Paramahansa Yogananda - The Yogi and his fellowship
by Saurabh Bhattacharya
Faye Wright in 1914 at Utah in America, her interest in spirituality was apparent since childhood. It reached a point of craving when she first met Paramahansa Yogananda in 1931.
The dusty, crowded bus stand of Ranchi in the eastern Indian
state of Bihar is no place for saints. And yet, in the cacophonous
milieu of hooting horns and screaming vendors, an ochre robe
disappears around a particularly dirty corner. The contrast
is intriguing. You follow the trail-to reach Yogoda Satsanga
Ashram of the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India (YSS),
a green haven of tranquility.
Yogoda? The name does not ring a bell immediately, till the childhood memory of a paperback cover on your parents' bookshelf rushes in-from which a long-haired yogi observed all with piercing clarity. Youth witnessed a study of the book—Autobiography of a Yogi—and that same yogi, whom you now knew as Paramahansa Yogananda, thrilled you with his spiritual adventures on the road to self-realization. Yogoda-ah, yes! The name definitely rings a bell. Was it not the name of the ashram instituted by Yogananda way back in the '20s?
"Well, yes and no," states Swami Krishnananda Giri, a senior sanyasi at the YSS, "Yogoda Satsanga Society was started by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1917 with an ashram and the Brahmacharya Vidyalaya, a residential school. A year later, it was shifted to the king of Kasimbazar's summer palace in Ranchi, donated by him. The YSS was registered much later, in 1935-36. By then, Paramahansaji had popularized his teachings in the West and had established his work there."
Teachings in the West—relevant pages from the Autobiography flutter in the mind. You recall the meeting of Sri Yukteswar Giri, Yogananda's guru, with Mahavatar Babaji, the immortal saint. The words of Babaji to Sri Yukteswar, as retold by Yogananda, echo: 'Some years hence, I shall send you a disciple whom you can train for yoga dissemination in the West. The vibrations there of many spiritually seeking souls come floodlike to me. I perceive potential saints in America and Europe, waiting to be awakened.'
"His mission," says Swami Krishnananda, "was focused primarily in the West. The job of cultivating the seeds of yoga and vedanta sown by Swami Vivekananda fell on Paramahansaji." He left for Boston in 1920 and remained abroad all his life, except for one year, 1935-36, when he visited India.
"Paramahansaji didn't propagate his teachings much before he left for America," explains Swami Shraddhananda Giri, who left a career in nuclear science to venture on the spiritual path. "That actually started after he went to the USA."
The YSS-SRF is now headed by Daya Mata, one of the earliest and closest western disciples of Yogananda. Based in California, the octogenarian Daya Mata has visited India five times since she took over the administration of the twin societies in 1955. But has that been enough?
"Before Paramahansaji's passing on in 1952," clarifies Swami Krishnananda, "he told Daya Mata that she should take the same interest in India as he had taken in the USA. In her first visit here, in 1958, she found that the only major activity going on was the school. So she established the system of meditation lessons. Slowly, under her leadership, the work in India has taken off."
"In an attempt to use the methodical perfection of the West, Paramahansaji wrote a series of 182 lessons that were popularized as a correspondence course in yogic meditation. The aim of these lessons was to guide people on their path of self-realization and to hone them for the more advanced techniques of kriya yoga."
Strolling through the lush greenery of YSS, passages from the Autobiography rush through the mind till you reach kriya yoga—that sophisticated form of yoga which was taught by Babaji and was passed on to Paramahansa Yogananda. Memory rifles through the chapter on kriya yoga but is stopped short by a statement: 'Because of certain yogic injunctions, I may not give a full explanation of kriya yoga in a book intended for the general public.' The secrecy, once so attractive, now returns as a flustered question—why?
"That way, even the lessons are secret since they are for the eyes of only those who have enrolled," says Swami Krishnananda. "This is to ensure that the teachings don't get diluted by people who think they can teach but are not so equipped. There is, however, no exclusivity: people from all faiths are free to study them."
But what is kriya yoga?
"Kriya is a form of pranayama in which you can get fast and effective control over your mind and the prana," is Swami Krishnananda's explanation. "When a baby is born, a current flows in the spine that causes the physical breath. These are the currents you want to get hold of during meditation."
In the open portico of the main building, initiates go about their chores with the silent dignity of sanyasis. In a flash, you recall a long-forgotten adolescent plan, 'inspired' by the Autobiography, of running away from home, going to the mountains and becoming a sadhu.
When you mention this to Swami Krishnananda, he laughs heartily and says: "In most cases, people are attracted towards Paramahansaji's teachings after reading the Autobiography. But getting into the Yogoda sanyas tradition is not an easy task. You have to be unmarried with no financial or social responsibilities. You have to apply formally for joining the order, giving all reasons: we don't accept escapists in the ashram. If you are okayed, then you are asked to stay in the ashram for a month or so, giving yourself and us the opportunity to know each other better. It's a lengthy process."
New entrants are called pravesharthis. After a long period of six to eight years, during which they settle down to the order of the ashram, the pravesharthis take the brahmacharya vow, although sexual abstinence is observed from day one. As a brahmachari, the monk dons the yellow robe and remains so for a considerable period of time that may range to even 10 or 15 years. After this, once he has imbued within him the order of Yogananda, he takes the final sanyas vow.
The strictness of selection is reflected in the number of monks in the establishment—a meager 25. And all initiates keep a strict schedule of meditation and work, with absolute abstinence. But nobody's complaining.
"Sexual drive is a biological necessity that can be sublimated," asserts Brahmachari Ishwarananda, an MD from the Patel Chest Institute of Delhi. He left a potentially thriving doctor's career for kriya yoga. He is young, energetic and much like any collegiate discussing Marx at the coffee table. Only that he wears yellow and is a celibate monk.
It is evening. Time for you to trudge back to the hotel. The afternoon has seen a sudden shower and the air is heavy with the smell of sodden earth. You turn towards the gate of YSS—the gate that remains open all day-and then, on an impulse, turn back. The marble lotus-shaped samadhi of Paramahansa Yogananda has been lit up. Inside, some devotees sit in deep meditation before his portrait. The long-haired captivating yogi of your childhood returns your gaze and the last lines of the Autobiography wander into your mind: 'Lord, Thou hast given this monk a large family!'
Subject: Kriya Yoga - 8 July 2013
I want to take lesson of kriya yoga in Bengali
by: Dhurjhati Shankar Dey
Subject: Wonderful - 7 June 2012
Nice work I worked with Dennis Weaver who talked about all of this wonderful work
by: Terry Welch
Subject: application for sanyasi training - 4 April 2012
where to apply for the sanyasi training? pls provide email. i am not indian. kindly email me. tk u namaste
Subject: Thank you for the nice article - 12 March 2010
I am not a good reader, but I read this article without any effort.
by: Hemant Kaushik
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