Krishna Added, Altar Pictures Rearranged
These are the pictures and the two arrangements Yogananda used for the altar during his lifetime.
In an SRF temple, there are six masters on the altar. In an Ananda temple there are five. SRF includes Krishna on the altar, Ananda does not. People often ask, “Why did Ananda remove Krishna’s picture from its altars?”
Swami Kriyananda answers:
“The answer is, Ananda didn’t. SRF added the picture.
“In this case, why did SRF make this alteration? It was to forestall possible rejection of Master’s mission in India. There was a concern lest, with Jesus placed alone at the center, SRF might be considered a Christian work.
“One reason for the change is suggested in a recent book, Shaped by Saints, by Devi Mukherjee. Devi describes a certain Indian who came to YSS (Yogoda Satsanga Society), and changed many things on the pretext that this was how things are done in India. Binay N. Dubey receives no compliments from Mukherjee for his influence on the YSS work. Daya Mata, however, appears to have accepted Dubey’s judgments wholeheartedly. Shortly after she appointed him to head the YSS work in India, he became ill with cancer, and died soon thereafter. Nevertheless, his influence lingers on in both YSS and SRF. Adding Krishna to the altar was done on his insistence.
“Master was himself, of course, an Indian. He did not need Dubey’s advice on how things should be done in that country. SRF, however, after accepting scholarly advice on how the title, Paramhansa, should be written, developed an unconscious tendency to question the accuracy of Yogananda’s knowledge of Sanskrit, and thereby opened itself to other scholarly criticisms. SRF’s caution in these matters was motivated by loyalty and a desire to protect his name from the criticisms of what they imagined to be more knowledgeable persons.
“I cannot support this attitude. I remember Master telling me, after finishing his Bhagavad Gita commentaries, ‘I realize now why my Master didn’t want me to study other commentaries. As I wrote my own, I didn’t have others’ ideas to refer to, but tuned in directly to Byasa, the author of the Bhagavad Gita.'”
Jesus on the altar in India
“The leaders of SRF, in their very devotion to our Guru—but being unable to protect him from supposedly informed criticisms—tended to accept the criticisms as valid. In fact, in their devotion they often failed to recognize the full depth of his wisdom. He was so natural, and so humble, that those who saw him daily, and who, out of affection, referred to him as ‘Little Master,’ tended to measure him by the yardstick of their own experience. ‘Little Master’ became, for them, an appellation not only of affection, but also of unwarranted familiarity. In truth, he was not merely that lovable human being: He was the Infinite Lord veiled, merely, behind that outer form.
“I myself lived and taught in India for four years, and never encountered a serious objection to our altar with Jesus in the middle. What Master established is, in my opinion (which I don’t think is uneducated), something we disciples ought to abide by unquestioningly.
Yogananda was an Indian
“Indeed, there were many traditions in India that Master rejected for his own work—for example, outward ceremonial worship. Master endeavored tirelessly to build his Indian work. He also had deep devotion to Krishna. It was not prejudice, then, that prevented him from including that great master’s picture on the altar. He told us—and Lahiri Mahasaya said it also—that Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya’s guru, was himself Krishna in a former incarnation. Thus, toward the end of Master’s life, whenever he led us in prayer he would pray, ‘Babaji-Krishna.’
“He put Jesus on the altar not in diplomatic deference to Jesus Christ as the spiritual guru of Christians, but because Babaji had stated that it was Jesus Christ who had requested him to send someone to the West with the Kriya Yoga science of meditation. Together, Jesus Christ and Babaji-Krishna planned the spiritual re-awakening of both East and West. Lahiri Mahasaya was, particularly, their emissary to the East. Swami Sri Yukteswar and Paramhansa Yogananda were particularly their emissaries to the West. The masters cooperated together in the task of awakening all human beings to a deeper awareness of God’s reality in their lives.
SRF explains its decision
In a letter dated November 1995, SRF explains why Krishna was added to the altar. This is what they said. SRF’s remarks are in quotation marks and italics.
Yogananda himself put Krishna on the altar.
“When our guru built his Golden Lotus Temple in Encinitas in 1939, he placed on the altar likenesses of Krishna, Jesus Christ, and his own gurus. That expressed his intention in this regard.”
However, he knew that the time wasn’t right.
“Paramahansaji knew that to most Westerners, at that time, Lord Krishna was not understood as a God-illumined avatar.”
So after the Golden Lotus Temple—the only example SRF gives of Krishna being on the altar—Krishna was not included.
“It is true that for a period of time during Paramahansaji’s life the image of Krishna was not included on SRF altars.”
Yogananda’s own actions do not reflect his intentions for the work. His true intentions, SRF says, were communicated through “private guidance” to the board about how things should be done after he died.
“However, it was the Guru’s express wish that the Board reinstate Krishna’s picture when the time was right.”
SRF admits that this private guidance was not well known
“….certain SRF representatives erroneously assumed that the altar arrangement without Krishna was to be a permanent policy, consequently communicated this on occasion to our centers and groups.”
Ananda replies to SRF
The altar of the Golden Lotus Temple is described by Richard Wright in SRF’s magazine, Inner Culture, in December 1937:
“Through the immense front window there is presented a glorious view of an ocean-and-sky altar. The blue tile altar beneath the window supports the statutes of Christ, St. Francis, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Mohammed, Rama, Shankaracharya, and Chaitanya, as well as statutes of Swami Yogananda’s Masters, Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Swami Sri Yukteswarji of India. There will be a special place on the altar reserved in honor of all liberated prophets and saints of God.”
The article distinguishes between the list of statues that includes Krishna and what Richard Wright calls “Swami Yogananda’s Masters.” If SRF is basing its decision on what Yogananda did at the Golden Lotus Temple, will they, in time, feel also to include the other great ones Yogananda put on the altar?
In India, Krishna was not on the altar
Even if Westerners were not ready for Krishna, there would be no such problem in India. Yet even in India, Yogananda did not put Krishna on the altar. In 1935-36, he acquired and dedicated the YSS center at Ranchi. The altar had only five masters and no picture of Krishna. Clearly, Yogananda was defining his work as he meant it to be. The period of time when Krishna was not on the altar was Yogananda’s entire life.
Krishna added to the prayer
SRF has also changed the invocation of the masters from the way Yogananda said it. SRF invokes Krishna separately. Yogananda either did not mention Krishna, or he combined Krishna with Babaji. Here are some examples of Yogananda’s prayers:
“Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, Saints of all religions, master minds of India, supreme master Babaji, great master Lahiri Mahasaya, master Swami Sriyukteswarji Giriji, and the Spirit in our body, mind, and soul temples, I bow to you. May Thy love, O Spirit, shine forever on the sanctuary of my devotion, and may I be able to awaken Thy love in all hearts.”
—Meditations and Affirmations, East-West Magazine, September 1932
Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, Babaji-Krishna, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yukteswarji, Guru-Preceptor Paramhansa Yogananda, saints of all religions, I bow to you all. Free my life from all obstacles of delusion and give me material, mental, and spiritual development.
—Praeceptum Lesson #1, 1938
“O Spirit, Saints of all Religions, Jesus Christ, Supreme Master Babaji, Great Master Lahiri Mahasaya, Master Swami Sri Yukteswarji, Paramhansaji-Guru-Preceptor, I bow to You All. Free my life from all obstacles and give me material, mental, and spiritual development.”
—Praeceptum Lesson #26, 1938
For a much later example, listen to SRF’s tape, The Great Light of God. You can hear Yogananda praying at the Christmas meditation in 1951, invoking the masters in the way he does in the above prayers.
One example of Krishna being included
In their November 1995 letter, SRF does give us what they call an example of how Krishna was included. It is the initiation pledge used by Yogananda in Boston, 1920-1923. “In the presence of God, Jesus Christ, Lord Krishna, your holy preceptors Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sriyukteswar Giriji, and you my spiritual guide, I promise and take a solemn oath…”
Krishna is included, but not as one of “your holy preceptors.” That lineage begins with Babaji. It’s the same way Richard Wright describes the statues on the altar at the Golden Lotus Temple. No one is disputing that Yogananda had great reverence for Krishna. The question is, how does he want us to pray? Who does Yogananda want on the altar? How is he defining his mission for the ages?
Sri Yukteswar and Yogananda have changed places on the altar
Yogananda himself set up the altar as you see it pictured at the beginning of this article. SRF usually uses the horizontal arrangement, but now Sri Yukteswar and Yogananda have switched places. In their letter of November 1995, SRF justifies this change, claiming that Yogananda’s picture was put on the altar by his disciples, and, out of humility, he asked that it be put at the end.
Swami Kriyananda says this is simply untrue. It was Yogananda who put himself on the altar, and at the end, because he was the last in the line of gurus. There was no question of humility. “How can there be humility,” Yogananda said, “when there is no consciousness of ego?” (The Path)
If devotees want Yogananda closer to the middle of the altar, he himself provided a solution: put the pictures in a cross.
This is not a small matter
Yogananda was part of a line of gurus. He prayed to the line of gurus and he always described his mission that way. To change the gurus on the altar, even in the name of devotion, is to tamper with the very foundation of his message.