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Yogananda's Mortuary Report

How could what is perish? How could it have come to be? - Parmenides

A not uncommon, said miracle

These are the salient points in the following: The report of Yogananda's body that SRF has used to print in books, is abstracted. The complete report contains things that somehow makes the picture less one-sided and less "gilded":

  1. The body was embalmed, and
  2. it is not unusual for embalmed bodies to remain in seemingly good condition for as long as the body of Yogananda was observed - for three weeks, that is.
  3. A brown spot - a mark of deterioration - had appeared on the tip of the nose of the guru's body before the body was put in a cask with a sealed lid and in a mausoleum crypt.

SRF brings all of this in their Paramahansa Yogananda in Memoriam (1958), but only excerpts in later publications where the aim seems to have been to impress a lot - for example by omitting points as the ones above, and hail!

Now, "Don't believe all you hear". If you don't follow this piece of folk wisdom, you may end up where other gullible ones are made fools. There is such a risk. Was what took place in Yogananda's body a miracle? Ask for relevant facts and other fact-based information and details first. Do it full well to escape traps and encumberances. Gather facts first, while you are alive - Then conclude as soberly as you can, and as far as the facts allow - maybe tentatively if that is fit. Now put the salient, strong points together in a serene, wider perspective.

You must learn all things, both the unshaken heart of persuasive truth, and the opinions of mortals in which there is no true warranty. - Parmenides

For the lack of sober fact-finding skills, some appear to have been led to believe a lot more from SRF abstracts than what the complete mortuary report warrants. Read that SRF-published report first. And if you feel for it, dive into and compare with other cases where bodies are enbalmed and preserved similarly. Then see what you can find out.

Details and some links follow.

The complete notarised letter

Here is a complete, notarised letter by the Los Angeles Mortuary Director, Harry T. Rowe. Facsimile of the complete notarised letter: ◦Yogananda's Mortuary Report (PDF). See for yourself that the body was embalmed, and that a brown spot appeared on the tip of the nose.

The letter was written in 1952, after Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952) had died on a banquet in Los Angeles and the dead body had been taken to Forest Lawn Memorial-Park to be enbalmed and placed in a crypt.

SRF (Self-Realization Fellowship) typically publishes excerpts of Rowe's letter under the heading "Paramahansa Yogananda. A Yogi in Life and Death". They tend to leave out details that counteract their "Weeks after his departure his unchanged face shone with the divine luster of incorruptibility." There is something in that marketing of a "great person" that is not quite good, because the source they draw in and draw on, contains information of a sign of detoriation on the tip of the body's nose, and because much lack of disintegration in an enbalmed body is not all that extraordinary.

Robert Todd Carroll's look

Robert Todd Carroll (born 1945), Ph.D, showed interest in Yogananda and SRF as a young man, he has written. Until his retirement in 2007, Carroll was a professor of philosophy at Sacramento City College. He set up The Skeptic's Dictionary online in 1994, estimatedly, and it currently attracts more than a million visitors per month. However, some commentators in the alternative science community view him as just a pseudosceptic, because of his alleged dogmatism, scoffing attitude, misrepresentations and fabrications of opponents' arguments. The Skeptic's Dictionary holds under the heading "incorruptibility":

The Catholic Church claims there are many incorruptible bodies and that they are divine signs of the holiness of the persons whose bodies they used to be. Perhaps, but they are more likely signs of careful or lucky burial, combined with ignorance regarding the factors that affect rate of decay. Some alleged cases of incorruptibility border on the piously fraudulent.

Further, the Dictionary mentions the "well-publicized case of an Indian Hindu in California . . . whose body, it was claimed, seemed incorruptible." Then the Dictionary cites SRF:

On March 7, 1952, Paramahansa Yogananda entered mahasamadhi . . . His passing was marked by an extraordinary phenomenon. A notarized statement signed by the Director of Forest Lawn Memorial-Park testified: "No physical disintegration was visible in his body even twenty days after death . . . This state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary annals, an unparalleled one . . . Yogananda's body was apparently in a phenomenal state of immutability."

The Skeptic's Dictionary further observes,

The [SRF cited] statement of the director of Forest Lawn, Harry T. Rowe, is accurate, but incomplete. Mr. Rowe also mentioned that he observed a brown spot on Yogananda's nose after 20 days, a sign that the body was not "perfectly" preserved. In any case, the SRF's claim that lack of physical disintegration is "an extraordinary phenomenon" is misleading . . . The state of the yogi's body is not unparalleled, but common. A typical embalmed body will show no notable desiccation for one to five months after burial without the use of refrigeration or creams to mask odors . . . Some bodies are well-preserved for years after burial. [The Skeptic's Dictionary, s.v.. "incorruptibility"]

Leonard Angel's look

Leonard Angel, now a professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia first came across Autobiography of a Yogi as a young man. After about twenty years he wanted to try to check on one of the claimed miracles reported in SRF books, including Autobiography of a Yogi. He got a copy of Yoganandas death certificate and read the body had been enbalmed, and went on to conclude that that the only miracle being claimed was that the skin was preserved without the use of creams.

To learn more about it he contacted two funeral homes selected at random from the Yellow Pages. The first to respond was a licenced enbalmer of the Kearney Funeral Homes, named , Ms Ellen Kearney Crean. After being informed of the conditions of Yogananda's body, she responded in the light of rather similar cases, "We've had bodies for two or three months with good preservation . . ." [◦More]

The next qualified embalmer, Ian Elliot, said, "Preservation for 20 days through embalming is not unusual . . . Also a heavy glass lid as described by Mr Rowe as being present on the casket, would prevent a great amount of air circulation, and that in itself would prevent most desiccation, so that would account for it . . . There is nothing unusual about a body being embalmed with fluids in use in 1952 without creams and being preserved for 20 days in good condition." [◦More]

Angel wrote to SRF Mother Center, asking what they meant by "miracle" when it came to Yogananda's dead body, and why the information about the body having been embalmed is left out in most SRF publications. They wrote back to him, telling that they stood by Harry T. Rowe's notarised letter dated 16 May 1952 and the extraordinary thing was that the professionals on the scene were astounded by what took place. And "Whether one calls such events "miraculous" will depend on one's own views", they wrote.

You could say they squeeze the lemon by typically leaving out or significant parts of the report in many of their publications, and thus not putting all in a noble perspective.


It may not help to get shallow.

Note that at that time SRF - and Yogananda - wrote Paramhansa, not Paramahansa. The later "Paramahansa" in Yogananda's handwriting in front of many SRF books, is a forgery by SRF. After his death SRF leaders decided that their guru did not write his own signature to their liking - the forgery by scissors and paste tells a lot. The Palo Alto attorney Jon Parsons has commented on it in the seventh chapter of his very interesting book, A Fight for Religious Freedom (2012:72). [Yogananda's signature dolled up by SRF].

Regardless of SRF's "new and improved post mortem spelling" of their guru's signature, signalling to some he might not be trusted in many a way, they call his wisdom flawless [Notarised letter]. It is good not to let a sect degrade your sound and sensible wisdom by such or other means.

The Complete Notarised Letter

Forest Lawn Memorial-Park
Glendale 5, California

May 16, 1952

Self-Realization Fellowship
3880 San Rafael Avenue
Los Angeles 65


The absence of any visual signs of decay in the dead body of Paramhansa Yogananda offers the most extraordinary case in our experience. Had the muscle protein and blood stream of the deceased not been comparatively free of bacteria, deterioration of the body could have set in as early as six hours after life had departed. No physical disintegration was visible in Paramhansa Yogananda's body even twenty days after death.

The body was under daily observation at the Mortuary of the Forest Lawn Memorial-Park Association from March 11, 1952, the, day of the last public rites, until March 27, 1952, when the bronze casket was sealed by fire. During this period no indication of mold was visible on Paramhansa Yogananda's skin, and no visible desiccation (drying up) took place in the bodily tissues. This state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary annals, an unparalleled one.

Officials of Forest Lawn viewed the body of Paramhansa Yogananda an hour after his death on March 7, 1952. The body was then taken to his home on Mount Washington in Los Angeles, where many friends gathered to gaze at his form.

For protection of the public health, embalming is desirable if a dead body is to be exposed for several days to public view. Enbalming of the body of Paramhansa Yogananda took place twenty-four hours after his demise. In normal room-temperature, the enzyme action of the intestines of deceased persons causes distention of the tissues in the abdominal region about six hours after death. Such distention did not occur at any time in the case of Paramhansa Yogananda. When

[Page two:]

our Mortuary received his body for embalming, it presented no signs of physical deterioration and no putrefactive odor -- two very unusual absences when a death has occurred twenty-four hours earlier.

Paramhansa Yogananda's body was embalmed on the night of March 8th, with that quantity of fluid which is customarily used in any body of similar size. No unusual treatment was given.

In cases of persons that are embalmed and exhibited to friends for a period of two or three weeks, it is necessary, to insure presentability, for the embalmer to apply, on the face and hands of the deceased, a creamy pore-sealing emulsion that temporarily prevents the outward appearance of mold. In Paramhansa Yogananda's case, however, no emulsions were used. They were superfluous, inasmuch as his tissues underwent no visible transformations.

After embalming on the night of March 8th, the body of Paramhansa Yogananda was returned to the Self-Realization Fellowship headquarters on Mount Washington. At the final public rites there on the-afternoon of March llth, the glass sealer lid of the bronze coffin was fastened securely and was not again removed. His body was never touched again by human hands.

The body in the casket was taken about 10 p.m. on March llth to our Mortuary for daily observation. The reason for this procedure was the hope of Self-Realization Fellowship officers that two disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda's from India might arrive in Los Angeles sometime in March, when they could be brought to the Mortuary to view the body.

In any sealed casket, into which air cannot enter and from which air cannot escape, the internal moisture of the dead body, whether embalmed or unembalmed, soon forms a white mold on the skin unless the protective cream, not used in this case, is used. The natural characteristic of the muscle protein is to break down into amino acids and then into ptomaine acids. When ptomaine acids become active, deterioration of tissues is rapid. Paramhansa Yogananda's body was apparently devoid of any impurities by which muscle proteins could be resolved into ptomaine acids. His tissues remained intact.

At the time of receiving Paramhansa Yogananda's body, the Mortuary personnel at Forest Lawn expected to observe, through the glass lid of the casket, the usual progressive signs of bodily decay. Our astonishment increased as day followed day without bringing any visible change in the body under observation. Paramhansa Yogananda's body was apparently in a phenomenal state of immutability.

On the late morning of March 26th, we observed a very slight, a barely noticeable, change -- the appearance on the tip of

[Page three:]

the nose of a brown spot, about one-fourth inch in diameter. This small faint spot indicated that the process of desiccation (drying up) might finally be starting. No visible mold appeared, however.

The hands at all times remained normal in size, revealing no signs of shriveling or pinching at the fingertips -- the place where desiccation is ordinarily seen very early. The lips, which wore a slight smile, continuously retained their firmness. No odor of decay emanated from Paramhansa Yogananda's body at any time. Although the casket was closed by the heavy glass lid, it was not hermetically sealed. Any odor from the deceased, had it been present, would have been immediately detected by persons standing near the coffin. The volatile nature of odors renders it impossible to conceal their presence, except in rare circumstances that did not here obtain.

As word had been received that the two disciples from India would not be coming to America until 1953, the officers of Self-Realization Fellowship agreed, on March 27, 1952, that entombment of Paramhansa's casket should now take place. The inner glass lid was therefore sealed by fire to the lower part of the casket; the massive bronze cover was then placed on top and secured with mastic sealer and with bolts. The process of sealing by fire was accomplished on March 27th and 28th. The casket was removed on March 28, 1952, to a crypt in the Great Mausoleum in Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, to remain there until such time as permanent enshrinement of the body can be arranged for by the Self Realization Fellowship.

The physical appearance of Paramhansa Yogananda on March 27th, just before the bronze cover of the casket was put into position, was the same as it had been on March 7th. He looked on March 27th as fresh and as unravaged by decay as he had looked on the night of his death. On March 27th there was no reason to say that his body had suffered any visible physical disintegration at all. For these reasons we state again that the case of Paramhansa Yogananda is unique in our experience.

On May 11, 1952, during a telephone conversation between an officer of Forest Lawn and an officer of Self-Realization Fellowship, the whole amazing story was brought out for the first time. Previously the Fellowship officer had not known the details, as he had not been in touch with the Mortuary Director but only with the Administrative Department of Forest Lawn. In the interests of truth, we are glad to present this written account for publication in Self-Realization Magazine.

Yours sincerely,

Harry T. Rowe, Mortuary Director

[Page Four:]


      On the 16th day of May, 1952 before me, Maxine Chapman, a Notary Public in and for said County and State personally appeared Harry T. Rowe, known to me to be the Mortuary Director of Forest Lawn Memorial-Park Association, Inc. and acknowledged to me that as such Mortuary Director he signed the foregoing letter dated May 16, 1952 addressed to the Self-Realization Fellowship at 3880 San Rafael Avenue, Los Angeles 65, California.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have hereunto set my hand and affixed my official seal this day and year first above written.

[M. Chapman]
Notary Public in and for said
County and State

[Source: Self-Realization Fellowship 1958:121-24]


Mortuary report of Paramahansa Yogananda of Self-Realization Fellowship, Literature  

Carroll, Robert Todd. The Skeptic's Dictionary. 1994-2008. Online. []

Parsons, Jon R. A Fight For Religious Freedom: A Lawyer's Personal Account of Copyrights, Karma and Dharmic Litigation. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity, 2012.

Self-Realization Fellowship. Paramahansa Yogananda in Memoriam. Los Angeles: SRF, 1958.

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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