More than one hundred years ago, in July 1915, Paramahansa Yogananda was initiated into India’s ancient swami monastic order when he received the vows of sannyas from his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, in Serampore, India. This event not only marked a turning point in the life of the twenty-two-year-old Mukunda Lal Ghosh — who at that moment became Swami Yogananda Giri — but presaged his influence on the awakening global spirituality of the 20th century and beyond, not least because of the monastic tradition he established as part of his lasting legacy.
The ancient Swami Order to which Paramahansa Yogananda belonged thrives today in Yogoda Satsanga Society of India monastic communities consisting of sannyasis from different parts of India. This monastic order sustains the growth of YSS and helps the wider dissemination of yoga in the Indian subcontinent.
"I Become a Monk of the Swami Order"
By Paramahansa Yogananda
“Master, my father has been anxious for me to accept an executive position with the Bengal-Nagpur Railway. But I have definitely refused it.” I added hopefully, “Sir, will you not make me a monk of the Swami Order?” I looked pleadingly at my guru [Swami Sri Yukteswar]. During preceding years, in order to test the depth of my determination, he had refused this same request. Today, however, he smiled graciously.
“Very well, tomorrow I will initiate you into swamihood.” He went on quietly, “I am happy that you have persisted in your desire to be a monk. Lahiri Mahasaya often said: ‘If you don’t invite God to be your summer Guest, He won’t come in the winter of your life.’”
“Dear Master, I could never relinquish my wish to belong to the Swami Order like your revered self.” I smiled at him with measureless affection….
Paramahansa Yogananda, with hands upraised, blesses his beloved disciple, James J. Lynn, on whom he had just bestowed sannyas, and the monastic name of Rajarsi Janakananda; SRF-YSS International Headquarters, Los Angeles, August 25, 1951.
After the establishment of Self-Realization Fellowship international headquarters in Los Angeles in 1925, Paramahansaji gradually began to accept for training men and women who came with the desire to devote their lives wholly to the search for God. With the arrival of Sri Daya Mata, Sri Gyanamata, and other deeply dedicated early disciples, the hilltop ashram at Mt. Washington in Los Angeles, California became home to a steadily growing family of renunciants, in whom he instilled the spirit and ideals of the monastic life, which he himself had embraced and so perfectly exemplified. The Guru also gave to his closest disciples — those to whom he entrusted the responsibility for the future of his mission — specific guidelines for the dissemination of his teachings and the continuance of the worldwide spiritual and humanitarian work he had begun. Today, that same in-depth spiritual counsel and discipline that he gave to ashram residents during his lifetime are being passed on to new generations of YSS and SRF monastics.
Thus, through Paramahansa Yogananda, the ancient monastic Swami Order from India put down deep and lasting roots in America. In addition to initiating qualified Westerners, Paramahansaji modified the orthodox tradition in another way: by giving the same sacred vows of sannyas and positions of spiritual leadership to women as well as to men, an unusual practice for his time. In fact, the first SRF monastic disciple to whom he gave swami vows was a woman — Sri Daya Mata, who later served as the spiritual head of YSS/SRF for more than half a century.
It was during Sri Daya Mata’s presidency that the senior head of the Swami Order in India — His Holiness the Shankaracharya of Puri, Swami Bharati Krishna Tirtha — was the guest of Self-Realization Fellowship during his ground-breaking three-month visit to America in 1958. This was the first time in the history of India that a Shankaracharya (successor of Adi Shankara, eighth-century reorganizer of the Swami Order) had travelled to the West. The saintly Shankaracharya had a profound regard for Sri Daya Mata, and gave his formal blessing on her further expansion of the Swami Order in YSS/SRF ashrams that Paramahansa Yogananda had begun at Babaji’s behest. After returning to India, he stated publicly: “I found in Self-Realization Fellowship [Yogoda Satsanga Society of India] the highest spirituality, service, and love. Not only do their representatives preach these principles, but they live according to them.”
Furthering the Work of Paramahansa Yogananda
Yogoda Satsanga Society of India monastics further Paramahansaji’s work by serving in various capacities — including conducting annual public lecture tours and classes throughout India, giving talks at Sangams, hosting the public at outreach events, doing office work, administering the society’s ashrams, kendras, and mandalis, overseeing the publication and distribution of YSS books and recordings, and counselling seekers on spiritual matters.
"God First, God Always, God Alone"
By Sri Mrinalini Mata
Extracts from remarks by the fourth president (2011-2017) of Yogoda Satsanga Society of India/Self-Realization Fellowship to YSS/SRF Monastics
The past few years have seen such rapid growth of our blessed Guru’s Self-Realization Fellowship [Yogoda Satsanga Society of India]; the work is expanding into a new era. So often we have remembered the words Master spoke many years ago to those of us who had come to dedicate our lives as monastics: “When I have left this body, the organization will be my body, and you all will be my hands and feet, my speech.” What a blessed opportunity, what a tremendously freeing experience is this life of consecration. Each one who wholeheartedly embraces it becomes like a glowing atom of Master’s being; each makes a necessary contribution to the whole, through which Gurudeva’s organization can continue to reach out in his spirit of love divine.
The world has so much lost sight of spiritual standards and morals. Those who choose the monastic path do so in response to the soul’s desire and ability to live a life above those ordinary materialistic norms. Though relatively few may embrace monasticism, those who live that life of disciplined striving help to keep the higher values before the gaze of the many. People do feel something different, special, from the purity of a life given to God alone. Abiding by the vows of simplicity, obedience, chastity, and loyalty, persevering in meditation and humbly trying to improve, make tremendous changes in the devotee. Even the little fleshly frame he lives in becomes recognizably spiritualized. Others cannot say what it is, but they feel from that devotee an aura that somehow uplifts them and speaks to them of God. The humble devotee makes no show of it; indeed, he may not even be aware of it.
Single men who are free of family obligations, and who have a sincere desire to dedicate themselves to finding God and serving Him as a renunciant in the monastic communities are invited to contact Yogoda Satsanga Sakha Ashram, Ranchi, for further information.