Year : 2018 | Volume
: 50 | Issue : 1 | Page : 3--9
World brotherhood colonies: A preview of Paramahansa Yogananda's understudied vision for communities founded upon the principles of yoga
Christopher P Miller
Reimagining Indian Ocean Worlds Initiative, University of California, Davis, CA, USA
Christopher P Miller
Reimagining Indian Ocean Worlds Initiative, University of California, Davis, CA
Paramahansa Yogananda (1893–1952) founded the Yogoda Satsanga Society (YSS) of India in 1917. With the blessings of his guru Sri Yukteswar, he then traveled to the United States in 1920 where he eventually established the American branch of the YSS known as the Self-Realization Fellowship to teach Kriyā-yoga and “original Christianity.” Tracing the history of the World Brotherhood Colony movement as it made its way from India to America and back to India, this article shows how Yogananda's colonies today continue to provide a space for members of the growing global middle class to live a simpler life grounded in yogic principles. Scholars concerned with yoga's historical transmission and entrance into transnational practice will find this article useful for understanding the implications of Paramahansa Yogananda's World Brotherhood Colonies in the history of modern yoga.
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Miller CP. World brotherhood colonies: A preview of Paramahansa Yogananda's understudied vision for communities founded upon the principles of yoga.Yoga Mimamsa 2018;50:3-9
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Paramahansa Yogananda (1893–1952) founded the Yogoda Satsanga Society (YSS) of India in 1917. With the blessings of his guru Sri Yukteswar, he then traveled to the United States in 1920 where he eventually established the American branch of the YSS known as the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) to teach Kriyā-yoga and “original Christianity.”
While most would recognize the YSS and the SRF as Yogananda's flagship organizations in India and the United States, less are aware of the “World Brotherhood Colony” movement initiated by Yogananda in the 1930s and the existing independent organizations that have carried this movement into the present. This article thus brings Yogananda's vision for World Brotherhood Colonies into focus and previews the history and visions of some of today's primary colonies: Swami Kriyananda's Ananda Village in Nevada City, California (est. 1968), Norman Paulsen's Sunburst Sanctuary in Lompoc, California (est. 1969), and John Oliver Black's Clear Light Community at the Song of the Morning Ranch in Vanderbilt, Michigan (est. 1970). Furthermore, this article also introduces three recently established World Brotherhood Colonies including Michael and Ann Gornik's Polestar Gardens in Puna, Hawaii (est. 1998) and Swami Kriyananda's newest colonies in Gurgaon, Haryana (est. 2004), and Pune, Maharashtra (est. 2009).
Tracing the history of the World Brotherhood Colony movement as it made its way from India to America and back to India, we will see how Yogananda's colonies today continue to provide a space for members of the growing global middle class to live a simpler life grounded in yogic principles. Scholars concerned with yoga's historical transmission and entrance into transnational practice will find this article useful for understanding the implications of Paramahansa Yogananda's World Brotherhood Colonies in the history of modern yoga. The first section of this article provides some background concerning the theological roots of Yogananda's “original Christianity” and helps us to understand why his Kriyā-yoga teachings were and remain widely accepted in American society. In the sections that follow, we will take a look at each of the World Brotherhood Colonies that were established in Yogananda's wake. The article then concludes with observations regarding Yogananda's contributions to the creation of modern yoga as well as the function and role of World Brotherhood Colonies in today's globalized society.
Serampore's Christian Missionary College and the Theosophical Society: the Beginnings of a Protestant Yoga
During India's colonial period, the British imperial project was advanced by a number of missionary efforts aimed at converting Indians to Christianity. Christian missionaries interested in gaining knowledge about the Vedic worldview of England's colonial subjects undertook the study of Indian religions with the hope that such knowledge would enable them to more efficiently convert Indians to the religion of empire. This missionary strategy did not always work as expected, however, as colonial Indians undermined the hegemony of missionary ideology by absorbing Christianity's core tenets and religious figures into the accommodating worldview of Hinduism. Indeed, in her own research of Yogananda, Williamson shows how Hindus who studied at Serampore Christian Missionary College often “re-discovered” their Vedic roots (2010, pg. 67). In doing so, they contributed to the production of the wider, universalizing religious phenomenon often classified – though not always correctly – as “neo-Hinduism” found in movements such as the Brahmo Samaj and initially carried forward by advocates including Swami Vivekananda (van der Veer, 2001).
Outside of the Christian missionary project, other foreign organizations in India took a more appreciative, or what some might refer to as “Orientalist” stance toward Indian religions. Rather than attempting to convert Indians to Christianity, they studied and amassed the teachings from India's vast religio-philosophical corpus in a search for universal truths, to garner yogic powers, and to create unity among all people of the world. The Theosophical Society, founded by Madame Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott in 1875, was one of the foremost progenitors of such thinking and, with the help of Annie Besant, had a significant influence upon Dayananda Saraswati's Arya Samaj (van der Veer, 2001). Peter van der Veer has used the term “interactional perspective” (2001, pg. 8) to encapsulate the intermingling of ideological perspectives which took place in India and abroad during the aforementioned period. While Christians and other foreigners were learning from Indians, Indians were also absorbing novel forms of local religiosity through the process of interpellation during their interactions with their foreign interlopers.
Yogananda's guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, was one among these individuals, and his study of Christianity at Serampore Christian Missionary College planted the seeds for what would later became Yogananda's teachings of “original Christianity” in America. According to Williamson,
Serampore's environment of Western intellectualism and Christianity influenced Priyanath (Sri Yukteswar). He attended Serampore Christian Missionary College where he became interested in the stories of Jesus's life and the symbolical meaning of the book of Revelation. He began to make connections between the inner, mystical meanings found in the Bible and those expressed in the Yoga tradition (2010, pg. 67).
With appreciation for the Christian teachings he acquired during his training in Serampore, Yukteswar absorbed the New Testament, Jesus, and Christian mysticism into his yogic teachings. As a member of the Theosophical Society, Yukteswar was also undoubtedly influenced by foreigners' thirst for the wisdom of India's purportedly ancient yogic traditions.
Combining the influences from his background in the Theosophical Society and his studies in Serampore, Yukteswar laid important ideological foundations for his disciple Yogananda to later carry to America. Already in 1894, just a year after Yogananda was born, he had synthesized yoga and Christianity in the first publication of his book The Holy Science wherein he contended that the Vedas and the Christian Bible shared the same message (Yukteswar, 2006 (1894)). Nevertheless, because the Vedas predate the Bible, the Vedas “said it first,” so to speak. Furthermore, since Jesus Christ was merely a later avataāra of the head of Yukteswar's Kriyā-yoga tradition, Babaji-Krishna, Yukteswar, and Yogananda were in a lineage of spiritual practice bearing a more ancient spiritual practice than Christianity. Although Yukteswar does not say this explicitly in The Holy Science, both subtle rhetorical moves placed Yogananda and the teachings he was to carry forward to America into a position of preeminence while nevertheless maintaining Americans' beloved Christ as the central bearer of Krishna's ancient and universal Kriyā-yoga tradition.
Having appropriated Christ from Christianity, Yogananda was in a prime position to convert American Christians who were repulsed by institutionalized forms of Christianity, and who might have otherwise converted to Protestantism, to his own universal spiritual teachings. As Williamson has noted, it should not come as a surprise that many Americans instilled with a Protestant ethos turned to Yogananda's SRF as it offered to fulfill, in however a unique manner, the desires of spiritual seekers looking for alternatives to organized religion and hungry for direct, unmediated experience of god (2010, pg. 21). The irony here, of course, is that those seeking freedom from religious dogma, ritual, and organized religion always risk recreating the very institutional constraints from which they sought to be liberated. Well aware of this problem, Yukteswar conveyed the role of the institution to Yogananda as follows:
God is the Honey, organizations are the hives; both are necessary. Any form is useless, of course, without the spirit, but why should you not start busy hives full of the spiritual nectar? (Yogananda, 1946).
Leading up to and following his death in 1952, some of Yogananda's close disciples found that the spiritual nectar had, in one way or another, eventually departed from their guru's original hive, while others just decided to take the nectar elsewhere to create new hives. While we cannot objectively measure the extent to which the spirit was or was not present after 1952, we can take a look at those who left to create their own spiritual communities, or what Yogananda called “World Brotherhood Colonies,” to uphold what they believed to be their guru's true and original vision.
World Brotherhood Colonies: Beginnings
In a 1932 article in SRF's East-West Magazine, Paramahansa Yogananda proposed to create “World Brotherhood Colonies,” which he described as follows:
…little-group models of ideal civilizations must be started in every community for happy and peaceful living, with much meditation and much chivalry shown. These groups should be well balanced, financially secure, and they should exist always in high thinking and plain living (Yogananda, 1932).
A little over a decade later, we find that Yogananda's dream is beginning to take form at his Encinitas colony. Recounting a conversation with his disciple Dr. M. W. Lewis, he writes in his Autobiography of a Yogi:
In these beautiful surroundings I have started a miniature world colony. Brotherhood is an ideal better understood by example than precept! A small harmonious group here may inspire other ideal communities over the earth (Yogananda, 1946).
To the surprise of many, Yogananda's first World Brotherhood Colony in Encinitas was disbanded just a few years later after his death in 1952. The monks and nuns in Encinitas decided it would be best to focus on the development and support of the monastic community at the colony and that lay members would no longer reside within the colony's walls (Self-Realization Fellowship, 1995).
Although it is not completely clear what the circumstances were like in the Encinitas colony in 1952, an interview that I conducted with Arthur Smith, a former resident of the first colony in Encinitas, indicated that conditions might have been cruel for the children living there. According to Smith, children were often held for long periods of solitary confinement, were routinely separated from their parents, and were forced to perform long hours of daily manual labor after school and on the weekends. Arthur said that he himself spent 3 of his 6 years in solitary confinement, was only allowed to see his parents 1 hour per week, and spent countless hours in the colony's vegetable processing plant while also performing a number of other chores both in the Encinitas colony and at the Lake Shrine Temple in Pacific Palisades, California. Now in his eighties and having made peace with these difficult times, Arthur attributes the traumatic experience not to Yogananda, who himself was frequently traveling and absent from the colony, but to the harsh and overbearing colony managers (Smith, 2017).
While we might understand Yogananda's initial colony experiment to be a failure, we can also interpret it as the first experiment in what would eventually lead to a number of successful World Brotherhood Colonies still operating today. Indeed, following their guru's death, several of Yogananda's close disciples left the SRF to successfully establish colonies around the United States and in India. Three of the most eminent of these World Brotherhood Colonies were established during America's countercultural period while the United States was experiencing a phase of intense intentional community building (Love Brown, 2002). As Americans perceived increasing political, social, and environmental injustice, and as war raged on in Vietnam, citizens sought to create alternative forms of communal living all around the country. The timing for the establishment of intentional communities was ripe, and a number of Yogananda's disciples seized the moment. What follows here is a description of the first three independent and successful World Brotherhood Colonies established during this period: Ananda Village, Sunburst Sanctuary, and the Clear Light Community.
World Brotherhood Colonies: America's Countercultural Period
Ananda Village, Nevada City, California
Swami Kriyananda (1926–2013) was the most prominent and outspoken of Yogananda's disciples in favor of creating World Brotherhood Colonies. As a disciple of Yogananda who lived both in the SRF's Los Angeles monastery and in Yogananda's writing retreat in Twenty-nine Palms during the last 3½ years of his guru's life, Kriyananda felt that he had received a special charge from his guru to create a colony where householder yogis would be able to practice together. Nevertheless, Kriyananda soon discovered that creating a colony would not be possible within the SRF when he was unanimously voted off the board and out of the organization in 1962. After some years of reestablishing himself in Northern California, he purchased a large tract of land in the Sierra Nevada foothills in Nevada City, California. Here, with the help of a number of devoted followers, Kriyananda founded Ananda Village in Nevada City, California, in 1968, though a large fire burned much of the village down in 1976. The community's relatively rapid recovery from this fire foretold its ongoing resilience and continuity into the present. Indeed, despite a number of challenges including a lawsuit undertaken by the SRF against Ananda Village and a sexual harassment case against Kriyananda (Sreenivasan, 2008, pg. 18), the community continues to persist to this day.
Following the imperatives of Yogananda's Kriyā-yoga, Ananda Village seeks to lead its members to self-realization, or a direct experience of the divine within. Daily meditation and ongoing Kriyā-yoga initiations provide the platform for such endeavors, as does the neighboring Expanding Light Retreat for visitors from all over the world. Furthermore, following Yogananda's imperative for high thinking and plain living, Ananda Village undertakes a number of ongoing workshops and environmental initiatives. Philosophy lectures, permaculture, community subscription agriculture, renewable energy projects, sustainable building techniques, and water-saving measures comprise some of the main activities aimed at meeting their guru's aspirations.
Ananda Village is one of the ten existing World Brotherhood Colonies that are part of the organization Ananda Sangha Worldwide. In addition to the colony in Nevada City, over one thousand members currently live in communities in Sacramento, California; Palo Alto, California; Los Angeles, California; Portland, Oregon; Gaston, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; Assisi, Italy; Gurgaon, Haryana; and Pune, Maharashtra. The continuing success of each of these communities is in no small part attributable to Kriyananda's suggestion that World Brotherhood Colonies should stay in contact with the outside world. Rather than isolating itself from the society, each of the Kriyananda's colonies has remained engaged, both economically and socially, with their surrounding locale. I will return to a discussion of Kriyananda's Indian communities in Gurgaon and Pune momentarily.
Those interested in visiting or learning more about Ananda Village and Ananda Sangha Worldwide can visit www.ananda.org
Sunburst Sanctuary, Lompoc, California
Starting at the young age of 18, Norman Paulsen (1929–2006) was, like Kriyananda, a disciple of Yogananda during his guru's last years from 1947 to 1952. His spiritual search and study with Yogananda in the SRF was inspired by a near-death experience after he fell from a light pole while doing electrical work. After living at the SRF monastery with Yogananda in Los Angeles, Paulsen moved back home in 1952 to establish a spiritual movement in the Santa Barbara area, a directive Yogananda had given to him before his death. Paulsen's movement started as a meditation group that met regularly in a trailer in Santa Barbara, eventually making its way through a number of larger venues in the area. Eventually, and only a year after the founding of Ananda Village, Paulsen (1929–2006) founded Sunburst Sanctuary in his hometown of Lompoc just outside Santa Barbara in 1969.
Sunburst is perhaps most known for its organic agricultural initiatives and early establishment of health food stores in the United States. Yogananda's original Encinitas colony had undertaken a number of agricultural initiatives, and we might see Sunburst as a continuation of that legacy. Like many texts of Indian philosophy including the Hatṭhapradiāpikaā, Sunburst recognizes the centrality of proper diet as a preliminary practice on the spiritual path: “As souls awaken to Spirit, often the first step on the path is to seek wholesome foods to nourish the body, recognizing it as a temple for the Divine” (Sunburst Publishing, 2017a). Keeping this vision in mind in the 1970s and 1980s, Sunburst spread its organic agriculture operations, opened restaurants to serve their own products, shipped products nationwide, and even opened a number of health food stores around the country. In 1992, the community purchased a 4000 acre ranch property in Lompoc where organic agriculture and animal husbandry were to be undertaken. As the group continues to reside on this property today, much of the land has remained undeveloped to serve as a wildlife sanctuary where the community also provides ongoing activities and workshops aimed at cultivating “Earth Stewardship” including permaculture workshops, sustainable building techniques, beekeeping, and renewable energy development (Ibid.).
As the organization's website states, the name Sunburst “evokes the brilliance of I Am That I Am – the living divine presence destined to awaken within each soul as the pure Self” (Sunburst Publishing, 2017b). Again following the imperatives of Yogananda's Kriyā-yoga, Sunburst seeks to bring members to the experience of self-realization. Nevertheless, like Ananda Village, the organization also adds some unique items to its list of Aims and Ideals in order to fulfill Yogananda's imperative for “high thinking and plain living.” The most noteworthy of these are “To embrace the timeless codes of virtue and paths of conscious living,” “To recognize and study the sacredness of Mother Nature,” and “To use the gifts of imagination and will to design regenerative solutions, and become true caretakers of the Earth-garden” (Sunburst Publishing, 2017c). The code of virtue and paths of conscious living refer to Sunburst's unique “Rainbow Path” which consists of the community's Eight-Fold Path of Conscious Living and the Twelve Virtues (Sunburst Publishing, 2017d). The earth-centered imperatives are no doubt influenced by the organic agricultural work the community has undertaken for so many years as well as the influence of Hopi Native American traditions that Paulsen adopted when he met Hopi Chief White Bear Fredericks during the community's formation.
Those interested in visiting or learning more about Sunburst Sanctuary can visit www.sunburst.org
Clear Light Community, Vanderbilt, Michigan
John Oliver Black (1893–1989) served as an SRF minister for 40 years and was a wealthy automobile parts' industrialist and oil explorer who spent much of his professional career in Detroit. Black first met Yogananda in the early 1930s as he was approaching the age of 40, exhausted from overworking himself in the auto industry. His meeting with Yogananda would change the direction of his life dramatically, as Yogananda considered Black second in spiritual accomplishment only in comparison to his beloved disciple Rajarsi Janakananda. Indeed, in 1951, just a year before Yogananda's death, Black was bestowed with the distinguished title “Yogacharya” by his guru. During the same year, Yogananda also wrote a letter to Black encouraging him to start a “sub-headquarters” of the SRF at Black's Detroit center where Black was already teaching meditation and Kriyā-yoga. Yogananda saw the Detroit center as a centrally located and therefore convenient meeting point for practitioners from both the east and west coasts of America (Dekun, 2011).
A year following Paulsen's establishment of Sunburst, Black founded the Clear Light Community in 1970 at his 800 acre property known as the Song of the Morning Ranch in Vanderbilt, Michigan. By 1971, Black had sold all of his other real estate and used the ranch as a retreat center where he frequently invited his students to visit for retreat. By the early 1980s, he permanently moved to the Clear Light Community to teach his yoga students full time and aspired to one day have a yoga university there (Ibid.).
Located in the Pigeon River Forest in North Michigan, the Clear Light Community currently provides space not only for self-realization, but also for many types of outdoor recreation and connection with nature. The community's annual “Yoga Fest” encompasses this holistic approach to life as a self-described “celebration of spirit, nature, and all things yoga” (YogaFest, 2017). As of the writing of this chapter, the community has leased 29 of its 72 lots, upon which seven houses have already been built. While not an SRF center, Clear Light is more closely associated with the SRF than any other World Brotherhood Colony and currently refers its members to the SRF for Kriyā-yoga training (Song of the Morning, 2012).
Those interested in visiting or learning more about Clear Light Community can visit songofthemorningcommunity.com and songofthemorning.org.
World Brotherhood Colonies: the Next Generation
In addition to the three aforementioned colonies established during America's countercultural period, a number of new World Brotherhood Colonies have emerged in the generation that has followed. Three will be briefly introduced here: Polestar Gardens, Ananda Gurgaon, and Ananda Kriya Yoga Ashram, Pune. Each of these colonies emerged from Ananda Village, though only the Gurgaon and Pune locations remain officially a part of Ananda Sangha Worldwide.
Polestar Gardens, Puna, Hawaii
Michael and Ann Gornik were both members of Ananda Village from 1978 to 1998. Michael served as the village manager, while he and Ann were founding members of the Ananda Builder's Guild for the community's many construction workers. With a vision to offer a more family-friendly environment for the devotees of Yogananda, they left Ananda Village in 1998 and established Polestar Education in Sonoma County, California. On the advice of a close friend, they eventually moved to the agricultural district of Puna on the Big Island of Hawaii and created Polestar Gardens in 2005 (Gornik, 2017). Today, approximately thirty residents including several families live at Polestar's newest property acquired in 2008 where they participate in daily meditation, devotional singing, selfless service, and philosophical study according to the Rāja-yoga teachings of Yogananda aimed at attaining self-realization.
In addition to these activities, Polestar undertakes organic agricultural initiatives, as the Polestar property is located on land zoned for agriculture in the fertile Puna district. A large grove of fruit-bearing trees provides year-round food, and the fifty or so community pasture-raised chickens lay almost 4000 eggs per year, while the community's field garden has recently been overhauled and redesigned by permaculturalist Denise Foust and horticulturalist Valentina Bianchi and is expected to provide 70% of the community's food in the near future. In addition to food, Polestar also actively undertakes other sustainability measures according to their understanding of Yogananda's teachings. As their website indicates,
When attuned to Spirit, so Yogananda taught, one will automatically find an inner harmony with nature and with all the laws of the universe. Since our arrival here in 2008, we have understood the importance of living lightly on the land and of staying very connected to the natural rhythms here. Generating our power from the sun, collecting our own potable water, and growing organic food have all been a focus and intention for us (Polestar Gardens, 2017).
Solar power, water catchment, organic food production, and a comprehensive waste management system comprise some of the central sustainability practices at Polestar. The community's internship program offers year-round opportunities for people from around the world to learn about and participate in these practices as well as to get in touch with nature in Hawaii.
Those interested in visiting or learning more about Polestar Gardens can visit polestargardens.org
Ananda Gurgaon and Ananda Kriya Yoga Ashram, Pune
Entering into two of the newest World Brotherhood Colonies in Gurgaon, Haryana, and Pune, Maharashtra, we can say that Yogananda's vision has now truly become global. With the establishment of both of these communities, his colony idea has returned home to a globalized India that nevertheless looks much different than the motherland that he left for the United States in 1920.
According to one member of the Ananda Kriya Yoga Ashram in Pune, Kriyananda received an unanticipated sign that it was time to go to India after two of the YSS's main publishing staff contacted him to ask if they could begin to carry out their work with Ananda Worldwide. Remembering that Yogananda had told him he would one day take his teachings back to India, Kriyananda took this as a sign that it was time to go to India and arrived in the fall of 2003 with the intention to create a World Brotherhood Colony there. As Frøystad has shown, though a Westerner, Kriyananda was able to establish his authority quickly in India by demonstrating his link as a direct disciple of Yogananda:
… when Swami Kriyananda brought attention to his status as a 'direct disciple' of Yogananda in his advertisements, talks, and writings in Delhi, he invoked the legacy of a master whose face, name, and autobiography were recognized by virtually every member of the middle class in India, at least in the north. And when Kriyananda added that he was one of the few remaining disciples alive who had known Yogananda in person and that the only two other direct disciples in India were either disinterested or too old and feeble to pass the tradition on, he convincingly presented himself as a scarce resource and a more authentic heir of Yogananda than the YSS, whose current leadership had not met its master (2009, pg. 295).
In the wake of years of lawsuits in the United States, and leaning on his inherited spiritual authority, Kriyananda remained in India to establish both the Gurgaon and Pune colonies.
The establishment of the first colony in Gurgaon began in 2003 where Kriyananda rented a space in the Gurgaon area due to its status as an upcoming area near the capital of Delhi. Here, he and other members of the new community meditated, gave talks to the Indian public, and worked toward developing renewable solar energy technology. As the Gurgaon community grew, Kriyananda decided to attempt to recreate a community similar to that found at his original Ananda Village in Nevada City. Another disciple charged with the task of finding a suitable location discovered a beautiful tract of land 1 hour outside the city of Pune in Watunde village, which was purchased in 2008. In 2009, a monastery, staff-living quarters, and a retreat center were all built in the Pune location (Brown, 2017).
As the Gurgaon and Pune communities were developed, Kriyananda passed away in 2013, and though the monastery is currently not in operation, today the staff in Pune provide retreat space for city dwellers to have quiet time in nature. They are also still seeking to grow the community into a full-fledged World Brotherhood Colony in the near future to fulfill Kriyananda's vision (Ibid.).
Those interested in visiting or learning more about Ananda Gurgaon and Ananda Kriya Yoga Ashram Pune can visit: anandaindia.org.
In addition to the communities presented above, a number of other significant Yogananda- and Kriyā-yoga-inspired communities have been developed around the world. Although not explicitly a World Brotherhood Colony, for example, Catholic priest Father Cesar Davila (1910–1999) of Ecuador created the Asociación Escuela de Autorrealización (Association School of Self-Realization, or AEA) in 1972 after reading Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi (1946) and receiving yogic training from its Spanish translator, Jose M. Cuarón, in 1953. In 1981, Father Davila established a major ashram in San Juan de Banños and, in addition to the AEA's main campus in Guayaquil, his organization currently maintains a number of ashrams, yoga centers, and meditation groups throughout Central America that teach Yogananda's Kriyā-yoga to Catholics. Father Davila understood his organization's mission to be carrying forward the important message in Vatican II's Nostra Aetate, a Catholic document that recognizes the truth to be found in non-Christian traditions. According to AEA's website, “AEA teaches that Christ is the teacher of Master's. Christ's redemption is cosmic and has a universal character. AEA takes the spiritual lineage of great yogis such as Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yukteswar, and Paramahansa Yogananda” (AEA, 2015).
As we can see, while the SRF served the institutional function for Yogananda's activity in the United States, and while the first World Brotherhood Colony in Encinitas failed, a number of colonies and other organizations continue to exist and expand around the world outside the SRF. What, we might ask, is the role and function of these colonies today?
In addition to the pursuit of self-realization, one of the main threads connecting each of today's World Brotherhood Colonies is the emphasis each makes regarding the importance of connecting with and living a simple life in nature according to yogic principles. Though several of today's extant colonies are located in major city centers, most of the main colonies – including those mentioned in this article excepting Gurgaon – are all located in beautiful surroundings about an hour's drive from the closest major city and provide space for visitors who are not able to reside in the colony with a place to take retreat. Thus we might conclude that World Brotherhood Colonies create what Hoyez has identified as “therapeutic landscapes” (2007, pg. 112) for yogis from around the world. This is certainly what World Brotherhood Colonies provide: a distant therapeutic space for urban, middle-class, global yogis to get back in touch with nature and their fellow human beings. As Yogananda himself once romantically stated, “Harmony with nature will bring you a happiness known to few city dwellers. In the company of other truth seekers it will be easier for you to meditate and think beyond yourself” (Polestar Gardens, 2017). (In a forthcoming publication (Miller, 2019), the implications of nature in Yogananda's colonies are discussed in much more detail).
In closing, we might also keep in mind that while Yogananda was busy trying to create his first colony in Encinitas, his contemporary Swami Kuvalayananda was hard at work at Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute in India from which, as Alter has shown, his influence on the spread of yoga in the modern world was profound (Alter, 2004). By presenting yoga within a scientific framework, and most notably via the very journal in which this article is being published, Kuvalayananda prepared yoga to “colonize the West” (Ibid., pg. 106).
If Kuvalayananda was making early inroads for yoga to come to the West using scientific methods, his contemporary Paramahansa Yogananda was also doing so by creating colonies to covertly teach Haṭha-yoga to Protestant America. Like his guru, Yogananda was a graduate of Serampore Christian Missionary College where he not only absorbed many of the West's essentializing ideas surrounding Indian Vedic culture including the general disdain for Haṭha-yoga, but also undoubtedly learned a great deal about the Christian worldview of India's missionaries and colonizers. His learning during these formative years prepared him to be one of yoga's first and most significant missionaries as he converted multitudes of spirit-thirsty Americans to what appeared to be a Christ-centered Kriyā-yoga path beginning in the 1920s.
While emic perspectives which understand Haṭha-yoga to mainly consist of postures (āsana) would argue otherwise, Foxen has convincingly shown that “Yogananda's method as it is still taught by the Self-Realization Fellowship is essentially Haṭha yoga par excellence due to its inherent logic of energy but has been excluded from histories of modern yoga because it largely lacks āsana s (postures) (2017, pg. 17).” Since the Kriyā-yoga practiced in today's World Brotherhood Colonies also reflects Yogananda's underlying Hṭha-yoga logic identified by Foxen, an etic perspective indicates that Paramahansa Yogananda's World Brotherhood Colonies, though not initially successful, eventually created spaces on United States soil where American bodies practicing Christ-centered Kriyā-yoga could be deliberately – though unknowingly – implicated in the metaphysics, practice, and experiences of Haṭha-yoga. Thus, Yogananda's “colonies” may have made a similar and perhaps no less significant contribution as that of his celebrated contemporary Swami Kuvalayananda.
For an extended discussion of World Brotherhood Colonies within their socio-historical context, see Beacons of Dharma (Long, Reading, and Miller, Forthcoming, 2019).
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