Introduction: In 1920, Paramahansa Yogananda (“Yogananda”) (1893-1952) founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (“SRF”). In his writings for the SRF, including his autobiography the Autobiography of a Yogi (SRF 13th ed. 1998), Yogananda alleged that persons are subjected to forces of reincarnation, karma, and even astrology. But he alleged that his teachings on Kriya Yoga allow a person to obtain “self-realization” and overcome these forces. He even alleged that Kriya Yoga can allow a person to unlock the same powers that Jesus used. He further alleged that his teachings on a hybrid Hindu-Christian faith are consistent with the Bible.
Questions presented. This response to his claims addresses the following seven questions:
1. Did Yogananda possess special yogic powers, and can a person develop yogic powers through the study of Yogananda’s teachings on Kriya Yoga?
2. Are Yogananda’s claims regarding reincarnation that can be broken with “self-realization” consistent with the Bible or credible?
3. Are Yogananda’s claims regarding persons being subjected to forces from astrology consistent with the Bible or credible?
4. Are Yogananda’s claims regarding salvation through self-perfection consistent with the Bible, Hinduism, or credible?
5. Are Yogananda’s claims regarding whether God will judge sin (found in his other writings) consistent with the Bible, Hinduism, or credible?
6. Are Yogananda’s claims regarding Jesus consistent with the Bible or credible?
7. What are the consequences whether Yogananda or Jesus are correct?
This response to Yogananda and the SRF will demonstrate that his claims are not consistent with the Bible. Moreover, his claims are not credible under any objective standard.
1. Did Yogananda possess special yogic powers, and can a person develop yogic powers through the study of Yogananda’s teachings on Kriya Yoga?
Yogananda’s claim he could perform or observe countless miracles: In his autobiography, Yogananda alleged that “‘Kriya Yoga [is] the scientific technique of God-realization,’ . ..” (p. 385) (underscore added). He claimed to perform or observe the following 30 “yogic” God-like powers.
(1) Immortality: Babaji, the person who taught Yogananda the alleged secrets of Kriya Yoga is purportedly an immortal who never ages or dies: “Babaji . . .the secluded master has retained his physical form for centuries, perhaps for millenniums.” (p. 332). “The deathless guru bears no mark of age on his body; he appears to be a youth of not more than twenty-five.” (p. 335). “His undecayable body requires no food . . .” (p. 335).
(2) Omniscience: As the most frequently cited power, a master of Kriya Yoga has omniscience or clairvoyance of events before they happen. “Abhoya’s child was a daughter, born at night, exactly as foreseen by the omniscient guru.” (p. 314 (italics added)). “The master’s omnipresence was demonstrated one day” by describing the drowning of many sailors the day before it happened (p. 362 (italics added)). “Though Babaji and Lahiri Mahasaya were omniscient . . .” (p. 375 (italics added)). (same, pgs. 26-27, 32, 132, 184, 193-196, 208, 211fn, 218, 220, 236, 285, 326, 373-374, 535 fn).
(3) Omnipotence: A master of Kriya Yoga also has the alleged ability to “materialize or dematerialize” any matter out of nothing. The limitless power is allegedly available to anyone: “Control over the universe appears to be supernatural, but in truth such power is inherent and natural in everyone who attains ‘right remembrance’ of his divine origin.” (p. 245 fn, 131). “The advanced yogi transmutes his cells into energy. Elijah, Jesus, Kabir, and other prophets were past masters in the use of Kriya or a similar technique, by which they caused their bodies to materialize and dematerialize at will.” (p. 263). “Masters who are able to materialize and dematerialize their bodies and other objects, and to move with the velocity of light, and to utilize the creative light rays in bringing into instant visibility any physical manifestation, have fulfilled the lawful condition: their mass is infinite.” (p. 303). “Babaji created this beautiful mansion out of his mind . . .” (p. 347, 354). Thus, anyone can allegedly learn to wield Jesus’ divine power to create.
(4) Omnipresence: A master named Ananda Moyi Ma had the alleged power of “omnipresence.” (p. 502). Yogananda alleged that “With impersonal wisdom she bestows equally on all human beings the divine love of the Universal Mother [a Hindu goddess].” (p. 502). “God’s omnipresence is your omnipresence . . .” (p. 236).
(5) Teleportation: As another part of a Kriya Yoga’s mastery over matter, a master can allegedly teleport multiple people or objects into thin air and over great distances: “The village children once expressed a desire in Sadasiva’s presence to see the Madura religious festival, 150 miles away. The yogi indicated to the little ones that they should touch his body. Lo! Instantly the whole group was transported to Madura.” (pgs. 435-436). (see also, pgs. 26-27, 202-203, 206, 208-210, 450).
(6) Telekinesis: A yogic master also has the alleged power to levitate people and things with their minds (p. 67-68, 316-317, 339).
(7) Telepathy: A yogic master further has the alleged power to send “telepathic message[s]” to others (p. 208). “I put myself into a yogic trance state in order to attain telepathic and televisional rapport with her.” (p. 408).
(8) Mind control: In addition to telepathy, a yogic master can purportedly read and implant thoughts or knowledge in a person’s head: “The power of influencing others’ minds and the course of events is a vibhuti (yogic power)” (p. 245 fn) (see also, 134, 235-236, 458). “Babaji possesses a power by which he can prevent any specific thought from arising in a person’s mind.” (p. 372).
(9) Insect and animal control: In addition to controlling the thoughts of humans, a yogic master can also allegedly control insects like mosquitoes (p. 26). A master can also allegedly tame lions and make them vegetarian (p. 445, 449).
(10) Consciousness transfer: A yogic master can also allegedly transfer his consciousness into another person: “As I closed my eyes in meditation, my consciousness was suddenly transferred to the body of a captain in command of a battleship.” (p. 305).
(11) Reading the thoughts of the dead. A yogic master also has the alleged power to “detect the thoughts of any man, living or dead,” (p. 172).
(12) Astral projection: A yogic master can also allegedly have out of body experiences on an astral plane (p. 161-63, 233-234, 308).
(13) X-ray vision: A yogic master also has the alleged ability to see through solid walls and over miles of distance: “Spiritual sight, X-ray like, penetrates into all matter;” (p. 233).
(14) Life without oxygen: A yogic master can even purportedly live without oxygen for prolonged periods of time: “For days together he would sit on top of the water or remain hidden for very long periods under the waves. . . By these feats Trailanga sought to teach men that human life need not depend on oxygen . . . Whether the great master was above water or under it . . . Death could not touch him.” (p. 316-317).
(15) Life without food or water: A yogic master can also allegedly live without food or water for decades (p. 318, 335, 404-407). A woman named Giri Bala allegedly went 56 years without food or water: “From the age of twelve years four months down to my present age of sixty-eight – a period of over fifty-six years – I have not eaten food or taken liquids.” (p. 513). In contrast, Jesus was hungry after 40 days without food: “And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.” (Matt. 4:2).
(16) Life without sleep: A yogic master further allegedly requires no sleep (p. 158).
(17) Extreme temperature immunity: A yogic master can also purportedly survive extreme temperatures without pain: “A common sight at Manikarnika Ghat was the swami’s motionless body on the blistering stone slabs, wholly exposed to the merciless Indian sun.” (p. 316-317). This presumably includes extreme cold as well.
(18) Poison immunity: A master can also allegedly eat poison: “On many occasions the swami was seen to drink, with no ill effect the most deadly poisons . . .” (p. 316-317).
(19) Instant healing: A yogic master also has the alleged power of instant healings. Examples cited in Yogananda’s autobiography include: (1) stomach ailments, (2) diabetes, (3) epilepsy, (4) tuberculosis, (5) paralysis, (6) instantly restoring lost weight, (7) back pain, (8) instant youthful regeneration, (9) curing poisoning, and (10) curing chronic diseases (p. 129-130, 159, 206, 215, 318, 320).
(20) Disease transfer: A yogic master also has the alleged power of “metaphysical transfer of disease”. This allows a yogic master to take another’s disease to spare another from their suffering and take on “undesirable karma” (p. 227-228).
(21) Poison transfer: A yogic master can even allegedly transfer poison ingested by a master into another person (p. 318).
(22) Communicating with Hindu gods: A yogic master can allegedly talk with Hindu gods and see stone statues come to life (p. 233).
(23) Communicating with Jesus Christ: Yogananda allegedly communicated directly with Jesus Christ: “I beheld the radiant form of the blessed Lord Jesus. A young man, he seemed, of about twenty-five, with a sparse beard and mustache; his long black hair parted in the middle, was haloed by a shimmering gold . . . A Holy Grail appeared in his mouth; it came down to my lips and then returned to Jesus.” (p. 536-537).
(24) Communicating with the dead: A yogic master can also allegedly talk with the dead. Yogananda allegedly spoke with his master after his master was dead (p. 452).
(25) Soul tracking: A yogic master can further allegedly track down souls after they have been reincarnated (p. 285-290).
(26) Resurrecting others: A yogic master can even allegedly raise others from the dead (p. 324-325, 336).
(27) Incorruptible post-death bodies: A yogic master can also have a dead body that is immune from decay, which according to an editor’s note, happened to Yogananda: “The incorruptibility of Paramahansa Yogananda’s body after death (see page 548) proved him a perfected Kriya Yogi.” (p. 270 fn).
(28) Self-resurrection: Yogananda further alleged that “a fully God-realized master is able to resurrect his body and appear in it before the eyes of earth dwellers.” (p. 340 fn) “one day after the body of Lahiri Mahasaya had been consumed to the flames, the resurrected master, in a real but transfigured body, appeared before three disciples, each in a different city.” (p. 381). On June 19, 1936, Yogananda also allegedly saw his master Sri Yukteswar self-resurrect into flesh and blood (p. 456). “[M]y new body is a perfect copy of the old one. I materialize or dematerialize this form any time at will. . .” (p. 473).
(29) Astral resurrection on another planet. Yogananda’s master, Sri Yukteswar, allegedly resurrected on the “Illuminated Astral Planet” where he was “aiding advanced beings to rid themselves of astral karma and thus attain liberation from astral rebirths.” (p. 457). ‘“There are many astral planets, teeming with astral beings.’ Master began. ‘The inhabitants use astral planes, or masses of light, to travel from one planet to another, faster than electricity and radioactive energies.”’ (p. 459). The “millions of astral beings” include: “fairies, mermaids, fishes, animals, goblins, gnomes, demigods and spirits, all residing on different astral planets in accordance with karmic qualifications.” (p. 459). “Flowers or fish or animals can metamorphose themselves, for a time, into astral men.” (p. 460). “Communication among the astral inhabitants is held entirely by astral telepathy and television . . .” (p. 463). Good spirits travel freely while “evil spirits are confined to limited zones.” (p. 459-60). The “fallen dark angels” live in “gloom-drenched regions of the lower astral cosmos, working out their evil karma.” (p. 460).
(30) The ability to see astral fairies and demons. According to Yogananda, “pure-minded children are sometimes able to see the graceful astral bodies of fairies.” While some people intoxicated on drugs see “hideous forms in astral hells.” (p. 463 fn).
Problem No. 1 – Yogananda’s claims directly contradict the Bible. Yogananda alleged that Jesus’ powers stemmed from His yogic knowledge: “By such knowledge Christ was able to restore the servant’s ear after it had been severed by one of the disciples.” (p. 131, citing Luke 22:50-51). Yogananda further alleged that his disciples could be “Yogi-Christs”: “In every age of India, yoga has produced men who became truly free, true Yogi-Christs.” (p. 251) (italics added). Yet, in Bible, God proclaimed that no one can replicate His powers. In the book of Isiah, God revealed: ‘“ . . .For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me,”’ (Isaiah 46:9). “‘See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.” (Dt. 32:39). Jesus also revealed that miracles came from God alone: “And looking at them Jesus said to them, ‘With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”’ (Matt. 19:26). The prophet Jeremiah repeated this claim: “There is none like You, O LORD; You are great, and great is Your name in might.” (Jer. 10:6). The prophet Moses made the same claim: “Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?” (Ex. 15:11). Thus, Yogananda’s teachings directly contradict the Bible. God’s divine powers cannot be copied and used by anyone but Him. If Yogananda’s claims were true, God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Moses all lied about the ability to copy God’s powers. But “God is not a man, that He should lie, . . .” (Nu. 23:19). Instead, Yogananda’s promise that you can be like God was the exact same promise that Satan made in the Garden of Eden “ . . . and you will be like God . . .” (Gen. 3:5).
Problem No. 2 – The Bible declares Yogananda’s ability to talk to the dead as demonic. Yogananda alleges that he spoke with his master after his master died and again after the master allegedly self-resurrected (p. 452). He also alleged that a Kriya Yoga master can read the thoughts of a dead person (p. 172). Even if Yogananda could speak with the dead, the Bible declares that this is a demonic act. “There shall not be found among you . . .one who calls up the dead. 12 For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord; and because of these detestable things the Lord your God will drive them out before you.” (Dt. 18:10-12; Lev. 19:31). “As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.” (Lev. 20:6; Is. 8:19; 2:6; Ex. 22:18). Believers are not to turn to horoscopes, mediums, astrologers, tarot card readers, hand readers, Ouija boards, and drugs. All these things place a believer in communion with demons (1 Cor. 10:19-20). God judged the first Jewish King Saul because Saul used a witch to speak with the deceased prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 28:13-18). Because he did not repent, God then killed King Saul (1 Sam. 31:2). Yogananda cannot allege that he spoke with the dead and allege that his power was from God. If he had this power, the Bible is clear that his power was demonic. In short, Yogananda is not a prophet of the God of the Bible.
Problem No. 3 – Yogananda never used his alleged superpowers to make predictions. Yogananda’s alleged powers included a clairvoyant ability to describe events before they happened (e.g., p. 535 fn). In the Bible, the failure to accurately describe future events established if a person is a false prophet. “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” (Dt. 18:22). The Bible is self-validated through hundreds of fulfilled prophecies. For example, the prophet Isaiah foretold of King Cyrus II of Persia’s future victory over Babylon approximately 150 years before he was even born (Is. 45:1; 44:28-45:4). But where are Yogananda’s predictions to test his claims to be a prophet of God? If he were clairvoyant, he could have offered predictions about mankind landing on the moon, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the COVID 19 pandemic, or similar major events. His failure to offer testable future predictions undermines his claim to be a prophet of God.
Problem No. 4 – Yogananda’s alleged supernatural powers did not work on him. For someone who does not accept the claims in the Bible, we are forced to use Yogananda’s claims to see if they applied to him. They didn’t. Despite professing to be Kriya Yoga master, Yogananda died a premature death from an ordinary illness. In his book he proclaimed, “Medicines have limitations; the divine creative life force has none. Believe that: you shall be well and live strong.” (p. 129). “You have seen how your health has exactly followed your subconscious expectations. Thought is a force, even as electricity or gravitation. . . . I could show you that whatever your powerful mind believes very intensely would instantly come to pass.” (p. 130). “Imagination is the door through which disease as well as healing enters. Disbelieve in the reality of sickness even when you are ill; an unrecognized visitor will flee!” (p. 135). The alleged mastery over cosmic energy can purportedly preserve any organ: “In superconsciousness, all internal organs remain in a state suspended animation, electrified by cosmic energy.” (p. 158). Yet, despite being an alleged guru in the “divine creative life force”, he died in 1952 at age 59 of a heart attack.1 Excluding African-Americans, the average male life expectancy for someone living in the United States circa 1950 was 68 years.2 Thus, Yogananda’s alleged yogic superpowers did not even allow him to reach the age of the average life expectancy in the United States. In contrast, God’s servant Moses lived in perfect health until his death at age 120, more than twice his life span. (Deut. 34:7).
Problem No. 5 – the inability of Yogananda’s followers to obtain supernatural powers. The Self-Realization Fellowship (“SRF”) has been in existence since at least 1920, more than a century ago. Thousands of SFR students have had the opportunity to spend their lifetimes training and developing yogic powers. Yet, none of Yogananda’s SRF followers have ever documented an ability to use yogic powers. If his self-realization teachings were true, there should be countless examples of his SRF disciples creating matter from nothing, levitating, teleporting people, reading minds, or healing incurable diseases. Yet, there has not been a single recorded instance of an SRF follower replicating Yogananda’s alleged super powers. This also cannot be attributed to SRF vows of alleged modesty. Yogananda alleged that there were evil persons, like a person named Afzal, who possessed these powers and did not try to hide them (pgs. 202-205).
Problem No. 6 – the lack of witnesses to Yogananda’s alleged supernatural powers. Yogananda lived at a time when people had radio, newspapers, photography, and movies. Yet, there is not a single media recording that confirms any of his miracles. There were also no independent witnesses to any of his alleged miracles. If they had happened as claimed, news accounts would have been widespread during his lifetime. In fact, he admits that his schoolmates at Calcutta University called him the “Mad Monk.” (p. 238, 440). Also, if Yogananda’s body after death escaped decay as his followers allege, (p. 270 fn, 548) where is it and why can’t scientists examine it? In contrast, the four gospels (along with Paul’s writings) provide at least five independent accounts of Jesus’ miracles. Even without newspapers, photographs, or radio, news of Jesus’ miracles spread everywhere he went (E.g., Matt. 4:23-25; 9:26, 9:31; Luke 4:14; 4:37, 7:17; Mark 1:28).
Problem No. 7 – Yogananda never used his alleged yogic powers to save others. If Yogananda had yogic powers, he was a selfish superhero. He could have walked through hospitals healing people like Jesus did (Mark 1:4-45). Yogananda also never used his powers to create food from nothing to feed the masses. This is something that Jesus did (Luke 9:16). He could have teleported people away from wars and natural disasters before they died (p. 435-436). He once allegedly warned Indians seeking independence during World War I that the British would intercept a German ship with weapons before it happened (p. 535 fn). Having also lived during World War II, he could have used his clairvoyance to foresee the rise of Hitler. He could have then used his powers to put peaceful thoughts into Hitler’s head. Or, he could have teleported Hitler to a remote uninhabited island where he could not hurt others. Or, he could have drunk poison and transferred the poison into Hitler (p. 318). He also could have used his powers of clairvoyance to warn Americans about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He could have also healed FDR of his polio and kept him from dying. An estimated 70 to 85 million deaths could have been spared if Yogananda had used his alleged yogic powers to pacify or remove Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and Tōjō Hideki in Japan.3 Yogananda also never taught his disciples to use their alleged powers to heal others. If they truly have healing powers, why don’t they walk through hospitals and cure cancer victims to demonstrate their benevolent power? Jesus taught that God created people for good works and helping others (Eph. 2:10). Thus, Yogananda’s teachings are not consistent with the Bible.
The devil can perform false signs and wonders. Even if Yogananda was able to perform signs and wonders, he admits that evil people can have superpowers. He recounted how an evil person named Afzal misused his alleged yogic powers to make jewelry in shops disappear and materialize again in a new place so that he could steal it (p. 202-205). The Bible also makes clear that the devil can create false supernatural signs (E.g., Gen. 3:1; Ex. 7:5; 7:17; 8:10; 8:22; 9:14, 16; 10:2; 12:12; Matt. 4:8; 6:23). Thus, the Bible warns people that the devil has real powers to deceive: “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them, you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams;’” (Dt. 13:1-3(a)). Thus, an alleged supernatural sign does not automatically signify God’s approval or His involvement.
The devil will sway even the elect with false signs during the end times. The Bible further warns that mankind’s ignorance of the devil’s powers to deceive will cause even the elect to be led astray during the end times: “24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.” (Matt. 24:24). “And then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ’; or, ‘Behold, He is there’; do not believe him; 22 for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” (Mark 13:22; 2 Thess. 2:9-10). “[F]or they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.” (Rev. 16:14; 13:2-4). “11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.” (Matt. 24:11). Thus, the Bible predicts the rise of people who will claim to perform various signs and wonders.
2. Are Yogananda’s claims regarding reincarnation that can be broken with “self-realization” consistent with the Bible or credible?
Yogananda’s claim regarding reincarnation: Yogananda alleged that people reincarnate in the same state of spiritual development as you were in your current life: “Don't depend on death to liberate you from your imperfections. You are exactly the same after death as you were before. Nothing changes; you only give up the body. If you are a thief or a liar or a cheater before death, you don't become an angel merely by dying. If such were possible, then let us all go and jump in the ocean now and become angels at once! Whatever you have made of yourself thus far, so will you be hereafter. And when you reincarnate, you will bring that same nature with you. To change, you have to make the effort. This world is the place to do it.” He alleged that the process requires a million years unless someone uses Kriya Yoga to shorten the process: “The technique, which you see is simple, embodies the art of quickening man’s evolution. Hindu scriptures teach that the incarnating ego requires a million years to obtain liberation from maya. This natural period is greatly shortened through Kriya Yoga.” (p. 115). “In three years, a Kriya Yogi can thus accomplish by intelligent self-effort the same result that Nature brings to pass in a million years.” (p. 267). This is even faster than the time that it took the Buddha to allegedly reach enlightenment and Nirvana. He alleges that reincarnation allows you to become like Jesus, the Son of God: “The truth is that man reincarnates on earth until he has consciously regained his status as a son of God.” (p. 192 fn).
Problem No. 1 with reincarnation – the incompatibility with the Bible. Yogananda attempted to build a hybrid Christian – Hindu religion around his belief that reincarnation is real and that his Kriya Yoga can shorten the process. Yet, in a footnote, he concedes that reincarnation was declared a heresy in 553 A.D. during the Second Council of Constantinople (p. 192 fn). But he still alleged that reincarnation fits within the teachings of the Bible. It doesn’t. The Bible clearly states that each person will die only once: “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,” (Heb. 9:27; Gen. 3:19). “What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah.” (Ps. 89:48). The Bible teaches that Jesus rose from the grave with the holes from His crucifixion still in this body (Jo. 20:27). If Jesus were reincarnated, He would have become a fetus without the holes from His crucifixion. Jesus instead taught that each dead person is “asleep” until His return. His believers will be the first to rise: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” (1 Thess. 4:16). If the dead were reincarnated, there would be no one to rise. According to the Bible, each person then faces judgment: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Jo. 4:17). Thus, the Bible is clear: you die and then face judgment. Reincarnation is therefore completely contradictory with the Bible.
Problem No. 2 with reincarnation – It would render Jesus a liar or a lunatic. Yogananda alleged that he had personally communicated with Jesus and implied that Jesus had endorsed his claims (p. 536-537). But Jesus taught that those stuck in outer darkness are stuck there. He taught about an evil man who was stuck in outer darkness and could not escape, something that would not be true if reincarnation were true: “22 Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31). Jesus repeatedly warned about the dangers of eternal judgment: “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out.” (Luke 13:28; Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). If reincarnation were true, Jesus lied about a post-death judgment. And, if He lied, He could not be God (Nu. 23:19). That would leave Him as a deranged lunatic. As C.S. Lewis once stated, Jesus was either “Lunatic, Liar, or Lord”. Yogananda and Jesus’ competing claims cannot both be true. Yogananda also cannot claim that Jesus was a great prophet and then reject Jesus’ teachings.
Problem No. 3 with reincarnation – the history behind the caste system. If Yogananda wanted to extol the virtues of Hindu reincarnation, he should have been direct and proclaimed that Hinduism is correct and Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are all wrong about a heaven and a hell. Yet, if Hindu teachings on reincarnation were true, its origins and purpose should hold up to moral scrutiny. And, it should be followed by independent religions across the globe as a universal truth. But the only major religions to hold to this belief all arose from the Indian subcontinent. Reincarnation began as a belief system with Hinduism in the Vedas, with four books Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva. It later spread within the Indian subcontinent to include Jainism, Buddhism, and then Sikhism. The reason for the lack of a reincarnation across other major religions throughout the world is that reincarnation was either introduced or repurposed by invaders into the Indian subcontinent who used it as a system of control. Under the “Aryan invasion hypothesis”, an influx of men from the steppe of Central Asia swept into India around 3,500 years ago and transformed the local population. There is evidence of this in the transformation of the Sanskrit language: “The new data confirm a long-held but controversial theory that Sanskrit, the ancient language of Northern India, emerged from an earlier language spoken by an influx of people from Central Asia during the Bronze Age.”4 These lighter skinned “Aryans” conquered the indigenous peoples of India. They emerged at the top of the reincarnation system. Even Yogananda conceded that “The ancient name for India is Aryavarta, literally, ‘abode of the Aryans.’ The Sanskrit root of arya is ‘worthy, holy, noble.’” (p. 376 fn) The swastika also has its origin in Hinduism before the Nazi’s adopted and changed its meaning. The Aryan system of reincarnation taught the doctrine of karma. This alleged law of cause and effect teaches that what a person does in their current life will have an effect in the next life. According to Hindu beliefs, the process of birth and rebirth is also referred to as the transmigration of souls. Hinduism teaches that this process is endless until one reaches “moksha” or liberation or release from this process. Hinduism further teaches that “moksha” is achieved when a person discovers that their eternal core or “atman” is one with what is referred to as the “Absolute reality” of the “brahman”. This included following the “Eightfold Path”, which includes: (1) yama, moral conduct, (2) niyama, religious observances, (3) asana, right spinal posture during mediation, (4) pranayama, control of subtle life currents, (5) pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses from eternal objects; (6) dharana, concentration, (7) dhyana, mediation, and (8) samadhi, superconscious experience. (p. 253, 379 fn). At this point, a person achieves “samsara” and escapes the process of death and rebirth. The person becomes united with brahman like a drop of water rejoining the ocean (p. 164). (In contrast, Buddhism teaches that a person can follow the Eightfold Path to Enlightenment to reach “Nirvana”, when the person’s essence or soul ceases to exist.) Hindus are taught that the evolution allows them to progress through different castes. The castes progress from: (1) “shudras”, who were laborers; (2) “vaishyas”, who were merchants or landowners; (3) “kshatriyas”, who were warriors or rulers; and (4) “brahmins”, who were teachers, scholars or priests (p. 432). To be fair, Yogananda disputed the “Aryan invasion hypothesis” (p. 534 fn). Yet, even today, the lowest caste system consists of the darkest skinned peoples. They are called the “untouchables.” While creating his new hybrid Hindu-Christian religion, Yogananda could have rejected the origins of reincarnation and proclaimed that he was creating a new and improved religion. Indeed, Buddha did exactly this. He rejected the authority of the Vedas and the caste system of Hinduism. For this reason, Buddhism exploded throughout Asia into places like China, Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia when Hinduism never left India. Most Western converts to yoga also pursue Buddhism, not Hinduism. Yogananda rejected Buddha’s belief in a better way and instead openly embraced the caste system: “the Brahmins have uniquely preserved, from dim antiquity, the original purity of the Vedas.” (p. 84). He further defended the caste system for having created a survivable pure Indian “race”: “The caste system of India is credited by her most profound thinkers with being the check or preventive against license that has preserved the purity of the race and brought it safely through millenniums or vicissitudes, though many other ancient races vanished completely.” (p. 433fn) (italics added). He even compared those who tried to marry between castes as being like “mules” that cannot reproduce. He added that “Artificial species are eventually exterminated.” (p. 433fn). Instead of rejecting this prejudice, he alleges that a true swamis or guru discards the “prejudices of caste. . .” (p. 249). In other words, they ignore caste prejudice around them, and they tolerate it in society. But if the caste system is inherently based upon racial prejudice, why should any person today follow it? The Bible does not condone racism or castes. Indeed, Moses married a black Ethiopian woman. God then struck his sister Mariam with leprosy when she gossiped against his marriage (Nu. 12:1-11).
Problem No. 4 with reincarnation – a person in a higher caste is not morally superior. The Aryan caste system implied that being a ruler was morally and spiritually superior to a laborer. Yet, intuitively, there is no truth to this. Indeed, the Bible teaches the exact opposite: “But the greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matt. 23:11). “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mk. 8:36). Jesus also came to set free those who were oppressed by society (Luke 4:18). The Biblical view is also supported by history. In most societies, the most corrupt individuals are typically those with the most power. A 19th century British politician named Lord Acton once famously said that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Thus, the Hindu caste system is not morally superior or worth following.
Problem No. 5 with reincarnation – the missing enlightened beings. As an additional problem, there is also no evidence of a spiritually evolved group of people on the Earth. If reincarnation were true, there should millions of spiritually evolved people walking amongst the 7.8 billion people on Earth. But where are these people? Where can we find a single example of a person with a sinless life? If reincarnation were true and we still cannot see these spiritually evolved people after humans living for thousands of years on the planet, it is a depressing religion with little hope that any will reach salvation.
Problem No. 6 with reincarnation – the lack of a stagnant population. When reincarnation was introduced into the Indian subcontinent, there was a stable population. The Hindu god Brahma was like an alleged clockmaker, who merely set things in motion. The concept of reincarnation could be plausible with a stable population. In the year 5,000 B.C, there were a stable 5,000,000 people on Earth. Yet, by the year 500 B.C., there were 100,000,000 people. By 1600 A.D., there were an estimated 500,000,000 people. Technology then allowed the world’s population to explode. By approximately 1804 A.D., the world reached an estimated 1 billion people. In 1900 A.D., there were an estimated 1.6 billion people.5 As of 2020 A.D., the Earth’s population reached an estimated 7.8 million people. By 2060 A.D., it is estimated that there will be more than 10,151,000,000 people on Earth.6 Reincarnation would not explain this explosive population growth. If everyone has a soul, a cosmic being needs to be constantly creating and introducing these new souls on Earth. For Buddhists, their problem is even worse. They don’t believe in God. Thus, their reincarnation beliefs offer no explanation for the explosion of new souls on Earth.
Problem No. 7– a finite universe and lack of time to reach samsara. One of Hinduism’s nine core beliefs is that the universe goes through endless cycles: “Hindus believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.”7 As a related point, “Hindu scriptures teach that the incarnating ego requires a million years to obtain liberation from maya.” (Yogananda p. 115) (underscore added). But scientific discoveries in the 1990s have ruled out the possibility of the existence of sufficient mass within the universe for the force of gravity to cause the universe to collapse upon itself again and create a new big bang. Measurements of the existence of dark matter in the universe now establish that the universe will not collapse at all. Rather, one day it will suffer a “heat death” in which the energy will dissipate and the temperature throughout the universe will reach a constant identical temperature.8 The discovery that the universe will one day have an end is consistent with the beliefs of Christians. Indeed, Christians are taught that the arrival of people with false signs and wonders will signal that the end is near: “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18). The Earth has gone through five prior mass extinction events. Many scientists believe that the Earth is now going through a sixth mass extinction event and will soon become uninhabitable in many areas due to runaway greenhouse gasses. Thus, human civilization is unlikely to have an extra million years on Earth for 7.8 billion people to reach samsara. The “last hour” stated in 1 John 2:18 refers to God’s time, not human time. Thus, there could still be hundreds of years left. But the Bible is clear that there will be an end. What happens to the billions of souls who fail to reach samsara? Hinduism and Buddhism have no answer to this. But the Bible answers this question. “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Ro. 14:12).
3. Are Yogananda’s claims regarding persons being subjected to forces from astrology credible or consistent with the Bible?
Paramahansa Yogananda’s claim about astrology. Although astrology is not Yogananda’s central argument, he devotes an entire chapter to the subject. For most who follow Hinduism, astrology is widely used. Indeed, most modern day Hindu marriages are arranged using the caste system and astrology. Thus, Yogananda taught that self-realization could also help to protect people from the influences of astrology: “Astrology is the study of man’s response to planetary stimuli. The stars have no conscious benevolence or animosity; they merely send forth positive and negative radiations. Of themselves, these do not help or harm humanity, but offer a lawful channel for the outward operation of cause-effect equilibriums which each man has set into motion in the past. A child is born on that day and at that hour when the celestial rays are in mathematical harmony with his individual karma. His horoscope is a challenging portrait, revealing his unalterable past and its probable future results. But the natal chart can be rightly interpreted only by men of intuitive wisdom: these are few.” (p. 182) Yogananda further alleged “Electrical and magnetic radiations are ceaselessly circulated in the universe; they affect man’s body for good and ill.” (p. 183). Yogananda’s teaching on Kriya Yoga provides the added alleged benefit of protecting from the forces of astrology.
Paramahansa Yogananda’s claims of healing from his astrology-related devices. Yogananda taught that devices exist to protect against astrological forces. These devices could also lead to healings. For example, his master allegedly predicted in advance that he would have liver problems for six months because of bad astrological influences. Yet, according to Yogananda, a special “astrological armlet”, made of pure metals that emitted an “astral light” from flawless jewels (not less than two carats) would limit his pain to 24 days (p. 184). On another occasion, he alleged that his master predicted in advance that a doctor would die in a short time unless he wore “an astrological bangle.” (p. 193). The doctor allegedly lived six extra months after he consented to wearing this astrology device (p. 194-195). Yogananda also used a pearl to allegedly heal a woman’s paralyzed legs: “Pearls and other jewels as well as metals and plants, applied directly to the human skin, exercise an electromagnetic influence over physical cells.” (p. 261 fn).
The Bible condemns those who practice astrology. The Bible defines astrology as a sin. Thus, the Jewish King Manasseh was called evil because he, among other things, practiced astrology (2 Chr. 33:3; 2 Kgs. 21:3). In contrast, King Josiah was celebrated for destroying the practice of astrology that Manasseh introduced (2 Chr. 34:3-7; 2 Kgs. 23:4-14). The Bible even calls those who rely upon astrology fools: “You are wearied with your many counsels; let now the astrologers, those who prophesy by the stars, those who predict by the new moons, stand up and save you from what will come upon you.” (Is. 47:13). Thus, nothing about astrology is consistent with the Bible. Yogananda therefore cannot allege that Jesus endorsed his views on astrology.
Yogananda’s claims regarding astrology are also not credible. In addition to being condemned in the Bible, Yogananda’s beliefs regarding astrology are not credible. First, none of the alleged influences from constellations can be replicated, studied or observed by science. Second, the claims of how astrology works make no sense. If the planets influence us, gravity and distances should matter. But astrology claims that it doesn’t matter. Astrology was developed before mankind understood the rotation of the planets. We now know that Mars is sometimes the other side of the sun. At other times, it is on the same side as the Earth. Yet, astrologists are forced to allege that the astrological effects on us remain the same. As another example, the stars in the constellations used by astrologers are thousands of light-years apart. How do they affect us from that distance? And, if distances are irrelevant for the forces of astrology to work, why aren’t we affected by bigger forces like dark matter, other galaxies, quasars, nebulae, and black-holes? How also does astrology account for the changing definitions of our planets? In 1930, Pluto was identified and became a planet. Yet, in 2006, it was demoted to a “dwarf planet”. Also, why is the moment of birth important for astrology? Why isn’t it the moment of conception that matters? How does the woman’s uterus protect the fetus from the astrological influences of the planets and stars? Astrology simply makes no sense.
Yogananda’s claims regarding astrology are also dangerous. If people truly followed Yogananda’s medical advice, cancer victims might forgo cancer treatments for “astrological armlets”, crystals, and other similar devices. If followed, his false medical claims could result in preventable deaths. If Yogananda made unproven medical claims that are dangerous, why should his other claims be trusted?
A prophet of God speaks the truth all the time. In the law, juries are told that they may ignore a witness's claims if any part of the testimony is false: “if you decide that a witness did not tell the truth about something important, you may choose not to believe anything that witness said.” (CACA Witnesses No. 5003). Jesus never made any claims that can be impeached through modern science. But Yogananda did. If his claims regarding astrology are not credible, why should his other claims be given any weight?
4. Are Yogananda’s claims regarding salvation through self-perfection consistent with the Bible, Hinduism, or credible?
Yogananda’s claim to offer a path leading to spiritual perfection: Yogananda alleged that he offered a path to spiritual self-perfection. “I myself consider Kriya [Yoga] the most effective devise of salvation through self-effort ever to be evolved in man’s search for the Infinite.” (p. 44) (italics added). “Immortal words from the Bhagavad Gita rose to my lips in my reply: ‘Even he with the worst karma who ceaselessly meditates on Me quickly loses the effects of his past bad actions. Becoming a high-souled being, he soon attains perennial peace.”’ (pgs. 39-40). “Only adequate enlargement of consciousness by yoga practice and devotional bhakti can prepare one to absorb the liberating shock of omnipresence. The divine experience comes with natural inevitability to the sincere devotee.” (p. 164). “By a number of means – by prayer, by will power, by yoga mediation, by consultation with saints, by use of astrological nagles – the adverse effects of past wrongs can be minimized or nullified.” (p. 183). “A very strong mind, however, can transcend all physical difficulties and attain God-realization.” (p. 229). “Self-realization is the knowing in all parts of body, mind, and soul that you are now in possession of the kingdom of God; that you do not have to pray that it come to you; that God’s omnipresence is your omnipresence; and that all that you need to do is improve your knowing.” A woman can further speed up her process if she dies before her husband “A Hindu wife believes it is a sign of spiritual advancement if she dies before her husband, as proof of her loyal service to him, or ‘dying in harness.’” (p. 236 fn).
Problem No. 1 – The Bible’s claim that God does not know any sinless people. Jesus proclaimed through His Word that there He does not know of a single sinless person: “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.” (Ecc. 7:20; Rom. 3:23). “When they sin against You (for there is no man who does not sin) . . .” (1 Kgs. 8:46). If there were a secret evolved group of perfect humans, Jesus somehow did not know of them. But this would raise questions as to whether He is God. Again, Yogananda cannot claim that Jesus’ teachings and his teachings are similar.
Problem No. 2 – The Bible’s claim that salvation cannot be earned. The Bible is also clear that you cannot earn your salvation through good works or by perfecting yourself: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;” (Eph. 2:8). “But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” (Acts 15:11). “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;” (Ro. 3:24). Only through Jesus’ free gift can you hope to escape the wages of your sins (Ro. 6:23). If you could be saved based upon your works or self-perfection acts, “then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:21). Again, Yogananda’s teachings directly contradict the central truth revealed in the Bible.
Problem No. 3 – The Bible’s claim that God abhors self-righteous persons. Without Christ, God refers to a person’s works or attempts to be righteous before Him as “filthy rags” “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Is. 64:6). Believing that you have achieved self-perfection is a form of pride. God states that He abhors people who approach Him in pride, believing that they are justified by their pious acts or their attempts to be righteous: “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; assuredly, he will not be unpunished.” (Prov. 16:5). “The proud look of man will be abased and the loftiness of man will be humbled, and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day . . ..” (Is. 2:11; 13:11). “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” (Prov. 16:18). “A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor.” (Prov. 29:23). “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matt. 23:12; Lk. 14:11; Job 22:29). “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” (Jam. 4:6). The Bible further warns not to turn to human leaders for your deliverance. “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.” (Ps. 146:3; 60:11). All leaders sin (Ro. 3:23). Thus, the Bible makes clear that you should only place your hope in Jesus (1 Tim. 6:17). Again, Yogananda’s teachings directly contradict central truths revealed in the Bible.
Problem No. 4 – The missing spiritually evolved people. Anthropologists claim that humans have been on the planet by some estimates for approximately 200,000 years. As stated in a prior section, if Yogananda’s teachings were true, there should be spiritually evolved people without sin or almost without sin all around us. But where are these people? Why is every child born with selfish desires? Yogananda’s teachings are either not true, or they are only available to such an infinitely small group of people that they have lived undetected by society. The former conclusion raises questions regarding Yogananda’s credibility. The later conclusion presents a bleak hope for all mankind.
Problem No. 5 – Yogananda’s claims are not consistent with Hinduism. As mentioned above, the first two parts of the Hindu “Eightfold Path” path require “yama” or moral conduct and “niyama” or religious observances. Mediation is number three on the list (p. 253, 379 fn). Yet, Yogananda never says that Hindu religious observances are necessary. His other writings mention the Eightfold Path but never claim that his followers have to follow them. Apparently, only his Kriya Yoga meditation is necessary. But if the Brahmins have uniquely preserved, from dim antiquity, the original purity of the Vedas (p. 84),” why do his followers get to skip worshiping Hindu gods? Some of the festivals for worshiping the pantheon of Hindu gods include: Makar Sankranti, Shivratri, Holi, Onam, Ganesh Chaturthi, Dussehra, and Diwali. A devout Hindu would claim that observing these festivals are necessary for worshiping the Hindu gods. Thus, a devout Hindu would claim that Yogananda’s followers are not proper Hindus.
Problem No. 6 – Yogananda’s unwillingness to share the details of his salvation method. Yogananda has allegedly found a short-cut to salvation that is unknown to Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians with his new religion. According to Yogananda, his technique regarding Kriya Yoga will allow you to be “freed from karma or the lawful chain of cause-effect equilibriums.” (p. 263). What then must a person do to obtain this result? Yogananda won’t say. You can only learn it if you pay money to join his church: “Because of certain ancient yogic injunctions, I may not give a full explanation of Kriya Yoga in a book intended for the general public. The actual technique should be learned from an authorized Kriyaban (Kriya Yogi) of Self-Realization Fellowship (Yogoda Satsanga Society of India).” (p. 263). “Self-Realization Fellowship and Yogoda Satsanga Society of India Kriya Yoga initiates are strictly required to sign a pledge that they will not reveal the Kriya technique to others.” (p. 351 fn). What are these “yogic injunctions”? And why aren’t they also taught in Hinduism? Why didn’t the alleged greatest meditation master in history, the Buddha, teach them? And why didn’t Buddha develop superpowers like Yogananda just before he became enlightened and reached Nirvana? Was Yogananda greater than the Buddha with his meditation techniques? Also, if Yogananda holds a unique path to quick salvation, why not freely give it to anyone? The Hindu Vedas are publicly available. Buddha’s meditation steps are also freely available. Why shouldn’t Yogananda’s disciples teach poor African villagers the opportunity to obtain enlightenment if they lack a local Self-Realization Fellowship or the means to travel to one? In contrast, the Bible freely offers the path to salvation through Jesus: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).
Problem No. 7 – Why does oxygen and sensory deprivation lead to perfection? While Yogananda does not publish his self-realization technique, former students have done so online. One former student writes: “One of the early practices that the student is taught is the Hong-Sau meditation technique, with which the student repeats a mantra and is encouraged to decrease their oxygen intake with the ideal state to be obtained being breathlessness. Yogananda dispels the fears of the practitioner by claiming that the prana (life force energy) will directly feed the cells of the body, forgoing the need for oxygen. Induced oxygen deprivation is a trance induction technique which short-circuits the parietal lobe (the part of the brain which calculates the boundaries of your body in relation to its environment). This can cause hallucinations and feelings of "oneness" which are taught to be signs of spiritual progress, but are actually signs of a malfunctioning brain. The real danger of such trance induction is that one’s critical thinking faculties and reality testing abilities are diminished, allowing the cult’s ideology and programming to be more deeply ingrained. The Aum Meditation technique is then taught after Hong Sau in which sensory deprivation is used. The eyelids and ears are held tightly sealed with the fingers while chanting a mantra and trying to listen to a mystical vibratory sound. Sensory deprivation is also a trance induction technique with the same consequences as described above in regard to diminishing critical thinking and reality testing abilities. With all the meditation techniques, the symbol of the cult is visualized constantly and is taught to be considered as the practitioner’s ‘third eye’. This symbol represents the teachings of the cult and programs it into the practitioner’s minds while they practice sensory and oxygen deprivation techniques that break down one's critical thinking and reality testing capacities. Part of the ideology of the cult which is programmed into the practitioners is that the Guru (Yogananda) is a direct representative of God sent to help them to attain spiritual enlightenment. And if the disciple abandons the Guru, they are actually abandoning the help of God. This is a simple, yet effective tactic to maintain the membership of the cult through fear and guilt.” In summary, oxygen and sensory deprivation have nothing to do with self-perfection. Instead, as Yogananda concedes, it is about awakening “occult’ centers: “Awakening of the occult cerebrospinal centers (chakras, astral lotuses) is the goal of the yogi.” (p. 178 fn).
5. Are Yogananda’s claims regarding whether God will judge sin consistent with the Bible, Hinduism, or credible?
Yogananda’ claim that it is a sin to call yourself a sinner: Yogananda’s 550-page autobiography does not discuss whether people are sinners. Nor does he ever discuss whether there is a moral code of conduct that believers must live by. The SRF, however, has published Yogananda's views about sin. He alleged “The greatest sin is to call yourself a sinner. You are a child of God. Though gold has been covered with mud for centuries, it remains gold. So the pure ‘gold’ of the soul can be covered over with the mud of delusion for eons, but in its true nature it remains forever undefiled.” He further alleged that God doesn’t mind your “imperfections,”: “Never count your faults. Just see that your love for God is deeply sincere. For God doesn't mind your imperfections: He minds your indifference.” (italics added).9
Problem No. 1 – Jesus came to Earth to call for repentance for Him to forgive sins. In contrast to Yogananda, Jesus began His public ministry with a call to repentance. “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”’ (Matt. 4:17). Jesus came “saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”’ (Mk. 1:15). His disciples began their ministry with a call to repentance: “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”’ (Acts 2:38). If you say that you are without sin, the Bible says that the truth is not in you (1 Jo. 1:8). Yet, if you confess your sins, Jesus promises to forgive your sins: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jo. 1:9). If Yogananda is correct that “The greatest sin is to call yourself a sinner” then Jesus invited people to commit the greatest sin. Simply put, you cannot believe Jesus was a mere prophet or a good teacher and then claim that Jesus did not come to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sin.
Problem No. 2- The God of the Bible judges sin because He is holy and just. The God of the Bible is a God of love: “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 Jo. 4:8). Yet, because God is just, the Bible reveals that He will also judge unrepentant sin: “Justice and judgment [are] the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.” (Psalm 89:14). “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” (Exc. 12:14). “But the LORD abides forever; He has established His throne for judgment, and He will judge the world in righteousness; He will execute judgment for the peoples with equity.” (Psalm 9:7-8). “The LORD has made Himself known; He has executed judgment. In the work of his own hands the wicked is snared.” (Psalm 9:16.) “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son . . .. ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has passed out of death into life. and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”’ (John 5:24-29; Deut. 32:4). “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,” (Rom. 2:5). “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” (Rom 14:10). “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment”; (2 Peter 2:4). “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch [the Messiah], and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.” (Jer. 23:5). God is also called a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). All sin is burned away in His presence because He is holy. Again, Yogananda cannot claim that his religion is consistent with the Bible.
Problem No. 3- The Bible calls those who teach others to disregard sin false prophets. The Bible also warns that a false prophet minimizes the seriousness of sin: “Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions; and they have not exposed your iniquity so as to restore you from captivity,...” (Lam. 2:14; Jer. 8:11; 14:13-14; 20:6; 28:15; 29:8; Is. 30:10; 1 Thess. 5:3). Thus, the God of the Bible would call Yogananda a false prophet for teaching others that “The greatest sin is to call yourself a sinner.”
Problem No. 4 - Yogananda’s claims are also not consistent with any religion. Hindus and Buddhists are also not free to sin. Their systems penalize a person with sin in the form of bad Karma and a negative effect on a person’s next reincarnation. If a Hindu or a Buddhist murders someone, rapes someone, or steals from others, they will be penalized in the next life. For Hindus, they might become a dark skinned untouchable. Thus, Yogananda conceded that: “Nonspiritual desires are thus the chain that binds man to the reincarnation wheel.” (p. 345 fn). The first test of the Hindu “Eightfold Path” path to self-perfection therefore requires “yama” or moral conduct (p. 253, 379 fn). Buddha had his own eightfold path. Number four is “using ethical conduct to manifest compassion”. Thus, Yogananda’s claim that “The greatest sin is to call yourself a sinner” is not consistent with Hinduism or Buddhism. Yogananda also cannot claim that the Bible’s standards of moral conduct. The First Commandment expressly prohibits the worship of other gods, which includes Hindu gods (Ex. 20:3). The Second Commandment expressly prohibits the use of idols for worship, which includes Hindu idols (Ex. 20:4).
Problem No. 5 – a just society requires clear definitions of sin. If Yogananda’s teaching contradicts the Bible, Buddha, and the Hindu Vedas, how does Yogananda defend himself? He alleged that you can ignore what is written in all the holy books: “The great guru [Lahiri Mahasaya] taught his disciples to avoid theoretical discussions of the scriptures.” (p. 362) “Clear your mind of dogmatic theological debris; let in the fresh, healing waters of direct perception. Attune yourself to the active inner Guidance; the Divine Voice has the answer to every dilemma of life.” (p. 362). Yogananda alleged the true basis of religion is “intuitive experience”: “The true basis of religion is not belief, but intuitive experience. Intuition is the soul’s power of knowing God.”10 In other words, truth is whatever feels right to you. But Hitler’s inner voice told him to murder six million Jews. And the Third Reich supported him. What is to prevent another dictator from justifying similar atrocities? In the Bible, God declared that some of the most wicked things in Israel happened when “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jdg. 17:6). Paul proclaimed “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law;” (Ro. 7:7). Thus, mankind needs to defined rules for what is right and wrong.
Problem No. 6 – A just society requires the judgment of wrongs. In any society, people have inherent notions of justice. These inherent notions of justice require that those who commit wrongs be held accountable for what they have done. In circumstances where law and order break down, there is typically anarchy, riots, and chaos. Just as we would demand justice in a civil society, God is also called a God of “justice”. He executes judgment on those who have done bad things. If a society without judgment for wrongdoers is a hell on Earth, why should heaven be free of all judgment of sin? Alternatively, if a non-believer hates God’s rules for heaven, why would that person want to spend eternity there. Worshiping a God you don’t believe in would be miserable.
Problem No. 7 – Yogananda was a sinner who lived a hypocritical life. Yogananda claimed to be celibate and taught others to do so. Yet, before his death in 1952, Yogananda was accused of various types of sexual misconduct. This included holding a harem of young women in a dorm next to his room.11 Why should people follow a leader who breaks his own rules and preys upon female followers? The Bible declares that a false prophet is secretly motivated by self-interest (Matt. 7:15; 2 Pet. 2:1-3, 13-15, 19; Jer. 23:26). If he claimed to be following Biblical standards, he would know that God’s leaders can have only one wife: “An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,” (1 Tim. 3:2). Moreover, the Bible calls it a sin to make a vow to God (in this case celibacy) and then repeatedly break it: “When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the LORD your God will surely require it of you.” (Dt. 23:21). Thus, Yogananda was a sinner and a hypocrite. In contrast, Jesus never sinned: “You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.” (1 Jo. 3:5).
6. Are Yogananda’s claims regarding Jesus consistent with the Bible or credible?
Yogananda made several claims about Jesus’ identity. But they are all contradicted by the Bible.
Was Jesus part of the triune God? The Bible teaches that God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit form the triune God. On multiple occasions, the Bible reveals that they are the only one triune God: “This means everlasting life, there taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth Jesus Christ. (Jo. 17:3). “We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.” (1 Cor. 8:4). “[F]or there is one God. . . . “ (1 Tim. 2:5). “See now I, I am He, and there is no god besides me.” (Dt. 32:39). “I am the First and I am the Last; apart from me there is no God.” (Is. 44:6). “Is there any god besides me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none.” (Is. 44:8). “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no God.” (Is. 45:5). “Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me.” (Is. 43:10). But Yogananda claims that Bible has it wrong. He alleges that “Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, [are] the Eternal Trinity . . .” (p. 176, 328). While many Hindus allege that their gods have taken different forms, Yogananda denies that Jesus was God.
Was Jesus the only “Son of God”? The Bible reveals that Jesus was the only one “Son of God.” He died to give mankind eternal life: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). “‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”’ (Luke 3:22). “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40). In the Bible, the term “son of God” is used exclusively for the Messiah. Thus, Jesus was the only Messiah. But Yogananda again claims that Christians again have it wrong. He denied that there was one “Son of God”: “A form of spiritual cowardice leads many worldly people to believe comfortably that only one man was the Son of God.” (p. 192, fn). He alleged that you can be a “son of God”, like the person who is allegedly immortal: “Whoever realizes himself as a son of God, even as Babaji has done, can reach any goal by the infinite powers hidden within him . . .even so, the lowliest mortal is a powerhouse of divinity.” (p. 347). The Bible makes clear, however, that you only have the right to be called a child of God when you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior: “But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on His name:” (John 1:12). Until you accept Jesus Christ as both your Lord and Savior, the Bible further calls you an enemy against God: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Rom. 5:12; Col. 1:21). Thus, Yogananda’s teachings directly contradict the Bible.
Was Jesus the light of the world? Jesus revealed that He is light of the world: “Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (Jo. 8:12). He said that mankind could not see His light because it loves darkness: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” (Jo. 3:19). But Yogananda alleged that the true light of God was within him: “I am a spark from the Infinite. I am not flesh and bones. I am light.”12 He did not claim that you had to go through Jesus to find it. Again, his teachings directly contradict the Bible.
Why did Jesus die on the cross? The Bible teaches that Jesus died on the cross for everyone’s sins: “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 Jo. 2:2). “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 Jo. 4:10). Yogananda again alleged that Christians got it wrong. He alleged that Jesus died on the cross merely to absorb the bad karma of His disciples. This then allegedly allowed only His disciples to receive the Holy Spirit: “Jesus signified himself as a ransom for the sins of many. With his divine powers, Christ could never have been subjected to death by crucifixion if he had not willingly cooperated with the subtle cosmic law of cause and effect. He thus took on himself the consequences of others’ karma, especially that of his disciples. In this manner they were highly purified and made fit to receive the omnipresent consciousness or Holy Ghost that later descended upon them.” (p. 228). “Only great gurus are able to assume the karma of disciples.” (p. 230). Yet, if Yogananda’s other claims about how a master absorbs bad karma were true, Jesus died needlessly on the cross. According to Yogananda, a true yoga master can absorb another person’s bad karma without death or physical injury to the master (p. 227-228). Thus, Jesus allegedly lacked the proper training to correctly absorb the disciples’ bad karma. In the alternative, if Jesus absorbed the bad karma of anyone who believes in Him and freed them from reincarnation, there is no need to follow any of Yogananda’s teachings.
Was John the Baptist previously Christ? Jesus revealed Himself to be God (John 8:58). He made everything in the universe: “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created through Him and for Him.” (Col. 1:16). Yogananda again alleged that Christians got it wrong. He alleged that John the Baptist was previously Christ: “I am convinced that John the Baptist was, in past lives, the guru of Christ.” (p. 356). But this means that John the Baptist became the Messiah before Jesus did. Yet, John the Baptist’s powers somehow faded when Jesus arrived. He could not know if Jesus was now the replacement Messiah. Thus, he had to send messengers to ask if Jesus was the Messiah (Luke 7:20). Jesus in turn sent messengers to rebuke John the Baptist for asking this question (Luke 7:22). John the Baptist also conceded that he was a sinner who was not worthy to untie the Messiah’s shoes (Jo. 1:27). Yet, how could John previously be the “Christ” and not know that Jesus was now the Christ? Yogananda’s claims about Jesus and John the Baptist simply make no sense.
Was Jesus previously Elisha? Yogananda also alleged that “Numerous passages in the Bible imply that John and Jesus in their last incarnations were, respectively, Elijah and his disciple Elisha.” (p. 356). Yet, Elijah was Elisha’s teacher. Elijah was raptured into heaven without dying (2 Kings 2:11). Elisha died a regular death. This would mean that John the Baptist was greater than Jesus! Indeed, Yogananda claims that Elijah was Jesus’ “guru” who appeared in a vision: “When Christ was transfigured on the mount it was his guru Elias [Elijah], with Moses, that he saw.” (p. 357). “The timeless bond of guru and disciple that existed between John and Jesus was present also for Babaki and Lahiri Mahasaya.” (p. 357). Yogananda makes these claims even though he concedes that John the Baptist specifically denied that he was Elijah (p. 357). And if John the Baptist was previously Christ (p. 356), why did he lose his status as the Messiah to Jesus? Yogananda’s claims about Jesus are internally inconsistent and again make no sense.
According to Yogananda, Jesus was even not the greatest prophet. According to Yogananda, there were greater prophets than Jesus: “Babaji is among the greatest of avatars . . .” (p. 369). As another example, he claims that “Lahiri Mahasaya ranks among the saviors of mankind.” (p. 369). “Great prophets like Christ and Krishna come to earth for a specific and secular purpose; they depart as soon as it is accomplished. Other avatars, like Babaji, undertake work that is concerned more with the slow evolutionary progress of man during the centuries . . .” (p. 334). “There, in lotus posture, sat the supreme Babaji. I knelt on the shining floor at his feet.” (p. 348). Thus, Yogananda implies that Babaji and Lahiri Mahasaya have greater truths to offer than Jesus.
Under Yogananda’s view, Jesus does not even qualify as master. According to Yogananda, a yogic master is someone who follows his breathless state of mediation: “Proof that one is a master, however, is supplied only by the ability to enter at will the breathless state (sabikalpa samadhi) and by attainment of immutable bliss (nirbikalpa samadhi).” (p. 230). But Jesus never did this, and He never once taught His disciples to do these things. Instead, He only taught believers only to pray and fast (Mk. 9:28-29). Jesus taught His disciples to find strength in Him. “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Cor. 12:9). Thus, under Yogananda’s definition, Jesus would not even qualify as a true yogic master.
Why did Jesus come to Earth? If Jesus did not come to die for our sins, why did He come to Earth? Yogananda alleged that “He [Jesus] was one of the siddhas (perfect beings) who have cemented India against the erosion of time.” (p. 316). But if Yogananda’s other claims were true, Jesus did not switch from being a normal human, Elisha, to Jesus Christ until the first century. And if he “cemented India against the erosion of time”, why aren’t there any Hindu temples honoring Him? Likewise, why aren’t there Hindu festivals that honor Him for any contribution to India? Yogananda also alleged that “Jesus . . .passed through each event not for himself, not from any Karmic compulsion, but solely for the upliftment of reflective human beings.” (p. 337) (italics added). But Jesus came to tell people to repent and to warn them of eternal judgment. That would not be very uplifting, especially if God doesn’t judge sins.
7. What are the consequences whether Yogananda or Jesus are correct?
The consequences of ignoring Yogananda if he is correct. If Yogananda is correct and you ignore him, Jesus can (under Yogananda’s writings) still absorb all your bad karma if you are one of His disciples: “Jesus . . . took on himself the consequences of others’ karma, especially that of his disciples.” (p. 228). Thus, a disciple of Jesus can ignore everything else Yogananda says with no consequence to them. Or, if Yogananda was wrong about Jesus taking on your bad karma, you at worst have many lives over a million years, assuming Earth is habitable that long. For some, that might be fun. Or, if you are bad, you might allegedly become what Hindus describe as a dark skinned “untouchable”. Yogananda’s teachings further imply that we should be able to evaluate the spiritual progress of both yourself and the people around you by looking at the color of their skin. His teaching further suggests the superiority of lighter skinned races. But God is not a racist, and He would never support those who teach these views.
The consequences of ignoring Jesus if He is correct. In contrast, the stakes are much higher if Jesus is correct and you ignore His truths. Hell was originally created for the devil and his angels. “ . . the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;” (Matt. 25:41). But Jesus revealed that there is also a terrible place that exists for sinners: “but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 8:12; 25:30; 22:13). Jesus revealed that all must pass through Him to be saved: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.’” (Jo. 14:6). “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” (Jo. 10:9). “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 10:33). “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38). “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). He does not want any to perish: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9). He offers salvation by taking your sins. But you must repent and confess Him as Lord and Savior (Jo. 3:16). Jesus further warns of a terrible judgment that awaits for those (like Yogananda) who add to His Word with their own texts or take away parts of His Word (as Yogananda does by removing many teachings throughout the Bible): “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” (Rev. 22:18-19).
“The Impossibility of a Bouncing Universe,” Nature, 302 (1983): 505-07; Bludman, “Thermodynamics and the End of a Closed Universe,” Nature, 308 (1983): 319-22.↩︎