Saturday, January 3, 2004
In September 1893, a 17-year-old American called E. E Dickinson approached Swami Vivekananda when the World Parliament of Religions was in session in Chicago, hoping that the learned monk would offer to be his teacher. Vivekananda, reading the teenager’s thoughts, gently told him that he could not be his guru but he would certainly have a guru, whom he would meet later in his life and who would present him with a silver cup.
When Vivekananda made this prophecy, Paramahansa Yogananda — who took to the West the ancient science of kriya yoga for the physical, mental and spiritual uplift of society and who was to bestow the silver cup to his disciple Dickinson 43 years later on December 25, 1936 — was about nine months old.
Author of the world-famous classic Autobiography of a Yogi and founder of the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India and the Self-Realization Fellowship, Paramahansa Yogananda was born on January 5, 1893, in Gorakhpur in a Bengali family. His father, Bhagabati Charan Ghosh, a railway official, and mother Gyana Prabha were also both spiritually advanced and disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya, a spiritual master from Banaras and revivalist of the lost kriya art. Lahiri Mahasaya was the chief 19th-century disciple of Mahavatar Babaji, who as mentioned in Autobiography of a Yogi "has retained his physical form for centuries, perhaps for millenniums." The kriya yoga that he taught Lahiri Mahasaya "is a revival of the same science that Krishna gave millenniums ago to Arjuna; and that was later known to Patanjali and Christ, and to St John, St Paul and other disciples."
Even as a young boy, Mukunda (childhood name of Yogananda) was much inclined towards God. He once fled from home to go to the Himalayas to meditate but was intercepted, brought back and made to complete his studies. His search for self-realisation, led him to his guru Swami Sri Yukteswar, also a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya, who persuaded and convinced him that he must do his graduation as he was destined to go to the West to spread the science of kriya yoga.
In 1915, a few weeks after Mukunda completed his BA degree from Calcutta University, he was initiated into the swami order by his guru Yukteswarji, from whom he had received rigorous training at his ashram in Serampore. It was at this ceremony that Mukunda Lal Ghosh was given the privilege of choosing his new name Yogananda, which meant bliss (ananda) through divine union (yoga).
Since his guru now wanted him to serve humanity at large, Yogananda began his organisational work with the founding of the Yogoda Satsanga Society (YSS) of India in 1917. He set up an ashram and Yogoda Satsanga Vidalaya in Ranchi. In 1920, he began his mission in the West when he was invited to serve as India’s delegate to an International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston. His speech in Boston on the science of religion was not only well received but marked the beginning of a series of lectures and talks he held in all important cities of the US for the next few years. In 1925, Yogananda established the international headquarters of the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) in Los Angeles for worldwide dissemination of his teachings and to maintain their purity for future generations.
In 1935, when Yogananda returned to India, his guru bestowed on him the highest spiritual title of Paramahansa. Mahatma Gandhi invited him to his ashram at Wardha. Here on Gandhiji’s request, Yogananda initiated him into kriya yoga. In 1936, he returned to the US, and devoted the rest of his life to his organisation and writings. His works include Autobiography of a Yogi, Man’s Eternal Quest, The Divine Romance, The Science of Religion, Whispers from Eternity, Scientific Healing Affirmations, How You Can Talk With God, The Law of Success and Metaphysical Meditations. God Talks with Arjuna : The Bhagavad Gita, a new translation and commentary of the immortal dialogue between the soul and the Spirit by Yogananda, was published in 1995. Besides these writings, the devotees are offered 182 SRF lessons that are sent to them over a period of five years. These offer teachings on leading a balanced life, energisation exercises and scientific techniques of meditation. Besides this, there are 10 lessons on kriya yoga which a student can acquire after fulfilling certain conditions.
Kriya yoga — which stands for the union (yoga) with the Infinite through a certain action (kriya) — is a technique which, according to Yogananda, if faithfully practised can free one from "karma or the lawful chain of cause-effect equilibriums." In Autobiography of a Yogi, he states: "Kriya yoga is a simple, psychophysiological method by which human blood is decarbonated and recharged with oxygen. The atoms of this 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 pastmasters in the use of kriya or a similar technique, by which they caused their bodies to materialise and dematerialise at will."
Yogananda, a kriya yogi in life and death, entered mahasamadhi in Los Angeles on March 7, 1952, after concluding his speech at a banquet held in honour of Binay R. Sen, Ambassador of India to the US. He died, as he had prophesied he would to his disciples, with his boots on and talking about India. He demonstrated the value of yoga not only in life but also after death, for there were no signs of decay in his body even weeks after his death. The Los Angeles mortuary directory had noted: "`85No physical disintegration was visible in his body even twenty days after death`85.The state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary annals, an unparalleled one`85."
On the 25th anniversary of the mahasamadhi of Yogananda, the Indian Government issued a commemorative stamp in honour of this great saint of India. The tribute to him on the descriptive leaflet distributed with the first-day covers stated: "`85He had but one goal: God-realisation, and one programme: to unite East and West by spiritual understanding`85."
The spiritual and humanitarian work begun by Yogananda at present continues under the direction of his disciple Sri Sri Daya Mata. The YSS/ SRF oversee the various ashrams, temples, kendras, medical centres and educational institutes across six continents under their care. The janmotsav celebrations of Yogananda, which are held every year in Ranchi by the YSS, are for the first time being held at the Yogoda Satsanga Dhyana Kendra, Sector 28-D, Chandigarh, from January 1 to 6. Talks and lectures on Yogananda’s teachings, satsangs, retreats and kriya diksha ceremony are being included in the sacred festivity.