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.
“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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
“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’.”
“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.
The APP for the Modern Age
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
Award-winning journalist, documentary director and long-term LA Yoga contributor Sam Slovick is the director, writer and producer of the Radicalized documentary, currently working on the Kirtan Road Dogs documentary.