100 years of yoga in the West

Paramahansa Yogananda, author of “Autobiography of a Yogi,” founded Self-Realization Fellowship in 1920.


Sept. 8 thru Sept. 19 marks the 100th anniversary of the arrival in the West of Paramahansa Yogananda — widely regarded as the father of Yoga in the West — and the founding of his international society, Self-Realization Fellowship, to disseminate India’s ancient science of yoga meditation. A philosophy and practice that provides simple tools for building lasting inner peace, clarity and strength regardless of outward conditions, Yoga is as relevant as ever —especially during these challenging times.

Self-Realization Fellowship will host a special online Centennial Commemoration event on Sept. 19, the exact day of Yogananda’s arrival in America to serve as India’s delegate to an International Congress of Religious Liberals convening in Boston. The online event will include a commemorative ceremony offered via livestream from Boston, Massachusettes, and a special address via livestream from SRF Headquarters by President Brother Chidananda. The event will begin at 8 a.m.

“What Paramahansa Yogananda brought to the West,” says SRF President Brother Chidananda, “is perhaps one of the greatest gifts to humankind — India’s ancient science of Yoga, the science of knowing the Self, of realizing and experiencing who we truly are, divine souls with unlimited potential.”

Today more than 36 million Americans practice yoga and 18 million meditate, in large part due to Paramahansa Yogananda’s pioneering efforts.

“Yogananda put yoga on the map in America,” says Harvard scholar Diana Eck.

His best-selling classic, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” continues to be the definitive introduction to yoga meditation for millions of seekers around the globe. Those who have been profoundly influenced by his spiritual classic (available in more than 50 languages) include Nobel Laureate Thomas Mann, Apple founder Steve Jobs (the “Autobiography of a Yogi” was the only book he kept on his iPad, and he had arranged for it to be gifted to all his family and friends at his memorial), and George Harrison, member of the Beatles.

Paramahansa Yogananda arrived in America from his native India on Sept. 19, 1920, to serve as India’s delegate to an International Congress of Religious Liberals convening in Boston. His maiden speech, on the science of religion, would later be described by the Congress organizers as “forcible” and “impressive.” (A centennial edition of the book “The Science of Religion,” which is an amplification of the talk, has just been released).

His subsequent talks on the universality of religion and the efficacy of yoga meditation would receive media coverage in all the major newspapers in the U.S. and draw thousands of seekers who filled the nation’s largest auditoriums to capacity to hear him speak.

Yogananda founded Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), the same year as his arrival, to introduce to people of all races, cultures, and creeds the ancient science and philosophy of Yoga, that through practice of universally applicable methods of meditation they might realize and express more fully in their lives the true divinity of the human spirit.

During his more than 30 years in the U.S., Yogananda made America his adopted home and sought to bring unity to the world through his focus on the science and universality of religion, and to teach the 5,000-year tradition of yoga philosophy and its techniques of meditation. His pioneering efforts — including his numerous lectures, writings and the many temples and centers he established — have profoundly contributed to the ever-increasing interest in yoga and meditation today.

His internationally acclaimed life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, remains one of the most widely regarded spiritual classics, influencing people from all walks of life. Among the many other works by Paramahansa Yogananda are the highly acclaimed commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, God Talks With Arjuna, and the four Gospels, The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You; and the three-volume series of Collected Talks and Essays on Realizing God in Daily Life.

From its humble beginnings in Boston, Self-Realization Fellowship, along with its sister organization Yogoda Satsanga Society of India (which Yogananda founded three years earlier in 1917), has grown over the course of its 100-year history to include more than 800 temples, ashrams, retreats, and meditation centers in more than 60 countries around the globe.

Today, the society, under the direction of its president, Brother Chidananda, publishes Yogananda’s writings, lectures, and informal talks (including the Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons), Self-Realization magazine, and other publications related to his teachings; conducts worldwide lecture tours, retreats, and youth programs; and oversees the SRF Worldwide Prayer Circle, whose members around the world pray for the well-being of individuals and world peace. An annual World Convocation is held each summer in Los Angeles, attracting upwards of 4,000 participants each year. This year, SRF held its first fully online convocation with nearly 35,000 registering for the event. In addition, SRF/YSS annually contributes to many local, national, and international charitable causes.

The Government of India has paid tribute to the life and work of Paramahansa Yogananda on three occasions, most recently in October of 2019 when it issued a special commemorative coin to commemorate Yogananda’s 125th birth anniversary.

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