100 Years of Yoga in the West: Self-Realization Fellowship Celebrates Centennial Anniversary: 1920 – 2020

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Paramahansa Yogananda

LOS ANGELES—This year marks the 100th anniversary of the arrival in the West of Paramahansa Yogananda – regarded as the father of Yoga in the West, whose best-selling classic, Autobiography of a Yogi, continues to be the definitive introduction to yoga meditation for millions of seekers around the globe.

The year also marks the centennial anniversary of Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), the international society he founded to disseminate his yoga meditation teachings and to foster bonds of cultural and spiritual understanding between East and West.

“What Paramahansa Yogananda brought to the West,” says SRF President Brother Chidananda, “is perhaps one of the greatest gifts to humankind – India’s ancient science of Yoga, the science of knowing the Self, of realizing and experiencing who we truly are, divine souls with unlimited potential.”

A number of commemorative events are being planned in more than 600 venues worldwide for this milestone anniversary, including:  a livestreamed inaugural ceremony on January 5 (the birth anniversary of Yogananda);  special Centennial Open Houses featuring guided meditations and kirtans (devotional chanting) in mid-January; International Day of Yoga events in June, public lecture programs on the teachings of Yogananda presented by SRF monastics,  scheduled for the spring and fall; a centennial-themed World Convocation in July, and a Centennial Commemoration Weekend in September to mark the actual date of Sri Yogananda’s arrival in America on September 19, 1920. Details of the events can be found at https://yogananda.org/srfcentennial.

Background of Paramahansa Yogananda’s Work in the West

 Paramahansa Yogananda arrived in America from his native India on September 19, 1920 to serve as India’s delegate to an International Congress of Religious Liberals convening in Boston. His maiden speech, on the science of religion, would later be described by the Congress organizers as “forcible” and “impressive.” His subsequent talks on the universality of religion and the efficacy of yoga meditation would receive media coverage in all the major newspapers in the U.S. and draw thousands of seekers who filled the nation’s largest auditoriums to capacity to hear him speak.

He founded Self-Realization Fellowship the same year as his arrival to introduce to people of all races, cultures, and creeds the ancient science and philosophy of Yoga, that through practice of universally applicable methods of meditation they might realize and express more fully in their lives the true divinity of the human spirit.

 During his more than 30 years in the U.S., Yogananda made America his adopted home and sought to bring unity to the world through his focus on the science and universality of religion, and to teach the 5,000-year tradition of yoga philosophy and its techniques of meditation. His pioneering efforts – including his numerous lectures, writings and the many temples and centers he established –  have profoundly contributed to the ever-increasing interest in yoga and meditation today, with more than 36 million practitioners of yoga in the U.S. and 18 million people who regularly meditate.

His internationally acclaimed life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, remains one of the most widely regarded spiritual classics, influencing a diverse range of luminaries, from Nobel Laureate Thomas Mann to opera star Amelita Galli-Curci to Beatle George Harrison to Apple Founder Steve Jobs (who left instructions for all those attending his memorial service to be gifted with a copy of Yogananda’s book).  Among the many other works by Paramahansa Yogananda are the highly acclaimed commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, God Talks With Arjuna, and the four Gospels, The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You; and the three-volume series of Collected Talks and Essays on Realizing God in Daily Life.

 From its humble beginnings in Boston, SRF, along with its sister organization Yogoda Satsanga Society of India (which Yogananda founded three years earlier in 1917), has grown over the course of its 100-year history to include more than 800 temples, ashram, retreats, and meditation centers in more than 60 countries around the globe.

 Today, the society, under the direction of its president, Brother Chidananda, publishes Yogananda’s writings, lectures, and informal talks (including the Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons), Self-Realization magazine, and other publications related to his teachings; conducts worldwide lecture tours, retreats, and youth programs; and oversees the SRF Worldwide Prayer Circle, whose members around the world pray for the well-being of individuals and world peace. An annual World Convocation is held each summer in Los Angeles, attracting upwards of 4,000 participants each year. In addition, SRF/YSS annually contributes to many local, national, and international charitable causes.

 The Government of India has paid tribute to the life and work of Paramahansa Yogananda on three occasions, most recently in October of 2019 when it issued a special commemorative coin to commemorate Yogananda’s 125th birth anniversary

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