Meditation & Health No 14 - Table of Contents


Paramahansa Yogananda: Spreading Eastern Philosophy in the Western World


      A popular belief among Westerners is that Eastern philosophy and meditation reached the western shores of America in the 1960s. The fact is that Indian swamis have brought the movement of meditation westward since 1893. When Paramahansa Yogananda arrived in America in 1920, the West was ready to accept a radical new concept. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity had just been proven in 1919 and scientists and quantum physicists told the world that where we placed our attention could alter our physical reality.

      Born Mukunda Lal Ghosh in India in 1893, Yogananda, a yogi and guru, is recognized as one of the greatest ambassadors to the West of India’s ancient wisdom. He made the ancient Vedic secret teachings accessible to a modern audience and addressed the universal struggle of all beings to free themselves from suffering and to seek lasting happiness.

Sowing the Seeds of Yoga and Meditation

      In his youth Yogananda met with many of India’s saints and sages, hoping to find a teacher to guide him in his spiritual quest. In 1910, at the age of 17, he became a disciple of the revered Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri. During their first meeting, Sri Yukteswar told the young man that he had been chosen to spread the ancient science of yoga and meditation in America and worldwide. For the next 10 years, Yogananda studied under Sri Yukteswar’s strict but loving spiritual discipline.

        After he graduated from Calcutta University in 1915, Mukunda took formal vows as a monk of the Swami Order and received the name Yogananda, signifying bliss and Divine union. In 1920, he had a Divine vision instructing him that now was the time to head west. Sri Yukteswar confirmed this by saying that it was now or never and that all doors were open for him. In September 1920 Paramahansa Yogananda left India to introduce millions of Westerners to meditation, yoga and global unity.He arrived in Boston where he made his first speech, “The Science of Religion,” although he barely spoke English.

        From 1924 to 1935, Yogananda traveled widely throughout America, lecturing in cities such as Detroit, Kansas City, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Santa Barbara. He welcomed atheists to his lectures and would say, “Don’t take my word for it. Try these techniques and see for yourself.” He lectured to sold-out audiences in the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium and New York’s Carnegie Hall. In Los Angeles, more than 6,000 people attended his first talk. In 1927, the United States’ President Calvin Coolidge, who had read reports of Yogananda’s activities in newspapers, received him at the White House, an unprecedented event. The president of Mexico, Dr. Emilio Portes Gil (who became a lifelong admirer) welcomed Yogananda to Mexico. Yogananda spent two months establishing the future growth of his work in the country. Many prominent figures in all areas of science and art, including George Eastman, inventor of the Kodak camera, poet Edwin Markham and symphony conductor Leopold Stokowski, became students of his soul-awakening techniques.

Penning His Life Story

        Yogananda returned to his homeland in 1935 where he spent a year teaching and establishing schools, ashrams and meditation centers in cities throughout India. Here he met with renowned figures, including Mahatma Gandhi. When he returned to Los Angeles in 1936, he devoted himself to his writing. He scribed his teachings and wrote his autobiography.

        His life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, was published in 1946. Considered a modern spiritual classic, the book (apparently the only book Steve Jobs had on his iPad) has been in continuous publication since it first appeared and has been translated into many languages. Yogananda died in Los Angeles, California, in 1952, but his life and teachings continue to be a source of inspiration to people of all races, cultures and creeds.

        On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Yogananda’s death, the Government of India formally recognized his far-reaching, spiritual contributions and in their tribute they said:“The ideal of love for God and service to humanity found full expression in the life of Paramahansa Yogananda …. Though the major part of his life was spent outside India, still he takes his place among our great saints. His work continues to grow and shine ever more brightly, drawing people everywhere on the path of the pilgrimage of the Spirit.”


Meditation & Health No 14 - Table of Contents