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May 26, 1999
52nd edition of Yogananda's book draws new attention to his work
A P Kamath in New York
A perennial bestseller, Autobiography of a Yogi has entered the 52nd consecutive year of printing. When it was first published, major newspapers and magazines acclaimed as a landmark work in its field -- and its author, Swami Pramahansa Yogananda, guru to such famous people as Geoge Eastman (inventor of the Kodak camera) and poet and novelist Christopher Isherwood, was featured in many magazine articles.
Today, apart from a deluxe edition ($ 39), the book is available in paperback for $ 5.50; audio version read by Oscar-winner Ben (Gandhi) Kingsley have also sold in thousands. Twelve audiocassettes go for $ 48.
The New York Times hailed it as 'a rare account.' Newsweek pronounced it 'fascinating.' The San Francisco Chronicle declared, 'Yogananda presents a convincing case for yoga, and those who "came to scoff" may remain 'to pray.'
More than a million copies of the book are available in over six Indian and 18 world languages. Reviewers commented that part of the success of the book owed to its engaging candor, eloquence, and wit.
'I am going forth to discover America, like Columbus,' Yogananda mused as he set sail for America nearly three decades after Swami Vivekananda's triumphal tour of America. 'He (Columbus) thought he had found India; surely, there is a karmic link between those two lands!'
Paramahansa Yogananda was born Mukunda Lal Ghosh on January 5, 1893, in Gorakhpur, India, into a devout and well-to-do Bengali family. From his earliest years, it was evident to those around him that the depth of his awareness and experience of the spiritual was far beyond the ordinary. In his youth he sought out many of India's sages and saints, hoping to find a teacher to guide him in his spiritual quest. It was in 1910, at 17, that he met and became a disciple of the revered Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri.
In the hermitage of this master of yoga he spent the better part of the next ten years, receiving Sri Yukteswar's strict but loving spiritual discipline.
After he graduated from Calcutta University in 1915, he took formal vows as a monk at which time he received the name Yogananda Yogananda began his life's work with the founding, in 1917, of a "how-to-live" school for boys, where modern educational methods were combined 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 an international congress of religious leaders convening in Boston. His address to the congress, on The Science of Religion, was enthusiastically received. That same year he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship to disseminate worldwide his teachings on India's ancient science and philosophy of yoga and its time-honored tradition of meditation.
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 in Los Angeles an international headquarters for Self-Realization Fellowship, which became the spiritual and administrative heart of his growing work.
Over the next decade, Yogananda traveled and lectured widely, speaking to capacity audiences in many of the largest auditoriums in the country -- 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 direct personal experience of God.
Among those who became his students were many prominent figures in science, business, and the arts, including horticulturist Luther Burbank, operatic soprano Amelita Galli-Curci, poet Edwin Markham, and symphony conductor Leopold Stokowski. In 1927, he was officially received at the White House by President Calvin Coolidge, who had become interested in the newspaper reports of his activities.
In 1935, Yogananda began an 18-month tour of Europe and India. During his yearlong sojourn in his native land, he spoke in cities throughout the subcontinent and enjoyed meetings with Mahatma Gandhi (who requested initiation in kriya yoga), Nobel-prize-winning physicist Sir C V Raman, and some of India's renowned spiritual figures, including Sri Ramana Maharshi and Anandamoyi Ma. It was during this year also that his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, bestowed on him the spiritual title, Paramahansa.
During the 1930s, Paramahansa Yogananda began to withdraw somewhat from his nationwide public lecturing so as to devote himself to the writings that would carry his message to future generations, and to building an enduring foundation for the spiritual and humanitarian work of Self-Realization Fellowship (known in India as Yogoda Satsanga Society).
Under his direction, the personal guidance and instruction that he had given to students of his classes was arranged into a comprehensive series of Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons for home study.
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.'
Apart from the famed autobiography, the Self-Realization Fellowship offers over a dozen works by the Swami.
The new edition of Metaphysical Meditations (hardcover, $12, paperback, $3.50) is also available. It offers more than 300 prayers, meditations, and affirmations from host of religions that beginners and experienced meditators can use.
At Self-Realization Fellowship's temples and nearly 500 meditation centers, located in 54 countries, students of Paramahansa Yogananda's teachings meet for inspirational and prayer services, meditation, and spiritual fellowship.
The meetings include readings from Yogananda's writings, as well as periods of meditation and devotional chanting. Several of our temples were established by Yogananda during his lifetime and have become places of pilgrimage for visitors from all parts of the world. Services at the temples are generally conducted by monks of the Self-Realization Order.
Each year, Self-Realization Fellowship hosts an international convocation in Los Angeles presenting Paramahansa Yogananda's teachings. This week-long program includes classes, meditations, film and video presentations, guided tours to the ashram centers where he lived and worked, and other activities.
The Fellowship firmly believes in karma yoga. Its adherents and followers are active in social causes in India and USA. They help run soup kitchens in Los Angeles and are involved in associations that empower minorities, including battered women.
The annual fellowship event attracts up to 6,000 participants from around the world.
For more information, contact: Self Realization Fellowship, 3880 San Rafael Avenue, Dept 8W, Los Angeles, CA 90065-3298; (323) 225-2471.
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