Paramahansa Yogananda is one of the spiritual leaders of India who gained immense popularity in the West. He bridged the distance between the West and the East and also taught people that we are united by the common underlying divine principles of all religions. His book ‘Autobiography Of A Yogi’ still remains a popular read among those who are seeking more meaning and depth to their lives. Paramahansa Yogananda founded the SRF or Self Realization Fellowship to spread his teachings to the world. The central location of this organisation is in Los Angeles, California, USA.
Paramahansa Yogananda was born into a Bengali family in the town of Gorakhpur in India on January 5th, 1893. His name was Mukunda Lal Ghosh. His father, Bhagabati Charan Ghosh was employed at the Bengal-Nagpur Railway and the family was well to do. Both his parents were religious minded and his mother disciplined Mukunda and his siblings with utmost love.
Mukunda’s father was a disciplinarian and was not materialistic at all. His personal habits and life were very spartan. He was a hard worker who was devoted to his duties but not to the monetary benefit. His parents were the disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya of Benares and learned Kriya Yoga. This great Guru told Mukunda’s mother that her son would grow to become a Yogi. Even though Lahiri Mahasaya left his earthly body when Mukunda was an infant, several incidents led to his feeling a great connection to the departed Guru.
Finding His Guru
Mukunda’s father was transferred to different places as a part of his job. Through his younger years, Mukunda longed to find a spiritual instructor and tried many times to leave his home for the Himalayas. Some of his expeditions were with the approval of his father. When he tried to run away, his father foiled his plans. Finally, at the age of 17, he met Swami Yukteshwar Giri and became his disciple. He received instruction from his Guru for the next ten years. His Guru told him that he would be the one to teach the Western world the practice of Kriya Yoga.
Swami Yukteshwar Giri’s own Guru, Babaji had also guided Mukunda’s path to him.
Mukunda finished his formal education from the Calcutta University in 1915. He then took his vows as a monk of the Swami Order. Mukunda received the name Yogananda which translates as bliss through divine union or Yoga. Though he was content to continue his personal spiritual growth, his Guru chastised him telling him that he should share his knowledge. Yogananda then founded a school; the Brahmacharya Vidyalaya or ‘“how-to-live” school in Ranchi in 1917. This school was unconventional in its approach to education. The school had natural surroundings and the curriculum included concepts of yoga and spirituality. Paramahansa Yogananda developed a system of physical development called the Yogoda principles. It gave the students of the school great abilities of strength and skill.
In 1920, Paramahansa Yogananda had a vision. It was time for him to fulfil his mission of travelling to the West in order to spread the knowledge of Kriya Yoga. He travelled to Calcutta. There, he received an invitation to be the country’s delegate to an International Congress of Religious Leaders in Boston. His Guru Sri Yukteshwar told him that it was his time to travel to fulfil his destiny. Mahavatar Babaji, the Guru who had revived the ancient Kriya Yoga science visited him and also confirmed his mission. Mahavatar Babaji told him that he would spread the message of Kriya Yoga and that it would help to create harmony between nations.
Arriving At Boston
Paramahansa Yogananda arrived at Boston in September 1920. His speech at the International Congress of Religious Liberals was well received. He also founded a Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) to spread his teachings throughout the world. Dr. and Mrs. M. W. Lewis and Mrs. Alice Hasey (Sister Yogmata) helped him to start the first SRF Meditation Centre in Boston. He spent the next few years giving speeches and lectures in the East Coast region and then across the continent. His talks were exceedingly popular and the tickets were often sold out. In 1925, he established the international headquarters of SRF on Mt. Washington at Los Angeles.
Paramahansa Yogananda’s Message
Paramahansa Yogananda conveyed to the world that there was oneness in the messages of all the great religions of the world. His methods of experiencing a personal connection with God were universally applicable. Paramahansa Yogananda explained to his disciples and audiences how the underlying principles of religions were the same. He preached that it was important to realise the harmony between the original teachings of Krishna in the Bhagavat Gita and Jesus in the Books of the Gospel.
Paramahansa Yogananda’s aim was to show the divine way of daily meditation on God. This was the path of all religion to liberate people from the sufferings of spiritual ignorance as well as disease and mental disharmony. He strove to unite humanity based on their underlying connection to God regardless of their religion. Paramahansa Yogananda wished that the West and East could reach a greater unity and togetherness and share the best that each had to offer to the other. He preached that one should have a high level of thinking and simple living. One should see all of mankind was as a higher version of oneself and serve all as such.
Kriya Yoga is the method of uniting with the Infinite through certain techniques that eventually result in the release from Karma. Paramahansa Yogananda believed that it was this same Kriya Yoga that was mentioned by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita and that Jesus, Elijah, Patanjali, St. John, St. Paul and Kabir were all masters of the technique that allowed them to be able to dematerialise at will. This science was lost in the dark ages. Babaji rediscovered it and taught it to Lahiri Mahasaya. It is a technique that is not mere breath control but a way to advance the spiritual advancement of a person.
Paramahansa Yogananda soon had many followers that included celebrities and political leaders. He taught his close followers the techniques of Kriya Yoga. It is estimated that he taught the divine science of Kriya Yoga to over a hundred thousand people in his thirty years overseas. There were many Americans who became his close disciples. The practise of Kriya Yoga was to be taught to disciples only through the Gurus who were initiated into it.
Return To India
In 1935, Paramahansa Yogananda travelled back to India to see his Guru and arrived at Bombay. Enroute he met many spiritually elevated people. In India, he continued to teach many people Kriya Yoga. He met many renowned personalities of the time. His Guru Shri Yukteshwar gave him the title of Paramahansa which is the highest spiritual title. Paramahansa Yogananda established the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India to continue his work in the country. In 1936, he returned to America.
Paramahansa Yogananda then began to withdraw from his previously busy public speaking schedule and focussed on his writing. He intended that his writings would preserve his message and communicate it to the future generations and also create a strong foundation for the SRF. He spent years on his written works which also included his life story, The Autobiography Of A Yogi which was published in 1946. This book is still popular and has been translated into many languages. He also founded SRF temples where he regularly gave speeches.
Last Years – Mahasamadhi
The first Self-Realization Fellowship World Convocation was at Los Angeles in 1950. It still continues to be a popular event attracting attendees from around the world. Paramahansa Yogananda devoted his last years to his writings and his work with his closest disciples to give them the guidance to carry his work forward. He also assured them that even after his body would pass he would work with them to spread the message worldwide. Paramahansa Yogananda said that even after his mortal body had passed, all those who come to SRF seeking help would get the same power of God flowing through them through the SRF Gurus.
He likened the East and West to honey and bee hives. The spiritual knowledge of the East is honey. While the West is good at creating organisations that are likened to the hives that are required to store the honey. He also instructed his followers as well as his disciples to give equal importance to developing themselves and also to the organisation. He also stressed that individual spiritual progress was just as important as spreading the message to the world.
Paramahansa Yogananda eventually attained Mahasamadhi on March 7, 1952. It was also recorded that even 27 days after his death, his body was perfectly preserved. The Director of Forest Lawn Memorial‑Park signed a notarized statement to this effect. A documentary on the life of Paramahansa Yogananda was released and thereafter screened in theatres in 2014. The SRF still continues to spread his message and teachings worldwide.