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Religion: Guru’s Exit

3 minute read

Paramhansa Yogananda, by his own claim, was the last in a line of four Indian gurus who were “directly commanded” by God to teach the world “the secret yogic science of self-liberation.” He moved to the U.S. in 1920 to fulfill his charge. In Southern California he established the headquarters of a Self-Realization Fellowship, with a membership of some 150,000. For more than 30 years he taught his disciples the yoga doctrine that human beings can achieve “god-realization” through their own efforts at disciplining mind and body. Even skeptics testified to his own discipline, e.g., he could slow or speed the pulse in his right wrist, while retaining a normal pulse beat in the left. For the last two years the guru suffered from a “metaphysically induced illness,” as his disciples put it—the result of “working out” on his own body some of the physical and spiritual burdens of his friends. Last November he began hinting that it was time for him to leave the world. As the weeks passed, the Master grew silent. He finished dictating his spiritual books. His last “little desire” was fulfilled, he said, when a disciple from Florida sent him some green coconut juice in March.

The fellowship’s magazine, Self-Realization, tells the rest of the story. On March 6, Paramhansa told his disciples laughingly, “I have a big day tomorrow. Wish me luck.” The next day he attended a banquet at Los Angeles’ Biltmore Hotel for the new Indian ambassador, Binay

Ranjan Sen, and his beautiful wife. After eating modestly (vegetables and strawberry parfait), the guru rose to make a speech about “spiritual India.” He ended it with a quotation from one of his own poems:

Where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves, and men dream God—I am hallowed; my body touched that sod.

As he finished, Paramhansa lifted his eyes, turned slightly to the right and slid to the floor, dead.

Self-Realization disciples claim that their teacher thus performed mahasamadhi (a yogi’s conscious exit from the body). The medical verdict was “acute coronary occlusion,” i.e., a heart attack.

At Forest Lawn Cemetery, where Paramhansa’s body was embalmed, officials reported an unusual phenomenon. Wrote Mortuary Director Harry T. Rowe: “No physical disintegration was visible . . . even 20 days after death . . . Paramhansa Yo-gananda’s body was apparently devoid of impurities . . . [His] case is unique in our experience.”

*Seated: Mme. Binay Ranjan Sen, wife of the Indian Ambassador, touching her palms in a respectful Hindu greeting (the pronam.)

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