[5]

After passing his Intermediate Examination in Arts from the Scottish Church College, Calcutta, in June 1915, he graduated with a degree similar to a current day "Bachelor of Arts" or B.A. (which at the time was referred to as an A.B.), from the Serampore College, a constituent college of the University of Calcutta. This allowed him to spend time at Yukteswar's ashram in Serampore. In 1915, he took formal vows into the monastic Swami Order and became 'Swami Yogananda Giri'.[6] In 1917, Yogananda founded a school for boys in Dihika, West Bengal that combined modern educational techniques with yoga training and spiritual ideals. A year later, the school relocated to Ranchi.[7] This school would later become Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, the Indian branch of Yogananda's American organization.

Move to America

In 1920, Yogananda went to the United States aboard the ship City of Sparta, as India's delegate to an International Congress of Religious Liberals convening in Boston. That same year he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) to disseminate worldwide his teachings on India's ancient practices 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.[8] Thousands came to his lectures.[9] During this time he attracted a number of celebrity followers, including soprano Amelita Galli-Curci, tenor Vladimir Rosing and Clara Clemens Gabrilowitsch, the daughter of Mark Twain. The following year, he established an international center for Self-Realization Fellowship in Los Angeles, California, which became the spiritual and administrative heart of his growing work.[10] Yogananda was the first Hindu teacher of yoga to spend a major portion of his life in America. He lived there from 1920 1952, interrupted by an extended trip abroad in 1935 1936 which was mainly to visit his guru in India though he undertook visits to other living western saints like Therese Neumann the stigmatist of Konnesreuth and places of spiritual significance enroute.[11]

Chapter in the book "Hinduism Invades America"

In 1930, Dr. Wendell Thomas, author and former professor at the College of the City of New York published the book "Hinduism Invades America",[12] dealing largely with Swami Vivekananda and Yogananda. He summarizes his findings below. "I came to Paramahansa Yogananda many years ago, not as a seeker, but as a writer with a sympathetic yet analytic and critical approach. I found in him a rare combination. While steadfast in the ancient principles of his profound faith, he had the gift of generous adaptability, so that he became Christian and American without ceasing to be Hindu and Indian. With his quick wit and great spirit, he was well fitted to promote reconciliation and truth among the religious seekers of the world. He brought peace and joy to multitudes.

A whole chapter is dedicated to Yogananda's (then named) Yogoda System and (then named) Yogoda Satsanga organization (incorporated in New Jersey).

Visit to India, 1935-1936

In 1935, he returned to India to visit Yukteswar and to help establish his Yogoda Satsanga work in India. During this visit, as told in his autobiography, he met with Mahatma Gandhi, the Bengali saint Anandamoyi Ma, renowned physicist Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, and several disciples of Yukteswar's guru Lahiri Mahasaya.[13] While in India, Yukteswar gave Yogananda the monastic title of Paramahansa. (SRF adopted the spelling "Paramahansa" after Yogananda's death. Ananda Sangha continues to use the original spelling.)[14] Paramahansa means "supreme swan" and is a title indicating the highest spiritual attainment.[15][16] In 1936, while Yogananda was visiting Calcutta, Yukteswar died in the town of Puri.


After returning to America, he continued to lecture, write, and establish churches in southern California. In the days leading up to his death, he began hinting that it was time for him to leave the world [17][18] On March 7, 1952, he attended a dinner for the visiting Indian Ambassador to the U.S., Binay Ranjan Sen, and his wife at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. At the conclusion of the banquet Yogananda spoke of India and America, their contributions to world peace and human progress, and their future cooperation,[19] expressing his hope for a "United World" that would combine the best qualities of "efficient America" and "spiritual India."[20] According to two eyewitnesses - Daya Mata, a direct disciple of Yogananda, who was head of Self-Realization Fellowship from 1955 2010 [21][22] and direct disciple Swami Kriyananda- as Yogananda ended his speech, he read from his poem My India, concluding with the words "Where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves, and men dream God I am hallowed; my body touched that sod". [19][23] "As he uttered these words, he lifted his eyes to the Kutasha center, and his body slumped to the floor" [24][25] Followers say that he practiced mahasamadhi.[25] Yogananda's remains are interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Great Mausoleum (normally closed off to visitors but Yogananda's tomb is accessible) in Glendale, California.[26]


Paramahansa Yogananda at a yoga class in Washington, D.C.

In 1917 Paramahansa Yogananda "began his life's work with the founding of a 'how-to-live' school for boys, where modern educational methods were combined with yoga training and instruction in spiritual ideals." In 1920 "he was invited to serve as India's delegate to an International Congress of Religious Liberals convening in Boston. His address to the Congress, on 'The Science of Religion,' was enthusiastically received." For the next several years he lectured and taught across the United States. His discourses taught of the "unity of 'the original teachings of Jesus Christ and the original Yoga taught by Bhagavan Krishna.'" In 1920 he founded Self-Realization Fellowship and in 1925 established in Los Angeles, California, the international headquarters for SRF.[27]

Yogananda wrote down his Aims and Ideals for Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society:[28]

  • To disseminate among the nations a knowledge of definite scientific techniques for attaining direct personal experience of God.
  • To teach that the purpose of life is the evolution, through self-effort, of man s limited mortal consciousness into God Consciousness; and to this end to establish Self-Realization Fellowship temples for God-communion throughout the world, and to encourage the establishment of individual temples of God in the homes and in the hearts of men.
  • To reveal the complete harmony and basic oneness of original Christianity as taught by Jesus Christ and original Yoga as taught by Bhagavan Krishna; and to show that these principles of truth are the common scientific foundation of all true religions.
  • To point out the one divine highway to which all paths of true religious beliefs eventually lead: the highway of daily, scientific, devotional meditation on God.
  • To liberate man from his threefold suffering: physical disease, mental inharmonies, and spiritual ignorance.
  • To encourage plain living and high thinking ; and to spread a spirit of brotherhood among all peoples by teaching the eternal basis of their unity: kinship with God.
  • To demonstrate the superiority of mind over body, of soul over mind.
  • To overcome evil by good, sorrow by joy, cruelty by kindness, ignorance by wisdom.
  • To unite science and religion through realization of the unity of their underlying principles.
  • To advocate cultural and spiritual understanding between East and West, and the exchange of their finest distinctive features.
  • To serve mankind as one s larger Self.

In his published work, The Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons, Yogananda gives "his in-depth instruction in the practice of the highest yoga science of God-realization. That ancient science is embodied in the specific principles and meditation techniques of Kriya Yoga."[29]

Yogananda 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. [30]

Echoing traditional Hindu teachings, he taught that the entire universe is God's cosmic motion picture, and that individuals are merely actors in the divine play who change roles through reincarnation. He taught that mankind's deep suffering is rooted in identifying too closely with one's current role, rather than with the movie's director, or God.[31]

He taught Kriya Yoga and other meditation practices to help people achieve that understanding, which he called Self-realization:

"Self-realization is the knowing - in body, mind, and soul - that we are one with the omnipresence of God; that we do not have to pray that it come to us, that we are not merely near it at all times, but that God s omnipresence is our omnipresence; and that we are just as much a part of Him now as we ever will be. All we have to do is improve our knowing."[32]

Kriya Yoga

The science of Kriya Yoga is the foundation of Yogananda's teachings. Kriya Yoga is "union (yoga) with the Infinite through a certain action or rite (kriya). The Sanskrit root of kriya is kri, to do, to act and react." Kriya Yoga was passed down through Yogananda's guru lineage - Mahavatar Babaji taught Kriya Yoga to Lahiri Mahasaya, who taught it to his disciple, Yukteswar Giri, Yogananda's Guru.[33]

Yogananda gave a general description of Kriya Yoga in his Autobiography:

The Kriya Yogi mentally directs his life energy to revolve, upward and downward, around the six spinal centers (medullary, cervical, dorsal, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal plexuses) which correspond to the twelve astral signs of the zodiac, the symbolic Cosmic Man. One-half minute of revolution of energy around the sensitive spinal cord of man effects subtle progress in his evolution; that half-minute of Kriya equals one year of natural spiritual unfoldment.[34]

Yogananda wrote in Autobiography of a Yogi that the "The actual technique should be learned from an authorized Kriyaban (Kriya Yogi) of Self-Realization Fellowship (Yogoda Satsanga Society of India.)" [35]

Autobiography of a Yogi

Book Cover Self-Realization Fellowship Publisher In 1946, Yogananda published his life story, Autobiography of a Yogi. It has since been translated into twenty-eight languages. In 1999, it was designated one of the "100 Most Important Spiritual Books of the 20th Century" by a panel of spiritual authors convened by Philip Zaleski and HarperCollins publishers.[36]

Autobiography of a Yogi describes Yogananda's spiritual search for enlightenment, in addition to encounters with notable spiritual figures such as Therese Neumann, Anandamayi Ma, Mohandas Gandhi, Nobel laureate in literature Rabindranath Tagore, noted plant scientist Luther Burbank (the book is 'Dedicated to the Memory of Luther Burbank, An American Saint'), famous Indian scientist Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Sir C. V. Raman. One notable chapter of this book is "The Law of Miracles", where he gives scientific explanations for seemingly miraculous feats. He writes "the word 'impossible' is becoming less prominent in man's vocabulary".[37]

Claims of bodily incorruptibility

As reported in Time Magazine on August 4, 1952, Harry T. Rowe, Los Angeles Mortuary Director of the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California, where Yogananda's body was embalmed,[38] wrote in a notarized letter[39] sent to Self-Realization Fellowship:[40]

The absence of any visual signs of decay in the dead body of Paramhansa 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....

Rowe's complete statement also noted the appearance of a brown spot on Yogananda's nose after twenty days. Others have pointed out that this degree of preservation of an embalmed body is common.[41]


Paramahansa Yogananda's work is continued through the two organizations he founded - Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) & Yogoda Satsanga Society of India (YSS).[42] Self-Realization Fellowship is headquartered in Los Angeles and "has grown to include more than 500 temples and centers around the world and has members in over 175 countries including the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine. [43] In India and surrounding countries, Paramahansa Yogananda's work is known as Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, which has more than 100 centers, retreats, and ashrams." [44] Daya Mata, an important religious leader and a direct disciple of Yogananda who was personally chosen and trained by Yogananda, was head of Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India from 1955 2010. Mrinalini Mata, a direct disciple of Yogananda, "is the current president and spiritual head of Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India. She too was personally chosen and trained by Yogananda to help guide the work after his passing." She is assisted by a Board of Directors, which includes other direct disciples of Yogananda trained by him. [45]

Noted disciples

The members of this list were drawn from Yogananda's book "Journey to Self-Realization", unless otherwise noted, and the date and location of first discipleship to Yogananda are given.[46]

See also



  • Reprint of 1946 first edition published by Philosophical Library, New York.

External links

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