Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine

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Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine
LakeShrineTempleSRF 20140908 (15043884639).jpg
Main Temple of the Lake Shrine
AffiliationSelf-Realization Fellowship
StatusTemple and Retreat Center
Location17190 Sunset Blvd.
Pacific Palisades, California 90272 United States
Geographic coordinates34°02′34″N 118°33′08″W / 34.042738°N 118.55235°W / 34.042738; -118.55235Coordinates: 34°02′34″N 118°33′08″W / 34.042738°N 118.55235°W / 34.042738; -118.55235
StyleCombination of Eastern and Western
FounderParamahansa Yogananda
Capacity400 (sanctuary seating)
Height (max)58 feet (18 m)

The Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine lies a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean, on Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades, California. It was founded and dedicated by Paramahansa Yogananda, on August 20, 1950 [2][3] and is owned by the Self-Realization Fellowship.[4] The 10-acre (40,000 m2) site has lush gardens, a large spring-fed lake framed by natural hillsides, and a variety of flora and fauna, swans, ducks, koi, turtles, and lotus flowers. The property is a natural amphitheater.[5] Thousands of visitors come each year.

COVID-19 pandemic[edit]

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, Lake Shrine is open to visitors by advanced reservation only. The Lake Shrine website has the latest information.[6]


The visitor center (left) and windmill chapel (right) are beside the lake

The visitor center provides information about Lake Shrine. There are waterfalls, fountains, flower beds, statues, white swans across the lake, lacy fern grottos, lily ponds, and a Dutch windmill which is used as a chapel. The Court of Religions, honoring five principal religions of the world, displays the symbols of these religions: a cross for Christianity, a Star of David for Judaism, a Wheel of Law for Buddhism, a crescent moon and star for Islam, and the Om symbol for Hinduism. Yogananda believed in an underlying harmony of all faiths that unites us all.[7] Along with a few statues of Krishna and other Hindu deities, there is also a life-size statue of Jesus Christ,[2] above the waterfall, as well as Francis of Assisi and the Madonna and Child.

Court of Religions symbols (from left to right, top downward): Dharmachakra, Star of David, Christian cross, Star and crescent, and Om.

The golden lotus archway, a towering, sleek, white arch trimmed with blue tile, and topped with gold lotus blossoms, is visible from all parts of the grounds. The archway frames the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, an outdoor shrine where an authentic 1,000-year-old Chinese stone sarcophagus holds a portion of the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi.[5][4]

The gardens are filled with little brick paths and short stairways which lead from the main trail to hidden alcoves where meditation or sitting and taking in the view is possible.[8] The gift shop features arts and crafts from India which is adjacent to a museum focusing on Paramahansa Yogananda, the founder of Lake Shrine. There is a Dutch windmill converted into a chapel,[2] a houseboat, a bookstore and a temple overlooking the lake.[4]


The site of the present day Lake Shrine was once part of a 460-acre parcel of land in the Santa Ynez Canyon, called Bison Ranch. It was purchased by the silent film producer and director Thomas H. Ince in 1912 to serve as his studio and was subsequently named Inceville. After Ince founded his new Triangle/Ince Studios in Culver City in 1915, the site was taken over by director William S. Hart and eventually renamed Hartville.[9] For a period of time hence, the property was utilized as a sand, rock, and gravel quarry before it was later purchased by Los Angeles real-estate magnate Alphonzo Bell, Sr.[10] In 1927, the surrounding hillsides were hydraulically graded to fill the canyon, with the intention to completely level it for future development. However, the earth-moving project was never completed, which left a large basin in an unleveled portion of the canyon that subsequently filled to a depth of 20 ft (6.1 m) with water from four springs within the vicinity. The 2.5-acre water body (10,000 m2)[11] became known as Lake Santa Ynez; the only natural spring-fed lake within the City of Los Angeles.[12][13].

The property remained undeveloped for more than a decade hence, when the lake was used as a local swimming hole and cattails and reeds grew to screen most of it from view.[10]. Although much of the local citizenry considered the area to be valueless swampland, the property was nevertheless purchased by H. Everett "Big Mac" McElroy (the assistant superintendent of construction at 20th Century Studio) in 1940, when it was again used as a film set. McElroy later reflected on his initial vision of his purchase:

"There is no doubt that we were labeled as crazy. But looking up at the bowl surrounding my mudhole, I could see terraces of trees - all kinds of trees, maybe five-hundred tropical and otherwise. I could see banks of flowers and shrubs and a path meandering around the lake, with cutaways into the bank for tree ferns and hanging baskets of fuchsias and begonias and mossy green rock plants. I was itching to build rockeries and put in rustic wooden bridges and a giant waterwheel that would act in conjunction with a pump as irrigation through a pipe-laid water system over the entire project."[14]

The lake was subsequently dredged and the weeds were cleared away. During his ownership, McElroy and his wife lived in three successively originative domiciles: their two-story Mississippi-styled houseboat ("Adeline") transported from Lake Mead, a mill house McElroy constructed (which today serves as the gift shop and museum) equipped with a 2.5 ton 15 ft (4.6 m) water wheel used for onsite irrigation from captured lake overflow, and a sixteenth-century replica of a Dutch windmill he built, which later served as the first chapel of the Lake Shrine. The windmill, though functional, was never utilized. After the McElroys had moved into the mill house, they rented out the houseboat to film stars, movie-industry people, and on occasion to unnamed royalty.[14]

In 1948, McElroy and his wife sold the property to Rene Williams and Joseph M. Gross (an oil company executive) for a reported price exceeding $250,000. Gross and his wife moved into the windmill and made plans to redevelop the site into a resort that included a rambling $2.3 million, 150-room hotel to be constructed around the contour of Lake Santa Ynez.[11] However, one evening Mr. Gross purportedly had a dream reoccur three times, where in the middle of lake there was a platform adorned with a podium. Here ministers from the "churches of all religions" addressed thousands of attendees with inspirational speeches. When Mr. Gross awoke, he looked up the name "Church of All Religions" in the telephone directory and found the listing for the Self-Realization Fellowship Church of All Religions located in Hollywood. Inspired by this extraordinary coincidence, Gross immediately composed a letter to go out in the next day's mail, which described his dream and included an offer to sell his property. He was soon in contact with Paramahansa Yogananda who acquired the property in 1949, and hence constructed a temple, meditation garden, and the Mahatma Gandhi peace memorial.[4]

During the months of improvement, Sri Yogananda commuted from the Mt. Washington hermitage (whilst spending at least several nights in the houseboat) to supervise the project with a vision to create an environment that would reflect all aspects of God with peace, beauty, and harmony; and also invoked a blessing upon all of the future visitors to the Lake Shrine. Sri Yogananda had remarked that the location reminded him of Kashmir. The dedication of the Lake Shrine took place on August 20, 1950.[10]

A number of improvements have occurred on the property in the ensuing years, including: the construction of the main temple upon the southern bluff overlooking the lake (in 1996), construction of the monastics' ashram and retreat (1997), the purchase of the adjoining Santa Ynez Transcendental Meditation (TM) property (1998), the addition of a steel structure and copper roof over the Ghandi peace memorial (2002), and the renovation of the Lake Shrine Court of Religions and entrance gate (2003); and the houseboat (2007).[10]


Gandhi shrine[edit]

Sarcophagus of the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial

The Lake Shrine is home for the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, the "wall-less temple" erected in honor of Mahatma Gandhi, architect of India's freedom through nonviolent means. The focal point of the memorial is a thousand-year-old stone sarcophagus from China, in which a portion of Gandhi's ashes are encased in a brass and silver coffer. The sarcophagus is flanked by two statues of Guanyin.

The ashes[2] had been sent to Yogananda by an old friend, Dr. V.M. Nawle, a publisher and journalist from Pune, India. Following the dedication of the memorial, Dr. Nawle wrote:

"Regarding Gandhi ashes, I may say that they are scattered and thrown in almost all the important rivers and seas, and nothing is given outside India except the remains which I have sent to you after a great ordeal ... You are the only one in the whole world who received Gandhi ashes outside India."[14]

For some, enshrining Gandhi's ashes at Lake Shrine is controversial since the Hindu cremation ritual ends with immersion of the ashes in water. One report states that Gandhi's relatives want the ashes at Lake Shrine to be immersed in water.[15] Another report states that the descendants of Mahatma Gandhi do not want to have the ashes removed because it would entail breaking the shrines.[16]

Windmill chapel[edit]

Looking toward the Dutch windmill from houseboat.
The Mississippi-style houseboat "Adeline" moored in Lake Santa Ynez.

The previous owners, the McElroys, built an authentic reproduction of a 16th-century Dutch windmill.[2] Though the mill was never put to use, its sails are functional and capable of turning in the wind. Then came a boat dock and landing, whose peaked roof, carved figure-heads, and benches added yet another charming touch to the unusual setting. Yogananda converted the windmill into a chapel were meditations and services were held.[17] Due to the erosion caused by the elements, termites, and the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the chapel was closed to the public in 2013. Cost overruns delayed the completion of the Windmill Chapel for another year. The reopening of the chapel took place on July 27, 2015.

Lake, waterfalls and animal life[edit]

Two waterfalls feed into the Lake Shrine, one that falls approximately 25 feet (7.6 m), and another series-waterfall, that falls approximately 10 feet (3.0 m).

Large waterfall with statue of Jesus on top
The small waterfall with a statue of Krishna
Looking toward the golden lotus-topped Gandhi memorial, with swans in foreground

Yogananda (Paramahansa means supreme or highest swan) encouraged swans to live on the Lake Shrine. Their large nests can be seen in this locale. Anandamoy said in the recording, Is Peace Possible in Today's World that when he was a minister at the Lake Shrine, they had three pairs of swans: one white, one black, and one white with a black necks. The lake was big enough for everybody but the swans fought, fighting for the kill. They had to be separated, by dividing the lake into three sections. Anandamoy continues saying that swans are like people and as long as one party wants the "whole cake" there will be war. If people follow the laws of God, overcome selfishness and consider the welfare of everyone, we will have peace eventually.[18]

In popular culture[edit]

Elvis Presley loved the shrine. According to his friend, Jerry Schilling, he walked around the lake and picked up some brochures, and later sent away for information about Eastern philosophy. Elvis developed a 12-year relationship with Sri Daya Mata, the woman who was then the president of the Self-Realization Fellowship, and would often call her for advice when he was troubled.[5]

A peaceful romantic view of a Lake Shrine
A peaceful romantic view of Lake Shrine

George Harrison's funeral was held at the Lake Shrine. Anne-Marie O'Connor of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "After the death of George Harrison, one of the most high-profile members of the Self-Realization Fellowship, his family and friends gathered at the Lake Shrine's small Windmill Chapel for his funeral. Ravi Shankar was there with his wife."[19]

Singer-songwriter Judee Sill (1944-1979) was given a service here by her friends in 1979 following her death from an overdose in November 1979. Her ashes were then scattered on the Pacific Ocean.[citation needed]

The memorial service for Lux Interior, lead singer of the Cramps, was held on February 21, 2009 at the Windmill Chapel.

Dennis Weaver was a member of the Self-Realization Fellowship[20] and spoke once a month at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine for seventeen years,[21] while Gerry, his wife, played the organ. He said, "We called it our 'mom and pop' church and it was one of my great blessings. It was life-changing."[22]

The actress Linda Evans was invited by Dennis Weaver, when she was doing a guest appearance on McCloud, to the SRF Lake Shrine, to hear one of his monthly Sunday sermons. Weaver gave her the Autobiography of a Yogi, saying that it changed his life. Linda wrote, "Because of Dennis I took the first in what would become a lifelong spiritual journey. After years studying the Self-Realization Fellowship at Malibu, I went on to learn from books and other teachers".[23]

Tom Petty's funeral was held at the Lake Shrine in October 2017.[24]

Jazz singer and actor Herb Jeffries's memorial service was held at the Lake Shrine on July 12, 2014. Paramahansa Yogananda was Jeffries' guru.[25]Jeffries was internationally known for performing with Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Earl "Fatha" Hines. He was also recognized as "The Bronze Buckaroo", the first African-American to take a lead role in westerns.[26]


  1. ^ "New Temple". Self-Realization Fellowship. December 2015. Archived from the original on February 23, 2015. Retrieved 2015-12-21.
  2. ^ a b c d e Yogananda, Paramahansa (2004). Autobiography of a Yogi / Chapter: The Years 1940-1951 / Page:528-530. Self-Realization Fellowship. ISBN 978-0876120798.
  3. ^ "Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine".
  4. ^ a b c d Larsen, Leif (July 23, 2018). "Finding Yourself in Los Angeles". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2019-03-13.
  5. ^ a b c "Seeing Stars: Churches of the Stars".
  6. ^ "". August 28, 2020. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  7. ^ Leyva, Ellen (2012-09-19). "Ellen Leyva's favorite spot: Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades". Los Angeles News. Los Angeles, CA.
  8. ^ Basheda, Lori (June 9, 2019). "In Pacific Palisades, a meditation retreat lets you escape from yourself". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2019-06-13.
  9. ^ Stephens, E. J.; Wanamaker, Marc (10 Nov 2014). "Early Poverty Row Studios". Arcadia Publications. Retrieved 6 Mar 2018.
  10. ^ a b c d Brother Balananda (February 2010). Lake Shrine Tours: Docent Study Guide (Facts from the Lake Shrine Garden Manual) Summary of Property History & General Information. Pacific Palisades, California: Self-Realization Fellowship.
  11. ^ a b "$2,300,000 Hotel Planned: Elaborate Hotel Development Planned for H.E. McElroy's Lake Santa Ynez Property". The Palisadian. XX. Pacific Palsades, California: Clearwater, Clifford D. March 12, 1948.
  12. ^ The Lake Shrine. Pacific Palisades, California: Self-Realization Fellowship. 1989.
  13. ^ Hemmerlein, Sandi (August 5, 2016). "Six Great LA "Lakes"". KCET. Burbank, California: Public Media Group of Southern California. Retrieved 10 Jan 2019.
  14. ^ a b c "The Lake Shrine". Secretariat News. XXII (17). New York, New York: United Nations Headquarters. October 16, 1967.
  15. ^ "US ashram hesitant to part with Gandhi ashes" Archived 2011-07-15 at the Wayback Machine Philippine Times
  16. ^ "Gandhi's ashes to rest at sea, not in a museum" The Guardian.
  17. ^ "Early History and the Dutch Windmill".
  18. ^ Anandamoy (1983). Is Peace Possible in Today's World. Self-Realizaiton Fellowship. ISBN 9780876125465.
  19. ^ O'Connor, Anne-Marie (March 25, 2004). "Inner Peace Movement".Los Angeles Times
  20. ^ "Dennis Weaver: A Renaissance Main (book review of Weaver's book "All the World's a Stage"". 2001.
  21. ^ "Dennis Weaver Official Website - About Dennis Weaver". Retrieved May 14, 2018.
  22. ^ Weaver, Dennis (2001). All the World's a Stage. Hampton Roads Pub. Co. ISBN 9781571742872.
  23. ^ Evans, Linda (2001). Recipes for Life: My Memories. Hampton Roads Pub. Co. ISBN 9781571742872.
  24. ^ Pasquini, Maria (2017). "Tom Petty Laid to Rest in a Private Service Held at Lakeside Shrine and Meditation Garden". People.
  25. ^ "memorial-service-to-celebrate-the-life-of-herb-jeffries-71214". Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  26. ^ "Herb Jeffries, Pioneering Black Singing Cowboy of the Movies, Dies at 100. The Hollywood Reporter. May 25, 2014".

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