Anyway...as I'm heading North from "The Incline" in Santa Monica and up the PCH, for some kind of almost mystically magnetic reason, I turned right off of the Highway to head up Sunset Blvd. and see the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine. It had always been a place in my "yoot" that consistently seemed to have a magnetic calling for me. As a young teenager, I reckon that it was about the same time I was serving as an Acolyte at St. Bede's Episcopal Church in Mar Vista (under the wing of Fr. Joseph Reeves, who was a wonderful mentor and friend! Having a crush on his daughter, Becky didn't hurt my relationship to that church, either!) - I would often ride my bike from my home in Mar Vista up the PCH, and (for some unknown reason!!!) - I usually ended up with a killer case of the munchies by the time I got to Sunset Blvd. After a couple of Jumbo Jacks and large fries from the Jack in the Box (still right there on the corner!) ...I would make my way up Sunset to the Fellowship Lake Shrine, just to sit or walk and just enjoy the peaceful surroundings there.
The Lake Shrine was founded by Paramahansa Yogananda, on August 20, 1950 and is owned by Self-Realization Fellowship. It's pretty big, considering the price of land at Sunset and the Coast Highway...it's actually a 10-acre site with lush gardens and natural spring-fed lake, and is home to a variety of flora and fauna, including swans, ducks, koi carp, and beautiful lotus flowers. The entire property is a natural amphitheatre. It's pretty special, that's for sure!
The grounds include the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, where a portion of Gandhi's ashes are enshrined, a small museum with exhibits on Paramahansa Yogananda's work (more on this later), a Dutch windmill converted into a chapel and a gift shop with arts and crafts from India. As you walk along the trail surrounding the lake itself, eventually you will come to the "Court of Religions", featuring the symbols of the five principal religions of the world: a cross for Christianity, a Star of David for Judaism, a Wheel of Law for Buddhism, a crescent moon and star for Islam, and the Aum symbol for Hinduism. As a young Christian, I used to bristle a bit at this sight...I could never think that any religion but my own had any validity (or, even in my narrow way of thinking, "value") whatsoever! But the shrine has always had a certain draw for me, a certain magnetism, a certain...call it "peacefulness" that, as St. Paul says, "Passes all understanding". I found myself drawn there often.
Having read Paramahansa Yoganandaji's Autobiography of a Yogi in college, I certainly got a good feel for what this great Indian guru's (spiritual master) teachings were all about. One could certainly not label it "Christianity", but his writings always seemed to contain some valuable wisdom, none-the-less. Yogananda is often seen as being the "father of yoga" for bringing his teachings to the West. Some of the things that he taught and said can clearly be placed into the context of living in anybodies practice of religion. And, hopefully, embraced. Like the great Mahatma Gandhi, or, Sikh Gurus Nanak, Ram Das and Sri Gobind Singh - Yogandandaji envisioned a world filled with people of all creeds living in peaceful coexistence with one another. This, as we can see by reading any morning copy of the newspaper, unfortunately rarely materializes on a grand scale in the real world. But Yogananda tried to nurture these pure ideas of his with actions as well as words. As St. Francis of Assisi said: "While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart."
Some of Yogi's quotes are words to live by, no matter what faith you proclaim:
“The happiness of one's own heart alone cannot satisfy the soul; one must try to include, as necessary to one's own happiness, the happiness of others.” (I do believe that Jesus would agree!)
“The man form is higher than the angel form; of all forms it is the highest. Man is the highest being in creation, because he aspires to freedom.” (I know that St. Paul would agree!)
“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.” (and I totally agree!!)
After taking my walk around the lake, stopping once to watch the swans getting fed some romaine lettuce (vegetarian swans??) and once to offer a prayer at the Mahatma Gandhi shrine...I made my way across the lake and into the gift shop (and the little museum attached to it). The gift shop smelled exactly as you think it should...with echoes of patchouli and sandalwood lingering in the air. The Eastern ambiance was amplified by the recording of a group of Buddhist monks chanting "Ommmm..." On the small shelves that lined the shop, they had small bronze statues of The Buddha, a beautiful one of Lord Gopala Krishna (meaning that he is pictured with a cow, "Gopala means "protector of cows" - and for only a mere $325.00, he could be yours!), a nice small brass figurine of Ganesha, the Elephant God, and a strange set of icon triptychs featuring Jesus Christ, the Buddha and Lord Rama (Well. Ummm...I'm not quite sure how I felt about that one, to be perfectly honest!)
After looking at the over-priced trinkets and goodies (obviously, if I really want a bronze statue of Ganesha or Lord Krishna, I just may be able to pick one up a little more cheaply in Hyderabad, ya think??) - I walked through the gift-shop portion of the little building and into the back where the "museum" is located. It's not much to look at...quite a few photos of Yogiji with Mr. Goodwin Knight (who eventually was elected Governor of the State of California) at the 1950 dedication of the shrine...samples of some early black-and-white posters and fliers inviting people to come and hear Yogananda teach on yoga and the path of spirituality he liked to call "the art of living".
Then...I saw it. There it was, under glass in a wooden display case. I'm sure it was the reason God called me to the Shrine this day. He wanted me to see something. And, here is the reason I wrote this blog so early in the morning today...I wanted to get it out of my head and out to the world.
Under the glass, there was a dedication-page taken from a first-edition copy of Paramhansa Yogananda's "Autobiography of a Yogi" - and on it, in that old-fashioned script that is fading, but clearly once penned by Yogananda himself with a real fountain pen...was this dedication. (fellow Anglicans, be prepared to be "wow'ed"!)
"Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest this book. Paramahansa Yogananda"
Anybody with even a passing familiarity with the Anglican Book of Common Prayer has heard this phrase many times before. I have probably said it myself a hundred times or more as a part of an opening prayer at innumerable Bible Studies. The phrase "Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" comes from a venerable Anglican prayer...actually, it's from the Collect (opening prayer of the Celebration of Mass) for the Second Sunday in Advent. This particular collect was written by none-other-than Archbishop Thomas Cranmer himself, especially for the First Book of Common Prayer in 1549. This is the exact way that it looked on the page in that venerable First (and best!) version, over 450 years ago: