“Your religion is not the thoughts and beliefs in which you enclose yourself, but the garment of light you weave around your heart. Discover who you are, behind those outer trappings, and you will discover who Jesus was, and Buddha, and Krishna. For the masters come to earth for the purpose of
holding up to every man a reflection of his deeper, eternal Self.”
Our Spiritual Roots
Yoga and meditation are household words in America today, and are practiced widely for the many health benefits they offer. But this is not their original purpose. Yoga and meditation are ancient spiritual practices that help spiritual seekers experience the meaning of Jesus’s teaching, “The kingdom of God is within.” Until recently, these techniques were not taught to the public, but were transmitted, often in secret, from a spiritual teacher to sincere students.
Yoga is quite possibly the most ancient science known to man. Stone carvings depicting human figures in meditation have been unearthed in the Indus Valley, where the findings date back more than 5,000 years. Yoga means “union” and is believed to originate as long as 8,000 years ago. The earliest known texts are the Upanishads (400 BC), the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (200 BC).
Most people think of yoga postures when they hear the word “yoga.” But postures are a small part of the science of Raja Yoga, a comprehensive approach to the spiritual life that develops personal character, inner strength, and a calm, compassionate heart. Raja Yoga brings awareness not only of the underlying unity of all things, but of our own essential identity with this deeper reality.
Paramhansa Yogananda (1983-1952)
The Sanskrit word for spiritual teacher is “guru.” Yoga teachings are passed from guru to disciple, usually through a lineage of teachers often going back many hundreds of years. Why a guru?
For Ananda, that teacher is Paramhansa Yogananda, perhaps best known as the author of the spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi. His extraordinary stories of saints and miracles are startling testimony of our capacity for direct, personal communion with God. Written in 1946, it has been translated into 19 languages and is used in colleges as a textbook in Yoga and Indian philosophy.
Yogananda came to America in 1920, and was the first of India’s yoga masters to make his home in the west. He was a tireless lecturer, extolling the benefits of meditation and yoga to millions of Americans over the next 32 years. He taught the mystical, original teachings of Christ, and emphasized the underlying unity of all religions. He described his spiritual teachers in his Autobiography, including many remarkable details of the life of Swami Yukteswar, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Babaji, who instructed Yogananda to bring the ancient teachings of India to the West. Those teachings include Kriya Yoga and other techniques of meditation, breath, and energy control, which help calm the mind and develop inner, spiritual awareness.
More about Yogananda’s lineage of spiritual teachers, or gurus.
Swami Kriyananda: a life of discipleship (1926-2013)
Swami Kriyananda was a close, direct disciple of Yogananda, living with him from 1948 to his guru's passing in 1952. He served many years with Self-Realization Fellowship as head of the male monastics, a frequent lecturer for SRF students and centers around the world, and as a Vice President on the SRF Board of Directors.
In what was one of the most difficult periods of his spiritual life, in 1962, he was asked to leave SRF. What seemed a tragedy gradually proved to be the freedom to devote himself to sharing Yogananda's teachings more widely. In particular, Kriyananda was able to carry out one of Yogananda’s most cherished dreams: the founding of spiritual communities (what he called World Brotherhood Colonies). There are nine Ananda communities and teaching centers in the world today.
At his guru’s request, Swami Kriyananda focused on teaching and writing, helping others to experience the joy and living presence of God. He lectured freqently (on four continents, in seven languages) over the course of more than 64 years of discipleship. His discourses on the Bhagavad Gita and Yogananda's teachings are watched by millions daily in India.
Swami Kriyananda has helped show the ancient teachings of Raja Yoga as intensely practical and immediately useful for people in every walk of life. His books and teachings cover nearly every field of human endeavor including business life, leadership, education, the arts, community life, and science. He has written extensive commentaries on the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita and most recently on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. (In-depth study of each of Swami's books can be found among Asha's talks, under "Book Study") Swami's books are available now in 33 languages and 110 countries.
You may wish to explore this compilation of his relatively recent talks. Many, many more gems are available on YouTube with a simple search for "Swami Kriyananda". It's a rare opportunity to hear from a lifelong disciple of Yogananda—someone who has devoted his life to following and sharing the teachings of one of the most inspiring spiritual figures of the 20th century.
More about Swami Kriyananda.
Ananda’s spiritual lineage
The first thing you notice when you enter the Ananda Temple is an altar with five photographs and paintings of the gurus who form Ananda’s spiritual lineage.
Kriyananda voices an oft-unspoken question, “If the state of consciousness we’re seeking is formless and omnipresent, something we’re supposed to commune with in our own selves, doesn’t it hinder our development to have our attention diverted outwardly, to individuals?”
He goes on to say, “Our Masters have that state of consciousness. For us, it is difficult even to visualize such a state! By attuning ourselves to them, we begin to sense what it is they have, and to develop that same consciousness in ourselves. That is what is meant in the Bible by the words, ‘As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God’” [John 1:12]
“The guru gives his disciple not only teaching and guidance; He also transmits to him spiritual power.”
In The Path, Kriyananda also writes, “As I got to know Master [Yogananda] better, it became obvious to me that the attunement he encouraged in his disciples was impersonal. It was his practice to turn people’s devotion resolutely away from himself, as a human being, and toward the omnipresent Divinity that was the sole object of his own devotion. Attunement with him, I found then, meant attunement not with his human personality, but with his universal state of awareness. Indeed, in the deeper sense there was no personality there for us to attune ourselves to. As he often put it, ‘I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this temple now but God.’”
About the gurus
Babaji means “Revered Father” and is described by Yogananda in his Autobiography of a Yogi as “the deathless guru.” The first in this line of gurus, Babaji is of unknown age, and lives in the Himalayas with a few highly advanced students. Yogananda called him “Babaji-Krishna” saying that Babaji was Krishna in a former incarnation. Seeing that in the present scientific age, people were better prepared to receive higher knowledge, Babaji directed his disciple, Lahiri Mahasaya, to reintroduce the meditation science of Kriya Yoga to the world.
“In the divine plan, Jesus Christ was responsible for the evolution of the West, and Krishna (later, Babaji), for that of the East. It was intended that the West specialize in developing objectively, through logic and reason, and that the East specialize in inner, intuitive development. But in the cosmic plan the time has come to combine these two lines into one. East and West must unite.”
—Paramhansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi
The presence of Jesus on the altar is more than just a courtesy to Westerners. Yogananda said it was Jesus himself who appeared to Babaji and asked him to send this teaching of Self-realization to the West. At that meeting, Yogananda tells us, Jesus said, “My followers have forgotten the art of divine inner communion. Outwardly they do good works, but they have lost sight of the most important of my teachings, ‘to seek the kingdom of God first.’”
Lahiri Mahasaya (1828-1895)
After his initiation by Babaji in 1861, Lahiri Mahasaya continued to live the modest life of a householder in Varanasi, India. He set an ideal example of balanced living, attending to both his worldly and his spiritual duties. Over the years, as he meditated quietly in his front room, thousands came to him for initiation into Kriya Yoga. One of his foremost disciples was Sri Yukteswar, the destined guru of Paramhansa Yogananda. Lahiri is his family name; Mahasaya means “large minded.”
Sri Yukteswar (1855-1935)
“He fitted the Vedic definition of a man of God. ‘Softer than the flower where kindness is concerned’ stronger than thunder, where principles are at stake.’ He taught by sublimity of example alone the true measure of a man.”
—Paramhansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi
Yukteswar was a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya, and Yogananda’s guru. He was an “incarnation of wisdom” with a keen intellect and discrimination. He received two commissions from Babaji. One was to write “a short book on the underlying unity between the Christian and Hindu scriptures, to show that the inspired sons of God have spoken the same truths.” He called this book The Holy Science. The second was to train Yogananda for his mission to the West. Early in life, Yukteswar was married; later he became a renunciate and lived in his hermitage near Calcutta, India. Sri is a respectful title meaning “holy.” Yukteswar means “united to Ishwara” (the name of God in his aspect as the Cosmic Ruler).
Paramhansa Yogananda (1893-1952)
“The vibrations of many spiritually seeking souls come floodlike to me. I [Babaji] perceive potential saints in America and Europe, waiting to be awakened.” To Yogananda he said, “You are the one I have chosen to spread the message of Kriya Yoga in the West.”
—Paramhansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi
In 1920, Yogananda came to America, not to “dogmatize you with a new theology,” as he later told his students, but “to teach you how to commune with God directly.” He lectured to hundreds of thousands across the country. His Autobiography of a Yogi, first published in 1946, has become one of the most well-loved spiritual books of the last century, and a classic of religious literature. He was devoted to helping unite East and West by bringing the original teachings of yoga to the West, and showing their underlying unity with the original teachings of Christ. He advocated the founding of what he called “world-brotherhood colonies” where people could live together in spiritually supportive communities.
Yogananda means “Divine Bliss through Yoga” (union with God). Paramhansa, a title given to him by his guru, Sri Yukteswar, means “highest swan.” In Indian philosophy, the the white swan, or hansa, is said to have the power of extracting only milk (wisdom, enlightenment) from a mixture of milk and water (the mundane world), and is a symbol of spiritual discrimination.