Self Realization Fellowship Mother Center teaches Kriya Yoga Techniques

Self-Realization Fellowship Mother Center in Mount Washington. Courtesy of Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles.

An updated version of ancient Kriya Yoga teachings for the modern era

The well-maintained grounds and panoramic view of the iconic downtown Los Angeles cityscape, like the “Mother Center” itself (as the place is known to devotees), photographs like a vintage postcard; as if immortalized for all time. Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) founder Paramahansa Yogananda settled here in the 1920s when he first occupied the former hotel located in Mount Washington.

The main building with its broad stucco facade and large windows is the principal feature of the Mother Center, the International Headquarters of SRF and Yogoda Satsanga Society—its counterpart in India. SRF temples, centers, and ashrams are thriving today all around the world. In Los Angeles, these treasures include the sprawling Lake Shrine where some of Gandhi’s ashes are encased in a reliquary and the Hollywood Temple on Sunset Boulevard where Yogananda himself preached.

Brother Chidananda, SRF President and Kriya Yoga Teacher

Brother Chidananda. Courtesy of Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles

Brother Chidananda is the current president and spiritual head of SRF. His place, fourth in the disciplic succession, follows two highly advanced women disciples, Sri Daya Mata and Sri Mrinalini Mata. While settling into a gold and white chair in a small room on the second floor of the building, a level just below Yogananda’s former living quarters, he reflects on the  immense spiritual awakening that the world is undergoing, “partly because of the unprecedented material prosperity and material advancement that we’ve seen over the last couple of centuries.” He says that people are now getting to that point where, “En masse humanity is more and more going to realize –‘Oh, this is not enough. It’s not about how many skyscrapers we can build or how nicely we can furnish our house or apartment or how many vacation homes or how many cars we have.’ They are more and more seeking personal experience of spiritual consciousness.”
Paramahansa Yogananda

Paramahansa Yogananda. Courtesy of Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles.

The Guru

“Thought is the matrix of all creation; thought created everything. If you hold on to that truth with indomitable will, you can materialize any thought.” -Paramahansa Yogananda

Paramahansa Yogananda was a spiritual master from India on a mission when he arrived in the United States in 1920 in an America of Prohibition, flappers, and the Red Scare.

Brahmachari Shekhar, a sort of resident expert, has been an SRF monk for 16 years. He has a good grasp of his guru’s history; upstairs in the main building at the Mother Center, he speaks with the reverence of devotion about Yogananda. “Because of his very universal approach to how he disseminated the teachings, Paramahansaji did not package his teaching exclusively as Hinduism, or as any limited denomination of religion. He brought a universal concept of spirituality — Sanatana Dharma, the eternal principles of righteous living… of happiness.”

Yogananda had a gift for marketing. His public lectures were titled to tap into the collective consciousness of a decidedly self-involved, superficial culture. They were designed to apply to daily life: How to Overcome Nervousness and Fear, or How To Be Happy at Will, or How to Heal Yourself With The Unlimited Power of Spirit. “They didn’t have to go to some hermitage or the forest or the mountains to learn these things,” Brahmachari Shekhar says.

Crisscrossing the US on a lecture tour, Yogananda would stay in a city for a couple of weeks and engage locals who wanted deeper involvement with his message of Christ Consciousness, Self-realization, and the spiritual technology he brought to the West. This ancient technology and philosophy of Raja Yoga included meditation, pranayama, and the sacred spiritual practice of Kriya Yoga.

Like others, including Jesus Christ, Yogananda has dual roles: as Satguru (personal guru) to his disciples, and Jagadguru  (world teacher) to humanity at large.

Brahmachari Shekhar

Brahmachari Shekhar. Photo Courtesy of Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles

“As a world teacher he [Yogananda] gave prolifically of his wisdom through books available to the common public,” Brahmachari Shekhar says. Yogananda was tirelessly planting seeds of peace.“When someone reads one of Yogananda’s books or has heard about him, or reads a quotation, they want to know how to translate those concepts, those uplifting thoughts, into a daily practice,” Brahmachari Shekhar says. “How do I become the kind of human being that Yogananda says one can become, and have a step-by-step methodology that I can practice in daily life? And that is where the relationship with the personal guru—or satguru—and the Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons come in.”

The Lessons

When I am gone, the teachings will be the guru. Through  the SRF teachings you will be in tune with me and with the great Gurus who sent me. – Paramahansa Yogananda

In one sense, the Lessons are a comprehensive compilation of Yogananda’s lectures and writings, collected talks and essays, but that doesn’t really cover it. What makes them unique among Yogananda’s published works is the inclusion of his in-depth instruction in the actual techniques of the Kriya Yoga science of God-realization.The Lessons are the cornerstone of Yogananda’s vision. Although he authored many important books, including the seminal works God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita and The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You, some insist that the Lessons are actually his most significant offering.

Brother Chidananda says Yogananda’s intention with the Lessons was to provide a systematic, integrated teaching of the science of Yoga, the techniques of Yoga, the path to ultimate liberation and God-realization.

One of Yogananda’s greatest innovations is that he was the first, as Brahmachari Shekhar says, “to take that esoteric knowledge of the high techniques of the Kriya Yoga science and put them into a form that could be received and studied and absorbed, under the right conditions, by people who weren’t able to meet him personally.”

The genesis of the Lessons began with requests from people who did connect with him personally asking for written notes following those 1920s era lecture tours. Yogananda started giving people bullet points at the end of the class. These brief printed summaries were the precursor to the much longer series of Lessons Yogananda introduced a few years later.

“In the beginning, you can imagine, the tradition in India, especially in ancient India, was that these higher teachings of spirituality were conveyed by word of mouth from guru to disciple,” Brahmachari Shekhar says. “Because the instruction was so sacred, sometimes the guru would accept a student as a disciple and then he might give them one technique and say, ‘Okay, go and work, practice this in a cave and come back to me in one year, and we’ll see what comes next.’ The student would return in a year and the guru might give him one more little nugget. It was never put into writing.”

Yogananda Writing about Kriya Yoga

PY 3803: Paramahansa Yogananda in his study at the SRF Encinitas Hermitage. Courtesy of Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles.

While Yogananda was lecturing in the West, he did put these sacred teaching into writing and distribute them. For this, he was criticized by some members of the orthodox community in India, who were concerned that he was diluting the teachings by putting them on paper and distributing them through the mail.

Sure of his steps, he pushed on, committed to fulfilling the commission that he was given by his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar. Mahavatar Babaji himself also personally commissioned Yogananda, as Brother Chidananda says, “To take the science of Kriya Yoga and make it available to millions worldwide. To take it out of the Himalayan caves and forests and the little ashrams where it had been preserved and held in secret for countless millennia, and bring it out where humanity as a whole could benefit from it.”

When the Lessons were originally compiled under Yogananda’s direction back in the 1930s, they were mailed out to students a few pages a time. But shortly after Yogananda launched the Lessons, he was summoned back to India by his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, who was getting ready to leave his body.

Yogananda was in India for a year and a half during the critical phase of the development of that initial series of Lessons. Later, Brother Chidananda says, when Yogananda was back in LA, he spoke repeatedly about “wanting to go back and make the Lessons much more organized, a much more thorough and clear offering or exposition of what he had in mind.”

Brother Govindananda Kriya Yoga Teacher

Brother Govindananda. Courtesy of Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles.

“The very first printed booklet with techniques was published in 1925,” Brother Govindananda says. The tech-savvy, Irish-born monk says that 1934 was really the start of the weekly Lessons series, and those became the series called the Precaepta.”  The Lessons that were printed from 1934 to 1938 contain essentially the same material that has been dispersed since then.

The full expression of the Lessons that Yogananda wasn’t able to personally finalize in his lifetime then became the life’s work of one of his advanced monastic disciples, the late Sri Mrinalini Mata, who was the fourth SRF President. Yogananda tasked her with finalizing the Lessons as per his direction. He told Mrinalini Mata that it would be her life’s work, and it was.

“I want you to finish the work that I have begun on revising the Lessons,” recalls Brother Govindananda in conveying the Master’s instructions to Mrinalini Mata, “To make them into the transmission of sacred knowledge that he was commissioned by his gurus to bring to the world. He wanted her to put them in final form. She literally completed this monumental task just weeks before peacefully leaving her body, in the summer of 2017.”

Sri Mrinalini Mata incorporated unpublished material from Yogananda’s classes and the manuscripts he had written in the years after he started the system of Lessons. By 2017, she had achieved what Yogananda envisioned: A complete sadhana, or practice, specifically designed for those who wanted to embrace a daily discipline.

Cover of the Kriya Yoga Lessons

SRF Fellowship Lessons. Courtesy of Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles

The sadhana includes three preliminary techniques which, according to Yogananda, are integral to the full effectiveness of the advanced technique of Kriya Yoga. Through the Energization Exercises, one learns to recharge the body with cosmic energy through will power. The Hong Sau Technique is used to gain mastery over the mind and attention. And the Aum Technique is practiced to attune oneself with the actual presence of God pervading all creation.

The Lessons curriculum teaches these basic techniques of meditation, and is available to all those who enroll in the series. For those who wish to make a deeper commitment, formally accepting Yogananda as their Satguru, they can apply for initiation in Kriya Yoga – the highest technique that Yogananda brought — in the midst of doing the Lessons.

Kriya Yoga

Finding God will mean the funeral of all sorrows. – Swami Sri Yukteswar

Brother Chidananda says today’s greatest need is personal experience of divine consciousness, which is what Kriya Yoga produces. Aided by the reemergence of this ancient yoga, he says, that expansion of divine consciousness will be nothing less than the savior of the world. “The savior of humanity in the sense of creating and fostering the kind of spiritual awakening, the kind of spiritual renaissance, that we need in order to deal maturely and responsibly and effectively with the profound challenges we face in the political sphere, in the humanitarian sphere, in the social and interpersonal sphere.”

Sister Draupadi Kriya Yoga Teacher

Sister Draupadi Photo Courtesy of Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles

Sister Draupadi has been a nun at the Mother Center for 45 years. Sitting quietly in the library of the Mother Center, she personifies the peace that Kriya Yoga promises. “Kriya is a Raja Yoga technique of pranayama (control of the prana, life-energy),” she explains. “It  is a science by which the meditator learns to slow down the activity of the heart, of the mind, and of the breath.” She says this technique redirects the life-force and energy into the innermost spine in order to gradually awaken the seven spiritual centers of divine consciousness in the spine and brain. “This awakening produces a beautiful experience of intoxicating joy and bliss; leading to higher perceptions of soul awareness and God communion.”

“The science of Kriya Yoga was revived in 1861 in a remote corner of the Himalayan Mountains in India,” says Brahmachari Shekhar. He offers some essential historical context, describing the enthralling episode that produced this renaissance. “It happened in a small cave where a great deathless master by the name of Mahavatar Babaji reunited with his disciple Lahiri Mahasaya and taught him the technique of Kriya Yoga.

He continues, “In his Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansaji recounts this historic meeting in which Babaji said to Lahiri Mahasaya,  ‘The millions who are encumbered by family ties and heavy worldly duties will take new heart from you, a householder like themselves….Even in the world, the yogi who faithfully discharges his responsibilities, without personal motive or attachment, treads the sure path of enlightenment’.”

Swami Sri Yukteswar and Paramahansa Yogananda

Swami Sri Yukteswar and Paramahansa Yogananda. Courtesy of Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles.

This promise was fulfilled when Lahiri Mahasaya transmitted the teachings to his disciple Swami Sri Yukteswar, who transmitted them to Paramahansa Yogananda whom he trained for 10 years, from 1910 to 1920, specifically with the dispensation to take Kriya Yoga to the West and to the world at large to help people attain Self-realization or God-realization.

“Yogananda saw far into the future, as did the gurus who sent him here,” according to Brother Chidananda. “They saw that humanity would not survive the transition brought by the unleashing of the powerful external technological and scientific forces that we are experiencing now, without embracing  an equally powerful scientific and spiritual technology of God-realization.”

SRF is now offering Yogananda’s dispensation of Kriya Yoga in a new edition of the Lessons – the result of Mrinalini Mata’s work — featuring improved organization of the material and much previously unpublished content from Yogananda. The new Lessons are mailed to students every two weeks and are available in digital form through SRF’s new proprietary app. “When you’re commuting to work, when you’re traveling, wherever you are, you can access the Lessons and immerse yourself in the transmission of divine knowledge that is flowing from these great gurus through the Lessons into you,” Brother Chidananda says.

screen shot of Kriya Yoga app

Courtesy of Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles

The APP for the Modern Age

Since you alone are responsible for your thoughts, only you can change them. –Paramahansa Yogananda

“We understand how busy everybody is these days. People travel a lot and we just wanted to make the Lessons accessible and available,” Brother Govindananda says as he offers an iPad demo of the new Lessons app on the ground floor of the main building of the Mother Center. “We still want the paper Lessons to be the primary route through which people experience the Lessons,” but the App is a big offering; a 21st-century evolution of the Lessons born in the 1920s and ‘30s that grew to embody the essence of Yogananda’s legacy.

Key features of the app include an interactive search, adjustable font sizes and themes, the ability to highlight and bookmarks across devices, comprehensive study guides, study reminders, and new Lesson availability notifications. There is also 24/7 access to auxiliary material, including multimedia content associated with each Lesson such as guided meditations, audio recordings, and step-by-step video instruction. It is a sophisticated piece of work and a finely rendered digital asset that brings a new portal to Yogananda and his work.

The Transmission of Divine Potential

Change yourself and you have done your part in changing the world. – Paramahansa Yogananda

The SRF Lessons were left by one of the most influential spiritual masters in the West, possibly in the world, materializing at a seemingly critical time. “As human beings we are, potentially, the holiest expression of creation on this earth,” Brother Chidananda says. “And the Lessons enable each of us to actualize that potential.” He continues, “It’s not so much the words in the Lessons that are important. It’s the divine consciousness behind those words. It’s the transmission of divine energy; the transmission of illumination that the disciple receives by absorbing them in —a receptive, focused, concentrated state of mind. Through assimilation of the truths delivered by a God-realized master through the words and sentences and ideas in these Lessons, that transmission of awakening spiritual consciousness comes.”

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