Following are excerpts from the SRF/YSS President’s opening address at the 2020 SRF World Convocation, during the centennial of Paramahansa Yogananda’s arrival in the West to spread the teachings of Kriya Yoga worldwide. Subscribers to Self-Realization magazine can read the fuller presentation, entitled “Paramahansa Yogananda’s Epoch-Making Mission and His Vision for the Future of Humanity,” in the magazine’s extensive online library of past articles and audio content. The video of the full talk can also be viewed on the SRF website.
For thousands of years the holy Himalaya Mountains have been the silent and secluded abode of yogis and meditators, saints and sages, and even a few of the highest divine beings — the avatars or divine incarnations.
So right now, picture that scene: those secluded, beautiful, glorious, mountain fastnesses, far away from the hubbub of society and its problems and concerns. Those great ones — those saints and meditators and yogis — devoted themselves to realization of the highest truths of creation and the awakening of their own divinity, and also that of the few lucky disciples, who, in one way or another, were blessed to find their way to that heaven on earth.
Now picture (and we do not have to visualize, because it’s all too real right in front of us) the contrasting scene of modern society: stressed, filled with fears and struggles of rushing after the next dollar to be made, conflicted, confused; beset with environmental pollution, homelessness and poverty, wars, racial inharmonies, and religious conflicts. The list, unfortunately, goes on and on and on. It’s quite a divide, isn’t it? quite a contrast from that harmony and peace and divine environment of the blessed abode of the saints.
But now let’s realize that a truly epoch-making event happened [a little more than] 100 years ago. Those illumined yogis, saints, and masters began the process of taking their spiritual blessings, and their profound understanding of the universal laws and methods for overcoming all human suffering and problems, out of the secluded mountain and forest hermitages and into the “marts of men,” as Paramahansa Yogananda said.
The highest yoga science of God-realization was beginning to expand and spread beyond ageless India to the modern materialistic world — a world so greatly in need of it.
In Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansaji says: “Babaji is ever in communion with Christ; together they send out vibrations of redemption and have planned the spiritual technique of salvation for this age. The work of these two fully illumined masters — one with a body and one without a body — is to inspire the nations to forsake wars, race hatreds, religious sectarianism, and the boomerang evils of materialism. Babaji is well aware of the trend of modern times, especially of the influence and complexities of Western civilization, and realizes the necessity of spreading the self-liberations of yoga equally in the West and in the East.”
Paramahansa Yogananda was assigned the mission of beginning that dissemination of yoga “equally in the West and the East” and all around the globe. I want to reflect on the key points of what he brought.
What Paramahansa Yogananda Brought to Us All
When Paramahansaji stepped off that ship in Boston in 1920, no doubt the great masters knew what he was bringing and what a great treasure it was — one that would literally change the course of modern civilization.
And yet, for those who met him in those early days, it probably took quite a while for them to fully realize its significance. Looking back after 100 years, we have the advantage of seeing things through a lens and with a focus that those first friends and students of his had yet to discover. Let me crystallize, in six points, a few of the key contributions that our guru, Paramahansaji, brought:
1. A worldview that reveals the divine purpose of life to a modern civilization increasingly bereft of moral and spiritual meaning. Yoganandaji took India’s ancient Sanatana Dharma (“eternal principles of truth”), and restated it in terms that were understandable, believable, and most of all, relevant, to men and women in the modern age. In so doing, he introduced to the world a set of ideas and practices that have since taken root on the cutting edge of psychology, religion, medicine, education, and more and more, as time goes on, in the minds of the public at large. If that was all he brought, it would have been momentous. But the list goes on.
2. A concept of God that makes God approachable and relevant and desirable to modern men and women. Paramahansaji totally threw out the false notion of God as a vengeful judge that so many in the West had become accustomed to. Instead, he taught that God’s nature is ever new joy; and that human beings, made in the image of God, can know the Divine as Father, Mother, Friend, Divine Beloved, or as any one of Spirit’s manifest qualities, such as Infinite Bliss, Wisdom, Light, Peace, and Love.
This was a revolutionizing of the concept of God that had grown and taken root in so many parts of the world. So, if you are one of those who may have difficulty with the word “God” because of your past religious upbringing, do yourself a favor and read Paramahansaji’s introduction to the SRF Lessons: “Highest Achievements Through Self-Realization.” There is a whole section on “What is God?” I think that will give you a very different perspective.
3. A step-by-step set of instructions by whose practice any individual can attain the state of God-realization.
4. A vision of the essential oneness of humanity and of all true religions. One time Paramahansa Yogananda very beautifully said this: “I cannot conceive of a Jesus Christ or a Lord Krishna or the rishis of old calling any man a Christian, a Hindu, a Jew, and so forth. I can conceive of their calling every man ‘my brother.’”
Isn’t that beautiful? Paramahansaji brought to us the vision, the possibility, of realizing for ourselves the oneness of all true spiritual paths — and then spreading that realization out over humanity at large. Through his groundbreaking commentaries on the main scriptures of Christianity and Hinduism, he showed that these paths share a common scientific foundation — the practice of definite techniques of meditation, which leads to attaining direct personal experience of the one truth that underlies all religions, all human beings, all creation.
Are you beginning to get a glimpse of the magnitude of what Paramahansaji brought? Truly epoch-making — that was the word he used to describe the teachings he was asked to bring to the world.
5. A whole program of “how-to-live” principles for balanced development of body, mind, and soul. In reading the Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons, which were compiled from Paramahansaji’s writings, talks, and lectures given more than 70 years ago, you see how farsighted he was.
What he brought really helped to introduce to the world at large most of the essential elements of the balanced or holistic lifestyle that is now being advocated as the scientific basis of human well-being.
6. A true understanding of the guru-disciple relationship. From time immemorial, the guru-disciple relationship has been the means by which sincere seekers of God — sincere seekers of Truth — progress on the path to divine realization. And yet the real meaning of that relationship has been lost sight of and has degenerated in recent centuries. But in what our Guru exemplified in his own life, and in the training he gave to those around him and by extension to all of us, we see the true meaning of that sacred guru-disciple relationship being given back to the world.
So, these are just a few of the key elements of what he brought for the benefit of all of us. I mention these because they represent exactly what the world needs to address at this moment in history — not just the symptoms but the root causes of the problems we face today….
How to Contribute the Greatest Help to the World
As Paramahansaji said, “Change yourself and you have done your part in changing the world.” Yes, there are obstacles in front of us — we all know this. We need to be aware of them so that we can overcome them victoriously. The sad fact is that in today’s world there is a lot of darkness, spiritually and psychologically speaking. Physical darkness prevents us from seeing what’s around us. But spiritual or psychological darkness prevents us from seeing the unrealized potentials that are available to us.
In other words, that spiritual darkness makes us feel discouraged. It tries to make us feel a sense of defeatism or being victimized or fearful or powerless. In yoga terminology that darkness has a name: maya, delusion, the cosmic force of darkness that clouds and obscures the Truth so that we cannot see what is real or accurately see even what is right around us.
We must not let ourselves be discouraged by what is going on in the world today. Instead, remember those yogis in the pristine abode of peace and harmony that we were visualizing before — remember what they sent to all of us. Remember that what we are going through right now, what the world is going through, is exactly what Jesus and Babaji anticipated and why they sent Paramahansa Yogananda and the teachings of Kriya Yoga to the world.
Yes, the darkness, the downward pull of maya, is pretty active right now — there is no question about it. But the whole science of yoga is designed to give us victory over maya, over darkness and delusion and ignorance, so that each one of us can stand face-to-face with truth.
And the truth — for every soul; for every man, woman, and child, of whatever race, religion, or nationality — is this: We are divine beings. We are divine beings with potentially unlimited access to “the great joy and bliss that lights the stars and gives power to the winds and storms,” as our Guru said.
That is what it means to become a mystic in the heart of the world — a lover of Spirit, a lover of God, and of God in all.
If you are interested in putting into practice the deep understanding and life-transforming methods that Paramahansa Yogananda brought to the world, a first step would be to learn more about his Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons on our website, where you can read Paramahansaji’s introductory Lesson and find out how to enroll in this home-study course presenting India’s universal teachings and scientific techniques of yoga in a way that is both comprehensive and comprehendible — and can be immediately applied to all aspects of life.
And if you are interested in reading more of Paramahansa Yogananda’s wisdom you will find many offerings on the SRF bookstore, including the spiritual classic Autobiography of a Yogi and the version in print of Paramahansaji’s inaugural address in the West, The Science of Religion.