Paramhansa Yogananda

Religion

Paramhansa Yogananda

Paramhansa Yogananda

 (1893-1974)

"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 to improve your knowing. "

 

"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". These words of Paramhansa Yogananda contained in his book, The Essence of Self-Realization, form the basis of his approach to spiritual campaign in the West. He was the founder of Self-Realization Fellow- ship and advocated for the unity of all religions and is the author of a home study course, known as The Lessons, which constitutes the blueprint to finding God. The Lessons contain the technique of Kriya Yoga, a tool for accelerating spiritual development in man, and a sacred spiritual science which originated thousands of years ago in India and is revived by the lineage of enlightened masters.

 

Paramhansa Yogananda's original name was Mukunda Lal Ghosh. He was born on January 5,1893 in Gorakhpur in north-eastern India near the Himalayan mountains. He belonged to a Bengali family. His father was Bhagabati Charan Ghosh, who was an outstanding mathematician and logician. His mother was a religious lady who used to tell the tales of Mahabharata and Ramayana to her four sons and four daughters to inculcate in them the moral values. Bhagabati Charan was a strict disciplinarian to his children in their early years. Early in their married life, his parents became disciples of a great master, Lahiri Mahasaya of Banaras. This strengthened Bhagabati Charan's ascetic temperament. The photograph of Lahiri Mahasaya in his house had a deep impact on Mukunda's psyche. 'What is behind the darkness of closed eyes", the boy thought. This probing thought came powerfully into his mind. An immense flash of light at once manifested in his inner gaze. Divine shapes of saints, sitting in meditation posture in mountain caves, formed like miniature cinema pictures on the large screen of radiance within his forehead. His heart was thrilled. Out of the slow dwindling of his divine ecstasy, he envisaged a permanent legacy of inspiration to seek God. "He is eternal, ever-new joy!", he felt convinced.

 

Mukunda was 11-year-old when his mother expired. He loved her most. Years passed before he could reconcile to this bereavement. Storming the very gates of heaven, his cries at last summoned the Divine Mother. Her words brought final healing to his supporting wounds: "It is I who have watched over thee, life after life, in the tenderness of many mothers! See in My gaze the two black eyes, the lost beautiful eyes, thou seekest!" Intense pangs of longing for God assailed him and he felt powerfully drawn to the Himalayas. He listened from his cousin the tales about the high mountain abode of yogis and swamis. He decided to be a monk and fled to Nainital in the Himalayan foothills, but had to return.

 

Later, with the permission of his father he set on a pilgrimage to Benaras. There he met Swami Pranabananda. But still the boy was determined to go to Himalayas to find out amid the snows the master whose face often appeared to him in visions. While in meditation at home he prepared his mind for the divine search. One day, he hastily tied together a blanket, a pair of sandals, two loin-cloths, a string of prayer beads, Lahiri Mahasaya's picture, and a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. Along with another boy he surreptitiously left home. His brother, Ananta, came to know of this. Ananta, with the help of a spiritual guru, tried to dissuade him. He then prayed silently to God and noticed a sadhu of noble countenance standing just outside the compound of pundit's house. The boy felt a tremendous power flowing from sadhu's eyes. The sadhu advised the boy not to listen to that ignoramus and that the boy had been ordained for renunciation. He blessed the boy and departed. The boy now started for the Himalayas in a buoyant spiritual mood. In the Himalayas, he met Lahiri Mahasaya's disciple, Swami Kebalananda. The peerless guru had attracted thousands of disciples, silently drawn to him by the irresistibility of his divine magnetism.

 

Kebalananda was a noted authority on the ancient shastras or sacred books. His erudition had earned him the title of Shastri Mahasaya and he was usually addressed as such. Kebalananda had remained near Lahiri Mahasaya for ten years. The master was a living temple of God, whose secret doors were open to all disciples through devotion. It is from him that the boy had learnt the greatness of the master and asked him to ceaselessly continue on his path to liberation through kriya, whose power lies in practice. Kebalananda told the boy that he considered kriya the most effective device of salvation through self-effort ever to be evolved on man's search for the Infinite. He emphasized that through the use of kriya, the omnipotent God, hidden in all men, became visibly incarnated in the flesh of Lahiri Mahasaya and of a number of his disciples.

 

Two years elapsed ever since Mukunda had left home. During this period he met Nagendra Nath Bhaduri, Master Mahasaya, the famous Bengali scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose, and the "Perfume Saint". He also met "Tiger Swami" whose monastic name was Sohong, and whose fierce yet calm face was adorned with flowing locks, beard and moustache, and tiger-like qualities shone in his dark eyes. He was unclothed, save for a tiger skin about his muscular waist. The Swami told Mukunda and his friends that his earliest ambition was to fight tigers and he could do it by his indomitable persistency in thoughts of health and strength. The Swami related to them his own stormy life, and how through sheer determination and will power he subdued the beasts of ignorance roaming in jungles of the human mind, and they submitted themselves to him. Hewas also fascinated by the remarkable feats and various pranayamas shown by Bhaduri Mahasaya, whose full name was Nagendranath Bhaduri. It was mentioned in the ancient eightfold yoga outlined by Patanjali, the foremost ancient exponent of yoga. The sage locked his vibrant body in the lotus posture. There he attained anubhava. The Swami asked him to go to America.

 

With the help of his friend, Mukunda attained the minimum grade for success in all subjects. He completed his secondary school course. He joined Sri Yukteswar Giri in his Banaras hermitage to receive the spiritual discipline. He tried to control his appetite. There he sought wisdom and God realization from the master. He was advised by the master to go back to Calcutta (now, Kolkata) and enter college. With university degree he could go to the West where people were receptive to India's ancient wisdom. Mukunda felt convinced that good and positive suggestions should instruct the sensitive ears of children as their early ideas long remain etched. The master initiated him in kriya yoga. Mukunda had already learnt this technique. His father was pleased.

 

Along with a friend, he took a train to Vrindavan. Though penniless and unknown in the city, a person, Pratap Chatterji, offered to help him and even got ticket for Agra. In return, they instructed him in the kriya of Lahiri Mahasaya, the greatest yogi of modern times. The initiation was concluded just within half an hour. The technique embodies the art of quickening man's spiritual evolution. Hindu scriptures teach an individual to undergo a cycle of over eighty-four million births and deaths to achieve liberation from maya. This period is greatly reduced through kriya yoga. Just as the growth of plant can be accelerated beyond its normal rate, as Jagadish Chandra Bose had demonstrated, so man's psychological development can also be speeded up by scientific means.

 

Mukunda was enrolled in Scottish Church College in Calcutta, but he was little seen in the classrooms. He stayed in the Ashram and continued his association with the master but managed to attain minimum passing grades from time to time. The master impressed upon him that a true yogi is able to enter into and maintain the superconscious state, regardless of multitudinous distractions in the process of living. In the first (sabikalpa) state of samadhi, the devotee shuts off all sensory testimony of the outer world. He is rewarded by sounds and scenes of the inner soul fairer than the pristine Eden. His guru interpreted to him the ancient texts. At his feet, Mukunda found perfect peace and learnt that by ahimsa Patanjali meant elimination of the desire to kill and that all forms of life have an equal right to live. The saint, who uncovers the secret of creation, is in harmony with Nature's countless bewildering manifestations. The shastras teach that wanton loss of any creation is a serious transgression against the karmic law. Once the master was confronted with a deadly cobra in Puri but he conquered it by love. The guru impressed on Mukunda that the principles that operate in the outer universe, discovered by scientists, are called natural laws. But there are subtler laws that rule the hidden spiritual planes and the inner realm of consciousness. These principles are knowable through the science of yoga. Sri Yukteswar was indeed a peerless interpreter of the scriptures.

 

Mukunda was still keen to go to the Himalayas, ignoring Sri Yukteswar's assertion that wisdom is better sought from a man of realization than from inert mountains. He left for Tarakeswar to meet the "sleepless saint", Ram Gopal Muzumdar, who, it was believed, had received enlightenment after his practice of kriya yoga for many years in isolated caves. There Mukunda was told that yoga, through which divinity is found within, is undoubtedly the highest road and mountains cannot be his guru. Mukunda felt convinced. These simple words instantaneously banished his lifelong obsession for the Himalayas. He returned to Calcutta and to Sri Yukteswar's Ashram. Sri Yukteswar gently touched Mukunda's chest above the heart and his body became still. His soul and mind instantly lost their physical bondage and streamed out like a fluid, piercing light from his every pore. His sense of identity was no longer narrowly confined to the body but embraced the circumambient atoms. People on distant streets seemed to be moving gently over his own remote periphery. The roots of plants and trees appeared through a dim transparency of the soil and he discerned the inward flow of their sap. All objects within his panoramic gaze trembled and vibrated like quick motion pictures. The divine dispersion of rays poured from an eternal source, blazing into galaxies, transfigured with ineffable auras. Again and again, he saw the creative beams condense into constellations. Blissful amrita, nectar of immortality, pulsated through him with a quicksilver like fluidity. The creative voice of God he heard resounded as Aum, the vibration of the Cosmic Motor.

 

Mukunda now realized that he had found God and had been subtly directed to adopt the right course in everything, even in minor details. In Serampore College, his instructors usually treated him with kindness. He was said to be "over- drunk with religion", and was nicknamed "Mad Monk". In his philosophy paper, he was given high rating to his answers even though they were unembellished by textbook quotations. However, in other papers, he scored the lowest marks to qualify. He was now to sit for the B.A. examination. His almost daily visits to Sri Yukteswar had left him little time to attend classes. But with the blessings and guidance of his guru, Mukunda got through the examination and was awarded the degree from the Calcutta University in June 1915.

 

Mukunda's father was anxious to get an executive's position for him in Bengal-Nagpur Railway, but the boy refused. His guru initiated him into swamiship. In July 1915, the guru dipped a new piece of white silk into a dye of ochre, the traditional colour of the Swami Order. After the cloth had dried, his guru draped it around him as a renunciate's robe and thus he was made a swami in the bidwat (non- ceremonious) manner. The bibidisa or elaborate initiation into swamiship includes a fire ceremony, during which symbolical funeral rites are performed. The physical body of the disciple is represented as dead, cremated in the flame of wisdom. The newly-made swami is then given a chant, such as: "This atma is Brahma" or "Thou art That" or "I have dispensed with all formal rites, and merely asked him to select a new name. The guru gave him the privilege of choosing a new name for himself. After a moment's thought, he wanted ''Yogananda'', which means ''bliss (ananda) through divine union (yoga)". The guru asked him to forsake his family name of Mukunda Lal Ghosh. Henceforth, Mukunda was referred to as Swami Yogananda of the Giri Bran.ch of Swami Order.

 

All monks of the Swami Order trace their spiritual lineage to a common guru, Adi ("the first") Sankaracharya. They take vows of poverty (non-attachment to possessions), chastity, and obedience to the head or spiritual authority. In many ways, the Catholic Christian monastic orders resemble the more ancient Order of Swamis. To his new name, a swami adds a word that indicates his formal connection with one of the ten subdivisions of the Swami Order. These dasanamis or ten agnomens include Giri (mountain), to which Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri belonged. Among the other branches are Sagar (sea), Bharati (land), Puri (tract), Saraswati (wisdom of Nature), Aranya (forest), and Tirth (place of pilgrimage). A swami's monastic name, which usually ends in ananda (supreme bliss). signifies his aspiration to attain emancipation through a particular path, state, or divine quality-love, wisdom, discrimination, devotion, service, yoga. The ideal of selfless service to all mankind and of renunciation of personal ties and ambitions leads the majority of swamis to engage actively in humanitarian and educational work in India or occasionally 'in foreign lands.

 

The science of Kriya Yoga, which Swami Yogananda practised and popularized in his life is union (yoga) with the Infinite through a certain action or rite (kriya). He said that a yogi, who faithfully practices the technique, is gradually freed from karma or the lawful chain of cause-effect equilibrium. Kriya Yoga, he said, is a simple, psychophysiological method by which human blood is decarbonized and recharged with oxygen. The atoms of extra oxygen are transmuted into life current to rejuvenate the brain and spinal centres. By stopping the accumulation of venous blood, the yogi is able to lessen or prevent the decay Of tissues. The advanced yogi transmutes his cells into energy. Elijah, Jesus, Kabir and other prophets were past masters in the use of kriya or a similar technique by which they caused their bodies to materialize and dematerialize at will. Kriya Yoga is a revival of the same science that Krishna gave millenniums l').go to Arjuna, later known to Patanjali and Christ as well as to St John, St Paul and other disciples. In his former incarnation, Krishna communicated the indestructible yoga to an-ancient illuminato, Vivasvat, who gave it to Manu, the great legislator. He, in turn, instructed Ikshwaku, founder of India's solar warrior dynasty. The kriya yogi mentally directs his life energy to revolve upward and downward, around the six spinal centres (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, explained Swami Yogananda, effects subtle progress in his evolution. This half-minute of kriya equals one year of natural spiritual unfoldment.

 

The kriya beginner, according to Swami Yogananda, employs his yogic technique only fourteen to twenty-four times, twice in a day. A number of yogis achieve emancipation in six or twelve or twenty-four or forty-eight years. Kriya practice is accompanied from the very beginning by feelings of peace and soothing sensations of regenerative effect in the spine. The kriya yogi uses his technique to saturate and feed all his physical cells with undecayable light and thus keep them in a spiritually magnetized condition. Kriya serves to prolong life and enlarge the consciousness to infinity. The yoga technique overcomes the tug of war between the mind and the matter-entangled senses, and frees the devotee again to inherit his eternal kingdom. Kriya, controlling the mind directly through the life force, to the Infinite.

 

In 1918, Swami Yogananda founded the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidyalaya through the generosity of Sir Manindra Chandra Nundy, Maharaja of Kasimbazar. He organized a programme for both grammar and high- school grades. It includes agricultural, industrial, commercial and academic subjects. Following the educational ideals of the rishis (whose forest ashrams were ancient seats of learning, both secular and divine, for the youth of India), he arranged that most class instructions be given outdoors. The Vidyalaya is located in Ranchi. Students are taught yoga meditation, and a unique system of health and physical development. The Ranchi school grew from small and humble beginning to an institution in Bihar. Contributions come from a-number of voluntary organizations. It maintains a medical dispensary for the poor of the area.

 

Swami Yogananda met Rabindranath Tagore soon after the latter was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. He appreciated Tagore for introducing a new style into Bengali poetry and mixing colloquial and classical expressions, ignoring all prescribed limitations. Tagore's songs, Swami Yogananda said, embody deep philosophic truth in emotionally appealing terms, with little regard for the accepted literary norms. In the words of SwamiY ogananda, kirya is the easiest, most effective, and scientific avenue of approach. He introduced many identical features in schools- outdoor instruction, simplicity, ample scope for child's creative spirit.

 

Swami Yogananda received an invitation to serve as delegate from India to an International Congress of Religious Liberals in America. It was to be held in Boston under the a uspices of the American Unitarian Association. His father encouraged him by agreeing to meet all expenses, and wanted him to spread the teachings of Kriya Yoga. Before he left, Sri Yukteswar advised him not to forget that he was born among Hindus and should not adopt all ways of Americans. He was, however, advised to seek and incorporate into his being the best qualities of his brothers, scattered over the earth in various races. He left India in August 1920. During his voyage, he was asked by fellow passengers to speak on the "Battle of Life and How to Fight It". It was his first experience to deliver a lecture and that too in English. Initially, he evoked laughter from the audience for showing embarrassment, but when he remembered God and started speaking, his lecture was appreciated. He got a number of invitations from various institutions in America to speak.

 

He reached Boston on October 6, 1920 and delivered his maiden speech on the Science of Religion at the Conference. It was well received. Religion, he said, is universal and one. We cannot possibly universalize particular customs and conventions, but the common elements in religion can be universalized and all should follow and obey them. He was in America for three years delivering public lectures, taught classes and wrote a book of poems, Songs of the Soul. In the end of 1925, he established an American centre on Mount Washington Estates in Los Angeles. His yoga classes were attended by thousands of people. In 1929, his second book of poems, Whispers from Eternity, was published.

 

Swami Yogananda returned to India on August 22,1935. Here, in 1938, Yogada Math in Dakshneswar was established. The hermitage affords a haven of peace for city dwellers. The Dakshineswar Math is the headquarters in India of Yogoda Satsang Society, and its schools. Its centres and ashrams have been set up in various parts ofIndia. Its activities include publication of quarterly Yogoda Magazine and monthly mailings of Lessons to students In all parts of India for the higher instruction in Kriya Yoga.

 

On March 10, 1974, at the age of81, Sri Yukteswarleft this mundane existence. He was buried with ancient rituals of the swamis in the garden of his PuriAshram. Many of his disciples went to Puri for the last rites. He was a great disciple of Yogiraj Sri Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahasaya of Banaras. He was the founder of several Yogoda Satsanga (Self- Realization Fellowship) centres in India and was the great inspiration behind the yoga movement, which was carried to the West by Swami Yogananda, his principal disciple. It was Sri Yukteswar's prophetic powers and deep realization that inspired Swami Y ogananda to cross the oceans and spread in America the message of the masters in India.

 

Swami Yogananda made many trips back and forth between India and the West. On one of his periodic returns he was promoted to Paramahansa status. The death of his guru was a great psychological blow to him but the apparent resurrection of his master consoled him. By now, he had many Self-Realization Fellowship centres with headquarters in Los Angeles. He seemed to have some inkling that his time was up. He completed his Autobiography up to the year 1951. On March 7, 1952, the great Yogi passed away. His body was kept in a casket for over two weeks and, as the astonished mortician and many scientists realized, the body showed no signs of decay. It was his little demonstration of the power of yoga and the fact that flesh does not define us but only the eternal spirit. After sometime, the preserved corpse was cremated but his legacy remains.

 

 

Paramhansa Yogananda was the first yoga master of India to live and teach in the West. He travelled to the West on his spiritual missions. His enthusiastic audiences filled large halls in America. The path of Kriya Yoga, which he called the "jet aeroplane" route to God, consists of ancient yoga techniques to hasten the spiritual evolution of students. His disciple, Swami Kriyananda, founded Ananda Village in 1968 to fulfil Paramhansa Yogananda's vision of 'World Brotherhood Colonies' or spiritual cooperative communities. Yogananda envisioned a place where all people, not just monastics, could devote themselves to living a divine life, dedicated to practising the teachings of yoga in every aspect of their daily life. Ananda Village has over 300 adult members and children. Ananda Worldwide now includes World Brotherhood Colonies in four American cities and in Assisi, Italy. All residents practice Yogananda's teachings of meditation and apply his principles to all facets of life- business, schools, relationships, healing, and much more. Ananda's Expanding Light retreat has been sharing these principles for over twenty-five years now.

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