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..:: Paramahansa Yogananda ::..


Alan Schneider


               In recent history, many Indian gurus have brought their world views and spiritual insights to this country, and the international community. I wish to direct our attention here to one such individual who has had an enormous impact on the development of religious thought around the world – Paramahansa Yogananda. His works have been published in English, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Telugu, Japanese, Arabic, Greek, Icelandic, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, and other languages, as a testimony to the global character of his effort, which has been carried forth to the present day by the organization he founded – the Self Realization Fellowship.  

            This great Hindu Mystic and Seer was born on January 05, 1893, in Gorakhpur, northern India, near the Himalayas, as Mukunda Lal Ghosh. He was one of eight children, including three other brothers and four sisters. His family was Bengali, and belonged to the Kshatriya caste, originally designated as warriors and secular rulers in pre-modern India.  He assumed the name “Yogananda” in 1915, upon his induction into the ancient Swami Order, and was further imbued with the additional name of “Paramahansa” by his personal guru, Sri Yukteswar, in 1935.  

            His father was an accountant for the Indian railway system, while his mother was, as was customary in those times, a wife and homemaker. She nonetheless was a powerful influence in the family home, not only over the father, but over all the children as well, particularly Paramahansa. This woman’s spiritual direction and support helped to shape the future Guru’s moral and spiritual development from his earliest years in their home. It was she who introduced the children to the Hindu epics of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.

             Yogananda was granted a bachelor’s degree from Calcutta University in June of 1915, after a period of some years of academic struggle and difficulty. The function of the intellect, as exemplified by egoic self perception, is well known as an impediment to the attainment of Enlightenment in Eastern religion in general, and Hinduism in particular, and this was evidently the case for Yogananda as well. Fortunately, he was able to preserve his spiritual understanding and perception in spite of this obstacle (series of obstacles, really), and matriculated from college with an intact and divinely focused world view. 

            Sri Yukteswar, Yogananda’s Guru and spiritual guide, was probably the single most pervasive influence on the young Yogi’s consciousness, an influence which was imparted to him from adolescence in the Guru’s Ashram in Bengal province. It is appropriate to mention something about the Guru/Initiate relationship in this context. The Guru does considerably more than simply impart scriptural information and direction to the Initiate. The Guru is literally spiritually connected to the Initiate’s consciousness at the deepest possible level, at the level of God-Realization, which exists beyond even the personal and collective unconscious regions, at the core of all mental activity – the Primal Self. This is a transpersonal bond which enables a profoundly intimate contact. In a sense, the Guru literally enables direct transference of Divine perception from himself to the Initiate through various techniques, including Darshan, sitting in the Master’s presence, Satsang, the association with other devotees, and the imparting of a Divine Mantra, or sound, to the Initiate. This latter activity frequently takes place in secrecy, in order to maintain the personal nature of the intonation used. The intended result of the ashram environment – by living in this way for several years – is the attainment of Samadhi, or complete Enlightenment, accompanied by the release from all Karma and worldly bonds affecting consciousness. Karma means “action” in Sanskrit, and is accumulated by (customarily) many lifetimes spent in the condition of samsara – the perceived (but still illusory) suffering in the material world. When the disciple has reached a level of attainment characterized by the complete and permanent absence of material concern, and perceives only the action and presence of the Divine in the world, he/she is said to be God-Realized, and focused in Ananda – spiritual Bliss. 

            Paramanansa Yogananda first came to the United States in October of 1920. He was to address the International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston, convened by the Unitarian Universalist Association of America. He remained in the United States through 1935, establishing the American headquarters of what eventually became the Self Realization Fellowship at Mount Washington Estates in Los Angeles in 1925, and traveling , lecturing, and teaching the practice of Kriya Yoga all over America.  

            On August 22, 1935, Yogananda returned to India. His Guru had become ill and was dying in the Bengal Ashram. By September of 1936, he had witnessed the passing of Sri Yukteswar, presided over his Guru’s last rites, and subsequently traveled to England, and then to Europe, meeting with other Seers and Holy Ones on the continent. By Easter of 1937, he had returned to America, and conducted the Easter service at his new Ashram at Encinitas, California. 

            Yogananda continued to travel and expound the philosophy and practice of Kriya Yoga in America and abroad. He established ashrams and instructional centers all over the country and the world from 1940 to 1950, inclusively, and this in addition to the existing centers in India at the time of his initial American journey. Finally, on March 07, 1952, Paramahansa Yogananda achieved Mahasamadhi, and passed beyond the veil of this illusory existence in Los Angeles. It is noteworthy that his body defied physical decomposition for a period of twenty days following his death, until his eventual burial, as a testament to his spiritual purity. 

            The practice of Kriya Yoga is the spiritual and philosophical core of Yogananda’s teaching, constituting the Gateway to Enlightenment. This is a complete system of spiritual lifestyle elements and involvements on all levels, not simply of Yoga postural positions (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranas), both of which are highly specialized in the Kriya Yoga discipline. One of the facets of this approach that I personally have found to be of great interest is the practice of lengthy extended meditation. I have attended several of these sessions at the Phoenix facility of the SRF on Central Avenue over the years, and can attest to their effectiveness. It is common to sit in meditation in this method for a minimum of two hours at a time, and four is the norm. The Christmas Meditation lasts eight hours, with the break for lunch considered to be optional. 

            The practice of meditation is known to increase in effectiveness with time spent in the resultant trance state that is experienced. As one passes into the condition of ego relaxation associated with this trance condition, several stages of heightened consciousness occur, eventually culminating in the direct perception and experience of the Divine condition in the state of Samadhi already noted. As this state is attained with frequency, the condition of God-Realization begins to occur as a permanent shift in the Initiate’s consciousness, and the physical world of Maya and suffering is transmuted into the experience of Divine Bliss – extreme happiness and contentment – as the hallmark of Enlightenment.  

            One of the unique and noteworthy elements of Yogananda’s spiritual philosophy is the official, prescribed combination of traditional Eastern Yoga with traditional Western Christianity.  This Guru-in-his-own-rite wrote many discourses on the blending of the two traditions, including hymnals that cross reference Christian and Yogic terminology, the incorporating of communion and Sunday services at ashrams, acceptance of Christ as the universal Savior of humanity, and observance of several Christian rites as spiritual protocols. I can remember the initially odd combination of these elements in the chants at the Phoenix ashram “Om Christ, Om Christ, Om Christ, Om”, in several variants, as the accompaniment to the long meditations, featuring instrumental support on the harmonium, a traditional Hindu temple bellows organ. The combination of these apparently so disparate philosophies into a working belief system serves as the final gift of Paramanhansa Yogananda’s life to humanity, the life of a Saint, Seer, and spiritual Visionary.


                                                                                - With Love, Alan -

                                                                         (CR2008, Alan Schneider)


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