On some of the following pages the author's name is dropped if Yogananda is credited with the authorship.
For decades and a few of generations after the guru Yogananda's death in 1952, the Yogananda publisher, Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), has edited him a lot. Have they done it well? Opinions are divided.
SRF publishes much, also after they lost some Yogananda copyrights in a protracted legal feud (Parsons 2012). An SRF-competing publishing branch, Crystal Clarity, shows how SRF has edited the Autobiography of a Yogi and other guru works long after his passing. A former SRF vice president, the late Kriyananda, insists there is a need to save Yogananda from SRF mischief. [◦Yogananda for the World by Swami Kriyananda]
Yogananda was born on January 5, 1893, in Gorakhpur, India, and grew up to praise Mussolini and dictatorship.
There are also those who tell how Yogananda said he had influenced Hitler's mind to attack Russia in the summer of 1941. Yogananda's direct disciple Kriyananda writes in two books about this claimed influence on der Führer. However, a pinch of salt or three could well be in place in the matter, for the yogi's way of doing it was recoursing to yogic Black Arts if it happened. And influence by magic means is outside of the realm where good proofs are usually found in such amounts and of such quality that the majority of scientists and sceptics may support that such Arts are for real. In history, however, many have been sentenced to a brutal death for witchcraft - right or wrong.
We are left with tales that Yogananda made claims to have swayed Hitler to make more war, according to a direct Yogananda disciple (Kriyananda), who had heard it from other disciples.
Anyway, there is evidence that Yogananda had a leaning towards the occult. Lola Williamson writes:
As a youth, Mukunda [Yogananda] learned how to hypnotize others and was also able to induce spirit-possession. He often used his brother to accomplish his experiments with fortune-telling, calling a spirit to enter his brother, who would then answer. . . . At times, the experiment backfired when the spirit refused to leave. Mukunda apparently took pride in his occult talents . . . To demonstrate his hypnotism abilities for officials at a nearby school, Mukunda asked his brother to eat dirt, telling him it was sweet and delectable. . . .
Sailendra Dasgupta's Yogananda biography (2006) also contain tales about how Yogananda scared a cook by "freezing" his arm and forgot about him. Years later, Yogananda got afraid of a ghost on a cot and had to have someone sleeping in the same room to prevent the ghost from entering through the door when it was closed.
So Yogananda was more than a little bit interested in the occult. He was afraid, too.
Yogananda travelled and lectured as an orator
At seventeen, Yogananda became a disciple of Yukteswar and was disciplined - but was it enough, or well enough to last? Such questions are not always asked.
Yogananda graduated from Calcutta University as a BA in 1915, and some years later arrived in Boston in September 1920. There he delivered a speech at the congress, and it was well enough received. The first SRF meditation centre was started in Boston with the help of Dr. and Mrs. M. W. Lewis and Mrs. Alice Hasey. All three became lifelong disciples.
For several years, Yogananda lectured and taught on the East Coast. In 1924 he embarked on a cross-continental speaking tour. Between 1924 and 1935, Yogananda travelled and lectured widely - from New York's Carnegie Hall to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium.
"Death by kriya yoga" and other Yogananda claims
Feather by feather the goose is plucked (Proverb)
Yogananda taught that his mission was to teach Westerners how to die consciously through a method he told had been kept secret. It says in The Science of Religion that "we ought not fear to practise death, i.e., give rest to the internal organs. Death will then be under our control. (Yogananda 1926:80)."
It may sound like a joke. Anyway, die-marketing is seldom successful among large numbers of people who want to live. Yogananda came to promote kriya yoga. In its original form, from Shyama Lahiri, it is rather time-consuming, and takes lots of hours of practice each day. The core part is one of the breathing methods in hatha-yoga, and public knowledge: the publicly known pranayama method ("way of breathing") called ujjayi in Sanskrit. Greatly calming ujjayi practice is described in books too. (Hewitt 1991; Satyananda 1981; 2001).
Five years or so after Yogananda came by boat to America, he had changed his death-by-kriya marketing, and claimed that Jesus was one of the gurus behind him. Marshall Govindan has commented on it:
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, . . . most readers of his "Autobiography" . . . are left with many unrealistic expectations. - Marshall Govindan. [◦Link]
So now the main marketing punch had got another direction: The purpose of life is to experience God, find great joy, by Yogananda's method for it: kriya yoga. He let 150,000 men and women in the West learn it, but only after extracting an oath from most of them: They had to swear an oath of loyalty and unconditional devotion to him for it, in part in the name of Jesus who in cited to say no to swearing (Matthew 5:34).
Yogananda added Jesus to the line of gurus after about five years in the United States, and the fellowship he left behind, added Krishna to its worshipped gurus too in the early 1970s. They might have hoped for a warmer welcome in India at the time.
A part of the pledge, one that SRF might have avoided to reveal until 1974, is that Yogananda meant the oath to be binding for up to lifetimes. In 1974 that cat was let out of the bag in an article by Yogananda in Self-Realization Magazine (spring 1974, p 6). Human Rights want it different.
SRF may still smuggle the lifetimes-oath on people, in part through overdone demands, and may not tell about the lifetimes bond before swearing in people. It may still be done that way. Many Human Rights have been ignored, if so.
Well, prepare for the worst in good time.
Fellow kriya swamis have also questioned Yogananda's mass-propagating methods (Dasgupta 2006, 79-80, for example). [◦Sanskrit Classics].
Some fellow disciples from India and early Yogananda disciples helped him build the Self-Realization Fellowship - an organisation he later described as his horrible blunder (!) in a hand-written letter. ""I have committed a great blunder by starting an organization."." [◦Source]
After he died from a heart attack in 1952, successors have lead the Self-Realization Fellowship, SRF. It edits, expands on and publishes many of his dictated or written works. Examples follow in this series. Swami Chidananda (Christopher Bagley, born in 1953 in Annapolis, Maryland) became the SRF president in late August 2017. He assisted Daya Mata and Mrinalini Mata with preparing and publishing voluminous Yogananda works, and is also the editor-in-chief of SRF. ["Swami Chidananda"; ◦SRF News Archive]
Yogananda talks and classes in the earliest years in America were recorded - at first only now and then, and later often. Daya Mata (d. 2010) recorded hundreds of lectures, classes, and informal talks. Some are published by Self-Realization Fellowship, some by spin-off societies like Ananda, and others
During the 1930s, after he had praised Mussolini and dictatorship in an issue of the SRF magazine (1934), Yogananda withdrew much from public lecturing. Yogananda visited India in 1935-36 and thereby escaped being dragged to court to pay money he owed - a case marred by untrue Yogananda claims against documents that were found as the court case proceeded. Yogananda lost the case and was exposed as unwise or odious in his ways. [◦More]
His aged guru in India commented on something Yogananda had written, by "Shame! Shame!" Yogananda's biographer Dasgupta (2006, 71) tells. On one occasion Yogananda fell out with his aged guru Yukteswar too, as described by that eye-witness biographer (2006, 85). SRF is not too good at getting such little flattering stories circulated.
In seclusion in the USA
In late 1936, Yogananda returned to America. There he remained for the rest of his life, and increasingly in seclusion, although he still worked and did not end the fellowship he had founded and one day regretted he had founded.
At Encinitas in California, Yogananda spent years working on his autobiography about "yogi-christs of India" and other writings, helped by a good deal of secretaries, his co-writing "committee", as Daya Mata put it. He founded several Self-Realization Fellowship temples (Encinitas, Hollywood, and San Diego), speaking regularly there, and largely without preparations, on a wide range of spiritual subjects. Many of these stenographed talks have since been published by SRF in three volumes of collected Yogananda talks and essays and in Self-Realization magazine.
The works contain a host of interpolations by editors, so Yogananda works published by different editors or publishers differ considerably.
A show of reverence, including lip service
Yogananda was dubious as an interpreter of scriptures. His commentaries on the Rubaiyat and Bible parts show it well. (Another example)
The method that Yogananda used was reading things into works. It was very often against good evidence, never adjusting to salient textual Bible criticism and so on. As a result, his commentaries reflect severe shortcomings.
By outward appearances only, Yogananda treated gospel parts with a polite reverence and seeming decorum by way of phrases and language. However, he claimed Jesus as a guru in SRF (the decorum helped social acceptance in his time), against gospel sayings against the possibility. He also changed traditional Christian concepts of God, Holy Spirit and soul to suit him. Decent ways of handling materials were abandoned (Example). Many claims and directives abound. [More]
With the assistance of secretaries, Yogananda had his Autobiography of a Yogi written and published by 1946. The book was significantly expanded in subsequent editions by SRF, for decades after his death. The ghost writer was hardly Yogananda. SRF changed his autobiography and forged his signature too, from Paramhansa to Paramahansa, to make it look better. Jon Parsons discusses the issues in A Fight for Religious Freedom, chap. 7.
In the summer of 1958, after Sister Daya's trip to India, SRF suddenly changed the spelling of Yogananda's title from "Paramhansa" to "Paramahansa." Without announcement or explanation, an extraneous "a" mysteriously appeared in Yogananda's title beginning with the July-August 1958 issue of Self-Realization [the SRF magazine]. I have a copy of the 1958 seventh edition of Whispers From Eternity where the book cover is still printed "Paramhansa" but the title page and dust jacket have the "new and improved" spelling.
But there is more: "By a committee"
A sangha-mata managed to say,
Yogananda wrote home to India that having started an organisation was a big blunder, and spent his final years largely in seclusion (Dasgupta 102). He slept little or nothing for years, suffered from high blood pressure, and in 1952 fell to the floor during a banquet in downtown Los Angeles, at the Biltmore Hotel. A medical doctor concluded it was a heart attack.
It did not end there; his organisation publishes "his" or "his-their" writings to this day. Daya Mata got away with testifying that he was they . . . In Swami Kriyananda's Yogananda for the World (2012b), there is this key: "The former SRF president [Daya Mata] "signed a declaration, under oath, that Autobiography of a Yogi had not been written by Yogananda himself, but by a committee" (Chap. 16)."
One may say "writings by Yogananda and/or unnamed others, including SRF editors)" or "his-their" writings, in other words. Easier: "by Yogananda" means "by a committee," according to an aged Daya Mata. Better be warned. (How it worked)
Conflicts, inner and outer
In the years after Daya Mata became its leader in 1955, "older disciples of the order either removed themselves from the central organization or were forced out - not only in America but in India as well." (Dasgupta 2006, 85).
In SRF's spin-off society Ananda they can tell you how SRF took Ananda to court. The expensive legal strife over copyrights and such things lasted for twelve years. The Palo Alto lawyer Jon Parsons has written a very commendable book about it (2012). Between 2000 and 2005, about one third of SRF's monastics left the premises (ib. 170), after they had found their leader, Daya Mata, had done something similar for thirty (!) years: she preferred living in a villa with a view to living with other Yogananda disciples, and kept it secret to almost all of them.
Granted all of it, life in SRF is not always a dance on roses. Forewarned, forearmed. SRF fails in forewarnings against itself. . . . However, Yogananda's biographer Sailendra Dasgupta (2006, 106) describes earlier troubles in that arena, and Lola Williamson gives a lot more detail from the years before and after year 2000 in Transcendent in America. (2010). Extracts from it are here. [More]
Some have invested a lot in publishing Yogananda and in making him look good, divine, and deep. Authenticity and fairness should not be wasted in that process.
◎ It might be a life-saver to see through facades and make out what is really at work - and the wider scenario - before one gets duped and bound for up to lifetimes.
Dasgupta, Sailendra. Paramhansa Swami Yogananda: Life-portrait and Reminiscences. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2006.
Hewitt, James. The Complete Yoga Book: The Yoga of Breathing, Meditation and Posture. London: Rider, 1991. ⍽▢⍽ A part of the book goes back to Hewitt's Yoga (Its first edition: London: The English Universities Press, 1960). The Complete Yoga Book is comprehensive encyclopaedia of yoga, illustrated with many pen drawings. It comes with programmes. How to do a variant of ujjaji, core kriya yoga, is described among other pranayama methods. It is an excellent book to learn from.
Jones, Vernon, tr. Aesop's Fables. Aesop. Introduction, D. Ashliman. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003.
Kriyananda, Swami. Conversations with Yogananda: Recorded, with Reflections, by His Disciple Swami Kriyananda. . Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity, 2004.
⸻. Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography with Personal Reflections and Reminiscences. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity, 2011.
⸻. Yogananda for the World. 3rd, rev ed. Nevada City, CA: Crystal clarity, 2012b. Online as well.
Parsons, Jon R. A Fight for Religious Freedom: A Lawyer's Personal Account of Copyrights, Karma and Dharmic Litigations. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity, 2012. ⍽▢⍽ An account of SRF's 12-year long legal battle against its spin-off Ananda.
Satyananda Saraswati, Swami. Kundalini Tantra. 8th ed. Munger: Yoga Publications Trust, 2001. ⍽▢⍽ A sequel to the next book by him.
⸻. A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya. Munger: Yoga Publications Trust, 1981. ⍽▢⍽ Long, detailed, maybe daunting.
Williamson, Lola. Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion. London: New York University Press, 2010.
Yogananda, Swami. The Science of Religion. 5th ed. edition. Los Angeles: Yogoda and Sat Sanga Headquarters, 1926. ⍽▢⍽ Swami Dhirananda, is presented on the title page as an associate. In a note on page v, Yogananda thanks him and some others for "various forms of help". Later the tone changed as a court case between them developed, a case that Dhirananda won. It was a case in which Yogananda was caught telling such untruths or lies that the judge did not believe him, but stuck to the evidence . . .
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