Christianity is fundamental to Yogananda’s mission
Yogananda said he came to bring the original teachings of Jesus Christ and the original teachings of Krishna and to show the unity between them. He put Christ at the center of the SRF altar, he named Christ first in the line of gurus, and he said it was Christ himself who appeared to Babaji and asked that this teaching of Self-realization be sent to the West. Yogananda wrote an extensive commentary on the Christian Bible. In his other writings and his public lectures he frequently referred to Jesus and his teachings. Yogananda went so far as to call his mission the “Second Coming of Christ.”
In Autobiography of a Yogi (first edition) he says, “The Mahavatar [Babaji] is in constant communion with Christ; together they send out vibrations of redemption, and have planned the spiritual technique of salvation for this age.” For years the “Lotus Cross” has been an SRF symbol. It is still included in SRF’s 2001 catalog of products, showing “the spiritual link between Jesus Christ and the Self-Realization Fellowship line of Gurus.”
Yogananda wanted to declare his relationship to Jesus
In many photographs of Yogananda in his monastic garb he is wearing a Christian cross. He gave crosses to his disciples as gifts, including the amethyst one Rajarsi wore. Rajarsi so loved that cross, he held it in his hands for hours at a time. Yogananda’s use of the cross was just one more very public way of declaring his relationship to Jesus and the relationship of Self-realization as a whole to Christianity.
One of the great benefits of this path is that disciples don’t have to rely on intermediaries to tell us about our guru. We have photographs, movies, recordings of his voice; he was a poet, a writer, a musician. SRF has only released a portion of these materials, but nonetheless we have at least some direct access to what the guru left behind.
Now SRF has begun to tamper with the image he left us, and in such a way that future generations won’t even know that what they are getting is SRF’s image of Yogananda—and Rajarsi—rather than Yogananda and his spiritual successor as they actually were.
At the Lake Shrine dedication, Yogananda wore a gold cross
In SRF’s 1986 edition of The Divine Romance, on page 13, there is a picture of Yogananda taken at the dedication of the Lake Shrine. He is standing between Lt. Governor and Mrs. Goodwin J. Knight. You can see he is wearing a cross.
Look at the color photograph from the Lake Shrine dedication. In the early versions, you see Yogananda is wearing a small gold cross that is nestled at heart level between the folds of his shawl. In the film of Yogananda on that occasion, you can also see the cross. In more recent versions of the photograph, the cross has been removed. Here are the relevant portions of both versions of the Lake Shrine photo.
Rajarsi has lost the cross Yogananda gave him
The edition of SRF’s booklet Rajarsi Janakananda—A Great Western Yogi (dated 1974, copyright 1959) features two pictures of Rajarsi sitting in the lotus posture, one in his monastic robe on page 8, and one in Western clothes on page 71. In both he is wearing a Christian cross, the one identified elsewhere as the cross Yogananda gave him.
Subsequent editions of that book, have substituted pictures of Rajarsi dressed in the same way, with the same background, but a slightly different pose. But in these pictures, Rajarsi is not wearing the cross. In fact, in the photo of him in his monastic robe, it seems he is no longer wearing the pin that holds the robe to his shoulder. In the 1996 fifth edition, second printing 2000, compare the cover and page 8, to page 8 of the earlier edition, and page 177 compared to page 71 of the earlier edition. Here are the relevant portions of these four photographs.
These appear to be different poses from the same photo session. Rajarsi cherished the cross he was wearing as a gift from Yogananda. It’s very unlikely that he would take it off in the middle of a photo session. The only explanation we can think of is that the photograph was altered. The fact that the shoulder pin is also gone seems to confirm that the photograph has been tampered with.
Picture removed from the book
In early versions of the same book about Rajarsi, there is a beautiful photograph of him with Yogananda taken on Christmas Day, 1951. Not only can you see the crosses both are wearing, but the caption also describes them. According to the caption, Yogananda’s is a gold cross set with rose-colored opals, Rajarsi’s is made from five large amethysts, and was a gift from Yogananda. The caption says Rajarsi treasured it, sometimes holding it for hours.
Later editions of this book do not include this picture and no comparable picture was substituted, even though much other material was added to the book. Rajarsi’s life was defined by his relationship with his guru. This picture gives profound insight into a perfect disciple-guru relationship. We can think of no justification for denying the devotees the inspiration of that photograph.
Durga Mata, in her book A Paramhansa Yogananda Trilogy of Divine Love, tells how Master gave Christian crosses as Christmas gifts to several of his senior disciples:
The last Christmas meditation that Master was still with us I was ill all day, but was able to come to Mt. Washington for Christmas. When I arrived Master was so pleased he said, “I knew Divine Mother would make you well to be here this Christmas.” It proved to be our last Christmas with our Beloved Master. That year he gave Daya and Mildred Lewis a diamond cross ring. I was admiring their rings, Master looked at me as if he had gotten the wrong gift for me, and when he gave me my diamond cross asked me, “Would you rather have a ring like the others?” I said, “Oh no Sir, I love this far more,” and I made such a delightful fuss over my gift that he was pleased. He smiled saying, “You don’t wear jewelry or rings and I thought you would like to wear this cross when you have your meditation groups.” (page 17)
Is there any explanation?
The only possible explanation one can think of is that SRF is trying to make Yogananda’s teachings more acceptable in India. According to Swami Kriyananda, the decision to add a picture of Krishna to the SRF altar was made for a similar reason.
If this is SRF’s reasoning, consider this: Yogananda himself was an Indian. He knew his own culture far better than his American disciples will ever know it. He showed great concern for the spread of his work in India. And yet, he put Christ on the altar (and not Krishna) and often wore the Christian cross. If disciples don’t understand, or even disagree with what the master did, it is up to the disciples to meditate more deeply until they do understand. It is not the disciple’s place to adjust the master to fit their own concept of what his mission ought to be.