The Self-Realization Fellowship is celebrating an important anniversary. Brother Satyananda, an SRF monk for more than four decades, talks about the timelessness of the profound Kriya Yoga teachings brought to the Western societies by Paramahansa Yogananda.
YOGA AKTELL: How did you get in touch with Yogananda’s teachings at first and how did your path lead you to become a monk of the SRF?
Brother Satyananda: My name, Satyananda, is Sanskrit and means “joy through truth”. It describes very well my reason for choosing Yogananda’s spiritual path and choosing to be a monastic. In my early twenties I was dissatisfied with what life was presenting to me – I was not happy with my choices, my options, with the future I saw for my self. I was basically searching for more meaning and purpose in life. So I went on a personal search. At that time I did not know it, but this is an ancient formula from India that a spiritual seeker will find answers to important questions on his quest for truth. I was asking questions like “Where did I come from before I was born?”, “Where do I go to after I die?” and “Who am I really?” – those questions which people usually think cannot be answered. It was through the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda that I could finally reckon to receive answers to these questions. Through learning how to deeply meditate and to pray I started to actually perceive the reality of these answers. So it was a search for deeper truth in life that has propelled me towards living a monastic life dedicated to the teachings of Yogananda and to sharing them with others who are also seeking.
That’s an interesting point that on your quest, you have not just been learning or reading answers that might or might not be true, but you have actually experienced them to be true…
Yes, what I found is unique about Paramahansa Yogananda is that he offers not only teachings that we can study to expand our knowledge and understanding, but also encourages us to really experience what we are learning.
There will be lots of celebratory activities throughout 2020. Can you name just a few of them?
The Self-Realization Fellowship had scheduled an event in January – a special day of meditation, inspiration and world peace prayers dedicated to the life and legacy of Paramahansa Yogananda. Everyone around the world who liked to participate could join us and dedicate a few hours of quiet contemplation, feeling the love of God and sending it out into the world.
In September there will be another significant event, because Sept. 20th is the 100. anniversary of Yogananda’s arrival in the United States at Boston Harbor. So the Self-Realiziation Fellowship will be staging a public event there in Boston to honor the launching of his worldwide work spreading Kriya Yoga. And beyound that, we have international programs scheduled. There will be celebratory public events in major cities. Monastics and ministers will be participating and leading these events just to increase the awareness of people of Paramahansa Yogananda’s mission. Your readers can also have a look at our website for streamed events which they can join in.
It has been 100 years since Yogananda came to the US. What does this marker mean to you personnally?
For me personally, Yogananda is my guru and I am his disciple, and so I feel a great joy to be able to use this occasion to honor my teacher and to celebrate with him the success – I would say the overall enduring success of his purpose and of bringing a spiritual awakened lifestyle to the modern societies. I’ve been a minister for many years so I have been engaged in spreading these teachings and I am also personally hoping for truth seekers to find answers to their questions. So I am really happy to be a part of celebrating the success of all this humanitarian and spiritual work.
How do you think Yogananda would see our nowadays’ world, and Western society in particular? Which teachings would he emphasize more than ever to help us in the current situation?
I think we can agree that modern life pushes us to extremes. We seem to be going to extremes in everything, it is not only for example in fashion, there is also a binge dealing of videos, excessive screen time… the list goes on. Whatever we get into seems to become all-consuming. What Yogananda beautifully taught us is the value of a balanced life, which means a harmonious distribution of activities and events throughout our schedule. In fact he says a balanced life is a truly happy life. So balance in life creates happiness. And this is created through a quality spiritual lifestyle that has a variety of healthy activities and a balanced construct. We may have passions and interests but we can engage with them in a way that is not extreme or obsessive. We don’t need to make it a 24/7 endeavour. We strive to incorporate meditation into our daily schedule and time for quiet, calm contemplation. We try to engage in some form of community and humanitarian service. Approaching life with the idea that we can create happiness for ourselves and others by living in a balanced way with our environment is a very healing approach to our modern lives. So we are pushed to extremes in our modern living, but we can actually respond to that by designing a balanced life.
Yogananda’s legacy still seems to be as strong as ever. Maybe what you have just mentioned is one of the reasons for it, but I am sure there are many more of them. So what would you say, how is the impact of this legacy never-changing in a world that generally changes so quickly and where attention spans are usually short?
Yogananda brings a broad spectrum of truth which is deep and profound in its mysticism and answers a lot of the mysteries of life. It is something that people can study and profoundly reflect on and it helps them in understanding themselves and the world that they live in. But Yogananda also brings very simple messages that can be remembered and applied so people can take them with them in their daily lives. As a minster I often used those simple messages Yogananda brings to help people reveal the truth that is hidden in daily life. One for example on success: Yogananda says: to be alive is to be on fire with purpose, to move forward with undaunted determination towards a goal. And on love he says: Love is the silent conversation between two hearts. This is what we would call soundbites. People can grab a hold on them and take them into their lives.
I think the answer to the question of why Yogananda’s teaching is so enduring a hundred years later is that he brings both deeply metaphysical concepts that are profoundly satisfying and also simple and very applicable soundbite messages in which also people who are not inclined to metaphysics can find value.
Recently especially the younger generations focus very much on modern media channels such as youtube or social media platforms. How do you evaluate these tools?
This is a universal challenge – we all have to be discoverable so people can discover us. Yogananda really made use of all communication mediums that were available to him during his lifetime. He published books, he appeared in newspapers, he gave public lectures and created a home study course and he sent out scriptures by mail. And now the SRF is doing the same: We have a lessons study course that is sent out in paper booklets so people can actually receive something to hold and to read. At the same time these lessons are also available online on a secure site so people can read them on their tablet or phone. You can create an account to log in and have access to other content as well such as videos or graphics. There is also a youtube channel where we are reaching more and more people every day. And as a minister of a large temple in Southern California I have been part of developing websites and our facebook and instagram. We’ve been working with some professionals in those fields and most recently we have been working to integrate our Lake Shrine website (lakeshrine.org) with the social media. So it is a matter of learning to use these media to help people discover us. I think there is a lot more that we can do, but I’ve been quite happy with the early results. We see that not only our existing community of disciples, but also new seekers are finding us. By receiving their inquiries on our website we are also learning what people are interested in discovering. It is a learning process for us as well.
How would you describe the vision for the future the SRF is holding – for its own and also for the future in general?
During Yogananda’s life span there were big catastrophes in the world: In the 20th century there were two world wars and a devastating economic depression, and yet throughout those decades Yogananda consistently gave a message of hope. I think that this message continues even in today’s world where we all feel insecure and unstable in certain ways. So the message that Yogananda and the Self-Realization Fellowship bring is a message of hope and of self-realization that is creating a state of beauty and joy within us inspite of any outer insecurities. Self-Realization Fellowship is focused on the individual soul programme. Yogananda said that to be honest, we won’t have peace in this world until there is peace in every heart. I think ultimately it comes down to the peace that we carry with us in our hearts. So I think the hope for the future is that the Self-Realization Fellowship can be part of building a world with many communities and individuals who carry peace in their hearts and have a harmonious spiritual lifestyle, living in harmony with each other, with the environment and with the world.
Thank you so much for the interview!
For more information please see: www.yogananda-srf.org