Happy Birthday to Paramahansa Yogananda!
By Tasha Friedman
This beloved saint, who was influential in introducing yoga and Eastern spirituality to the West, is perhaps best known for his Autobiography of a Yogi. This classic book has been an inspiration for countless yogis and spiritual seekers, as well as artists, authors, and even scientists.
Autobiography of a Yogi is full of accounts of saints and enlightened beings, many of whom perform miracles or whose consciousness expands into other realms. Yet everything he described took place not in some distant mythical age but in the 20th century, perhaps within the time of our parents’ or grandparents’ living memory.
To any aspirant, especially those new to the path, this is an invaluable confirmation of the spiritual worldview, proof of the magical, fluid nature of reality in which we live.
For those who haven’t yet had the delight of meeting Yogananda through his own words, here is a brief outline of his life story.
Mukunda Lal Ghosh was born in Gorakhpur, India, in 1893, the fourth of eight children. From an early age, his spiritual inclination was obvious. As a teenager, he dreamed of running away to practice yoga in the Himalayas. He searched fervently for a teacher, only for one to find him in the marketplace: Sri Yukteswar Giri.
He spent the next ten years studying with his beloved guru, practicing the system of Kriya Yoga that Sri Yukteswar had received from Mahavatar Babaji. In 1917, he founded a boys’ school that combined modern education with yogic practice and principles. This began what would become a lifetime mission of education.
In 1920, Yogananda was invited to an International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston. With Sri Yukteswar’s blessing, he set out as an ambassador of yoga to the West.
Yogananda arrived in a country seething with tension and a culture with little spiritual background or context to receive his message. Yet he persisted, undeterred by threats or government surveillance—speaking, writing, and leading by example. He would stay in the United States for another 32 years, until his mahasamadhi in 1952.
The teachings of Yogananda live on, not only through his formal teachings and system of Kriya Yoga but also through the warmth and gentleness of his presence, which is still somehow available many years after he left the physical plane. Spending time with his words or image, the radiance of the Heart is so obvious.
Tasha is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of her posts here.