Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion

By Lola Williamson | Go to book overview

3

Self-Realization Fellowship

The first passenger boat sailing from India to America after the end of World War I carried a man who, like Vivekananda, was to stir the imaginations of thousands as he delivered public lectures throughout the United States. The year was 1920, and the person aboard the ship was Paramahansa Yogananda. He came to America with a mission given to him by his guru, Sri Yukteswar, to teach yoga and the harmony between Krishna and Christ.

Both Vivekananda and Yogananda came from Bengal, the area of India in which Neo-Hinduism developed, and the vision of these two gurus was similar. Each felt the time in history was favorable for opening the path of Hindu meditation to all people, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, or previous religious preparation. Vivekananda and Yogananda tried to show the underlying unity of all religions, and each had a vision of the United States as fertile soil for the growth of this idea. Neither arrived in America with an established plan for how they would implement their ideas. In fact, they arrived without the money to sustain them for any length of time. They relied on the people they met, by chance or destiny, to help them accomplish each step in fulfilling their missions.

Vivekananda and Yogananda were successful in transplanting their own versions of Hinduism to America, each using his own unique style. While Vivekananda preached the good news of an impersonal God based on Vedanta, Yogananda stressed heartfelt devotion to a personal God. Vivekananda was intellectual; Yogananda was devotional to the core. Vivekananda was at times moody and acerbic; Yogananda, although strict with his disciples, had a buoyant personality that audiences adored.

Before leaving India, Yogananda, while looking across the Ganges River to Dakshineshwar, the Sri Ramakrishna Mission and Math that Vivekananda had founded years earlier, told a friend, “I will make mine bigger than theirs.” He was referring to an ashram he planned to build. It seemed to his friend that Yogananda was competing with Vivekananda.1 But it might have been that Yogananda felt inspired by Vivekananda’s success and wanted to expand

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Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • A Note on Transliteration vii
  • Preface ix
  • I - Background 1
  • 1: What Are Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements? 3
  • 2: Laying the Foundation for American-Style Hinduism 26
  • II - Three Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements 53
  • 3: Self-Realization Fellowship 55
  • 4: Transcendental Meditation 80
  • 5: Siddha Yoga 106
  • III - In Their Own Words 133
  • 6: The Guru-Disciple Relationship 135
  • 7: Mystical Experiences 161
  • 8: Worldview 186
  • Conclusion 215
  • Notes 235
  • Bibliography 243
  • Index 251
  • About the Author 261
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