Paramhansa Yogananda was born Mukunda Lal Ghosh on January 5, 1893, in Gorakhpur, India, into a devout and well-to-do Bengali family. He was the 2nd son and fourth child of 8 children. His earliest memories were that of a past life as a yogi amidst the Himalayan snows. These glimpses of the past by some dimensionless link also afforded him glimpses of the future.
His father, Bhagabati Charan Ghosh was the Vice President of the Bengal-Naqpur Railway. He shunned all luxuries and took recreation in spiritual practices. He helped to organize the Calcutta Urban Bank without a salary, saying that this was a part of his civic duty. Paramhansa Yogananda called his Mother the “Queen of Hearts” because she only taught them through love. She always had an open hand for the needy.
At eight years old he experienced a miraculous cure of Asiatic Cholera. The incident occurred while praying to Lahiri Mahasaya. A blinding light enveloped his body and he instantly recovered from what is normally a fatal disease. When Yogananda was eleven years old his mother died. It would be years before he could reconcile his mothers death. His cries at last summoned the Divine Mother. Her words brought him final healing: “It is I who have watched over thee, life after life, in the tenderness of many mothers! See in my gaze the two black eyes, the lost beautiful eyes thou seekest!”
It was in 1910, at the age of 17, that he met Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri. He became a disciple of Sri Yukteswar and spent the next ten years in the hermitage under the discipline of this strict but loving Master of yoga. He took formal vows in the monastic Swami Order after he graduated from Calcutta University in 1915. He received the name Yogananda (signifying bliss, ananda, through yoga, divine union.
In 1917 Yogananda founded a “how-to-live” high school for boys, with yoga training and instruction in spiritual ideals. Visiting the school a few years later, Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “This institution has deeply impressed my mind.”
In 1920, Yogananda was invited to serve as India’s delegate to the International Congress of Religious Liberals convening in Boston. Afterwards he stayed in America, founding the organization Self-Realization Fellowship. For the next several years, he lectured and taught on the East Coast, and in 1924 embarked on a cross-continental speaking tour. The following year, he established his spiritual headquarters in Los Angeles.
Over the next decade, Yogananda lectured widely, from New York’s Carnegie Hall to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The Los Angeles Times reported: “The Philharmonic Auditorium presents the extraordinary spectacle of thousands being turned away an hour before the advertised opening of a lecture with the 3000-seat hall filled to its utmost capacity.”
Yogananda emphasized the underlying unity of the world’s great religions, and taught universally applicable methods for attaining a direct personal experience with God. He taught the techniques of kriya yoga a sacred practice that originated millennia ago in India.
In 1935, Yogananda returned to India to begin an 18-month lecturing tour of Europe and India. He initiated Mahatma Gandhi in kriya yoga, and met with Nobel-prize-winning physicist Sir C. V. Raman. He visited Sri Ramana Maharshi, Anandamoyi Ma, and Theresa Neumann. Swami Sri Yukteswar bestowed upon him India’s highest spiritual title, Paramhansa.
Yogananda’s life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, was published in 1946. The book has been in continuous publication since it first appeared and has been translated into 18 languages. It is regarded as a modern spiritual classic.
March 7, 1952, Paramhansa Yogananda made his final, conscious, ecstatic exit from his body, or Mahasamadhi. At a banquet held in the honor of the Ambassador of India, Yogananda was finishing a speech with a few lines from his poem, My India. When he was finished his eyes lifted, he turned slightly to his right and sank quietly to the floor.
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.”
Yogananda came to the West in answer to a universal need. It was time for the world to achieve balance between material and spiritual prosperity. Master was born, he told us, in response to a heart-felt desire on the part of countless Westerners. Americans, especially for a practical approach to spirituality, one that would match the practicality they’d achieved in their material lives.
Yankee ingenuity and modern science had awakened in them an awareness of the need for methods and techniques that would help them demonstrate the practicality of the Scriptures also. By the same token, Master said, people in India were becoming aware of the practical benefits of modern life, and had begun to want to balance spiritual faith and inner peace with material efficiency.
Many souls were therefore being drawn from America to take birth in India, to help the Indian people learn the divine law as it is expressed in the material world. Many Indian souls, similarly, were being born here in the West to help bring about greater spiritual awareness. In addition to this mass interchange, dictated by world karma, there was also the fact that Master himself was sent here to help in this process of spiritual awakening in the West