Updated: Oct 8, 2020
(paraphrased and based on Yogananda’s (bless his soul) “Autobiography of a Yogi”.
Paramhansa Yogananda is one of the best known yogis in the west, the first yoga master to bring the tradition in person to the West. He was born January 5, 1893 in Gorakhpur, India, the fourth of eight children. His mother passed away when he was about 11 years old, and soon after he had a vision of the Divine Mother, who said, “It is I who have watched over thee, life after life, in the tenderness of many mothers!” The Divine Mother became the center of Yogananda’s devotion for the remainder of his life.
After finishing high school, Yogananda formally left home and joined a Mahamandal Hermitage in Varanasi; however, he soon became dissatisfied with its insistence on organizational work instead of meditation and God-perception. He began praying for guidance; in 1910, his seeking after various teachers mostly ended when, at the age of 17, he met his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri. In his autobiography, he describes his first meeting with Sri Yukteswar as a rekindling of a relationship that had lasted for many lifetimes. He would go on to train under Sri Yukteswar as his disciple for the next ten years (1910–1920), at his hermitages in Serampore and Puri. Later on Sri Yukteswar informed Yogananda that he had been sent to him by the great guru of their lineage, Mahavatar Babaji, for a special world purpose of yoga dissemination.
During his study with Sir Yukteswar he attended and graduated from Calcutta University. July 1914, several weeks after graduating from college, he took formal vows into the monastic Swami order; Sri Yukteswar allowed him to choose his own name: Swami Yogananda Giri. He learned the physical and spiritual practice of yoga, teaching and then establishing a high school with yoga training at Dihika, West Bengal, that combined modern educational techniques with yoga training and spiritual ideals. A year later, the school relocated to Ranchi. One of the school's first batch of pupils was his youngest brother, Bishnu Charan Ghosh, who learnt yoga asanas there and in turn taught asanas to the future yogi Bikram Choudhury. This school would later become the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India (the Indian branch of Yogananda's American organization, Self-Realization Fellowship).
In 1920 he came to the United States as the Indian delegate for the International Congress of Religious Liberals. He stayed and traveled extensively on the East and West coasts lecturing on yoga. He spoke at the International Congress in early October, and was well received. IN 1920 he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) to disseminate worldwide his teachings on India's ancient practices and philosophy of Yoga and its tradition of meditation. Yogananda spent the next four years in Boston; in the interim, he lectured and taught on the East Coast and in 1924 embarked on a cross-continental speaking tour. Thousands came to his lectures. During this time he attracted a number of celebrity followers, including soprano Amelita Galli-Curci, tenor Vladimir Rosing and Clara Clemens Gabrilowitsch, the daughter of Mark Twain. He settled in California, founding the Yoga Institute at Encinitas, California. He introduced millions to the teachings of meditation and Kriya Yoga through his organization Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) / Yogoda Satsanga Society (YSS) of India. He lived his last 32 years in America. His last four years of this life were spent primarily in seclusion at his desert retreat in Twentynine Palms, California. He continued to write, to finish revising books, articles and lessons on yoga. During this period he gave few interviews or lectures. He told his close disciples, "I can do much more now to reach others with my pen."
On March 7, 1952, Yogananda attended a dinner for the visiting Indian Ambassador to the US, Binay Ranjan Sen, and his wife at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. At the conclusion of the banquet, Yogananda spoke of India and America, their contributions to world peace and human progress, expressing his hope for a "United World" that would combine the best qualities of "efficient America" and "spiritual India." According to an eyewitness – Daya Mata, a direct disciple of Yogananda, who was head of the Self-Realization Fellowship – as Yogananda ended his speech, he read from his poem “My India”, concluding with the words "Where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves, and men dream God—I am hallowed; my body touched that sod." As he uttered these words, he lifted his eyes to the Kutastha center (the Ajna Chakra or "spiritual eye"), and his body slumped to the floor." Followers and others say that he entered mahasamadhi: the medical cause of death was heart failure. His funeral service, with hundreds attending, was held at the SRF headquarters atop Mt. Washington in Los Angeles.
In 1946, Yogananda published his life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi”, the first hand account of the life experiences of Paramhansa Yogananda. It describes Yogananda's spiritual search for enlightenment, in addition to encounters with notable spiritual figures such as Therese Neumann, Anandamayi Ma, Vishuddhananda Paramahansa, Mohandas Gandhi. The book has since been translated into 45 languages. In 1999, it was designated one of the "100 Most Important Spiritual Books of the 20th Century" by a panel of spiritual authors convened by Philip Zaleski and HarperCollins publishers. “Autobiography of a Yogi” is the most popular among Yogananda's books, read by millions of people all over the world, classic reading for teachers and practitioners of yoga, and recognized universally by varying religious traditions as a beautiful depiction of his spiritual path.
Yogananda wrote the “Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You and God Talks With Arjuna – The Bhagavad Gita” to show the complete harmony and basic oneness of original Christianity as taught by Jesus Christ and original Yoga as taught by Bhagavan Krishna. In the book he also presents that the principles of truth are the common, scientific foundation of all true religions.
In his work, “The Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons”, Yogananda gives his in-depth instruction in the practice of the highest yoga science of God-realization. That ancient science is embodied in the specific principles and meditation techniques known as Kriya Yoga. Kriya Yoga is a meditation technique that quickly accelerates one’s spiritual growth — though ancient, it was first made widely known by Yogananda in his autobiography.
“Kriya,” Yogananda wrote, “is the easiest, most effective, and most scientific avenue of approach to the Infinite. In contrast to the slow, uncertain ‘bullock cart’ theological path to God, Kriya may justly be called the ‘airplane’ route.”
Kriya Yoga is more than a simple technique; it is an entire way of life. With Kriya Yoga, Paramhansa Yogananda taught three other techniques of yoga and meditation: Energization Exercises, Hong-Sau, and Aum Technique.