Birth and childhood
He 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, he developed a depth of awareness and experience in the spiritual. In his youth he sought out many of India’s sages and saints, hoping to find an illumined teacher to guide him in his spiritual quest.
It was in 1910, at the age of 17, that he met and became a disciple of the revered Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri. In the hermitage of this great 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 of India’s venerable monastic Swami Order, at which time he received the name Yogananda (signifying bliss, ananda, through divine union, yoga).
Beginning of world mission
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 and spirituality. In 1920, he was invited to serve as India’s delegate to an international congress of religious leaders convening in Boston where he presented his discourse ‘The Science of Religion.’ Shortly thereafter, he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) for the purpose of disseminating his teachings. His founding and ongoing development of his society was at the heart of his mission for the more than 30 years that he lived and taught in the West.
Pioneer of yoga
For the next several years, he lectured and taught on the East coast and in 1924 embarked on a cross-continental tour. Over the next decade, Yogananda traveled and lectured widely, speaking to capacity audiences in many of the largest auditoriums in the US – from New York’s Carnegie Hall to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He emphasized the underlying unity of the religions, and taught universally applicable methods for attaining personal experience of God. To serious students of his teachings he introduced the soul-awakening techniques of Kriya Yoga, a sacred spiritual science originating millenniums ago in India.
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, George Eastman (inventor of the Kodak camera), 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.
Return to India
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 Gandhi, CV Raman, Ramana Maharshi and Anandamoyi Ma, among others. In this year his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, bestowed on him the title of ‘paramahansa’ (supreme swan – a symbol of spiritual discrimination), that signifies one who manifests the supreme state of unbroken communion with God.
Books and literature
During the 1930s, 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. Yogananda’s life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, was published in 1946 and expanded by him in subsequent editions. A perennial best seller, the book has been in continuous publication since it first appeared and has been translated into 18 languages. It is widely regarded as a modern spiritual classic.
On March 7, 1952, Yogananda entered mahasamadhi, a God-illumined master’s conscious exit from the body at the time of physical death. 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 20 days after death… This state of perfect preservation of a body is… an unparalleled one… Yogananda’s body was apparently in a phenomenal state of immutability.’
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Paramahansa Yogananda’s passing, India issued a special commemorative stamp was issued in his honor, together with a tribute that read, in part: ‘The ideal of love for God and service to humanity found full expression in the life of Paramahansa Yogananda… Though the major part of his life was spent outside India, still he takes his place among our great saints.’
Biography courtesy of About.com, based on Yogananda’s official biography at yogananda.com.