The Life and Work of Sri Sri Paramahansa Yogananda: A Yogi’s Biography

Paramahansa Yogananda was an Indian-American Hindu monk, the first major Indian guru to settle in the USA, and he was described by the Los Angeles Times as the 20th century’s first superstar guru. He has authored Autobiography of a Yogi, which has sold over 4 million copies and is known as one of the best spiritual books of the 20th century. In this biography of Paramahansa Yogananda, let us get to know about his life, work and teachings.

Early Life

Yoganada was born as Mukunda La Ghosh in Gorakhpur, UP. His father Charan Ghosh was the vice president of Bengal Nagpur Railway and his mother’s name was Gyanprabha Devi. His mother died when he was aged eleven, and she left behind for him, a holy amulet given to her by some sacred man who had told her that Mukunda was to have it for some time, after which it would disappear.

Since his childhood and during youth, Yogananda was in search of a spiritual guru, and he was fond of visiting pilgrimage sites. After completing high school, he left his place to join a Mahamandal Hermitage in Varanasi, which did not match his requirement, which is why he resumed seeking spiritual guidance. His quest concluded when he met Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, who would be his guru, and at that time, the amulet vanished. He learned from Sri Yukteswar Giri for 10 years.

In 1915, he earned a degree equivalent to today’s Bachelor of Arts, after passing the Intermediate Exam in Arts from Calcutta. During this time as well, he spent time at Yukteshwar ashram in Serampore. In July 1915, he took vows into the monastic Swami order. As permitted by his guru Yukteswar, he assumed the name Swami Yoganada Giri.

Work in Spiritual Education

Paramahansa Yogananda (2)

In 1917, Yogananda established a school for boys in Dihika, where education was combined with teachings related to yoga and spirituality. Later, this school turned into Yogananda Satsanga Society (YSS) of India.

In 1920, he received a vision that he would soon go to USA, as a visual of many Americans appeared before his eyes. The next day, he received an invitation from the American Unitarian Association to be India’s delegate at the International Congress of Religious Liberals to be held in Boston. There he spoke about the ‘Science of Religion’, which was well-received by the audience. As written in Autobiography of a Yogi, he received a message from Mahavatar Babaji (the first guru of his lineage) that he should introduce Westerners to Kriya Yoga.

In August 1920, he travelled to USA by sea. He spoke at the International Congress and later in the same year, he established the Self Realization Fellowship to spread the Indian practices of yoga and meditation to other parts of the world.

In 1924, Yogananda went on a cross-continental speaking tour, during which he attracted several followers, many of which were celebrities. In 1925, he founded the International Centre for Self-Realization Fellowship in Los Angeles. He spent over 30 years in the USA and was the first Hindu yoga teacher to stay for so long in America.

In 1925, he founded the International Headquarters for SRF in Los Angeles.

He believed that Christianity as taught by Jesus Christ and the original Yoga as taught by Lord Krishna are in harmony, and that their principles of truth are at the base of all religions.

He intended to teach the world, the scientific methods to get the experience of God. He wanted everyone to know that the purpose of life is evolution. He wished to let people know the importance of meditation on God. The intent of his teachings was to free the human beings from sufferings like physical disease, mental chaos and spiritual ignorance. He always propagated simple living and high thinking. He maintained that the mind supersedes the body and the soul supersedes the mind, and that all evil can be overcome by good. He wished to enlighten people about the oneness of science and religion and wanted to achieve peace and harmony in the world.

He believed and advocated the philosophy that everything in the cosmos is being run by the Almighty and all of us are just actors in the play being directed by God. He said that as humans we get attached to our current role and forget to look beyond, towards the ultimate director, God.

Yogananda’s key teaching to the world includes Kriya Yoga. According to him, this yogic practice directs one’s life energy towards the 6 spinal centres, and helps the individual evolve. This technique is said to be highly effective in achieving the universal power which can get us close to God.

In 1935, Yogananda came to India by sea route with the intent to meet his guru Yukteswar Giri and that time he helped in establishing Yogoda Satsanga. He received a grand welcome by his followers in India spread in Mumbai as well as Kolkata.

He introduced Kriya Yoga to Mahatma Gandhi. He met some other renowned spiritual seekers in India during his stay in the country.

During this stay, Yoganada’s guru Yukteswar gave him the title Paramahansa (which means supreme swan), which was given in recognition of Yogananda’s highest spiritual attainment.

In March 1936, Yukteswara died and by June that year, Yogananda started thinking of returning to USA. During a stay in Mumbai, he is known to have had a vision of Krishna and an encounter with his guru Yukteswar when he could access his physical existence and hear from him about his work in afterlife.

Later that year, Yogananda left for USA, stopped in London for some time where he conducted yoga classes, and moved towards USA in October 1936.

In USA, he continued giving lectures, writing and established many centres in California. He later established the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India.

Later Life

During the later years of his life, he spend more time with only a few disciples or alone. He completed his writings, revised previously written works, gave some interviews and public lectures, but believed that he could reach to many more people through his writing.

On March 7, 1952, he was present at a dinner for the visiting Indian ambassador to the US, Binay Ranjan Sen in Los Angeles, when post-dinner he was speaking about India and America. He spoke about their work in world peace and progress of society, and spoke of a United World that could be a blend of the good attributes of the efficient America and the spiritual India. As per his disciple Daya Mata, while concluding his speech with a poem, he lifted his eyes to the Ajna Chakra and fell to the floor. He left for heavenly abode about which he had hinted to his disciples earlier.

While medical experts stated the cause of Yogananda’s death as acute coronary occlusion, his students maintained that he had entered mahasamadhi. It is said that even three weeks after his death, his body did not deteriorate and his face still had a divine glow. His samadhi has been built at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. Paramahansa Yogananda has appeared on Indian postage stamps. He is called the Father of Yoga in the West. He devoted many years of his life to unite the material growth of the West with Indian spirituality. He was the first major Indian to be hosted in the White House. He created a monastic order and trained several individuals. He has initiated around 100,000 people into Kriya Yoga. Such is the greatness of his work and he is aptly considered as one of the most respected and loved spiritual masters of the modern era.

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