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Self-Realization Fellowship - Mysteriously Founded?
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Good SRF symbol
Jungian symbol of SRF (see further down)

Unsourced founding date or not?

Self-Realization Fellowship, SRF, presents itself as founded by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1920. You find this stated in SRF books, SRF letters and more. It took some digging to find out some more about it (see picture):


Boston was the first city in America to receive and welcome the Yogoda Sat-Sanga message, in 1920, when Swami Yogananda arrived in that city as the delegate from India to the International Congress of Religious Liberals. The first Yogoda Sat-Sanga Center in America was established in Boston, under the local leadership of Dr. M. W. Lewis of West Somerville, who still continues in charge. - East-West Magazine, November - December 1928 Vol. 3 - 6.

To make things clear: Yogoda Sat-Sanga is the name of the Indian organisation that Yogananda had founded in India in 1917. It still exists. In the United States, Yogananda had only an unregistered organisation until March 1935, when Self-Realization Fellowship was registered as a church in the state of California. Before that, his unregistered organisation went by different names.

Dr. Lewis, a Boston dentist, was the first disciple of Yogananda in America, as confirmed by Yogananda later. The two met on Christmas Eve in 1920, when the dentist visited Yogananda where he lived at the time. Dr Lewis was a Rosicrucian. There seems to have been no other Yogananda disciples in Boston in 1920, but in the next few years some were added (Rosser 1991).

What if dating the start of American SRF back to 1920 is unsupported? Then the dating might be misleading or just wrong. At any rate, Yogananda got his formerly unregistered association - known by several names, including Sat-Sanga, registered formally as Self-Realization Fellowship on March 29, 1935. It was registered in the state of California as a church, one whose declared aims focused considerably on getting values and lands, but also to preach and teach a religion.

What really happened when the guru Yogananda first came to Boston and lived there for a few years?

Digging for registration documents and finding none, does it mean there is no valid backup of a claimed founding?

Late in Boston, 1920

In 1920, Yogananda (1893-1952) had no Paramhansa title, but was Swami Yogananda of the Giri branch. He went to Boston by boat in 1920. After a long voyage, the ship, The City of Sparta, docked at Pier 3, East Boston on September 19, 1920. Next day he was in the newspaper, the Boston Globe. He was to speak during a congress held in October, and on October 6 he delivered his maiden speech in America, "The Science of Religion" in Unity House before the International Congress of Religious Liberals. In a book with the same title, he claims, "We ought not to fear to practice conscious death . . . Death will then be under our control (1926, 80)." — At first Yogananda stayed at the Y.M.C.A. Later in 1920, he moved to Unity House, 7 Park Square, Boston (The building was later converted into a hotel, and still later demolished). In Unity House he got a visitor on Christmas Eve, 1920. It was the Boston dentist Minott W. Lewis, a Rosicrucian. [Source: Boston Meditation Group of Self-Realization Fellowship. In the Footsteps of Paramahansa Yogananda, Boston, 2011, passim]

Dr Lewis visited Yogananda without any previous arrangement on Christmas Eve into Christmas Night, and had not told his wife Mildred where he went. Wanting to see Hidden Light he had read about in the Bible, the dentist asked Yogananda insistently to show it to him, got his wish, and became a lifelong disciple of Yogananda from Christmas Night on.

Yogananda later confirmed in The Master Said (1952:6) that his Christmas visitor, Dr. Minott White Lewis, was his first American disciple, as it was said. From the description of the initiation, it looks like a lot, and maybe it left the Rocicrucian, Dr Lewis, with no idea that he had become a founding member of a fellowship he had not heard of late on Christmas Eve and into Christmas Night 1920. Public records from Boston in 1920 of a Yogananda fellowship established there that year, seem missing.

Yogananda moved in with the Lewises in their home at 24 Electric Avenue in Somerville, Boston. "This was the home of Dr. and Mrs. Minott Lewis from 1920 to 1924. The Lewises occupied the second floor." Yogananda "stayed here frequently, and for some time had a room on the third floor at the back of the house." (In the Footsteps, 2011:9) He stayed with them in this way for about three years (1920-23)

Yogananda's American fellowship, was it founded when the Rosicrucian Minott Lewis was taught to see inner Light on Christmas Eve into Christmas Night in 1920? That does not seem much likely so far.

Early Yogananda disciples

It would seem other people became disciples of Yogananda only after 1920, including Mrs. Mildred Lewis, the wife of the first disciple. Exactly when did it happen? Who knows? There is a story that makes little sense if Yogananda moved in with the Lewises in Christmas 1920, as one source has it:

The first place where Master [Yogananda] spoke in Boston (1920) was a Methodist church located in the neighborhood where the Lewis family lived and where Doctor Lewis had his practice. Alice Haysey . . . was one of the first Bostonians to meet Master. She . . . invited her friend, Mrs. Mildred Lewis to come and meet him at their community church. Mrs. Lewis accepted.

The young Swami exchanged pleasantries with the ladies. Then he told Mrs. Lewis that he would like to talk to her privately and she went along with him. He took her into an adjacent room where they could be alone.

Mrs. Lewis later said that she didn't remember anything of what the Swami said or did in that room, but she was with him for almost an hour. When she came out, she was in tears. She doesn't know what happened.

The remarkable incident supposedly took place after 1920 (Rosser 1991: "Mildred Lewis Becomes a Disciple"). The Swami was an eager hypnotist and had practised on his younger brother earlier (Williamson 2010:71). Sorting alternatives: he took her into states beyond compare - or she was immensely forgetful.

How and when Mildred Lewis, another Rosicrucian, met Yogananda and spent an hour alone in his company, an hour she could not remember anything of afterwards, may be in the dark.

But - but: Somewhat contrary evidence

In searching for places and dates, compare:

On March 4, 1921, [Yogananda] gave his first public lecture in America at Jordan Hall. (p. 7)

9 Lester Terrace, West Somerville, Massachusetts; Private residence - This is the former home of . . . Mrs. Alice Hasey). [Yogananda] was a dinner guest here shortly after his arrival in America [and] conducted many classes here from January through October 1921, probably in the room with the bay window. (p. 9)

In His Footsteps contains no mention of a Methodist church where Yogananda spoke in 1920: It says that his first public lecture was at Jordan Hall, and that he conducted classes in the home of Mrs. Alice Hasey from January 1921. These are the first dates the Boston Meditation Group of Self-Realization Fellowship tells of in their guidebook, apart from Yogananda's maiden speech in Unity House on October 6, 1920.

A historian had better heed avaiable public sources.

Part of the early history: Swami Dhirananda

It happens at times that sources or reminiscences do not add up perfectly. Be that as it may for now; SRF was hardly started by a woman in tears and no memories that it had happened. If the blocked or failed memory event happened before Christmas 1920, there is no mention that she was Yogananda's first American disciple - her husband was, the available sources tell: He saw Light in the hotel room of Yogananda on Christmas Eve in the Christmas Night, during their first meeting. Later that year, Yogananda moved in with the Lewises. And if that is so, the story of Alice Hasey telling her about Yogananda (above) might lose meaning.

Here is more: Parts of the history of Yogananda's activities in the US are summed up in the very first issue of his own magazine, East-West, under the heading "Work In America":

Swami Yogananda came to this country in 1920 . . .

Thru the financial assistance of his father, and the enthusiasm of a few devout students, the Swami started a small Sat-Sanga (Fellowship with Truth) Center in Boston. He lectured before many clubs, colleges and associations . . . The work grew and Swami sent for his beloved associate, Swami Dhirananda, to come to America and help in the spread of the message of Yogoda and all-round human education. [East-West magazine, November-December, 1925 Vol. 1—1, emphasis added]

"A few devout students" + "Center in Boston" + 1920 may not quite add up in the light of the foregoing. And exactly what was the "Center"? Neither the Boston Meditation Group's guidebook (2011) nor Brenda Rosser (1991) mentions any Yogoda Centre in Boston in 1920, to make it clear.

Afterthought: "Beloved Dhirananda" later sued Yogananda for a substantial amount of money to get paid for good work for many years (!). There is more about these grievous happenings further down the page. Yogananda in reply charged Dhirananda for lots of money, charges that were proven false and untrue in court. "Don't praise the day before it is evening," is a Havamal reminder (v. 81). There is more to come to terms with here, such as: Can we totally trust a swami that brings false charges to court, trying to escape paying money due?

Two swamis and boyhood friends fell out for some reasons. It was followed up by false Yogananda claims during the 1935 suit. He claimed Dhirananda was his pupil, but the trial judge declared Yogananda's claims were demonstrably false, and that is bad.

Does it matter so much?

Does it matter if a founding year of an American church society at first look seems OK, but on inspection rather obscure, with no documents and plausible sources to confirm it, and quite at odds with what reminisquing SRF members relate? Compared to untrue claims by Yogananda against court evidence later. May we later trust someone of false claims in court?

To some, though, an organisation's dating matters, and not only historians. The difficulty to handle is that of jarring sources and lack of good, published evidence. SRF could ask a professional historian to help them find their real founding year as an unregistered association in the USA. "A clean nook stands inspection (Proverb)." Their formal registration was in March, 1935, days before Yogananda left the country by boat, heading for India and thereby escaping being dragged to court by Dhirananda in the lawsuit.

Judged from the data at hand, the idea that SRF was "founded by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1920" could very well be a construction due to backdating, or SRF uses "founded" in a backward sense against "truly set up, instituted, organised, brought into being", and similarly. There is a mention by Yogananda's guru Yukteswar in 1935-36. He says something similar to "Now you have got your organisation - be happy." It is in the Yogananda biography. (Dasgupta 2006).


  1. If you say you founded a fellowship with a member of another society, one who was unaware of founding anything at the time, and maybe yourself too, is it correct or defensible to backdate a founding year to such an event, and without documents to confirm that it happened?

  2. If you stay in a hotel all by yourself, new in town, and then later say, "I came to this country, and by that I founded the fellowship that was made later, 'glidingly'", it does not sound fit, does it?

  3. What about decreeing that Yogananda "founded" SRF just by coming within US territory from the open sea, on board the steamer "Sparta"? It smacks of backdating, that too.

It could be appropriate to consider that in the years after 1920, Yogananda's fellowship was "founded" little by little and somewhat loosely. It was not a registered organisation until 1935, the SRF-knowledgeable attorney Jon Parsons informs in a letter to me. There are traces of the process in Brenda Rosser's book (1991). As late as in 1934 the name "Self-Realization Fellowship" was introduced for it, and on May 29 1935 SRF was registered as a church in California.

- "Founded" in 1920 . . . The quotation marks signal some cool reservation. A fellowship without such quotation marks added takes at least two real members and mentions of a founding above a kriya yoga initiation on the spur of the moment.

To top

SRF's Founding Years: Cavalcade

What Yogananda had "founded" - perhaps floatingly - in 1920 became registered as a church in California on March 29, 1935, on the eve of Yogananda's trip to Europe and India. When he left he was being chased about a lawsuit, and it was not clear when or if he would return to the US.

His organization had been an "unincorporated association" (under California law), and had been going by a variety of names: Sat-Sanga, Satsanga, Sat-Sanga Yogoda, Yogoda Sat Sanga Society of America, and many others. He started using "Self-realization Fellowship" for the corporation from 1934. Such fellowship names are found in the early materials published. So Self-Realization Fellowship Church, a California corporation, was formed in March 29, 1935, to carry on the work of the variously-named Sat Sanga organization that Yogananda had "founded" or founded with a member, loosely, in 1920 or perhaps a year or so after 1920. Who knows?

It seems SRF was "founded" in 1920 from the standpoint that Yogananda's mission in the US began that year. After living in Boston for three years, he was occupied with lecture tours and publishing books like Songs of the Soul (1923), Yogoda Introduction (1923), Science of Religion and Scientific Healing Affirmations (both 1924).

In 1925 he published the Yogoda Course, and with the help of disciples raised money to buy a hotel with 18 rooms atop the hill called Mount Washington - it is a Los Angeles neighbourhood northeast of downtown Los Angeles and Chinatown. Yogananda got the hotel there on October 25. He tried to establish a "how to live" school there, and failed. He also started to publish his own magazine. He named it East-West (1925-36), Inner Culture (1937-44) and Self-Realization Magazine (1948-69). SRF renamed it Self-Realization (1970-)

In the years after 1925, Yogananda continues to lecture "all over America". On January 24, 1927, President Calvin Coolidge received him at the White House. In 1929, Yogananda published Whispers from Eternity, and Swami Dhirananda, lecturer and writer in the Yogoda Satsanga from 1922 to April 1929, fought him in a lawsuit to get payment for his hard work. Yogananda in return charged Dhirananda for lots of money, charges that were proven false and untrue in court some years later, when stored-away evidence had been found.

Swami Yogananda was judged to pay Dhirananda the 8,000 dollars he owed him, but Yogananda was not an American citizen, he was in the United States on a British visa, and left the country in early 1935, while the property on Mt. Washington changed hands. So Dhirananda got nothing then. But in 1936, Dhirananda, now a Ph.D., got 4,200 dollars to clear Yogananda's debt (there was a Promissory Note of $8,000 that Yogananda had not paid till then), a debt made public though a costy lawsuit marred by false evidence (!). After his lawyer fees were paid, Swami Dhirananda, now Dr. Bagchi, was left with nothing, none of the 4,200 dollars.

In 1931 a monastic order started when the teenager Faye Wright (Daya) joined Yogananda. Next year Yogananda published a little book, Metaphysical Meditations, and Faye's sister came too. Yogananda met a restless, self-made millionaire on January 10 the same year, and the millionaire in time became his successor as leader of the fellowship.

From 1934 Yogananda stopped his lecturing tours in America and stayed most of the time at Mount Washington, eating self-grown tomatoes. Why he and his followers there did not grow vegetables may seem odd, for the hotel site had about 14 landscaped acres - including two tennis courts -, one or more roof gardens, etc. Balconies were fit for growing vegetables and berries too. And the climate was not bad. They still say, "Times were hard." [A hotel history] . (Cf. Hardigree 1980; Harrison 2010; McLaughlin 2013; Tepe 2013.)

Yogananda started calling his fellowship Self-Realization Fellowship. In 1935 Yogananda registered it as an official church in California, before his millionaire disciple, James Lynn, afforded him a long trip out of the country. And thus Yogananda escaped being dragged to court for money he owed Dhirananda. Off he went, on June 9.

1935-36: In India Yogananda's guru said of him to another disciple that Yogananda "had a disease - where a ghoul comes and sits on his back". (Dasgupta 2006, 83) I don't know how helpful such a Yukteswar diagnosis is. It is strange-looking, but it could help to get 'ghoul' explained. Here is a start:

Ghoul: a malevolent spirit or ghost; a person interested in morbid or disgusting things; a person who robs graves. In Muslim legends, ghouls are evil demons thought to eat human bodies, stolen corpses or children, and then taking the form of the person most recently eaten. Such demons chould change their shape but had one unchanging feature: donkey's hooves for feet.

It could be understood as Yogananda had a flesh-eating ghost on his back, one who soon ate him up and then looked like him, but since Yogananda - or the ghoul passing as him - writes in his autobiography that he put on much weight during his stay in India . . . I think the essence of the old guru's diagnosis is that Yogananda was possessed by a malevolent spirit. In SRF they say Yukteswar had unerring insight, on Yogananda's word (in Yukteswar's book The Holy Science. However, that Yogananda-furnished credo is obviously wrong.

In late October 1936 Yogananda was back in the United States, landing in New York, and in late 1936 he was back at Mt. Washington in Los Angeles. Yogananda was given an Encinitas estate in San Diego county by his millionaire disciple the same year. The "ghoul on his back" disease - let us hope he got rid of it. Otherwise the estate might have been given to a hungry ghoul with donkey hooves, posing as Yogananda.

Now remote possibilites seldom have much credibility, and long shots may not hit well. The ghoul words of Yogananda's guru, should they be given a low rank too?

Questions arise

How loosely can a fellowship be started without being (formally) started? If the fellowship had been "written in the stars" - by date and location - for astrologer and historians alike -, SRF could have escaped being "founded" with no members apart from the founder, nothing written", or "SRF was founded during the night before the celebration day of a deity in Ancient Roman religion, perhaps without knowing that either (WP, "Sol (mythology)".

SRF seems to have a backdating problem. Careful, guess little. For example the nativity story in the first two chapters of Matthew may be invented on top of another and older tale in the first place. The Bible scholar Geza Vermes (2010:73-87) says the nativity story is invented and based on a folk tale. Everybody does not know that.

Sources that go back to 1920

There is a biography on Yogananda's first Western disciple, the Boston dentist Dr. Minott W. Lewis (Rosser 1991), and a booklet by SRF on Lewis, and some online material on Dr. Lewis - and photos and sermons too. That Dr Lewis was the first American disciple of Yogananda, is also confirmed in Sayings of Paramahansa Yogananda (1980:62). Lewis in time became SRF's vice-president for about eight years till his passing in 1960. We are told that Yogananda let him see the Spiritual Eye and his own brain while on a tiger skin in the swami's hotel room very late on Christmas night in 1920. Some of the details are told by SRF (note 7) and some by Rosser (1991).

In the book by Rosser (1991) there is no specific mention of any founding of SRF in 1920. Mrs Lewis tells that she and her husband were Rosicrucians* then: "Before Swami Yogananda came to America, Doctor and I had joined the Rosicrucian Society" (Rosser, 1991).

Rosicrucian: member of a worldwide society professing esoteric religious doctrines, venerating the emblems of the rose and Cross as symbols of Christ's Resurrection and Redemption, and claiming various occult powers. Rosicrucian teachings include Hermeticism, Jewish mysticism, and Christian Gnosticism, and more. The central feature is the belief that its members possess secret wisdom handed down from ancient times. During the late early 20th centuries, various groups styled themselves Rosicrucian. (Cf. Collins Dictionary; EB, "Rosicrucianism"; WP, "Rosicrucian Fellowship"; "Rosicrucianism").

Late in 1920 or one of the next few years

Like his wife, Dr Minott Lewis wasRosicrucians when he met Yogananda and says he saw Light. The idea that this member of a Rosicrucian Society should all of a sudden start a new formal, registered fellowship with Yogananda very late at Christmas Eve or in the first hour or so at Christmas Night is lacking in credibility and written evidence so far as I can see. From how the meeting is presented, it looked informal too, and perhaps there was not even one mention of any formal fellowship, just an initiation by a swami.

There were some days left between Christmas and New Year's Eve for the dentist to stop being a Rosicrucian and start a fellowship with Yogananda, but we are not told of any such happening in two books on the Lewises (Rosser 1991) and Dr Lewis (SRF booklet). There seems to be no mention that it happened. Was it such an insignificant event? Could Yogananda or SRF been backdating the founding to an false date? Possibilities are many. If no founding papers are found, SRF's founding year may be "twisted". That may be no big deal for followers, but of interest to historians.

When a society claims a founder and a founding year, there should be some real documentation and support of the event - why not a founding date, founding papers and members?

Where are the papers that SRF was founded in 1920 in Boston? Was it completely underground?

A Rolling Pin in a Mildred Hand - Symbolic or Not?

More on Dr Minott and Mildred Lewis

Dr Minott White Lewis was most likely the only American to be taught advanced yoga methods by Yogananda in 1920.

When Lewis met Swami Yogananda on Christmas Eve, he was very skeptical. More important, he had promised his wife Mildred that he would trim their Christmas tree and make it ready for their children by next morning.

He had been warned not to be fooled or misled by charlatans. But when he visited Yogananda in his hotel room at Unity House, Park Square in Boston and brought up bible quotations about "single eye", he added, "For heaven's sake, please show me."

Then Yogananda said that when Minott would love him back, he would take charge of his life, and placed a tiger skin on the floor of his room and sat down opposite Minott on it. Minott soon saw a star and more. Yogananda followed up, "Promise that you will never avoid me." That could be the founding. It is a matter of discretion how to understand "never avoid me".

Afterwards, after many, many hours, Minott drove his car back home to his wife, who knew nothing about where he had been. She had tried in vain to set up the Christmas tree herself, finally to sit down in a rocking chair with a rolling pin in her right hand. As the clock neared one o'clock in the night she was ready to swing the rolling pin also - and then Minott came home (Rosser 1991, chap. 1, sections 1-6, passim).

If this Christmas Night visit is stipulated as the founding of SRF, a rolling pin in a woman's hand can serve as its main symbol by a little Jungian syncronicity - see Jung's Man and His Symbols (1964) and Synchronicity (1974).

How may a rolling-pin in a woman's hand serve as a vital SRF emblem?

The scene that followed the Light that Dr Lewis saw on Christmas night, included a waiting woman with a rolling-pin in her hand, ready to swing it. If by agreements the rolling-pin serves as a reminder of the possible SRF founding, it can be used as a symbol and emblem also. By agreements the rolling-pin is lifted to be an emblem. If it is apt, it suggest something vitally important too.

  • Resent bad authority honestly, if not with tact.
  • SRF in the hands of monastic women ready to drive out of the "house and garden" even a former vice president.
  • SRF headed by women - the rolling-pin for women's lib seems to be there too.
  • It is important to achieve something practical and above mere talk.
  • To detect what is about, keep cool, be very careful, and ask pertinent questions first.
  • Adjust quickly and adequately to what is good, like Mrs. Lewis.

And so further.

Light Sayings in Two Gospels

Yogananda's first initiate was the Boston dentist and Rosicrucian member Minott White Lewis, who came visiting Yogananda on Christmas Eve and into Christmas Night in the hotel room that Yogananda rented. Dr Lewis was a curious fellow and wanted to know the meaning of light sayings attributed to Jesus in two gospels. (Matt. 6:22-23; Luke 11:34-36). A renowned Bible scholar, Geza Vermes, comments on the light sayings of Jesus in his The Authentic Gospel of Jesus. A quotation from it:

The eye, the symbolical lamp, is the source of light within man. If the eye is faultless, the spiritual light emanating from it will penetrate inside man and illumine his heart. But if the eye is not transparent, light will not pass through it, and darkness will reign inside man. No specific teaching attached to this proverb can be easily defined except that the seeker of God should hope and pray for the gift of enlightenment.

The saying presupposes the Jewish ethical . . . imagery of the good eye and the evil eye, the source of virtue or wickedness. The saying attributed to the late first-century AD Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus identifies the 'good eye' with the 'good way' and the 'evil eye' with the 'evil way' . . . The concept of man being inwardly made up of light and/or darkness is rendered more intelligible by a Dead Sea Scroll (4Q186) according to which each human individual consists of nine parts of light or darkness, or a mixture of the two. The surviving fragment describes two persons; one is fairly good, with six parts of light against three parts of darkness, but the other is very wicked, having eight parts of darkness and only one part of light. Luke's wording, 'your whole body is full of light, having no part dark' (11:36), reminds one of this Qumran model. (Vermes, p. 94-95)

That is Dr Vermes' understanding of the Subtle Light. The eye that Yogananda gave Dr Lewis to stare into, how was it? No matter what Jesus might have had in mind by saying what he allegedly did in the four canonised gospels of the Bible, Yogananda showed Dr Lewis a Third Eye and its light that Christmas Night, and after about two o'clock in the night the dentist went home to his wife Mildred who sat waiting for him with a rolling pin in her hand, since he had not told her where he would be that night, and had got her alarmed.

Suspect that Yogananda's first fellowship in the USA grew and got its main shape over the years - but that it had a gradual founding in the Boston area, and was named and renamed several times since.

The Spiritual SRF University atop Mt Washington in Los Angeles

In subsequent years Yogananda made his kriya yoga and views of and by Yukteswar quite well known in some quarters. SRF became headquartered in a hotel atop Mt. Washington in Los Angeles from 1925, and got registered as a church in California in 1935, to get property, make lasting youth, "develop a world spiritual University at 3880 San Rafael Avenue, Los Angeles", explaining that "human life is given to man . . . not for physical pleasure" and such things. The SRF Articles of Incorporation are public. SRF is known for publishing books and lectures by Yogananda. And in 1941 Yogananda did found a Yoga University at Mount Washington, but it was discontinued due to lack of interest from the public. He failed to nurture it and keep it alive and well. [Yogananda's University]

Be that as it may, SRF was registered formally as a church in 1935. It is headquartered in Los Angeles, with centres and meditation groups in over 50 countries (2005). Those who are initiated in kriya yoga in it, are the members. Those who are not initiated but receive correspondence letters from SRF, are called SRF students. The letters are called SRF Lessons and are a lengthy correspondence course. Parts of it are from lectures and poems that are published separately as books. But there is no World University where they are sent from. Far from it. Yogananda's attempt to have one there in 1941, failed. [Yogananda's World University plan]

Human life was not given for old lectures and poems under par.

Lots of SRF Members without That University

Heaven knows what heaven knows. SRF has claimed to have a million members, but the most recent estimates I have come across are:

SRF has consistently - indeed, outrageously - bloated its membership figures.

In the late 1990s, the largest number of items mailed out [from SRF] . . . was fewer than 40,000. Those mailings had included such announcements as Christmas greetings, which would certainly have gone out to a considerable number of non-members.

My own suspicion is that their active membership number (those still living on this earth) stands somewhere below 10,000 - far below the one million ("or more") they have claimed. [Kriyananda 2010, chap. 14.]

The writer, Kriyananda, was SRF vice president many years ago. He also writes: "In my opinion, SRF is dying on the vine [Kriyananda 2010, chap 6]."

So estimates vary between "dying on the vine" "below 10,000" and one million or more, depending on who we ask. Also worth noting is that there is no evidence given for the perhaps outré one million members claim. For now I doubt the number is so high.

What does SRF stand for?

Finding out first-hand is good. If that is not an option, try to get books about it by accomplished authors. They tend to give you larger lines and a wider scope on many things in some structured way. Even scholars may fail to find out what is going on under the surface, though. Regular interviews are hardly enough. They may catch some features, but may not detect all of them, things that are kept "under lid" so to speak. In a monastic environment that is a possibility. Honesty is not always welcome there, for monastic environments are served by obedience, a humility that serves the organisation and up to deep self-effacement. Good self-assertiveness is lacking a lot. An overview of the setting and what one may encounter there, is the result of many experiences. Ex monastics may tell many things. A deep problem with it is that of ascertainments.

At bottom SRF stands for "Self-Realization Fellowship", loyalty to its gurus, and spreading kriya yoga, a pranayama method. Its "Christianity" is not traditional Christianity, and is arrived at by half-offensive bottom constructs of Christianity, which include the perishable soul, the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Christ. He also puts reincarnation into the Bible "by hook or crook," that is, by interpreting some passages as it suits him, while disregarding such as biblical contexts and the opinions of most scholars. I suspect the guru and his fellowship are bearing false witness about Hinduised Christianity in that it was not taught by Jesus Christ. More important should be that Jesus said his teachings are for Jews only, and the same with his salvation and kingdom (Geza Vermes 2010:37-41). You can check for yourself.

This spells: Gospel teachings of Jesus are forbidden teachings for most part. Therefore one should ask: "Why drag Jesus into a fellowship and go against his teachings too?" For getting social acceptance no matter what; that may serve as a short answer.

As a means to get better accepted in the USA, a formerly overwhelmingly Christian country, the kriya yoga marketing by the founding Hindu swami gradually changed to look all right among Christians. Marshall Govindan explains that after five years in America, Yogananda began to modify and adapt his teachings to the West in order to overcome the resistance of Christians. The alignment may be understood as a work of fawning.

After five years of effort in America, beginning in 1925 . . . Yogananda began to modify and adapt his teachings to the West . . . to overcome the . . . resistance of Christians who were suspicious of the foreign teachings of a Hindu swami. As a result, Yogananda began to enjoy remarkable popularity. . . . However, in his attempts to attract Westerners to the path of Yoga, he tended to focus on the miraculous, and most readers of his "Autobiography" come away with many romantic notions of the path. They are left with many unrealistic expectations. - Marshall Govindan. [◦More]


Today the hybrid SRF theology contains many sham claims, that seemingly suit a brand of Hinduism that lowers itself. The fellowship and church claims in its Aims and Ideals to unite yoga teachings of Hinduism with teachings of Jesus. In reality, its Christianity is not according to central gospel teachings and does not square with Catholicism either, for that matter. [More]

In 1920 a . . . Hindu missionary effort was launched in America when . . . Paramahansa Yogananda, was invited to speak at the International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston, sponsored by the Unitarian Church. After the Congress, Yogananda lectured across the country, spellbinding audiences with his immense charm and powerful presence. In 1925 he established the headquarters for his Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) in Los Angeles on the site of a former hotel atop Mount Washington. He was the first Eastern guru to take up permanent residence in the United States after creating a following here. - ◦Elliot Miller (Recommended)
Basic kriya yoga is taught for free here. It is gentle breathing with something added. You may also learn kriya yoga without oaths in Satyananda Yoga. To learn kriya yoga in SRF, on the other hand, you have to swear an oath of loyalty and devotion for your whole life and more - it is rather alarming, for it waives several human rights unofficially. [SRF Oath, in part in the name of Jesus who said, "Don't swear".]

"What they basically are is sort of an offshoot of Eastern Mysticism . . . it is a religion . . . a form of Eastern Mysticism." - ◦John MacArthur Jr..

COMMENT. Yes, and they have as one of their aims to show and teach a hundred percent harmony between the Bhagavad Gita's teachings and the Gentile-forbidden, cruel and self-maiming gospel teachings of Jesus. SRF claims against gospel warnings to the contrary that Jesus is one of the fellowship's gurus, along with Krishna.

If SRF isn't evangelical Christianity, what is it?

SRF stands for sham. SRF and Yogananda claims in their Aims and Ideals and elsewhere to show and present "original Christianity as taught by Jesus", and that Jesus is one of the SRF gurus. However, they do not say they have to live those teachings. The swami leaders and all other SRF members just tell about the teachings of Jesus - teachings meant for Jews only . . . This may look good, but consider the disrespect involved.

  1. Jesus taught Jews only and strictly, gospels tell (e.g. Matthew 15:24; Vermes 2010; 2005).
  2. SRF is headed by nuns and monks of a Hindu Swami Order. There was ◦no monasticism in early Christianity, no monks and nuns in trappings, surrounding and serving several christs as they say they do in SRF against warnings of Jesus against hungry wolves. Make no mistakes: those who are heading SRF are members of a Hindu swami order.
  3. Christianity rose according to what all the apostles and the Holy Spirit agreed on in the Apostolic Decree from somewhere around 50 CE (Acts 15; 21:25). Insistent no's to blood food, strangled animals (including wrangled chicken) and adultery became three quarters of true Christianity then. Since there was no such thing as "original Christianity of Jesus Christ", it looks like fool's play, what we are dealing with.

  4. Make sure: SRF has none of the traditional dispensations of Christianity. Its salvation is not God "falling on you" as with true believers, but related to kriya breathing, maybe for many lives. Christian sacraments are not included either. But there are outré claims, Mother God-wailing, guru worship and many regulations one could do well without. You find such annoying parts of that "SRF pack" on these pages.

In short: To include Jesus among the line of gurus, backfires. He said his teachings, salvation and Kingdom were for Jews only. Unless you are a Jew, Jesus is not meant for you! He says so clearly in the gospels. If you are a Jew and want to do as he tells to avoid his condemnation of hypocrites, you are called to make yourself poor, tear off limbs and turn the other cheek so that badmen get the land. The Catholic Church has traditionally turned to his mother for veneration. At least she did not say she was for Jews only. The early church also incorporated a large body of vestige, ceremonies, rituals from other religions in the Roman Empire [Borrowed feathers etc.]

There was no original Christianity of Jesus either. He had Jewish followers only, perhaps 120 of them when he was executed. The first Church launched Christianity with its four requirements only after Jesus was gone. Sayings of Jesus were not included - not even mentioned - in the founding dictate. An array of gospels were written and in part forged years later.


Self-Realization Fellowship gurus, SRF, Literature  

Boston Meditation Group Historical Committee. In the Footsteps of Paramahansa Yogananda. 5th ed. Waltham, MA: Boston Meditation Group of Self-Realization Fellowship, 2011. ⍽▢⍽ A guidebook compiled June 1989 and updated until September 2011.

Dasgupta, Sailendra. Paramhansa Swami Yogananda: Life-portrait and Reminiscences. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2006.

EB: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Online or yearly DVD suite. London, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015.

Ehrman, Bart D. Forged: Writing in the Name of God: Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.

Hardigree, Peggy. The Edible Indoor Garden: A Complete Guide to Growing over 60 Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs Indoors. New York. St. Martin's Press, 1980.

Harrison, John. Vegetable, Fruit and Herb Growing in Small Spaces. London: Constable and Robinson, 2010.

Jung, Carl Gustav. Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle. Tr. R. F. C. Hull. Paperback ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.

Jung, Carl Gustav, ed. Man and His Symbols. New York: Anchor Press / Doubleday, 1964.

Ko, Woon Young. Jung on Synchronicity and Yijing: A Critical Approach. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011.

Kriyananda, Swami. Rescuing Yogananda. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity, 2010. Online.

McLaughlin, Chris.The Vertical Garden. New York: Alpha Books, 2013.

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.

Progoff, Ira. Jung, Synchronicity, and Human Destiny: Noncausal Dimensions of Human Experience. New York: Delta Books, 1973.

Rosser, Brenda Lewis, comp. Treasures against Time - Paramahansa Yogananda with Doctor and Mrs. Lewis. Borrego Springs, CA: Borrego Publications, 1991. (Rev ed 2001).

Satyananda Saraswati, Swami. A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya. Munger: Yoga Publications Trust, 1981.

Satyananda Saraswati, Swami. Kundalini Tantra. 8th ed. Munger: Yoga Publications Trust, 2001.

Stewart, Robert B. The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart D. Ehrman and Daniel B. Wallace in Dialogue. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011.

Tepe, Emily. The Edible Landscape: Creating a Beautiful and Bountiful Garden with Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers. London: Voyageur Press / Quarto, 2013.

Vermes, Geza. The Real Jesus: Then and Now. Minneapolis, MI: Fortress Press, 2011.

Vermes, Geza. The Authentic Gospel of Jesus. London: Penguin, 2005.

Williamson, Lola. Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion. London: New York University Press, 2010.

Yogananda, Paramhansa. The Master Said. Los Angeles, CA: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1952.

Yogananda, Paramhansa. The Second Coming of Christ. 3 Vols. Dallas, TX: Amrita Foundation, 1979 (Vol 1), 1984 (Vol 2) and 1986 (Vol 3).

Yogananda, Paramahansa. Sayings of Paramahansa Yogananda. 4th ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1980.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. Man's Eternal Quest. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1982.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. The Divine Romance. New ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1993.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. The Wine of the Mystic. Paperback. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1996.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. Journey to Self-realization: Discovering the Gift of the Soul. New ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 2000.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You. 2 Vols. 1st ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 2004.

Yogananda, Swami. 1926. The Science of Religion. 5th ed. Los Angeles: Yogoda and Sat Sanga Headquarters (from 1935 called Self-Realization Fellowship). ⍽▢⍽ The first edition was published in India in 1920. The second and third edition were American and published in 1924. The fourth edition appeared in 1925 and the fifth edition in 1926.


  1. Karbe, Klaus, und Manfred Müller-Küppers: Destruktive Kulte: Gesellschaftliche und gesundheitliche Folgen totalitärer pseudoreligiöser Bewegungen. Göttingen: Verlag für Med. Psychologie 1983 (ISBN 3-525-45227-6): Das Kapitel "Die Kulte als Problem der öffentlichen Gesundheit." [◦Link]
  2. (Karbe and Mueller-Kueppers: Destructive Cults: Social and Health Consequences of Totalitarian Pseudo-religious Movements. Publishing House for Med. Psychology Goettingen 1983 [ISBN 3-525-45227-6]): The chapter "Cults: A Public Health Approach". [◦Link to a translation of the work]
  3. Zimbardo, Philip. The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Reprint ed. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2007. - Online parts: 2006-2014. [◦Link]
  4. Swami Yogananda. "How to Acquire Initiative - by Swami Yogananda". East-West Magazine, March—April, 1930 Vol. 4–4.
  5. Ed Sharrow brought several older Yogananda works and early magazines edited by Yogananda, but his site has changed since.
  6. (a) SRF. "Organizational Leadership." Online. [◦Link]

    (b) SRF. "Monastic Order: A Centuries-old Tradition". Online. [◦Link]
  7. Self-Realization Fellowship. Paramahansa Yogananda Reveals the Light of the Spiritual Eye: The first meeting of Yogananda and Dr. M. W. Lewis. 2015. Online.

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