Remembering Paramhansa Yogananda

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Remembering Paramhansa Yogananda

Sunday, 17 March 2019 | Swami Anand Arun

Remembering Paramhansa Yogananda

Autobiography of A Yogi has remained my close companion; it has silenced my doubts when the path seemed precarious, writes Swami Anand Arun

Steve Jobs, one of the greatest innovators of the century, in his last days, planned each detail of his own memorial service to be held at Stanford University in October 2011. Each attendee received a brown box as a farewell gift. This last souvenir — which Jobs believed could do justice to his extraordinary life — was a book that had inspired and shaped his spiritual journey: Autobiography of A Yogi. The book has remained a close companion throughout my spiritual journey. I have read this book countless times. It has silenced my doubts when the path seemed precarious, reassured me when the inexplicable unfolded and meditation took me to the eclectic lands of mystery.

Paramhansa Yogananda was born on January 5, 1893, in Gorakhpur, a city near the border of Nepal. His father, Bhagwaticharan Ghosh, was a high-ranking officer in the Indian Railway. Yogananda’s childhood name was Mukunda Lal Ghosh. In 1915, he took formal vows into the monastic Swami Order from Sri Yukteshwor Giri and became ‘Swami Yogananda Giri’. Sri Yukteshwor Giri later decorated him with the title ‘Paramhansa’. Paramahansa means “supreme swan” and is a title indicating the highest spiritual attainment. Swamiji’s parents were the disciples of Lahari Mahashaya, who was the direct disciple of Mahavatar Babaji, the primary guru of the great tradition of Kriya Yoga. It is believed that Mahavatar Babaji has been living in the Indian Himalayas near Badrinath in his physical body for thousands of years and comes to Prayag each Kumbha Mela, the largest gathering of Indian holy men that happens every 12 years. He still guides seekers who are very advanced in their path. In the Kumbha Mela of January 1884, Mahavatar Babaji gave darshan to Sri Yukteshwor Giri and told him, “The future of the world is only possible if there is equal exchange between the East and the West. There has been great materialistic growth in the West, but no spiritual progress to match its proportion. Very soon, I will send you a disciple whom you will have to train in the secrets of Kriya Yoga and send him to the West.” Later, that inspired young man became Paramhansa Yogananda.

After meeting with his guru, Yukteshwor Giri, Yogananda’s life took a complete turn. Yogananda moved to Serampore, a city close to Kolkata, where Yukteshwor Giri had a small ashram. Yogananda spent most of his time in his guru’s hermitage while pursuing his higher studies. Swamiji practised yoga and meditation with utmost devotion and patience for the next 10 years. Swamiji has beautifully described these years he spent in close proximity to his beloved guru in Autobiography of A Yogi. He spent most of his time at the ashram and practised meditation. One night when Swamiji was staying with Yukteshwor Giri and enjoying the beauty of the night, suddenly his master inquired about his BA final exams. Yogananda was as though awakened from a spell, and realised the exams were just around the corner. He replied nervously, “The exams start in five days but I haven’t prepared for them at all. It is certain that I will fail, so I had better not appear in the exams.” Yukteshwor Giri wouldn’t listen to his disciple’s plan and ordered him, “You have to appear in the exams. If you don’t, then your family will also be sad and it will also be a barrier in the divine plan. You appear in the exams and God will surely help you.” As ordered by his guru, Yogananda went to his friend Ramesh and studied all night. Miraculously, whatever he studied in the night was to be asked in the exams. But in the English exams, Yogananda calculated that he would get no more than 33 marks when the passing marks were 36. He went straight to his guru’s ashram and told him that he would surely fail in English. “Don’t worry, the sun and moon might change their course but you will certainly pass your BA exams,” Shri Yukteshwor said to Yogananda. When the results came out, Yogananda found out that in that particular year, the Bengal University had reduced the passing marks of English from 36 to 33. Elated and perplexed, he went straight to his guru and prostrated at his feet. Sri Yukteshwor smiled and lovingly said to him, “God probably found it easier to pass you than to change the course of the sun and the moon.”

Soon after Yogananda graduated from college in 1920, he received the invitation to participate in the International Conference of the Religious Liberals in Boston. Before he left for America, Mahavatar Babaji gave him a darshan and said, “Always remain fearless; you shall always be divinely protected.” Yukteshwor Giri also lifted his spirits by saying, “All doors are open to you now. Go to America. Spiritual energy will enter through the eyes of any person you gaze at and their spiritual journey will be kickstarted. Even if you are in the middle of a dense forest, you will find a friend.” His guru’s blessings came true. Wherever Yogananda went in America, he found a friend and through their help, he established the headquarters of the Yogoda Satsang Society in Los Angeles in 1925

After making arduous efforts to preach the spiritual significance of yoga in the West for 32 years, Yogananda left his body in California on March 7, 1952. On that day, he was attending a dinner party for Binay Ranjan Sen, the visiting Indian Ambassador to the United States, at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. At the end of the feast, Swamiji spoke about the possibility of a “United World” through the cohesion of the East and the West. According to Daya Mata, a direct disciple of Yogananda, who was head of the Self Realization Fellowship from 1955-2010, Swamiji concluded his speech with his poem, ‘My India’: “…where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves and men dream God I am hallowed my body touched that sod.” As soon as he finished the last verse of his poem, he raised his eyes to his third eye and his body flopped on the floor. His body is preserved in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

The writer is an early Osho disciple, an international meditation teacher, and author

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