Born Jan. 5, 1893, Paramahansa Yogananda’s parents were disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya and devout practitioners of kriya yoga. At an early age, he sought the company of saints and sages. After graduating from high school, he met Sri Yukteswar in Banaras and was accepted for discipleship training. When, a few years later, Sri Yukteswar ordained him as a swami, he chose the monastic name yogananda, “yoga [oneness with God]-bliss.”
After 10 years of intensive yoga training, Paramahansaji was invited to visit America and speak at a Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston. In 1920, he traveled by boat and remained in Boston for three years to teach.
With funds donated by his Boston disciples, an extensive lecture tour was scheduled. Starting at Carnegie Hall in New York City, Paramahansaji traveled to many cities in the U.S., speaking to thousands of people and offering a progressive series of classes.
During Paramahansaji’s first visit to Los Angeles in 1925, more than 3,000 people attended his lectures. A hotel building and several acres of land in the Highland Park district of the city was purchased as the site for the international headquarters of his organization, which he named Self-Realization Fellowship.
His book, Autobiography of a Yogi (now distributed in 19 languages), was published in 1946. A few years later, when asked why so many people declared that reading it had transformed their lives, he quietly said, “Because my spirit is in it.”
During the last two years of his Earth-life, except for occasional trips to Los Angeles, Paramahansaji remained in seclusion at his retreat house near Twenty-nine Palms, California. He completed the writing of his comprehensive commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, was accessible to a few disciples, and gave specific instructions to his appointed successors to assure the continuation of his work far into the future. He consciously left his body on March 7, 1952.
By earnest endeavor and God’s grace, when I was 18 years of age I met Paramahansa Yogananda and became his disciple. While in high school, I read a book obtained from a public library that introduced me to the philosophy and practices of yoga. I then responded to a magazine advertisement that featured Autobiography of a Yogi. While avidly reading that book, I knew that the kriya yoga path was my own. In December 1949, I traveled to California and went to the Self-Realization Fellowship headquarters two days before Christmas. While being interviewed by a senior member of the monastic order, Paramahansaji entered the room. After greeting me, his first words were, “How old are you?” A few moments later he touched my forehead with his hand. “I’ll see you again,” he said.
Two days later, during our first private talk, my guru told me, “You should know that this (kriya yoga) path is not one of escapism.” I was to learn that the purpose of spiritual practice is not to withdraw from the world. A kriya yogi must learn to always be superconscious while relating to others, skillfully performing ordinary duties, and living effectively with meaningful purpose.
In this spiritual enlightenment tradition, austerity (insightful self-analysis and disciplined thinking, feeling, and behavior) is emphasized to facilitate psychological transformation. Study (insightful examination) of the real nature of the soul, consciousness and its processes, and the reality of God enables one to acquire accurate knowledge and to apprehend the truth; what is real, in contrast to what was formerly presumed as real. Surrender to God is the letting go of the illusional sense of selfhood in favor of directly realizing (apprehending and experiencing) one’s essence of being, which is pure consciousness.
Kriya means “action.” For the practitioner of yoga, kriyas are productive actions implemented to accomplish chosen purposes, and the transformative, regenerative actions which spontaneously occur in the body and mind when obvious spiritual awakening has occurred. The word yoga is commonly used to refer to procedures which harmonize the interactions of body, mind and soul. In the yoga-sutras written by Patanjali approximately two thousand years ago, the meaning is two-fold: procedures to be learned and practiced; clarified states of awareness which may be experienced by attentive, knowledgeable practice.
Teachers of this kriya yoga path proclaim that it is possible, by wholesome living, the systematic development of intellectual and intuitive powers, proficient meditation practice, and the redemptive actions of grace, to experience rapid spiritual growth that culminates in illumination of consciousness in a few years.
For truth seekers who once believed that many decades, perhaps incarnations, of arduous endeavor was to be their fate, being informed of the possibility that Self- and God-knowledge can be quickly realized should inspire and motivate them to be more focused, decisive, and purposeful.
Roy Eugene Davis is founder and director of Center for Spiritual Awareness in Lakemont, Ga. Davis has taught for over 50 years domestically and internationally. His books include: Seven Lessons in Conscious Living; An Easy Guide to Meditation; and Paramahansa Yogananda as I Knew Him. www.csa-davis.org.
Davis will be speaking March 7 in San Jose. See Spiritual Calendar for details.