Yogacharya Oliver Black
John Oliver Black (1893–1989) was an inventor and businessman who established a manufacturing firm that provided parts to car manufacturers. In 1932 he met Paramahansa Yogananda who he said changed his life. After Yogananda encouraged him, Black began teaching classes in yoga. In 1970 he founded a yoga retreat, The Song in the Morning Yoga Retreat Center, in northern Michigan. For many years he led the Detroit Self Realization Fellowship meditation group. Meditations were held on Sunday mornings. His readings of the SRF sermons were broadcast on WABX, a popular rock radio station in late 1960s and the 70s. As a result of these broadcasts many young people attended the Sunday services.
John Oliver Black was born on September 1, 1893 in Grover Hill, Ohio. He spent his youth in Illinois, where as a young man, he had established a carriage works in 1917. He married his wife Ethel in 1920. Upon seeing the potential of the automobile, Mr. Black moved to Detroit where he founded Peninsular Metal Products, a manufacturing firm that provided parts to car manufacturers such as Studebaker, Hupmobile, Maxwell-Chalmers, and Saxon. He was president of the company when he met Paramahansa Yogananda, a yoga master from India, in 1932. That meeting, he often said, changed his life. In an interview in 1966, he said, “Yogananda set me straight. When I first met him…I was afraid to get a half a mile away from a drug store. I was a regular hypochondriac…a victim of inner pressures…like all my colleagues.” From Yogananda he began to learn the yoga techniques that helped him change, improve, and grow.
During his life, Black was an avid inventor and held patents on a number of inventions. He was a friend of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whose influence was reflected in some of Black’s furniture designs. At various times Black also operated a farm, bred show dogs and horses, explored for oil and gas, and was a painter and artist.
Spiritual work. In 1952, Black retired, but stayed on the board of directors of his company. Yogananda told him his true work was to teach, and advised him to give up his business responsibilities. But Mr. Black hesitated, thinking he was not competent enough to teach yoga. Yogananda told him, “That’s what you think, Oliver.” Eventually he took Yogananda’s advice, left the business world and began teaching SRF classes at the Detroit Institute of Arts. He attracted numerous students from as far away as Chicago, Cleveland, New York and Toronto. During those years Yogananda bestowed upon him the title “Yogacharya,” which means yoga teacher.
He began his work in relative obscurity. Black said that at his first philosophy class, he only had two people show up, but by the late 1960s he had a few hundred people attending his SRF Sunday morning and Thursday night services at the Detroit Institute of Arts main auditorium each week. Black was always true to Yogananda's teachings Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF). He was the leader of the SRF center in Detroit Michigan and although, he was well qualified and encouraged by SRF and Yogananda to speak extemporaneously during the Sunday Services which he did occasionally, he usually read Yogananda's Sunday Service lectures as written. His comment was that he couldn't improve on Yogananda's teachings.
The weekly services were the highlight of the week for many of the participants. The Services ran weekly from the first Sunday after Labor Day until the last Sunday in June. Each year on the last Thursday of June, Yogacharya Black conducted a Kriya Yoga Initiation Ceremony. Black was one of a very few non monastic ministers acknowledged by Self-Realization Fellowship as qualified to conduct a Kriya Yoga Initiation Ceremony.
Song of the Morning Retreat. In 1970 J. Oliver Black founded Golden Lotus, Inc., a Michigan non-profit organization which owns and operates Song of the Morning. Song of the Morning Ranch is the result of Black’s desire to carry out the wishes of his Guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, to establish a yoga retreat where the timeless science of yoga could be taught as a full and practical way of life.
Song of the Morning retreat, affectionately known as The Ranch, is on 800 acres (3.2 km2) of land in northern Michigan. A one-time hunting and fishing club, it is located in the Pigeon River State Forest area. Today, Song of the Morning is a spiritual sanctuary for thousands of visitors annually. True to Yogananda and Black’s ideals, the Ranch blends eastern and western cultures, and promotes the science of yoga and meditation.
Black passed on in September 16, 1989 at the age of 96. He outlived his wife, who died in 1970, his son Robert, a pilot who died in the Korean War, and his daughter Phyllis who died in 1987.
- Bowen, Richard (2004). Sayings of Yogacharya. Milwaukee, WI: Ariadne Publishers. ISBN 0964934345.
- Self-Realiztion Magazine: News of SRF-YSS Centers. Los Angeles, CA: Self-Realization Fellowship. March–April 1963.
- "The Detroit Institute of Art Years". Retrieved 2013-07-21.
- "Song of the Morning". Retrieved 2013-07-21.