|Born||Yogindra Nath Choudhury
30 March 1861
Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India
|Died||28 March 1899
Swami Yogananda (Bengali: স্বামী ষোগানন্দ) was a direct monastic disciple of Ramakrishna Paramhansa, the 19th-century saint and mystic, although he took his formal initiation from Sarada Devi, the holy mother of Ramakrishna Order and spiritual consort of Ramakrishna. He was the first vice-president of Ramakrishna Mission. He belonged to the family of Sabarna Roy Choudhury, an aristocratic family of erstwhile Bengal. He had a short life but he played a very important role during the formative years of Ramakrishna Mission. He was also a dedicated and devoted attendant to Sarada Devi during her stay in Calcutta after Sri Ramakrishna's death. He was one of the disciples whom Sri Ramakrishna referred to as "Iswarakoti" or the "ever perfect soul".
Yogindranath Roy Choudhury was the eldest son of Navin Chandra Choudhury and was born near Dakshineswar village on 30 March 1861. Navin Chandra was a poor descendant of the local aristocrat Sabarna Roy Choudhury family, the family which once owned the present metropolis of Kolkata and its adjoins. Yogindranath was contemplative in nature from his childhood.He was simple in his habit and did not hanker after any luxury. He spent much of his time in meditation and worship. Yogin met Sri Ramakrishna when he was seventeen years of age. He was then studying for his school leaving examination, then under the University of Calcutta. Sri Ramakrishna recognised the spiritual potentiality of Yogin and asked him to come more often which impacted his studies and made his parents, who had high aspirations about him, concerned. To financially help his parents he went to Kanpur in search of job as one of his relatives stayed there. However he was unsuccessful in getting employment and instead devoted his time to a contemplative life. He shunned the company of people. Therefore his parents decided to marry him off, in order that he might resume the life of a householder and take more responsibility.
Influence of Sri Ramakrishna
After his marriage Yogin met Sri Ramakrishna again when the later called him and he once again began to frequent Dakshineswar to further his spiritual aspirations. Even after his marriage Yogin was indifferent to worldly affairs and hence that became the prime focus of the teaching of Sri Ramakrishna towards him. Once when Yogin bought a faulty cooking pan from market by trusting the shopkeeper, he was severely reprimanded by his master. Another time Sri Ramakrishna rebuked him when he heard that Yogin had not protested against a group of fellow passengers on a boat when they maligned Sri Ramakrishna. On another occasion he asked Yogin to return the goods bought from a shop which had given him lesser quantity. This was a part of Sri Ramakrishna's method to develop his disciples holistically, as he often said, A man may aspire to be religious, but he need not be a fool Yogin also tested Sri Ramakrishna in his own way as he was critical and analytical in nature but every time he was proved wrong and these incidents finally established his unwaivering faith on his master. Afterwards when Sri Ramakrishna was ill, he was one of the regular attendants by his bedside.
Influence of Sarada Devi
After the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, Yogin accompanied the widow Sarada Devi, the holy mother and spiritual consort of Sri Ramakrishna, to Vrindaban. There he was initiated by her in Kalababu's Kunja, an ashrama established by Balaram Bose, a householder devotee of Sri Ramakrishna, and thus he became the first disciple of Sarada Devi. After coming back to Bengal he became an attendant to the holy mother and her women disciples including Yogin Ma and Golap Ma. He accompanied Sarada Devi to Puri along with Swami Brahmananda and looked after her when she stayed in various places in Calcutta, from 1888 to 1899. Sarada Devi used to call him affectionately as "Chhele Yogen" or the "boy Yogen".
Yogin took the monastic vow along with his other brother disciples under the leadership of Swami Vivekananda in 1887, and took the name Swami Yogananda ( Yoga – communion (with God), ananda – bliss), signifying his love for contemplation and meditation. He travelled to Varanasi in 1891 and stayed in a solitary gareden house, living an austere life. His health broke down with the severe strain of the austerities and spiritual practices and he came back to Calcutta, to the newly formed Baranagar Math. He was at this stage permanently sick, suffering from stomach related ailments. He stayed in the house of Balaram Bose, a householder devotee, and he was engaged to serve the holy mother devotedly when she was staying in the same house in Calcutta. At this stage he inducted quite a few young men to the Ramakrishna order and attracted many others to the ideology.
Activities and organizational skills
Swami Yogananda was the first to organise the public celebration of Sri Ramakrishna's birthday anniversary on a large scale in Dakshineswar temple premises. Swami Yogananda was also instrumental in providing a grand reception to Swami Vivekananda when he returned to Calcutta in 1897. On both occasions he influenced many young men and organised and coordinated the activities. Swami Yogananda was elected as the vice-president of the Ramakrishna Mission upon its formation in 1897 and he successfully steered the organisation through its formative years. In 1898 Swami Yogananda organised the birthday anniversary of Sri Ramakrishna in the newly formed Belur Math. He served as the office bearer till his death in 1899.
Swami Yogananda died on 28 March 1899 after prolonged illness. He was the first to pass away among the direct monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi. During his illness he was served by Swami Kalyanananda, a direct disciple of Swami Vivekananda. Sister Nivedita was one of the witnesses to his death and she had described the moments of his passing away in one of her letters to Josephine MacLeod. During his last days he was nursed by Yogin Ma and his death affected Sarada Devi.
Character and legacy
Yogin Maharaj, although he was soft spoken and gentle, was strong and independent minded. He was often direct with his criticisms and in this matter he did not even spare Swami Vivekananda. When the latter introduced the ideology of selfless philanthropic work, Swami Yogananda objected to the concept because according to him it was not in tune with the ideology put forward by Sri Ramakrishna. His contention was that the energy of a monk should be spent wholly for the perusal of spiritual practices. However he had a deep bond of love and respect for his leader and hence these incidents never became a bone of contention. He had a very strong respect and admiration for Sarada Devi whom he served devotedly whenever she was in Calcutta. Despite his preference for a contemplative life, he had great organizational skills. Thus he formed a deep impression on many young generation monks of the Ramakrishna order.
- Monastic Disciples of Sri Ramakrishna
- Savarna Roy Choudhuri
- The disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, publisher Advaita Ashrama, Mayawati, page 108
- The disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, publisher Advaita Ashrama, Mayawati, page 111
- Sri Ramakrishna Leela Prasanga, by Swami Saradananda, volume 2, Udbodhan publishers
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- The disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, publisher Advaita Ashrama, Mayawati, page 120
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- Asamanya Patralekika Nivedita, by Pravrajika Shraddhapraana, published by Sarada Math, 2008, page 40
- Swami Yogananda, RMIC
- Swami Yogananda, Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture
- Swami Yogananda RKM Fiji
- Swami Yogananda, a short biography
- About Savarna Roy Choudhuri Family
- Swami Yogananda materials in the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA)