UNITED STATES, September 16, 2020 (RNS by Tara I. Burton): One hundred years ago on Sept. 19, the Indian yogi and guru Paramahansa Yogananda arrived in Boston as the Indian delegate for the Unitarian Conference of Religious Liberals. Yogananda's arrival, along with an earlier visit by another Indian teacher, Swami Vivekananda, began yoga's rise on these shores into a major industry, as well as one of the most significant examples of syncretism -- a religious and cultural mashup -- in the history of the West. Yogananda's contribution to the growing diversity of America's religious landscape in the 20th century was to adapt yoga's poses for an American audience. But his deeper influence was to pioneer a vision of wellness in which spirituality and self-help converge.
His Self-Realization Fellowship eventually offered as many as 800 temples, ashrams and retreats in 60 countries. Its blend of traditional Hindu practice with the American self-help culture resulted in the flowering of earlier movements such as transcendentalism and New Thought. Humankind's goal was "knowing in all parts of body, mind, and soul," he wrote, "that you are now in possession of the kingdom of God; that you do not have to pray that it will come to you; that God's omnipresence is your omnipresence; and that all you need to do is improve your knowing." A century on, Yogananda's project of self-realization, this vision of a unifying spiritual force, is more powerful than ever. Indeed, as more and more Americans join the ranks of religiously unaffiliated, or spiritually remixed, it might be our new civil religion.
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