“The truths underlying religion are eternal. They cannot be invented. There will always be differences of emphasis, according to the varying needs of the times. The fundamental truths, however, remain forever the same.”
—Paramhansa Yogananda, The Essence of Self-Realization
The origins of yoga and meditation
Though Yoga and meditation are practiced widely for the many health benefits they offer, their origins and purpose are spiritual. Meditation and yoga help the sincere spiritual seeker to calm and mind and heart, and achieve profound states of spiritual awareness. Their ultimate goal: Samadhi—or union with God. Until recently, these techniques were not taught to the public, but were transmitted, often in secret, from guru to sincere disciples.
The origins of Yoga are unknown, but archeological evidence suggests its practice began in India as long as 5,000 years ago. The earliest known texts are the Upanishads (400 BC), the Bhagavad Gita, and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (200 BC).
The complete Yoga philosophy and practice is known as Raja Yoga, as distinct from Hatha Yoga, or postures alone. Raja Yoga teaches techniques of self-control in breath, energy, and thought. It brings awareness of the underlying unity of all things, and helps us experience a sense of oneness with this greater reality.
Yoga and meditation in America
Yoga and meditation were little known in America until the turn of the 20th century, when Swamis from India began lecturing in the West. Among the first to arrive in 1893 was Vivekananda, a direct disciple of Ramakrishna. Paramhansa Yogananda arrived in 1920 and was the first of India’s great Swamis to make his home here.
Paramhansa Yogananda is perhaps best-known as the author of the spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi. Written in 1946, it has been translated into 19 languages and is widely used in universities as a textbook in Yoga and Indian philosophy. His extraordinary stories of saints and miracles are a glimpse into a completely different world. The reader is left with a profound sense of our true nature: as souls who are part of the very fabric of the universe—not separate, but one with the Creator. His book has awakened a desire for God in countless readers.
Yogananda arrived in America in 1920, and began what would become a lifelong mission here. He was a tireless lecturer, extolling the benefits of meditation and yoga to millions of Americans over the next 32 years. He taught the mystical, original teachings of Krishna and Christ, and emphasized the underlying unity of all religions. His Autobiography described many details of the life of Swami Yukteswar, Lahiri Mahasaya and Babaji, the “deathless” yogi who instructed Yogananda to bring the sacred teachings of India to the West. Those teachings include Kriya Yoga and other techniques of meditation, breath, and energy control, which help calm the mind and develop inner, spiritual awareness.
Swami Kriyananda: An American Swami and disciple of Yogananda
Yogananda had many close disciples, among them Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters). Swami Kriyananda’s “assignment” from his guru was a public one. He came to Yogananda as a young man of 21, and soon Yogananda placed him in charge of the male monastics, most of whom were far senior in years and experience on the path. He also asked him to become the main lecturer at the Hollywood Temple. Swami Kriyananda became SRF’s main lecturer worldwide, and traveled extensively. In 1962, he was appointed Vice President of Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF).
In 1968, Swami Kriyananda began one of Yogananda’s most cherished dreams: the founding of a spiritual community near Nevada City, CA, called Ananda Village. Ananda in Sacramento is one of nine Ananda communities and teaching centers today.
At his guru’s request, Swami Kriyananda has focused on teaching and writing, helping others to experience the joy and living presence of God within. He has lectured on four continents in seven languages over the course of nearly 60 years of discipleship. His books have been translated in 29 languages. His books and teachings cover nearly every field of human endeavor, including spiritualizing business life, leadership, education, the arts, community life, and science. He has written extensive commentaries on the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita.
Though in his early 80s, Kriyananda continues to write and lecture at a pace that leaves his students and friends fairly breathless. He makes his home today at Ananda India, near New Delhi, where he and a group of 40 Ananda teachers are establishing a new center for Yogananda’s teachings. His lectures in India and America are posted regularly as streaming video or MP3.