In Encinitas, Nature’s Beauty Nurtures the Soul in Self-Realization Fellowship’s Meditation Gardens
Many visitors to Self-Realization Fellowship’s meditation gardens come to gaze at the plants, koi ponds, and sweeping ocean vistas.
But for Fellowship devotees, the public gardens that SRF founder Paramahansa Yogananda created in 1937 (along with the adjacent hermitage, retreat and ashram) offer so much more.
“Visitors come mainly to enjoy the beauty of the land and maybe reflect a little,” said Brother Nakulananda, a minister at the SRF Encinitas Temple. “But our die-hard members, our faithful churchgoers, can come here with more reverence for Yogananda and his teachings.”
Nakulananda took us on a tour of the gardens to introduce the spiritual goals and ideals of SRF, which are based on Yogananda’s teachings. He wrote his most famous work, “The Autobiography of a Yogi”, at the hermitage.
For devotees, Yogananda, who helped bring meditation to the West and died in 1952, is everywhere in the gardens, which were a surprise gift from devoted disciple Rajarsi Janakananda in 1936.
“Yogananda loved the landscape. One of the main things to say about the beauty of the land is that it reflects the serenity of God,” said Nakulananda.
In the center of the garden along the cliff was the Temple of the Golden Lotus. There, Yogananda taught his followers what he called “the science of meditation” and encouraged them to gaze at the ocean through huge windows and a four-story glass tower.
“Yogananda loved the horizon altar, which is like the meeting of the ocean and the sky, the infinity of that,” Nakulananda said.
In 1942, shoreline erosion and seepage from the nearby lake caused the temple to slide into the sea, leaving only the terrazzo staircases still visible in the gardens.
“The Divine Mother told Yogananda that she took him away because she wanted him to found other temples. Otherwise, he would have been satisfied with this magnificent Golden Lotus Temple,” Nakulananda said. “I think what that would mean for our members is that even Yogananda, who is our great teacher and guide, had to go through hardships like this, it’s just part of life on Earth.
The temple’s signature lotus flower appears in the SRF logo along with, Nakulananda said, “the spiritual eye, which is found at the point between the eyebrows. In human beings, it is the spiritual center of the body.
Connect with divinity
Yogananda went on to establish temples in San Diego, Hollywood and around the world to teach followers the ideals of SRF and the meditation technique of Kriya Yoga (which is a form of yoga different from the poses and breathing techniques taught in yoga studios). The Self-Realization Fellowship and the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India (also founded by Yogananda) have about 800 centers around the world, according to Blythe Fraser, director of public relations for the SRF.
“The cornerstone of SRF teachings is meditation,” Nakulananda said. “It is through meditation that we can contact this divinity within us. … Yogananda said that we don’t have any dogma in SRF, but if we had any dogma, our dogma would be Kriya Yoga because Kriya Yoga is what brings the consciousness of God.
Today, devotees are introduced to Kriya Yoga through a home-study course. They come to weekly services at temples in Encinitas and San Diego to learn more about how to apply SRF teachings in their daily lives (such as the meaning of salvation or the dreamlike nature of the world), to meditate together, sing and pray. .
(Those, like Brother Nakulananda, who wish to become monks or nuns attend SRF ashrams and follow four stages of monastic life: postulancy, novitiate, brahmacharya and sannyas.)
Garden paths lead to many meditation benches, including one near the bonsai Ming Tree, a Monterrey pine gifted to Yogananda.
Among the goals and ideals of the SRF are the cultivation of a spiritual understanding between East and West, as well as “Revealing the complete harmony and fundamental unity of original Christianity as taught by Jesus -Christ and original yoga as taught by Bhagavan Krishna; and to show that these principles of truth are the common scientific foundation of all true religions.
“Yogananda, through his attunement with Krishna and Christ, is able to come out with an interpretation of the true teachers, both of these great teachers. So we are not a Christian religion, we are not a Hindu religion. We are a path of scientific yoga meditation,” said Nakulananda.
The gardens include the Cercle Saint-François meditation area. “Yogananda said he had seen many visions of many saints here, walking along the grounds,” Nakulananda said. “And they just came to visit him. He didn’t talk about their conversations. Saint Francis was one of Yogananda’s favorite Christian saints for his simplicity, humility and devotion.
The circle sits near koi ponds, which were once big enough for Yogananda to paddle around in a small rowboat, but are now smaller (and lighter to prevent erosion) and dotted with meditation benches.
Looking at the small waterfall that connects two ponds, Nakulananda said, “Yogananda loved water. He has waterfalls at Lake Shrine (in Pacific Palisades), here in Encinitas, and at Mount Washington (international headquarters), so he loved the water. … The sound is very peaceful and calm.
Meditation Gardens, Retreat, Hermitage and Self-Realization Fellowship Ashram Center
Address: 215 WK St., Encinitas
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. 11am-5pm Sunday. Closed on Mondays.
On line: yogananda.org
Chaffee is a freelance writer.