In 1920 a young Indian swami first set foot in America, as the Indian delegate to an International Congress of Religious Liberals convening in Boston to deliver a speech on the science of religion. Paramahansa Yogananda’s arrival would mark the beginning of his profound impact on Western truth seekers and of the growing recognition of his role as the father of Yoga in the West.
Paramahansa Yogananda was instructed by his venerable line of gurus to bring the ancient science of Kriya Yoga to the West, and it was for this purpose that he established Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) in 1920, the same year as his arrival to the U.S.
Originating millenniums ago in India, Kriya Yoga includes certain techniques of meditation whose devoted practice leads to realization of God. These methods serve to quiet both body and mind, and make it possible to withdraw one’s energy and attention from the usual turbulence of thoughts, emotions and sensory perceptions. In the clarity of that inner stillness, one comes to experience a deepening interior peace and attunement with one’s soul and with God.
Paramahansa Yogananda’s teachings embody a complete philosophy and way of life, of which meditation is the foundation. The comprehensive and balanced approach his teachings present is that of Raja Yoga, the "royal" or highest yoga path. Formally systematized in the second century B.C. by the Indian sage Patanjali, Raja Yoga combines the essence of all other paths: Hatha Yoga, consisting primarily of bodily disciplines for physical and mental well-being; Karma Yoga, right action or selfless service; Bhakti Yoga, devotion to God; and Jnana Yoga, attainment of wisdom through discriminative reason.
Central to Yogananda’s teachings are scientific methods of concentration and meditation, including the advanced technique of Kriya Yoga. The practice of Kriya Yoga reinforces and revitalizes subtle currents of life energy in the body, enabling the normal activities of heart and lungs to slow down naturally. As a result, the consciousness is drawn to higher levels of perception, gradually bringing about an inner awakening more blissful and more deeply satisfying than any of the experiences that the mind or the senses or the ordinary human emotions can give.
In his life story, Autobiography of a Yogi (Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles), Yogananda explains that Yoga is an all-embracing system combining philosophy with practical methods for physical, mental and spiritual development. The quickest and most effective approach to the goal of Yoga employs those methods of meditation that deal directly with energy and consciousness. It is this direct approach that characterizes Kriya Yoga.
Meditation enables one to achieve a state of complete calmness and repose, in which thoughts and feelings cease to dance in perpetual motion. In that deep quietude, the meditator can touch a level of joy and understanding impossible to achieve otherwise.
The Bible says: "Be still and know that I am God." The science of yoga meditation offers a direct means of stilling the natural turbulence of thoughts and restlessness of body that prevent us from knowing who we really are. By practicing the step-by-step methods of meditation, we come to know our oneness with the Infinite Intelligence, Power and Joy, which gives life to all and which is the essence of our own true self.
There are manifold benefits of meditation. Many have noted improvement in such abilities as: concentration and creativity; increased calmness, peace of mind, and joy; deeper understanding of themselves and others; and higher levels of success in every area of life, including health, careers and relationships. The primary benefit, however, is the deepening relationship one develops with God, and the increasing intuitive realization of Truth.
In his book The Science of Religion (Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles), Paramahansa Yogananda states: "The more one practices [Kriya Yoga] with patience and regularity, the more one feels intensely and durably fixed in Bliss…. The more we practice it, the more quickly we attain Bliss. I wish that, as seekers of Bliss, which all of us are, you would try to experience for yourselves that universal truth which is in all and may be felt by all. This state is not an invention of anyone. It is already there; we have simply to discover it."