Paramahansa Yogananda – Yogi Who Popularized Yoga In The West

Paramahansa Yogananda, an author of the classic spiritual book Autobiography of a Yogi, is one of the most highly Influential Yogi in the western world. Through his spiritual teachings and the example of his own life, he made an invaluable contribution to the spiritual wisdom recognition of the East by the West.

Paramahansa Yogananda initiated people into the unique technique of meditation, Kriya Yoga, including Mahatma Gandhi. The science of Kriya Yoga was passed to him by his Guru Sri Yukteswar Giri, who was initiated by Sri Lahiri Mahasaya.

He is one of the first-ever Swami who was invited order to meet with the President of the United States of America at the White House. The life of the great yogi Paramahansa Yogananda is an example of true Divine Nature.

“The true basis of religion is not belief, but an intuitive experience.”

Paramahansa Yogananda
Paramahansa Yogananda

Early Life of Paramahansa Yogananda

Born on January 5, 1893, near the Himalayas in Gorakhpur as Mukunda Lal Ghosh, he was the son of a senior manager of the Bengal-Nagpur Railway. Yogananda was lucky that he was born into a wealthy family belonging to one of the highest castes and received all the related privileges – education, the ability to travel, and choose a life path.

To his father’s bitterness, he decided to give up worldly vanity and become a monk in the Swami Order. However, he had no other way than to face the bitter truth. His mother knew that the boy would seek God even before the child’s birth. There are several life events that took place to confirm this prediction. Yogananda’s father had to accept his son’s choice.

He longed for God as fervently as others yearn for human love or worldly recognition from his earliest childhood. Mukunda’s favorite pastime was visiting saints. They often called him Chhoto Mahashaya, meaning Little master. Treating him not as a child but as a spiritual equal, many asked him deep questions and sought advice on spiritual matters.

During his hours of ecstatic meditation, visions of a mysterious monastery on a mountaintop in a distant land flashed before him. The message conveyed by his mysterious visions related to a mission that he knew he was destined to fulfill someday.

In 1915, after graduating from Kolkata University, he was sworn in as a Mahant according to India’s monastic masters’ order. That is why he got the name Yogananda which means the pleasure derived from yoga.

“So long as we believe in our heart of hearts that our capacity is limited and we grow anxious and unhappy, we are lacking in faith.”

Paramahansa Yogananda

Yogananda’s Journey to West

Mukunda met his guru/teacher, the great Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri from Serampur, Bengal, shortly after graduating. At the feet of this great teacher, he attained a high state of samadhi, or permanent oneness with God in an astonishingly short period of six months.

For another nine and a half years, he lived in an ashram, preparing for the mission of spreading yoga in the West. His guru said: “The West has come to high material achievements, but it lacks spiritual understanding. By the will of God, you are destined to play a role in teaching humanity the balance between material and internal, spiritual life.”

He moved to America in 1920 after establishing the Yogada Satsang Society of India in Ranchi in 1917. He got an invitation as a representative of the International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston. Arriving in the United States, he found many people interested in Indian spiritual teachings and yogic techniques.

Therefore, he stayed there and began giving lectures, gradually penetrating the mentality of a Western person, groping for roads through the complex psychological filters of his cultural conditioning.

The interest in him was enormous, mainly because he did not try to impose on people a purely Indian view of things. But on the contrary, he showed how it is possible to spiritualize their familiar culture, deeply interpreting and clarifying Christian images and concepts familiar to them from childhood. Plus, the power of his inspiring presence did the trick too, filling even the hardest and most pragmatic hearts of the American audience with love and joy. His lectures were not just philosophies but presented a living opportunity to touch the divine reality.

In 1923, Yogananda began a series of lectures and classes in major cities in America. He was extremely successful everywhere. Dynamically, with infectious joy, he brought to minds steeped in the virtues of down-to-earth practicality that the most practical way for everyone is to seek God.

In 1924, Paramhansa Yogananda embarked on a westward tour across the continent. One of the reasons for the almost overwhelming response that he gets everywhere was that he never viewed the audience as an unnamed crowd, even if it numbered many thousands. He was susceptible to everyone as an individual. He moves to Los Angeles, where he felt at home.

A talented speaker, Yogananda, addressed the gathering on The Science of Religion, and his message resonated throughout America. It was the beginning of the spread of spiritual knowledge of the East in the West. He founded the International Headquarters for Self-Realization Fellowship in Los Angeles in 1925. It became the spiritual and administrative center of his growing work.

On January 25, 1927, in Washington, DC, he attended a lecture where 5,000 people were present to hear from a yoga master from India. The Washington Post reported, Swami has broken all records for sustained interest. The reigning President during that time, Calvin Coolidge, even invited Yogananda to the White House.

“Seeds of past Karma cannot germinate if they are roasted in the fires of divine wisdom.”

Paramahansa Yogananda

Trip back to India and becoming Paramhansa

Yogananda and Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri

In 1935, Sri Yukteswar called Yogananda back to India, where he spent a year giving lectures, yoga training, and spiritual instructions. Then he received from the master the title of Paramhansa, The Supreme Swan, a symbol of enlightenment.

Yogananda met Mahatma Gandhi during his one-year stay in India. In India, he spent his time with Mahatma Gandhi, the physicist C.V. Raman, and some well-known spiritual people like Sri Ramana Maharshi and Anandamayi Maa. At Mahatma Gandhi’s request, Sri Yogananda instructed him and many of his followers in the science of Kriya Yoga. Kriya yoga is a meditation technique that connects us with spirituality in daily life.

One day, as Yogananda was preparing to leave India, his teacher, Sri Yukteswar, was resurrected to instill hope in the hearts of those who live in fear of death. The Guru spoke in detail about the Astral Universe and about where souls who have not redeemed their earthly karma end up before coming to the material world for new lessons. During his stay in India, Mahavatar Babaji also gave him darshan. Mahavatar Babaji first introduced Kriya Yoga to Lahiri Mahasaya, his param guru.

The astral universe and earthly karma links as:

Those who have freed themselves from material attachments forever do not need to return to the rough vibrations of the Earth. They are reborn on the astral plane to work off the remnants of astral karma.

With astral death, these people pass into an infinitely more subtle causal world, where many souls live for millennia, and death and rebirth occur only in thoughts. The inhabitants of the causal world can see, hear touch, smell, and taste with their thoughts. By the power of cosmic consciousness, they create anything and destroy anything.

“The flux of the human heart is gone forever at the transfixing touch of pure love.”

Paramahansa Yogananda

Final days of Paramahansa Yogananda

He created numerous spiritual organizations, temples, settlements, and communities throughout the country. Yogananda emphasized the fundamental unity of world religions and taught universal methods for achieving the direct personal experience of God. Among Yogananda’s students were many famous scientists, cultural figures, and people in business.

In 1946, he published a book named Autobiography of a Yogi – his life story. The book has been translated into 45 languages and is titled 100 Most Important Spiritual Books of the 20th Century. The book is about the spiritual search of Yogananda and his encounter with spiritual figures.

In 1948, Swami Yogananda planned to make Mount Washington Monastery a school for learning how to live. Soon after, Mount Washington became the central residence for adults willing to devote their lives to God. The monastic order developed little by little and over time reached such a high spiritual scale that was not found anywhere else, even in India.

Yogananda with his Autobiography, 1950
Yogananda with his Autobiography, 1950 (source)

After his autobiography was published, Yogananda devoted the last years of his life to literary work, editing and revising his earlier work and gradually returning from public life.

Paramahansa Yogananda left his physical body in Los Angeles on March 7, 1952, after delivering a memorable speech at a banquet in honor of Dr. Binay R. Sen, who was India’s Ambassador to the United States. He read a few lines of his poem ‘My India’ with a grin on his face before falling to the floor.

Later, some of his close followers said that he was already aware of his death. For almost a month until the moment when a bronze lid was installed on the coffin with the body, the doctors observing it stated that it did not show any signs of decomposition, remaining in an incorruptible state.

When the world celebrates International Yoga Day on 21 June, Paramahansa Yogananda is remembered all over the world! The person who brought yoga beyond the shores of India.

“The power of unfulfilled desires is the root of all man’s bravery.”

Paramahansa Yogananda

Paramahansa Yogananda’s books

  1. Autobiography of a Yogi
  2. Man’s Eternal Quest
  3. The Divine Romance
  4. Journey to Self-realization
  5. God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita — A New Translation and Commentary
  6. The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You — A revelatory commentary on the original teachings of Jesus
  7. Songs of the Soul
  8. Whispers from Eternity
  9. Scientific Healing Affirmations
  10. In the Sanctuary of the Soul: A Guide to Effective Prayer
  11. The Science of Religion
  12. Metaphysical Meditations
  13. Where There Is Light: Insight and Inspiration for Meeting Life’s Challenges
  14. Sayings of Paramahansa Yogananda
  15. Inner Peace: How to Be Calmly Active and Actively Calm
  16. The Law of Success
  17. How You Can Talk with God
  18. Cosmic Chants: Spiritualized Songs for Divine Communion

“Attachment is blinding; it lends an imaginary halo of attractiveness to the object of desire.”

Paramahansa Yogananda

Teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda

  1. It’s all inside your head. Your psychology is the most important thing. If you believe that a particular task is impossible and difficult to achieve, then it will be difficult for you. But, if you think that it is possible and you can complete that task, then nothing can stop you from completing it.
  2. To be precise, all you have to do is think and believe positively. You should not allow negativity to enter your mind. If this happens, you cannot achieve the desired success in your life. So always try to think positively.
  3. Positive thinking has many other benefits, such as it has both mental and physical benefits. For example, if you are positive in your life, it will increase your life span. Besides, it will reduce the rate of depression in your brain and lower your blood pressure.
  4. You don’t have to struggle to find and reach God. You have made your own curtains that are preventing you from reaching God. So, struggle to tear those curtains to find the Almighty.
  5. Sit calmly before starting something important. Calm your intellect and thoughts, and meditate deeply. Then you will be guided by the great creative power of the soul.
  6. The greatest wisdom is in being fair. If you have health, but you are attached to it, then you will always fear losing it. And if you are afraid of losing, you will get sick; you will have to suffer. You should always rejoice in yourself.
  7. The thoughts that came to your mind or your brilliant ideas don’t control your life, but your petty habits control your life… stay with simplicity. Don’t get stuck in the world’s machine – it’s very demanding. By the time you know what you need, your heart, bones, and whole body aches.
  8. Pledge to develop your spiritual powers even more vigorously. Learn the art of proper living. If you have happiness, then you have everything, so learn to be happy and satisfied.
  9. Do not ordinarily run your life; Do something that no one has done, something that will illuminate the world. Demonstrate that God’s creative principle works inside you.
  10. There is always a magnet present inside your heart that will attract true friends. That magnet is selflessness, thinking of others first. When you learn to live for others, they will start living for you.
  11. Don’t be afraid of anyone. Do not hate anyone; love everyone, and feel the love of God. Try to See His presence in everyone, and just have one wish – his constant presence in the monastery of your consciousness – this is the way to live in this world.

“The human mind is a spark of the almighty consciousness of God.”

Paramahansa Yogananda