Jump to content

Self-Realization Fellowship

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Self-Realization Fellowship
Formation1920; 104 years ago (1920)
FounderParamahansa Yogananda
TypeReligious organization
Legal statusFoundation
PurposeEducational, Philanthropic, Religious studies, Spirituality
HeadquartersLos Angeles, California, United States[1]
Area served
Brother Chidananda[2]
AffiliationsYogoda Satsanga Society of India
Paramahansa Yogananda, Founder
Headquarters of SRF at Mt. Washington at 3880 San Rafael Ave., Los Angeles, CA

Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) is a worldwide religious organization founded in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda, the Indian guru who authored Autobiography of a Yogi. Before coming to the United States, Yogananda began his spiritual work in India in 1917 and named it Yogoda Satsanga Society of India (YSS).[3][4] He came to the West in 1920 and in 1925 established SRF's headquarters at Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California. Before his return visit to India in 1935, he legally incorporated SRF in the United States, designating it as the only organization to carry on his work – to care for and disseminate his teachings.[5][6]: 154, 227 

Yogananda's teachings include meditation techniques intended to promote awareness of God and one's soul. SRF conveys these techniques through a home-study course, and they publish Yogananda's books and lectures. SRF also coordinates the Worldwide Prayer Circle, who pray for world peace and those in need.



Paramahansa Yogananda founded SRF in 1920 and served as head until his death on 7 March 1952.[7][8][5] In 1925, he established the international headquarters for SRF/YSS at Mount Washington in Los Angeles, California.[5][9][7] The three-story building had originally been opened in 1909 as a hotel. SRF now calls it Mother Center. After Yogananda's death, SRF preserved his bedroom in the building as a shrine.[10][9]

The first president and head of SRF/YSS after Yogananda was Rajarsi Janakananda, who was president until his death on 20 February 1955.[11]

Daya Mata was the next head and president of Self Realization Fellowship/YSS from 1955 until 30 November 2010, the end of her life.[12] American yoga scholar Linda Johnsen wrote that Daya Mata was an example of a new wave of women who acquired leadership positions in Hindu spirituality.[13]

In 2010, Mrinalini Mata became the next president of SRF/YSS, with the official announcement being on 9 January 2011. She held this position until her passing on 3 August 2017.[14][15][16] She had been chosen by Yogananda to oversee his publications after his death, and she had held the position of SRF/YSS vice-president from 1966 until she became president in 2011.[5][17]

On 30 August 2017, Brother Chidananda was elected as the next and current president with a unanimous vote of the SRF Board of Directors.[15][2]

Monastic order


SRF is run by members of its monastic order,[18] established by Yogananda in the early 1930s.[19] SRF's monks and nuns coordinate the organization's retreats, youth programs, temple services, and publishing and translation efforts.[18] They also coordinate the Worldwide Prayer Circle, a network of groups and individuals who pray for world peace and those in need.[18][20][21]

According to SRF's website, the daily life of an SRF renunciant includes meditation, prayer, service, spiritual study, introspection, exercise, and recreation.[22] There are four stages of life in the SRF monastic order that represent a deepening commitment to the renunciant life: postulancy, novitiate, brahmacharya, and sannyas.[23] Monks and nuns of the SRF Order who take their final renunciant vows are members of the Swami Order, which traces its spiritual lineage back to Adi Shankara.[24]



Yogananda first introduced his teachings to the West during an international congress of religious leaders held in Boston, MA in 1920 while giving a talk called The Science of Religion. Yogananda believed that his methods were testable.[25][26] Yogananda's dissemination of his teachings continues through SRF,[27] which he incorporated in 1935 as a nonprofit religious organization.[7][28] According to author Lola Williamson in her book, Transcendent in America: Hindu-inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion, "He (Yogananda) made it clear that his teachings were to be shared through Self-Realization Fellowship and not through rogue organizations that taught in his name."[6]: 227 

Yogananda's autobiography contains a list of aims and ideals for SRF, and the first of these is to disseminate "scientific techniques for attaining direct personal experience of God". Another is "to advocate cultural and spiritual understanding between East and West".[29] SRF teaches methods of concentration and meditation, including a technique called kriya yoga, for the purpose of attaining what Yogananda called Self-realization. Yogananda used this term to signify the realization of one's true Self or soul. SRF presents Eastern and Western religious teachings as essentially one and the same by including passages from both the Bhagavad Gita and the New Testament in their services.[18] SRF also publishes Yogananda's works, which include his home-study lessons, autobiography, lectures, and recorded talks.[5][30][7]: 187 

SRF funded the 2014 documentary Awake: The Life of Yogananda, which was co-directed by Paola Di Florio and Lisa Leeman.[31][32][33]

Kriya Yoga


SRF initiates prepared students in a technique called kriya yoga that they say hastens the process of spiritual awakening.[7]: 183  Through deep and regular practice, the technique is supposed to withdraw one's energy and attention from distracting thoughts, emotions, and stimuli, so that one may experience peace and attunement with God in the resulting stillness.[18] SRF requires aspiring disciples to first undertake a home-study course called the SRF Lessons, compiled from Yogananda's teachings. In keeping with Upanishadic tradition, recipients of SRF's lessons pledge not to share the contents with others. In SRF, receiving the kriya yoga technique is seen as diksha (initiation) by the guru, Yogananda, and it involves an initiation rite conducted by an authorized representative. SRF sends disciples printed kriya yoga lessons even if they cannot attend the rite.[7]: 183 

Temples, retreats, and other facilities

Gateway to the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple in Hollywood in Central Los Angeles, California
SRF Lake Shrine looking toward the golden lotus-topped Gandhi memorial on Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California

Self-Realization Fellowship has over 600 temples and meditation centers located in 62 countries.[26][34] Of the temples, there are eight in the United States – seven in California and one in Arizona:[35]

SRF also runs retreat centers:[36]

SRF has a sister organization in India called Yogoda Satsanga Society of India (YSS), founded by Yogananda in 1917 and headquartered in Dakshineswar (near Calcutta).[37][18] YSS oversees 200 kendras, mandalis, retreats, and ashrams throughout India and Nepal,[38] along with more than 20 educational and medical facilities.[18]

A 2007 view looking north along Swami's beach in Encinitas, the red-roofed building on top of the point is the hermitage where Yogananda wrote "Autobiography of a Yogi"

Encinitas Hermitage


After his return from India in 1936, Yogananda took up residence at the SRF hermitage in Encinitas, California, which was a surprise gift from his disciple Rajarsi Janakananda.[39] It was while at this hermitage that Yogananda wrote Autobiography of a Yogi[40] and other writings, creating a permanent foundation for the humanitarian and spiritual work of SRF/YSS.[41][42] This property includes an ashram.[43]

Hollywood Temple


On 30 August 1942, Yogananda opened the SRF Hollywood Temple on Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, California. It is the oldest SRF temple in the US. According to Phil Goldberg, Yogananda dedicated it to "the ideal of human brotherhood and the definite realization of God as the One Father of all mankind."[44] Meghan Markle's parents, Doria Ragland and Thomas Markle Sr. were married by Brother Bhaktananda at Hollywood Temple on 23 December 1979.[45]

Lake Shrine


The Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine is located on Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades, California. It was dedicated by Yogananda, on 20 August 1950,[44][46] as a 10-acre spiritual center honoring the five major world religions. It is set in a hillside amphitheater with gardens and a spring-fed lake, and it is home to swans, ducks, koi, water turtles, lotus flowers, a Dutch windmill, and a golden lotus archway that is painted white and topped with gold lotus blossoms.[44] The archway frames the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, an outdoor shrine where a 1,000-year-old Chinese sarcophagus holds a portion of Mahatma Gandhi's ashes.[44][47]

SRF San Diego - Cypress trees
A view of Cypress trees at SRF San Diego Temple hand planted by Paramahansa Yogananda.

San Diego Temple


Yogananda established San Diego Temple in Bankers Hill, San Diego, on 5 September 1943, during World War II. The front walkway of the temple is lined with cypress trees planted by Yogananda.[48] In 1945, Mrinilini Mata, then fourteen-year-old Merna Brown, first met Yogananda at this temple and a year later entered the ashram in Encinitas.[44]

Twentynine Palms


Yogananda spent most of the last four years of his life in seclusion at his desert ashram in Twentynine Palms, California, with some of his closest disciples. There he completed his writings, including the revisions of his books, articles and lessons written previously.[49][44]

Reception, views and controversies


As of 1992, SRF had several hundred thousand members. It has enjoyed widespread influence through its publications, but it has struggled to preserve the confidentiality of the lessons from its home-study course – similar lessons have been shared by unaffiliated sources. SRF has responded by including in its publications a copyright statement and a certification that SRF is the society founded by Yogananda to convey his teachings.[7]: 186–187 

Celebrity involvement


George Harrison frequently cited SRF's founder, Yogananda, as an important spiritual influence.[50][8][1] On visits to Los Angeles, George Harrison would spend time at the SRF retreat in Encinitas. The SRF organization strictly honored its members' privacy, which Harrison appreciated.[51][8][1] According to Straight Arrow Press, in the United States the "proceeds from the January 14, 2002, reissue of George Harrison's 1970 song My Sweet Lord will go to the Self-Realization Fellowship".[52] His funeral was held at SRF's Lake Shrine.[10]

Ravi Shankar had met Yogananda in the 1930s and gave his first U.S. concert at the SRF Encinitas Retreat, Encinitas, California in 1957.[8][1]

Elvis Presley often visited SRF in the late 1960s. According to Louis Sahagun of the LA Times, Brother Paramananda, "who left a promising acting career to devote his life to the fellowship", claimed Elvis had once said to him: "Man, you made the right choice. People don't know my life or that I sometimes cry myself to sleep because I don't know God."[34]

Lawsuit with Kriyananda


In 1990, SRF filed suit against James Donald Walters (aka Kriyananda) and his organization, Ananda Church of Self-Realization, regarding Ananda's use of Self-Realization in their name and their use of specific writings, photographs and recordings of Paramahansa Yogananda. According to Louis Sahagún of the Los Angeles Times, SRF wanted "to secure exclusive rights to Yogananda's teachings, name, likeness, voice and use of the term 'self-realization'." The litigation lasted for around twelve years (1990–2002) and in 2002 the final jury trial was held in the US District Court for the Eastern District of California. Jurors ultimately agreed with Self-Realization Fellowship's argument that Yogananda had repeatedly made his intentions clear before dying – he wanted the Fellowship to maintain copyrights to his works. The court ordered Ananda to pay about $29,000 to SRF for its earnings from SRF's sound recordings, and a judge suggested that Ananda not remove Ananda from its name, to which it agreed. However, the court did not require Ananda to pay damages for using written works for educational or religious purposes. It also determined that the terms Paramahansa Yogananda and self-realization could not be trademarked.[53][34][54]

Paternity claim


Ben Erskine accused Yogananda of having an illicit affair with his mother, Adelaide, a disciple and photographer of Yogananda's in the late 1920s. According to Erskine, his mother never told him who his father was but he assumed it was Yogananda because his skin was darker than his siblings. In 1995 Erskine's daughter, Peggy, took it a step further and gave SRF paternity claims along with financial demands. The attorneys for SRF initiated DNA testing with hair samples and then a second round of testing using blood samples which concluded there was no relationship. Erskine and his attorney, Shane Reed, rejected the results as biased because a monk in the order oversaw it. To settle the claims, SRF established an independent testing process. They hired a San Diego former criminal prosecutor, G. Michael Still, to compare the DNA from Yogananda's three male relatives in India to Erskine's DNA. The lab work was done in two separate labs, one in Missouri and one in Louisiana. The results from both labs were identical, showing no relationship between Yogananda and Erskine.[55][56]

SRF expansion project


SRF submitted a draft of their expansion project for its headquarters atop Mt. Washington, Los Angeles, CA. According to the Los Angeles Times, the permit allowed, over a 30-year period, the construction of a "museum, additional office space, classrooms, counseling facilities, underground parking and more living quarters for cloistered monks and nuns…"[57] and a site to reinter Yogananda's remains, which would have been removed from Forest Lawn Memorial-Park. This plan caused disagreement in the local hillside community. The Los Angeles Times reported that "Supporters say that the church is a good neighbor and that its expansion would not harm the community's character. Opponents say the expansion project would be too big for a hilltop area of only 8,000 residents. As emotions have risen, some neighbors have even stopped talking to one another."[58] SRF withdrew the plan when it realized it did not have widespread support from the local residents.[6]: 73  According to the Los Angeles Times, church spokesman Brother Brahmananda said "We hope that this is a catalyst to promote greater harmony within the community."[59]



See also



  1. ^ a b c d Pal, Sanchari (21 June 2016). "The Story of Paramahansa Yogananda,the Man Who Took Yoga Beyond Indian Shores". thebetterindia.com. Retrieved 10 July 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Brother Chidananda Elected President and Spiritual Head of SRF/YSS". Yogananda.org. Retrieved 3 September 2017.
  3. ^ Bhattacharya, Saurabh. "Paramahansa Yogananda - The Yogi and His Fellowship". lifepositive.com. Archived from the original on 17 July 2012.
  4. ^ "About Yogoda Satsanga Society of India".
  5. ^ a b c d e Melton, J. Gordon, Martin Baumann (2010). Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781598842043.
  6. ^ a b c Williamson, Lola (2010). Transcendent in America: Hindu-inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion. New York and London: New York University Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-9449-4.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Wessinger, Catherine (1995). America's Alternative Religions: The Vedanta Movement and the Self-Realization Fellowship. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. p. 173,179. ISBN 0-7914-2398-0.
  8. ^ a b c d Gates, Anita (9 October 2014). "When Being a Yogi Had an Exotic Air". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  9. ^ a b "International Headquarters". Self-Realization Fellowship. Retrieved 1 December 2023.
  10. ^ a b Meares, Hadley (9 August 2013). "From Hip Hotel to Holy Home: The Self-Realization Fellowship on Mount Washington". PBS SoCal. Retrieved 1 December 2023.
  11. ^ "Millionaire president of yoga society dies". Los Angeles Times. 21 February 1955.
  12. ^ Woo, Elaine (2010-12-03). "Sri Daya Mata dies at 96; led L.A.-based Self-Realization Fellowship". latimes.com, 3 December 2010. Retrieved on 2012-03-16 from http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-sri-daya-mata-20101203,0,6781315.story.
  13. ^ Sharma, Arvind (1994). Today's Woman in World Religions. SUNY Press. p. 130. ISBN 9780791416884.
  14. ^ "Self-Realization Fellowship elects Sri Mrinalini Mata as new leader". Los Angeles Times. 12 January 2011. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  15. ^ a b "Brother Chidananda is New Spiritual Leader Of SRF". India Journal. 17 September 2017. Retrieved 4 March 2023.
  16. ^ "In Memoriam: Sri Mrinalini Mata". Retrieved 22 September 2019.
  17. ^ Landsberg, Mitchell (11 January 2011). "Self-Realization Fellowship elects Sri Mrinalini Mata as new leader". Los Angeles Times.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Jones, Constance (2008). Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Internet Archive. New York : Checkmark Books, an imprint of Infobase Publishing. pp. 392–393. ISBN 978-0-8160-7336-8.
  19. ^ "A Centuries-old Tradition". yogananda.org. Retrieved 22 September 2019.
  20. ^ Santosanada, Brother (2011). "Yogananda's Kriya Yoga Teachings". Caduceus. Autumn–Winter (82): 12.
  21. ^ Rourke, Mary (10 November 1996). "Private Talks With God Go Public". Los Angeles Times - Life and Style, Section E. California Times.
  22. ^ "Daily Life in the Ashram". yogananda.org. Retrieved 22 September 2019.
  23. ^ "The Four Stages of Monastic Life". yogananda.org. Retrieved 22 September 2019.
  24. ^ Goldberg, Philip (2018). The Life of Yogananda. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc. p. 76. ISBN 978-1-4019-5218-1.
  25. ^ Yogananda, Paramahansa (1982). The Science of Religion. Los Angeles, CA: Self-Realization Fellowship. p. iv. ISBN 978-0-87612-005-7.
  26. ^ a b Netburnstaff, Deborah (19 November 2020). "If you practice yoga, thank this man who came to the U.S. 100 years ago". The Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles.
  27. ^ Goldberg, Philip (2012). American Veda (1 ed.). Harmony. p. 109. ISBN 978-0-385-52135-2.
  28. ^ Works related to SRF Articles of Incorporation 1935 at Wikisource
  29. ^ Yogananda, Paramahansa (1998). Autobiography of a Yogi (13th ed.). Self-Realization Fellowship. p. 481.
  30. ^ Yogananda, Paramahansa (1995). God Talks With Arjuna. Self-Realization Fellowship; 1st edition. p. 427.
  31. ^ Rechtshaffen, Michael (16 October 2014). "'Awake' a vivid glimpse of West's 1st meditation guru". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 May 2023.
  32. ^ Lewis, David (16 October 2014). "Movie review: 'Yogananda' gave yoga, meditation to America". SF Gate. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 13 May 2023.
  33. ^ Gates, Anita (9 October 2014). "When Being a Yogi Had an Exotic Air - 'Awake,' About the Life of Paramahansa Yogananda". New York Times. Archived from the original on 28 April 2023. Retrieved 5 May 2023.
  34. ^ a b c Sahagun, Louis (6 August 2006). "Guru's Followers Mark Legacy of a Star's Teachings". The Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles.
  35. ^ "Temples, Retreats & Ashrams | Self-Realization Fellowship". Self Realization Fellowship. Retrieved 28 November 2023.
  36. ^ "Retreats | Self-Realization Fellowship". Self Realization Fellowship. Retrieved 28 November 2023.
  37. ^ Juergensmeyer, Mark (18 October 2011). "Encyclopedia of Global Religion". University of California. p. 1145. ISBN 9781452266565. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  38. ^ "YSS Ashrams and Centres". yssofindia.org. Retrieved 26 November 2023.
  39. ^ Goldberg, Philip (2018). The Life of Yogananda. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc. p. 232. ISBN 978-1-4019-5218-1.
  40. ^ Goldberg, Philip (2018). The Life of Yogananda. Carlsbad,CA: Hay House, Inc. p. 263. ISBN 978-1-4019-5218-1.
  41. ^ yogananda.org Creating Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons, Temples, Retreats and writing his Autobiography of a Yogi
  42. ^ Daswani, Kavita (22 August 2014). "At SRF World Convocation, meditation and solidarity come into focus". The Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles.
  43. ^ O'Shea, Diedre (March 2005). "When the Spirit moves us / There are all these little places". San Diego Magazine. p. 279.
  44. ^ a b c d e f Goldberg, Philip (2018). The Life of Yogananda. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc. pp. 258–260. ISBN 978-1-4019-5218-1.
  45. ^ Chhabra, Shivani (May 25, 2018). "Did you know Meghan Markle's parents got married at an Indian temple?". India Today. Retrieved May 26, 2018.
  46. ^ "Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine". lakeshrine.org. Retrieved 5 March 2022.
  47. ^ O'Connor, Pauline (26 June 2008). "Pacific Palisades". The Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles.
  48. ^ "Self-Realization Fellowship - San Diego Temple". sandiegotemple.org. Retrieved 12 April 2023.
  49. ^ Yogananda, Paramahansa (1995). God Talks With Arjuna - The Bhagavad Gita. Los Angeles, California: Self-Realization Fellowship. p. xii. ISBN 0-87612-030-3.
  50. ^ Appleford, Eliscu, Saraceno (14 February 2002). "Harrison still giving to charity". No. 889. New York: Rolling Stone LLC.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  51. ^ Green, Joshua M. (2006). "George Harrison's Spiritual Life". New York: Hinduism Today January, February, March 2006 issue.
  52. ^ Harry, Bill (2003). The George Harrison Encyclopedia. Virgin Books. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-7535-0822-0.
  53. ^ Mattson, Doug (30 October 2002). "Jury: Copyrights violated by church". The Union. Grass Valley, CA.
  54. ^ Edy, Carolyn (June 2003). "Who Owns Yogananda?". Yoga Journal (174): 26 – via Google Books.
  55. ^ Watanabe, Teresa (11 July 2002). "DNA Clears Yoga Guru in Seven-Year Paternity Dispute". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 May 2023.
  56. ^ Goldberg, Philip (2012). American Veda (1 ed.). Harmony. pp. 246–247. ISBN 978-0-385-52135-2.
  57. ^ Ramos, George (28 April 2000). "City Report Spurs Debate on Church's Planned Expansion". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 May 2023.
  58. ^ Ramos, George (3 April 2001). "Debate Rages Over Church Expansion". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 May 2023.
  59. ^ Ramos, George (12 July 2001). "Mount Washington Church Drops Expansion Bid". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 May 2023.

Further reading

  • Dillon, Jane Robinson (1998), The Social Significance of a Western Belief in Reincarnation: A Qualitative Study of the Self-Realization Fellowship, Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of California, San Diego., OCLC 39462309