In the last few years, the Smithsonian Institute mounted a national exhibit titled “Yoga: The Art of Transformation”; Loyola Marymount University launched the first Masters Degree in Yoga Studies in the U.S; and the first Hindu representative was elected to Congress, taking the oath of office on her well-worn copy of the Bhagavad Gita, India’s classic Yogic scripture.
Yoga seems to have reached a tipping point in America, fully accepted in mainstream institutions – and yet, in 2013, a group of parents sued the Encinitas, CA school district, claiming that Yoga in the schools was a violation of church and state. So
some Americans are still wondering - is Yoga a religion, an exercise regimen, or something else entirely? And how, and why, has the ancient Indian practice of Yoga become a household word, something practiced by more than 20 million Americans (and growing) – in their homes, at yoga studios, on corporate retreats, and even at the Pentagon.
“It’s significant that Yogananda’s first speech in America was called ‘The Science of Religion,’” says author Philip Goldberg, who we interviewed for Awake: The Life of Yogananda. Goldberg’s book, American Veda, documents how Indian spirituality changed the West, and he dedicates an entire chapter to Yogananda who arrived on American shores in 1920 – the quintessential fish-out-of-water. Yogananda was only 27 years old, barely spoke the language and looked like he had emerged from the pages of a mysterious storybook recalling tales from the East. “Many Americans were still getting used to having Jews here,” explains Goldberg in the documentary. “And along comes an exotic Swami in orange robes and a turban.”
Yogananda had been invited to address the Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston, and the timing was perfect for his message. The Roaring 20s was a period of upheaval, a precursor, perhaps, to the 60s. The Great War had left its wake of devastation and the new generation (flappers/hippies) wanted nothing to do with establishment values. Everything we had believed in so vehemently was up for grabs. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity had paved the way for Quantum Physics, which was telling us that solid matter was elusive – creation, mostly empty – and that our awareness could actually influence sub-atomic particles.Read more
People are always talking (and arguing) about the differences between various religious beliefs, but, when looked at closely, all of the world’s great religious traditions have an underlying unity to them. This is one of the central themes in the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, the Indian sage who brought yoga and meditation to the West in 1920.
When I set out to write my book, Meditate and Experience God: Saints, Scriptures, and Science Point the Way, I wanted to emphasize a multi-denominational approach to both God and meditation, and in doing my research, I discovered the following commonalities amongst all the great religious traditions:Read more