How Paramhansa Yogananda Changed the World
Paramhansa Yogananda was a towering giant among saints—one of those few who come from age to age, having been sent by God with the divine mission of guiding mankind out of the fogs of delusion into the clear light of divine understanding. He’d been sent to America, a “new world,” and one better adapted to new rays of consciousness that are destined to take mankind upward, into higher and higher ages.
Yogananda came to America’s shores with a message of divine promise and hope. His role was to set the highest example for others and to burn off the impeding karma in America that militated against an inwardly, more spiritually, directed energy in man. It was a heroic life he lived this time, and a life destined to have a major impact on civilization itself.
An impact on the entire Western world
I used to wonder why Yogananda had spoken to us repeatedly of his incarnation as William the Conqueror of England. After all, there must have been other and less controversial lives that he lived. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that Yogananda made sure we never forgot that incarnation, because his present lifetime, too, was destined to have a similar impact on the world.
Several historians have written that William the Conqueror’s influence on history has been very great—much greater, indeed, than most people realize. Indeed, his legacy has had an impact on the history of the entire Western world.
Yogananda’s legacy will have a much greater impact because the world has, in a sense, shrunk in size. To circle the globe today requires less time and effort than it did in those days merely to travel from one country to another. He spoke to us repeatedly about his incarnation as William the Conqueror because he wanted us to realize the history-making importance of his own present incarnation, so that we might set our own sights accordingly.
The need to inspire positive expectations
In this country, Yogananda found it was necessary to “lure” people to the spiritual search. Yogananda had said to his guru, “You are the goldsmith, who deals with pure gold. I am the jeweler, who must add alloys to shape his jewelry beautifully.”
The “alloy” that Yogananda introduced in America was one of cheerful, positive expectations—hope, in other words, and faith in the possibilities of a new approach to fulfillment, in an endeavor that would often, in fact, require much more effort than peoples’ first expectations.
Since the typical American is hardly famous for his patience, Yogananda, in order to reach him, presented his teachings as being at least “sure-fire” in their effectiveness. And he was perfectly right. Meditation and yoga practice increase one’s happiness and peace of mind within a matter of days. I have observed many visitors to the Ananda retreat, for example, and have seen them in a single weekend derive benefits that are really striking.
The higher purpose of the spiritual path is, however, infinitely higher than mere peace of mind or happiness. But in America, where the most people ever hoped to achieve was to get to heaven after they died, and to live there, in self-limitation, for all eternity, there was a need to awaken them to an understanding that the soul’s true destiny is final and complete union with God. They needed to be inspired to take the first serious steps toward that union, by the practice of yoga meditation.
And as Yogananda said, those who seek God sincerely find out very soon that, in the search, they are finding all that they ever truly wanted.
Sincere seekers and suffering humanity
In 1935 Paramhansa Yogananda was telepathically summoned back to India by his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar. While he was in India, Yogananda visited the ashram of Ramana Maharshi, a great saint in southern India.
Most saints are not concerned with the needs of humanity as a whole. Their concern is with getting out of the cosmic dream. But my guru, as an avatar, had both a qualitative and a quantitative work to do. The role of avatars is also to raise humanity, as a whole, to a higher level of consciousness. Yogananda’s mission was both to sincere seekers and to suffering humanity. His teachings were destined to offer people everywhere a major incentive to improve their lot by pointing them in the direction of ever-greater spirituality.
No doubt to satisfy his curiosity as to Ramana Maharshi’s attitude, Yogananda asked the saint what he thought of mass upliftment. “There can be no good accomplished except through personal enlightenment,” was the reply. Yogananda’s kind and gracious nature prevented him from pursuing this subject to its logical conclusion, and he allowed Ramana Maharshi to have the last word.
Later, however, Ramana’s brother, who was no saint and very ego-centered, tried to get Yogananda into an argument on the point—no doubt to persuade him of the uselessness of the work he was doing in promulgating truth by lectures, books, and the like. Ramana Maharshi, seeing his brother from inside the satsang room, called to him quietly, “Come away.” He knew Yogananda’s stature.
A return to a sense of high destiny
The Master’s return visit to his motherland, though it was only for a year, had a significant impact on raising the level of Indians’ faith in the high spiritual destiny of their own country. That faith had been brutally shaken by the three-hundred-year reign of the English. When the Muslims had invaded India, they conquered by the sword, mercilessly killing any who resisted their religion. Still, India had remained proudly upright.
When the English came, however, they sneered at these “brown heathens,” whom they considered utterly beneath them. This demoralizing blow undermined Indians’ faith in themselves.
Mahatma Gandhi was the primary force which returned India to its own sense of high destiny. To a lesser but still-important degree, Paramhansa Yogananda’s visit played a role also in this national upliftment of consciousness. His India visit also became for him, in a true sense, a sort of fulcrum in his mission on earth. For these reasons, it was a very important period in his life.
A gradual shift toward “qualitative” good
When Yogananda returned to the West in 1936, there was a subtle shift in his way of reaching people. It was as though his outward service, which had been ordained by God, was now directed more inwardly. The first part of the Master’s mission was dedicated primarily to performing “quantitative” good, through public lectures and outward activities of many kinds.
The last part of his life saw a gradual shift toward more “qualitative” good. Sincere disciples began coming to him, and the true and deeper aspect of his mission began to flower: his training of direct and devoted disciples who would carry on his work, and who would display before the world the universal importance of his teachings.
In his earlier years, he had presented himself in such a way as to give people the impression that what he had accomplished, they could accomplish easily. He belittled himself, in order to make it easier for others to identify with him. During his last years, however, he challenged his disciples to meet him on his own actual, exalted level in infinity.
New teachings for a new age:
Paramhansa Yogananda will, I believe, become known throughout the world as the guru of this Dwapara Yuga, or Age of Energy. His teachings highlight the importance of energy-consciousness, the unity of true religions, and expansive, God-affirming attitudes:
Yogananda devoted much of his teaching to explaining the importance of the concept of magnetism. For success in every field of endeavor, he said, including the spiritual, far more is needed than steadfast effort. Success depends at last on the power of the magnetism one develops. The right, magnetic attitude can accomplish more than brow-furrowing hard work.
In future, the importance of magnetism will be taught in every school. People will consider it an obvious fact that knowledge itself is far less important to success than a person’s magnetism to attract whatever he wants. Students in future will be taught that the very facts one needs can be attracted by right, magnetic expectation. Intuition (which is itself magnetic) can guide one to the right conclusions far more unerringly than the piecemeal efforts of intellect
True Christianity and true Hinduism:
The teachings of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita are, point for point, the same as those of Jesus. The only difference is that where Krishna’s emphasis is on achieving freedom through desireless action, Jesus emphasized, rather, the need for devotion. His people had become too much preoccupied with understanding, in all of its ramifications, the Law of Moses.
A new type of renunciation
In true renunciation the point is not so much to focus on what one is giving up as on the freedom that comes when one doesn’t depend on anything outward. A year after my arrival Yogananda placed me in charge of the monks, a task I carried out mostly through my attunement with him.
My efforts evolved over the years into a new expression of the monastic spirit: less world-rejecting, and more God-affirming; less ego-suppressing and more ego-expanding in sympathy for all. Our new renunciate order for the new age is, I believe, in complete accord with his wishes.*
A “church of all religions”
Yogananda said that the future religion of the world will be Self-realization. Self-realization is both a universal principle and the underlying religion of the whole universe. It was to this universal principle that Yogananda referred when he called his Hollywood church “a church of all religions.”
At that time, few people could understand that truth. Few, even today, have any clear idea what this phrase means. Yogananda never invited ministers from other churches to speak at his Hollywood church, for they would have come without an understanding of what they could contribute, apart from their own dogmas.
A world-transforming legacy
Like William the Conqueror’s, Paramhansa Yogananda’s legacy is destined in many respects to be world-transforming. What is his legacy? What were the specific gifts he brought to mankind? Let me list those I know.
1. He encouraged people to come together in communities. This he did, repeatedly and sometimes fervently, almost from the very beginning of his mission. I myself have built eight such communities so far, in which all together about a thousand people live.
The Master also spoke a great deal about the world’s future: about a worldwide economic depression, “much worse than the one in the thirties.” He spoke of wars of massive destruction. The image I have formed in my mind is of cities everywhere vanishing from the face of the earth, and of little, intentional communities springing up everywhere. People who live their beliefs and ideals together would constitute a force that, gradually, would uplift the world.
2. Schools everywhere are causing anxiety among parents, who feel their children are being overburdened with knowledge. A serious problem is that children are taught, whether explicitly or implicitly, that life has no meaning. In fact, modern education is basically atheistic. In consequence, there are many adolescent suicides.
In America, the ground was not yet fertile for initiating Yogananda’s educational ideas. My guru said to me, “Our way works better for the present: mature adults, eager to come to us for training, instead of boys with varied karma going off, after graduation, in countless different directions, and most of them to a worldly life.” I have been able, however, to create his type of schools on three continents, and their impact promises to be enormous, at a time when people everywhere are losing faith in modern educational methods.
3. Paramhansa Yogananda’s writings embrace a wide array of important topics, and are bound to become greatly influential.
- His book, The Science of Religion, makes the simple but all-clarifying statement that everyone on earth is seeking only two things in life: to avoid pain, and to find happiness. This simple truth will, in time, become the basis for a new system of ethics; a new definition of success; and a new approach to social upliftment. I myself rewrote this book, and because I wasn’t allowed to give it the same title, called it: God Is for Everyone.
- Another book the Master wrote was Scientific Healing Affirmations. In this book he taught people how to use their mental power to cure any number of physical ailments. More and more, already, people are coming to understand the healing power of the mind. Affirmations help to focus that healing power, and to increase its effectiveness enormously.
- He wrote Whispers from Eternity, which shows the right and best attitudes for approaching God.
- He wrote commentaries on the actions and teachings of Jesus Christ. I believe these commentaries are destined, in time, to eliminate the innumerable sects of Christianity, and to convince everyone that the essential message of Jesus lies far beyond any organization, far beyond any system of mere beliefs, in the inner communion of the soul with God.
- He also wrote what was, in some ways, his most important scriptural commentary, on the Bhagavad Gita, which outlined for everybody an entirely new and transforming way of life.
4. I believe his life will also change society in far-reaching ways:
- It will make businesses in general aware that success is most surely theirs who put service ahead of gain.
- Home life everywhere has been suffering, as new life directions divide couples that once would have walked in the same direction, together. Yogananda brought so much clarity to the very purpose of life that these forks in life’s road will become less and less frequent.
- Governments, usually, are whirlpools of power-seeking. Government in future will become smaller, as politicians come to see their role as being, primarily, one of service.
- Prisons will become places not of punishment, but of supportive correction.
- Armies will focus more on defense than on aggression.
- Policemen will become conditioned to expect cooperation from people, rather than opposition, for the people themselves will understand better that, since the true goal of life is happiness, one can find more of what he really wants by sharing with others than by taking from them. People with strongly negative karma will continue to express negativity, but overall, basic social attitudes will change, and will bring greater harmony to mankind everywhere.
Such, finally, is the legacy of Paramhansa Yogananda. The world will become a better place, because he lived. His aura of love will prove—so I fervently believe—to have cast its spell over the whole world, and in time to have made our whole planet a better place in which to live.