Paramahansa Yogananda

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Paramahansa Yogananda
Paramahansa Yogananda Standard Pose.jpg
Mukunda Lal Ghosh

(1893-01-05)5 January 1893[1]
Died7 March 1952(1952-03-07) (aged 59)
Cause of deathHeart failure
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park
NationalityIndian and American
OrderSelf-Realization Fellowship Order
Founder ofSelf-Realization Fellowship /Yogoda Satsanga Society of India
PhilosophyHinduism, Kriya Yoga
Religious career
GuruSwami Yukteswar Giri
Literary worksBibliography
"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." – from the book The Divine Romance

Paramahansa Yogananda (5 January 1893 – 7 March 1952), or Paramhansa Yogananda, born Mukunda Lal Ghosh, was an Indian monk, yogi and guru who introduced millions of Indians and westerners to the teachings of meditation and Kriya Yoga through his organization Self-Realization Fellowship / Yogoda Satsanga Society of India. He published his book Autobiography of a Yogi in 1946 and it is on HarperSan Francisco's list of the "100 best spiritual books of the 20th Century";[2][3] the book has been regularly reprinted and is known as "the book that changed the lives of millions."[4][5]


Youth and Discipleship[edit]

Yogananda at age six

Yogananda was born in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, India, to a devout Hindu family.[6] According to his younger brother, Sananda, from his earliest years young Mukunda's awareness and experience of the spiritual was far beyond the ordinary,[6] his father, Bhagabati Charan Ghosh, was a Vice President of the Bengal-Nagpur Railway; the traveling nature of his job would move his family to several cities during Yogananda's childhood, including Lahore, Bareilly, and Kolkata.[7] His father would fund train-passes for his many childhood sight-seeing trips to distant cities and pilgrimage spots, which he would often take with friends. In his youth he sought out many of India's Hindu sages and saints, including the Soham "Tiger" Swami, Gandha Baba, and Mahendranath Gupta, hoping to find an illumined teacher to guide him in his spiritual quest.[7]

After finishing high school, Yogananda formally left home and joined a Mahamandal Hermitage in Varanasi; however, he soon became dissastisfied with its insistence on organizational work instead of meditation and God-perception, he began praying for guidance; in 1910, his seeking after various teachers mostly ended when, at the age of 17, he met his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri.[7] In his autobiography, 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!"[7]

He would go on to train under Sri Yukteswar as his disciple for the next ten years (1910-1920), at his hermitages in Serampore and Puri. Later on Sri Yukteswar informed Yogananda that he had been sent to him by the great guru of their lineage, Mahavatar Babaji, for a special world purpose of yoga dissemination.[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 Serampore College, the college having two entities, one as a constituent college of the Senate of Serampore College (University) and the other as an affiliated 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.[7] 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] One of the school's first batch of pupils was his youngest brother, Bishnu Charan Ghosh, who learnt yoga asanas there and in turn taught asanas to Bikram Choudhury;[8] this school would later become the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, the Indian branch of Yogananda's American organization, Self-Realization Fellowship.

Teaching in America[edit]

Meditating in 1910

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;[9][10] 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.[11] For the next several years, he lectured and taught on the East Coast[12] and in 1924 embarked on a cross-continental speaking tour.[13] Thousands came to his lectures.[7] 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][14] Yogananda was the first Hindu teacher of yoga to spend a major portion of his life in America, he lived in the United States from 1920 to 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 Catholic Stigmatist of Konnersreuth, and places of spiritual significance en route.[7][15]

Yogananda was put on a government watch list and kept under surveillance by the FBI and the British authorities, who were concerned about the growing independence movement in India.[16] A confidential file was kept on him from 1926-1937 due to concern over his religious and moral practices.[17]

Visit to India, 1935–1936[edit]

In 1935, he returned to India to visit his guru Yukteswar Giri and to help establish his Yogoda Satsanga work in India. During this visit, as told in his autobiography, he met with Mahatma Gandhi, and initiated him into the liberating technique of Kriya Yoga as Gandhi expressed his interest to receive the Kriya Yoga of Lahiri Mahasaya; Anandamoyi Ma; renowned physicist Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman; and several disciples of Yukteswar's guru Lahiri Mahasaya.[7] While in India, Yukteswar gave Yogananda the monastic title of Paramahansa. Paramahansa means "supreme swan" and is a title indicating the highest spiritual attainment.[18] In 1936, while Yogananda was visiting Calcutta, Yukteswar attained mahasamadhi (final soul liberation)[19] in the town of Puri.

Return to America, 1936[edit]

After returning to America, Yogananda continued to lecture, write, and establish churches in southern California, he took up residence at the SRF hermitage in Encinitas, California which was a surprise gift from his disciple Rajarsi Janakananda.[20][21] It was while at this hermitage that Yogananda wrote his famous Autobiography of a Yogi and other writings; also at this time he created an "enduring foundation for the spiritual and humanitarian work of Self‑Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India."[22]

Yogananda, 1950

The last four years of his life were spent primarily in seclusion with some of his inner circle of disciples at his desert ashram in Twentynine Palms, California to finish his writings and to finish revising books, articles and lessons written previously over the years.[23] During this period he gave few interviews and public lectures, he told his close disciples, "I can do much more now to reach others with my pen."[24]


In the days leading up to his death, Yogananda began hinting by talking with his disciples that it was time for him to leave the world.[25]

On 7 March 1952, he attended a dinner for the visiting Indian Ambassador to the US, Binay Ranjan Sen, and his wife at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.[26] At the conclusion of the banquet, Yogananda spoke of India and America, their contributions to world peace and human progress, and their future cooperation,[27] expressing his hope for a "United World" that would combine the best qualities of "efficient America" and "spiritual India."[28] According to an eyewitness – Daya Mata, a direct disciple of Yogananda, who was head of the Self-Realization Fellowship from 1955 to 2010[29][30] – 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."[31] "As he uttered these words, he lifted his eyes to the Kutastha center (the Ajna Chakra or "spiritual eye"), and his body slumped to the floor."[25][32] Followers say that he entered mahasamadhi;[32] the official cause of death was heart failure.[33]

His funeral service, with hundreds attending, was held at the SRF headquarters atop Mt. Washington in Los Angeles. Rajarsi Janakananda, the new president of the Self-Realization Fellowship, "performed a sacred ritual releasing the body to God."[34] 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.[30]


Giving a class in Washington, D.C.

In 1917 in India 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 the Self-Realization Fellowship and in 1925 established in Los Angeles, California, USA, the international headquarters for SRF.[10][35][36] Yogananda wrote the Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You and God Talks With Arjuna – The Bhagavad Gita to reveal what he claimed was the complete harmony and basic oneness of original Christianity as taught by Jesus Christ and original Yoga as taught by Bhagavan Krishna; and to present that these principles of truth are the common scientific foundation of all true religions.[37]

Yogananda wrote down his Aims and Ideals for Self-Realization Fellowship /Yogoda Satsanga Society:[7][38]

  • 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."[23] 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."[7][37]

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.[7]

He taught Kriya Yoga and other meditation practices to help people achieve that understanding, which he called Self-realization:[10]

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.[39]

Kriya Yoga[edit]

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.[7]

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".[7]

Sri Mrinalini Mata, the former president of SRF/YSS, said, "Kriya Yoga is so effective, so complete, because it brings God's love – the universal power through which God draws all souls back to reunion with Him – into operation in the devotee's life."[40]

Yogananda wrote in Autobiography of a Yogi that the "actual technique should be learned from an authorized Kriyaban (Kriya Yogi) of Self-Realization Fellowship /Yogoda Satsanga Society of India."[7]

Autobiography of a Yogi[edit]

First edition of Autobiography of a Yogi

In 1946, Yogananda published his life story, Autobiography of a Yogi,[10] it has since been translated into 45 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.[41] Autobiography of a Yogi is the most popular among Yogananda's books.[42] According to Philip Goldberg, who wrote American Veda, "the Self-Realization Fellowship which represents Yogananda's Legacy, is justified in using the slogan, "The Book that Changed the Lives of Millions." It has sold more than four million copies and counting".[43] In 2006, the publisher, Self-Realization Fellowship, honored the 60th anniversary of Autobiography of a Yogi "with a series of projects designed to promote the legacy of the man thousands of disciples still refer to as 'master'."[44]

Yogananda with Anandamayi Ma, 1910

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, Vishuddhananda Paramahansa, 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 laureate in physics 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."[7]

The Autobiography has been an inspiration for many people including George Harrison,[45] Ravi Shankar[46] and Steve Jobs. In the book Steve Jobs: A Biography the author writes that Jobs first read the Autobiography as a teenager, he re-read it in India and later while preparing for a trip, he downloaded it onto his iPad2 and then re-read it once a year ever since.[47]

Claims of bodily incorruptibility[edit]

As reported in Time Magazine on 4 August 1952, Harry T. Rowe, Los Angeles Mortuary Director of the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, where Yogananda's body was received, embalmed and interred,[48] wrote in a notarized letter[7]

The absence 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...[49][50]

Because of two statements in Rowe's letter, some have questioned whether the term "incorruptibility" is appropriate. First, in his fourth paragraph he wrote: "For protection of the public health, embalming is desirable if a dead body is to be exposed for several days to public view. Embalming of the body of Paramhansa Yogananda took place twenty-four hours after his demise." In the eleventh paragraph he wrote: "On the late morning of March 26th, we observed a very slight, a barely noticeable, change – the appearance on the tip of the nose of a brown spot, about one-fourth inch in diameter. This small faint spot indicated that the process of desiccation (drying up) might finally be starting. No visible mold appeared however."[50]

As Forest Lawn's Mortuary Director, Rowe was professionally well qualified to distinguish the exceptional from the ordinary, he continued in paragraphs fourteen and fifteen: "The physical appearance of Paramhansa Yogananda on March 27th just before the bronze cover for the casket was put into position, was the same as it was on March 7th. He looked on March 27th as fresh and unravaged by decay as he had looked on the night of his death. On March 27th there was no reason to say that his body had suffered any physical disintegration at all. For these reason we state again that the case of Paramhansa Yogananda is unique in our experience. On May 11, 1952, during a telephone conversation between an officer of Forest Lawn and an officer of Self-Realization Fellowship, the amazing story was brought out for the first time."[49]

Self-Realization Fellowship published Rowe's four-page notarized letter in its entirety in the May–June 1952 issue of its magazine Self-Realization.[51] From 1958 to the present it has been included in that organization's booklet Paramahansa Yogananda: In Memoriam.[30]

The location of Yogananda's crypt is in the Great Mausoleum, Sanctuary of Golden Slumber, Mausoleum Crypt 13857, Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale).[52]


Self-Realization Fellowship /Yogoda Satsanga Society of India[edit]

Yogoda Satsanga Society of India (YSS) is a non-profit religious organization founded by Yogananda in 1917, 100 years ago.[5][6] In countries outside the Indian subcontinent it is known as the Self-Realization Fellowship. Yogananda's dissemination of his teachings is continued through this organization – the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) /Yogoda Satsanga Society of India (YSS).[43][29] Yogananda founded the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India in 1917 and then expanded it in 1920 to the United States naming it the Self-Realization Fellowship. In 1935 he legally incorporated it in the U.S. to serve as his instrument for the preservation and worldwide dissemination of his teachings.[53] Yogananda expressed this intention again in 1939 in his magazine Inner Culture for Self-Realization that he published through his organization:

Paramahansa Swami Yogananda renounced all his ownership rights in the Self-Realization Fellowship when it was incorporated as a nonprofit religious organization under the laws of California, March 29, 1935. At that time he turned over to the Fellowship all of his rights to and income from sale of his books, writings, magazine, lectures, classes, property, automobiles and all other possessions...[54]

SRF/YSS is headquartered in Los Angeles and has grown to include more than 500 temples and centers around the world, it has members in over 175 countries including the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine.[55] In India and surrounding countries, Paramahansa Yogananda's teachings are disseminated by YSS which has more than 100 centers, retreats, and ashrams.[29] Rajarsi Janakananda was chosen by Yogananda to become the President of SRF/YSS when he was gone.[10][56] Daya Mata, a 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 to 2010.[11] According to Linda Johnsen, the new wave today is women, for major Indian gurus have passed on their spiritual mantle to women including Yogananda to the American born Daya Mata[57] and then to Mrinalini Mata. Mrinalini Mata, a direct disciple of Yogananda, was the president and spiritual head of Self-Realization Fellowship /Yogoda Satsanga Society of India from 9 January 2011 until her death on 3 August 2017, she too was personally chosen and trained by Yogananda to help guide the dissemination of his teachings after his death.[29] On 30 August 2017, Brother Chidananda was elected as the next president in a unanimous vote by the SRF Board of Directors.[58]

India's commemorative stamps[edit]

A 1977 stamp of India

India released a commemorative stamp in honour of Yogananda in 1977.[59] "Department of Post issued a commemorative postage stamp on the occasion of the twenty‑fifth anniversary of Yogananda's passing in honor of his far‑reaching contributions to the spiritual upliftment of humanity. "The ideal of love for God and service to humanity found full expression in the life of Paramahansa Yogananda. Though the major part of his life was spent outside India, still he takes his place among our great saints, his work continues to grow and shine ever more brightly, drawing people everywhere on the path of the pilgrimage of the Spirit."[60][61]

A 2017 stamp of India, with the Yogoda Satsanga Sakha Math at Ranchi in the background

On 7 March 2017, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi released another commemorative postage stamp honoring the 100th anniversary of the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India.[62] Prime Minister Modi at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi appreciated Yogananda for spreading the message of India's spirituality in foreign shores, he said that though Yogananda left the shores of India to spread his message, he always remained connected with India.[63]

Visit by Ram Nath Kovind, President of India[edit]

On 15 November 2017 the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, accompanied by the Governor of Jharkhand, Draupadi Murmu and Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Raghubar Das, visited the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India's Ranchi Ashram in honor of the official release of the Hindi translation of Yogananda's book God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita. Brother Chidananda, president of Self-Realization Fellowship /Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, along with a contingent of YSS and SRF monastics greeted and hosted them; this meeting took place during the 2017 YSS Sharad Sangam which was honoring YSS's centennial anniversary (1917–2017).[64][65]

President Kovind said:

Paramahansa Yogananda’s message is a message of spirituality. Going beyond the confines of religion, his is a message of respecting all religions; his perspective is of world brotherhood.

Through the publication of this Hindi translation, the wisdom-imparting teachings implicit in this book, which are of much assistance in everyday life, are now made available to a very large readership, he expressed hope that “millions of people will be able to know themselves better, and recognize the way to make their lives better, through Paramahansa Yogananda’s Gita commentary, now that it is available in Hindi.

Paramahansa Yogananda has also deeply impressed today's young generation, which is surrounded by materialism and competition. Achieving prosperity and success on an international level amidst fierce struggle, many young people credit their accomplishments to Paramahansaji's Autobiography of a Yogi; this is a very renowned book, and I think most of you have read it; I too have had that opportunity. This book illumines the right course for all to follow in life.[66][67]

Noted direct disciples[edit]


See also[edit]


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  5. ^ Bowden, Henry Warner (1993). Dictionary of American Religious Biography. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-27825-3. p. 629.
  6. ^ a b Sananda Lal Ghosh,(1980), Mejda, Self-Realization Fellowship, p.3
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Autobiography of a Yogi, 1997 Anniversary Edition. Self-Realization Fellowship (Founded by Yogananda)
  8. ^ Newcombe, Suzanne (2017). "The Revival of Yoga in Contemporary India". Religion. Oxford Research Encyclopedias. 1. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.253.
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  13. ^ Sister Gyanamata "God Alone: The Life and Letters of a Saint" p. 11
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