Hyderabad: Renowned as the father of Yoga in the West, Sri Sri Paramahansa Yogananda (1893–1952) is one of the most trailblazing spiritual emissaries of our era. On the great master’s 129th birth anniversary, let us reflect on the transformative power of his teachings as they continue to guide the lives of millions across the world.
In his multifaceted avatar as a saint, revivalist of yoga, visionary philosopher, poet, and author, Yogananda is at once both a sadguru and a jagadguru. His famous memoir, the Autobiography of a Yogi , a modern-day scripture introduced readers to the sacred science of Kriya — an advanced technique of Raja Yoga pranayama.
A Divine Destiny
Paramahansa Yogananda, known in his pre-monastic life as Mukunda Lal Ghosh, was born on January 5, 1893, in Gorakhpur, into a well-to-do Bengali family. His parents were disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya, the eminent householder yogi of Banaras, who had received the long-lost Kriya from the deathless Mahavatar Babaji. When Mukunda was but a babe in his mother’s arms, Lahiri Mahasaya had prophesied, “Little mother, thy son will be a yogi. As a spiritual engine, he will carry many souls to God’s kingdom,” — indicating his preordained mission.
Mukunda’s childhood was characterised by an abiding interest in spirituality and meeting with spiritual personages. He met his guru Sri Yukteswar, in 1910, and under his tutelage, ultimately experienced samadhi and was ordained as a monk in the ancient Swami order. He was given the name “Yogananda” — meaning ‘bliss through divine union’. In 1917, Yogananda set up a ‘how-to-live’ residential school in Ranchi and established Yogoda Satsanga Society of India to make available the universal teachings of Kriya Yoga, a sacred spiritual science originating millenniums ago in India. These nonsectarian teachings embody a complete philosophy and way of life for achieving all-round success and well-being, as well as methods of meditation for achieving life’s ultimate goal — union of the soul with Spirit (God).
In 1920, a vision prompted his departure to the United States at age 27. Notably, the West proved receptive to Yogananda’s scientific temper and the universal appeal of yoga. The same year, Yogananda founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) in America to disseminate India’s inclusive teachings of God-realization to the West in a practical and accessible manner.
He travelled extensively in the United States; he continued to lecture to capacity audiences and write up to his passing in 1952. His mahasamadhi came to pass just as he had predicted, “I will not die in bed, but with my boots on, speaking of God and my beloved India.” And his last words were: “Where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves, and men dream God — I’m hallowed; my body touched that sod.”
Paramahansaji’s numerous books, lectures, authoritative interpretation of the scriptures, home-study Lessons, and more, throw light on the ineffable truths of Spirit. He emphasised the role of Kriya Yoga meditation in transcending the individual self (ego) to realize the true self (soul) in the infinite ocean of cosmic consciousness (spirit). To quote him, “By the practise of meditation, you will find that you are carrying within your heart a portable paradise.”
The profound global impact of Paramahansa Yogananda’s legacy can be seen in the ever-growing SRF/YSS centres in more than 60 countries; in the monastics who are living exemplars of his mission, in the transformed lives of several thousand lay disciples who accept him as their sadguru, and in countless seekers from different paths who try and embody his example of a balanced life of right action guided by divine wisdom. Paramahansaji influenced the lives of several prominent figures including Nobel laureate Thomas Mann, opera star Amelita Galli-Curci, Beatle George Harrison, scientist Luther Burbank, Kodak founder George Eastman, Apple founder Steve Jobs, cricketer Virat Kohli, to name just a few.
In today’s unprecedented times, when contending with crises on so many levels, his words show us how to lead a harmonious life with love and compassion while minimizing suffering. In his words, “Kindness is the light that dissolves all walls between souls, families, and nations.”
For further information: yssofindia.org
Image credit: Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India.
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