Paramahansa Yogananda

Paramahansa Yogananda
Paramhansa Yogananda
Born January 5, 1893(1893-01-05)
Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, India
Died 7 March 1952(1952-03-07) (aged 59)
Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles, California, U.S
Birth name Mukunda Lal Ghosh
Guru Sri Yukteswar Giri
Philosophy Kriya Yoga
Quotation You are walking on the earth as in a dream. Our world is a dream within a dream; you must realize that to find God is the only goal, the only purpose, for which you are here. For Him alone you exist. Him you must find.

Paramhansa Yogananda (Bengali: পরমহংস যোগানন্দ Pôromohôngsho Joganondo, Sanskrit: परमहंस योगानं‍द Paramhansa Yogānanda; January 5, 1893 – March 7, 1952), born Mukunda Lal Ghosh (Bengali: মুকুন্দ লাল ঘোষ Mukundo 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 six

Yogananda was born in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, India to a devout Kshatriya family.[2] According to his younger brother, Sananda,[3] from his earliest years young Mukunda's awareness and experience of the spiritual was far beyond the ordinary. 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.[4]

Yogananda's seeking after various saints mostly ended when he met his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, in 1910, at the age of 17. He describes his first meeting with Sri 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![5][6]

Later on Sri Yukteswar informed Yogananda that he had been sent to him by Mahavatar Babaji for a special purpose.[7]

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'.[8] 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.[9] This school would later become Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, the Indian branch of Yogananda's American organization.

Move to America

In 1920, he 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. Thousands came to his lectures.[10] 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. 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 Swamis Vivekananda and Yogananda. He summarizes his findings below.

“I came to Paramhansa 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, 1935-6

Swami Kriyananda offering sweetmeats to Yogananda.

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, Nobel-winning physicist Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, and several disciples of Yukteswar's Guru Lahiri Mahasaya.[13] While in India, Yukteswar gave Yogananda the monastic title of Paramhansa. (SRF adopted the spelling "Paramahansa" after Yogananda's death. Ananda Sangha continues to use the original spelling.)[14] Paramhansa means "supreme swan" and is a title indicating the highest spiritual attainment.[15][16] In 1936, while Yogananda was visiting Kolkata, Sri 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] 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,[18] expressing his hope for a "United World" that would combine the best qualities of "efficient America" and "spiritual India."[19] According to two eyewitnesses—long-time disciples Swami Kriyananda and Daya Mata—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".[18][20] At the very last words, he slid to the floor,[18] dead from a heart attack.[21] Followers say that he practiced mahasamadhi.[21] Kriyananda wrote that Yogananda had once stated in a lecture, "A heart attack is the easiest way to die. That is how I choose to die."[18] 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.


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

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.”[22]

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.[23]

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 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.[24]

Kriya Yoga

Kriya Yoga is a set of yoga techniques that are the main discipline of Yogananda's meditation teachings. 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, Yogananda's Guru. Because of ancient yogic injunctions, "the actual technique must be learned from a Kriyaban or Kriya Yogi", according to Yogananda.[25] He 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.[26]

Autobiography of a Yogi

In 1946, Yogananda published his life story, Autobiography of a Yogi. It has since been translated into twenty-five 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.[27]

Autobiography of a Yogi describes Yogananda's spiritual search for enlightenment, in addition to encounters with notable spiritual figures such as Therese Neumann, Anandamoyi 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"[28]

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,[29] wrote in a notarized letter[30] sent to Self-Realization Fellowship:[31]

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....

However, 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.[32]

Organizational legacy

Yogananda's work is continued by several of his disciples and organizations. Self-Realization Fellowship, which he founded, is headquartered in Los Angeles and has meditation centers and temples across the world, including the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine. Daya Mata, a direct disciple of Yogananda and important religious leader, was head of SRF from 1955–2010.[33]

Ananda Village, near Nevada City, California, was founded by Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Yogananda. Ananda expresses an aspect of Yogananda's vision for World Brotherhood Colonies, an idea for spiritual intentional communities that Yogananda often recommended to his students. At Ananda's Expanding Light Yoga & Meditation Retreat,[34] courses are offered in meditation, spiritual topics, healthy lifestyle and Ananda Yoga, a style of hatha yoga based on Yogananda's teachings as developed by Kriyananda. Ananda also has centers and meditation groups throughout the world including: Palo Alto, California; Sacramento, California; Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; Assisi, Italy and Pune, India.[35]

Song of the Morning Retreat Center, near Vanderbilt, Michigan, was founded by Yogacharya Oliver Black (1893–1989), a direct disciple of Yogananda and successful Michigan-based businessman. The retreat center offers classes on yoga and meditation and hosts programs featuring visiting spiritual teachers.[36]

The Center for Spiritual Awareness (CSA), located in Lakemont, Georgia, was founded by Roy Eugene Davis, a direct disciple of Yogananda. CSA publishes books, DVD's and audio recordings, and offers meditation seminars at its retreat center on a voluntary donation basis.[37]

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.[38]

  • Dr. Lewis, 1920 Boston
  • Sister Yogamata, 1920 Boston
  • Sister Gyanamata, 1924 Seattle
  • Tara Mata, 1924 San Francisco
  • Vladimir Rosing, 1925 Seattle
  • Kamala Silva, 1925[39]
  • Hamid Bey, 1927[40]
  • Swami Premananda, 1928[41]
  • Durga Mata, 1929 Detroit
  • Yogacharya Oliver Black, 1930 Detroit[42]
  • Daya Mata, 1931 Salt Lake City

See also


  1. ^ Bowden, p. 629
  2. ^ Ghosh, p. 3
  3. ^ Ghosh, p. 23
  4. ^ Yogananda, p. 59
  5. ^ Yogananda (2005), p. 90
  6. ^ Yogananda (2005), Chapter 10: I Meet my Master, Sri Yukteswar
  7. ^ Yogananda (2005), Chapter 36, Babaji's Interest in the West
  8. ^ Yogananda, p. 217
  9. ^ Yogananda, p. 240
  10. ^ Yogananda, p. 341
  11. ^ "S.L. Group Will Celebrate the Anniversary of Yogi's Birth," The Desert News, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2 January 1993
  12. ^
  13. ^ Yogananda, all pages
  14. ^ Yogananda's spelling of his title, including within his signature, was "Paramhansa".
  15. ^ "Paramhansa means "supreme swan" and is a title indicating the highest spiritual attainment." Miller, p. 188.
  16. ^ Kriyananda (2003), p. xiii
  17. ^ Kriyananda (1977), p. 399.
  18. ^ a b c d Kriyananda (1977), p. 400
  19. ^ Miller, p. 179.
  20. ^ Mata, Daya (Spring 2002). "My Spirit Shall Live On: The Final Days of Paramhansa Yogananda". Self-Realization Magazine 
  21. ^ a b "Guru's Exit - TIME". Time. 1952-08-04.,9171,822420,00.html. Retrieved 2008-01-17. 
  22. ^ Kriyananda (2003), p. 31
  23. ^ Yogananda, p. 269-270
  24. ^ Kriyananda (2003), p. 197
  25. ^ Yogananda, p. 231
  26. ^ Yogananda, p. 234
  27. ^ 100 Best Spiritual Books of the Century
  28. ^ Note: The 1946 ed. of Autobiography of a Yogi is in the Public Domain: "Project Gutenberg Titles by Paramhansa Yogananda (Yogananda, Paramhansa, 1893-1952)". Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  29. ^ "Guru's Exit". Time. 4 August 1952. Archived from the original on 2010-09-27. 
  30. ^ "Paramhansa Yogananda's Complete Mortuary Report (full text of notarized letter)". Golden Scales. Archived from the original on 2010-09-28. 
  31. ^ Yogananda, Paramhansa (1981). Autobiography of a Yogi, 12th ed. Los Angeles, CA: Self-Realization Fellowship, p 478
  32. ^ Falk 2009, pg. 254
  33. ^ "About SRF: Leadership of the Society". Retrieved 2008-02-09. 
  34. ^ [(]
  35. ^ "Ananda: Source for the Teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda – Meditation, Kriya Yoga, and more, including talks from Swami Kriyananda". Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  36. ^ "Golden Lotus". Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  37. ^ "Center for Spiritual Awareness". Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  38. ^ [Book: Journey to Self Realization original list in footnotes]
  39. ^ Book: The Flawless Mirror
  40. ^ Coptic Fellowship
  41. ^ Yogananda ordained as a swami in 1941
  42. ^ Yogacharya Oliver Site
  43. ^ 70 years of discipleship
  44. ^ Le Yoga des Pharaons, El Yoga de la plegaria
  45. ^ Interview
  46. ^ Book: Christ Consciousness
  47. ^ Kriyananda (1977).
  48. ^ Book: Paramhansa Yogananda as I knew him
  49. ^ Date is when he became ordained
  50. ^ Date is when she met PY in Seattle


  • Bowden, Henry Warner (1993). Dictionary of American Religious Biography. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313278253. 
  • Falk, Geoffrey D. (2009). Stripping the Gurus. Million Monkeys Press. ISBN 0973620315. 
  • Ghosh, Sananda Lal (1980). Mejda: The Family and the Early Life of Paramhansa Yogananda. Self-Realization Fellowship Publishers. ISBN 978-0876122655. 
  • Kriyananda, Swami (2003). The Essence of Self-Realization: The Wisdom of Paramhansa Yogananda. Crystal Clarity Publishers. ISBN 978-0916124298. 
  • Kriyananda, Swami (1977). The Path: Autobiography of a Western Yogi. Crystal Clarity Publishers. ISBN 978-0916124113. 
  • Miller, Timothy (1995). America's Alternative Religions. SUNY Press. ISBN 0791423972. 
  • Yogananda, Paramhansa (2005). Autobiography of a Yogi. Crystal Clarity Publishers. ISBN 978-1565892125.  Reprint of 1946 first edition published by Philosophical Library, New York.
  • Yogananda, Paramhansa (1979). Metaphysical Meditations. Los Angeles, Calif.: Self-Realization Fellowship. ISBN 978-0876120415. 
  • Yogananda, Paramhansa (1996). Divine Romance. Los Angeles, CA: Self-Realization Fellowship. ISBN 978-0876122419. 

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