LOS ANGELES- March 7, 2002 will mark the 50th anniversary of the passing of Paramahansa Yogananda, widely regarded as the father of Yoga in the West and considered one of the preeminent spiritual figures of our time. His best-selling life story, the classic Autobiography of a Yogi, has been hailed as one of the 100 most influential spiritual books of the 20th century.
Phyllis Tickle, a contributing editor to Publishers Weekly and authority on religion in America, notes: "Few books...have had greater impact on popular theology than Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi." In 'A New Religious America,' noted religion scholar Diana Eck writes, "Yogananda put yoga on the map in America."
The 50th anniversary of Yogananda's passing comes at a time when global events are spurring people throughout the world to look at life from a deeper spiritual perspective, to seek a sense of inner peace and security that will withstand changing outer circumstances, and to discover the shared values that unify humankind, while acknowledging cultural and religious diversity. The core of Yogananda's mission addressed these very concerns, and his universal spiritual teachings provide answers as relevant to seekers today as when he began his mission more than 80 years ago.
Born in northern India in 1893, Yogananda came to the West in 1920 as a delegate to the International Congress of Religious Liberals convening in Boston. His address to the Congress, on "The Science of Religion," explored the common threads that unite the world's religions. The talk was well-received, and was later published in book form. That same year, Yogananda founded Self-Realization Fellowship to help disseminate his teachings on the philosophy of Yoga and its time-honored techniques of meditation. He stayed in the United States for the better part of three decades, introducing the principles of yoga and the art of balanced spiritual living to hundreds of thousands of people through his extensive public lecture tours, his numerous writings, and the centers he founded in the United States, Canada, and abroad.
In 1937, Yogananda established an SRF ashram and retreat in Encinitas, California; later he dedicated the ashram as a world brotherhood center - a place where souls could come and express the ideals of Self-realization and right living in order to help establish, by example, harmony and unity among all peoples as children of the one God. In 1950, he established the SRF Lake Shrine - which honors the world's great religions and houses the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial - in Pacific Palisades, California.
Yogananda also established the SRF Prayer Council, consisting of monks and nuns of the SRF monastic community who pray, as he did, every morning and evening for those who are in need of help and healing, and for world peace. The work of the Prayer Council is augmented by the SRF Worldwide Prayer Circle, an international network of SRF members and friends.
Paramahansa Yogananda passed away on March 7, 1952. In the 50 years since that time, interest in his teachings has steadily increased, and Self-Realization Fellowship continues to carry on his spiritual and humanitarian mission. Under the direction of SRF president Sri Daya Mata, one of Yogananda's earliest and closest disciples, his worldwide organization has grown to include more than 500 temples, retreats, and meditation centers in 57 countries. The society also continues Yogananda's efforts on behalf of world peace and understanding through its ongoing association with such interfaith groups as the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions, the World Council of Religious and Spiritual Leaders (the first interfaith ally to the United Nations), and the United Religions Initiative, as well as with local groups.