Science of Religion by Paramahansa Yogananda

Last week I promised to recount an experience I had while I was on vacation. I was referring to a visit to the Masterworks Museum in Bermuda, but I will be recounting that experience for a travel writing contest.

So today I am reflecting on my experience with meditation during my almost twenty years of life as a yogini. I still can not meditate for more than a few minutes at any given time, often with the help of a yoga instructor or the Mindfulness App. I was very excited when a friend of mine who is a translator and who successfully meditates for hours every day sent me a copy of Science of Religion.

First published in 1926 and now in its fifth edition, Science of Religion is a true classic. Swami Yogananda is the founder of the Mt. Washington Educational Center in Los Angeles, amongst many other accolades.

The Preface establishes his framework. He states, “I have tried to show in this book that as God is one, necessary for all of us, so Religion is one, necessary and universal” (page xiii, author’s emphasis). He goes on to emphasize that “This book gives a psychological definition of Religion, not an objective definition based on dogmas or tenents” (page xiv). From these two explanations, the reader comes to expect a universalizing approach to one of man’s greatest queries, which is precisely what gives Science of Religion its enduring quality. (I will refer to Religion or religion in keeping with Swami Yogananda’s style of reference.) Lastly, it is important to note one more observation that he makes in the Preface: “The verification of a theory lies in practice” (page xv). This is the key observation that Swami Yogananda upholds in the latter chapters of the book.

He claims that happiness is not Bliss and that we conflate the two. Pure Bliss is only attainable when we wish it upon others, because “that is the world law” (page 6). The avoidance of pain in seeking Bliss is universal, and therefore necessary, he goes on to explain. Therefore the actions we adopt to avoid pain are classified as religious within his framework. He asserts that there is no reason that not attending holy services makes one less religious as long as one is working toward permanent Bliss in his or her daily life. But this observation is not an argument for “forsaking the church” because it is of help. He points out that the word “religion” comes from the Latin “religare” which means “to bind.” (pages 10-11). He observes that we are bound by the rules of religion to prevent suffering and move us toward Bliss or God. Therefore, there is a pragmatic need for religion as Swami Yogananda upholds.

To our detriment, “the spiritual self” brings itself into the present by “identifying itself with a transitory bodily vehicle and a restless mind” (page 20). This identification is the cause of suffering. Having established this fundamental connection, Swami Yogananda now turns to the psychological portion of his argument. He asserts that “pleasure is a creation of the mind” and that we need to remember the true goal of Bliss because seeking pleasure can multiply into pain (page 25). He explains that Bliss-consciousness can be attained in degrees depending on experience while pleasure depends on the state of one’s mind, as opposed to the outside object in and of itself. He describes Bliss-consciousness, by contrast, as being at one with God.

He observes that God “is perceived as manifesting Himself in our hearts in the form of Bliss in meditation-in prayerful or worshipful mood” (page 46). Swami Yogananda believes that different religions or sects are immaterial “for this Religion is universal” (page 49). He points out that in seeking God we can not ignore our worldly duties, which is why religion remains significant. He describes the world as a place where each of us must play a part.

He describes four methods for seeking God. The first is the Intellectual, in which consciousness gives way to Self-consciousness. The second is the Devotional, where the focus comes to lie on one thought rather than a series of thoughts as in the Intellectual method. The Devotional method still contains distraction. The last two methods, Meditation and the Organic, Scientific Method require a great deal of training. In Meditation the practitioner attain a state of “conscious sleep” where a blissful state can be produced but he or she is not yet free of bodily sensations. In the Organic, Scientific Method one can attain Bliss according to Swami Yogananda but it requires a “patient practice” (page 76). He assures his reader, “This is not an invention of anyone. It is already there. We are simply to discover it” (page 76). He goes onto explain the physiology of the brain and how to control its electrical current.

He concludes that “Religion is really nothing but the merging of our individuality in universality” (page 83). He discusses three instruments/means for attaining knowledge: Perception, the result of Buddhi or Intellect, Inference, which is dependent on Perception, and Intuition. Intuition is the “process by which we know the super sensuous world” and it comes from within (page 100). It is the basis for the fourth method.

Swami Yogananda closes with a quote from the Bible: “Knock and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). The fact that he chooses to end his book with a Christian reference (which is not the only one in Science of Religion) in addition to his observations on human suffering draw a link to Christian existentialists such as Pascal, Kierkegaard and Unamuno.




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