Haven for Meditation in Hollywood Hills
LOS ANGELES--A hidden valley, imbued with an atmosphere of unreality, nestles in the Hollywood hills where they slope toward the sea. Silence reigns here; the quiet which existed before the first Europeans, the padres, trudged their tedious way toward the shores of the Pacific.
Centered in this picturesque spot is a spring-fed lake, two acres in area, and garlanded by choice planting. On its sparkling surface glide huge swans in noiseless motion. Mirrored in the water is the image of four giant columns, joined together, and-crowned in the center with three great lotus buds.
Those shining flowers, made of copper and covered with pure gold leaf, symbolize "the divine unfoldment, the opening of the bud of man's spiritual awakening into the full flower of self-realization."
Symbols of Group
These are the emblems used by, the nonprofit, nonsectarian religious and educational organization known as Self-Realization Fellowship, whose members constructed this haven of beauty.
The hallowed spot was often used as a place of meditation by James Jesse Lynn of Kansas City. In 1952 this wealthy citizen, builder of a business empire, became the revered president of Self-Realization Fellowship of America and of the related organization, the Yogoda Sat-Sanga of India. This twofold position was held by the Kansas Citian until February 20, 1955, when pneumonia caused his untimely death.
The lake shrine in California which Lynn so greatly enjoyed continues to impress the casual visitor. On entering the gates, and coming upon this surprising scene at Pacific Palisades, within the city limits of Los Angeles, the visitor is both amazed and bewildered. At first glance the 12-acre shrine, located a scant mile from the ocean, at 17190 Sunset boulevard, appears as a mirage.
|Mirrored in the lake are the columns of the lotus archway. Atop them are giant lotus buds made of copper and covered with gold leaf, symbolizing "the divine unfoldment, the opening of the bud of man’s spiritual awakening into the full flower of self-realization."|
A Winding Path
To investigate this unusual site, one follows a winding path often trod by Lynn. It borders the lake 1,000 feet in circumference. The fragrance of ginger blossoms perfumes the air. At intervals, the silence is broken by the soft calming sound of music. The tunes of semi-classics are piped through unseen speakers high in eucalyptus and pepper trees. The cadence is conducive to meditation.
In this frame of mind strolling visitor comes upon the Court of Religions. Standing like sentinels are five monuments set in fieldstone bases, filled with colorful succulents. They represent the five principal religions and the brotherhood of man.
To each of the five monoliths there is affixed an appropriate symbol: A cross for Christianity, a star of David for Judaism, a "wheel of the law" for Buddhism, a star and crescent for Islam, and the Sanskrit character for "aum" (the infinite) representing Hinduism. The monuments were erected with the hope that eventually statues of the five founders of the faiths would be placed thereon.
|The benefactor of the Self-Realization Fellowship is remembered in Kansas City by a plaque in the building of one of the insurance companies he headed. The late James J. Lynn gave more than 2 million dollars to the religious group which has headquarters in Los Angeles.|
An Oriental Touch
Wandering through an oriental arbor one feels that cares of the world are left behind. Cascading over the lattice work are strands of bougainvillea, bright with blossoms. Adding to the beauty of the scene are large leaves of the Chinese rice-paper trees. Near the water's edge stand stalks of giant bamboo.
Attention of the visitor is caught by the sight of a man-made island in the center of the lake; 10 tons of earth afloat on a steel framework. Created as a wild-bird refuge, the isle is planted with exotic tropicals such as bird-of-paradise flowers, papayas, golden bamboo and Abyssinian banana trees.
Returning to the winding path one is led down a gentle slope to a secluded boat landing. From this vantage point, visitors delight in watching the beauty of a waterfall on a hillside across the lake. And just beyond, is a Mississippi houseboat. Constructed in the hills nearby it was moved on completion to its present location where it serves as an added attraction.
Crowding the path near the shore are tropical fruit trees. These include mangoes, papayas, guavas, cherimoyas, figs, pepinos and the beautiful rose-apple tree.
Standing alone is a specimen of historic interest; a young bo tree, unique in this country as the only authentic "descendant" of the highly venerated Bodhi tree under which Lord Buddha spent many weeks in meditation and attained spiritual illumination.
Approaching the lotus archway, the visitor walks in a grassy area, a veritable out-of-door temple. Here in a setting of quiet beauty, reposes a magnificent 1,000-year-old Chinese sarcophagus, the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace memorial.
Within the stone sarcophagus is a brass coffer inlaid with silver. It contains a part of Gandhi's ashes. They were obtained after cremation ceremonies had been held in India for that great leader who freed four hundred million persons by spiritual means without the firing of a single shot.
His ashes were obtained Paramahansa Yogananda, the famous Hindu yogi, who founded the two religious organizations of which Lynn became president.
Yogananda was born on January 5, 1893, in Gorakhpur, India, the son of a wealthy executive of the, Bengal-Nagpur railroad. In 1914 the famous yogi received his A. B. degree at the University of Calcutta. Six years later he came to America where phenomenal success attended his efforts to inspire men with a desire for God-realization.
In hundreds of cities he assembled the largest yoga classes in the world, and personally initiated more than 100,000 students into yoga, teaching them that "the scientific techniques of meditation awaken the divine consciousness in man."
Made Gift of Ashes
Into the possession of this Hindu yogi had come the ashes from Gandhi's cremation as a gift from one of his close friends, J. W. Nawle, editor of the Indian newspaper, Deenbandhu, at Poona. Nawle had secured the ashes just before they were to be spread upon the Ganges river.
Yogananda felt a close friendship toward Mahatma Gandhi, since he had spent three days with the great man of peace during a stay in India in 1935.
The sarcophagus in the lake shrine is flanked on either side by a marble statue of Kwan Yin, the goddess of mercy (the Chinese conception of God as the Divine Mother).
|The memory of Mahatma Gandhi is honored in an outdoor temple. A 1,000-year-old Chinese sarcophagus contains some of the ashes of the cremated body of the Indian leader.|
On leaving the grassy area and wandering farther along the encircling path, one comes to a museum. On display are gems both cut and uncut, and fossil shells and bones picked up by S. R. F. disciples, in the mountains overlooking Malibu, near the Pacific palisades. In the museum one may see various art objects and antiques. Of outstanding interest is a German Bible, some 400 years old (a memorial edition dedicated to Martin Luther) one of six such volumes in existence. Here also are Roman coins dating from 200 B. C.
Gradually the entire collection is being supplemented by additional gifts. The museum is open to the public on weekends and holidays, noon to 5 p. m. Except for this building, the lake shrine is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p. m.; but not on Monday.
Madonna and Child
Exit from the museum is made by a quaint circular stairway that leads to a shaded patio known as "the sunken gardens." Dedicated to the "mother aspect of God," there is enshrined amid tropical plantings, a cast limestone bust of the Madonna and Child.
Among other exhibits in this area are a pair of giant clamshells, sometimes called "mantraps," being the deadly enemy of swimmers. The huge shells, weighing 150 pounds each, were brought from the South Pacific. Also displayed is a statue of a seated figure some four feet high. It is said to depict either Lord Buddha or the great Jain Saint Mahavira. The image is unusual in that it shows along its spine a serpent which to some symbolizes spiritual illumination. The seven heads of the serpent form a fanlike shelter over the top of the statue.
Adherence to the ideals of Christianity is stressed in the lake shrine by a life-size statue of Christ in flowing robes. It was cast from a weather-resistant mixture of cement and limestone. Standing on a high eminence it dominates the scene. Illuminated at night, it appears as though elevated in mid-air.
Own Other Property
Enjoyment of the lake shrine leads one to other religious locations established in California by Paramhansa Yogananda. Important among them is the S. R. F. international headquarters on Mt. Washington, near Pasadena, overlooking Los Angeles.
These beautifully landscaped grounds and spacious buildings located at 3880 San Rafael avenue and acquired by the renowned Hindu leader in 1925 are now the hub of S. R. F. activities.
Here lives Sri Daya Mata, a tall, imposing woman, in her early 50s who took an the responsibilities of the presidency of the two world-wide organizations at the death of Lynn. This unassuming lady who spent her youthful years in Salt Lake City, in a Mormon family, impresses all who meet her with the radiance of her spiritual attributes and the sincerity of her friendliness.
In this yoga center on Mt. Washington, an estate covering 20 acres, there is a 60-room building which houses the women members of a monastic Self-Realization Fellowship. Monks of the S. R. F. reside in a large building constructed in 1958. The headquarters also serves as the administration center from which the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda are distributed to a worldwide membership.
His Books Spread Ideas
A publishing house is part of the religious center where a well-equipped printing plant produces many of Yogananda's books. They teach the philosophy of concentration and meditation incorporating both oriental and occidental religious concepts.
Yoga exercises and the Yogoda system of physical development are explained as "supporting and nourishing man in his entirety as a physical, mental and spiritual being." The diet includes no meat, fish or fowl.
Best known of Yogananda's books are: "Whispers From Eternity," "The Master Said," "Metaphysical Meditations," "Cosmic Chants" and the most widely read of all, "Autobiography of a, Yogi." This book, considered by some as a spiritual classic, is now in its eighth American edition. The famous volume has been translated and published abroad in French, German, Italian, Swedish, Spanish, Dutch, Greek, Icelandic, Arabic, Bengali and Japanese. Editions in Hindu and Portuguese are in preparation.
All of the books, printed in English, were donated recently to the Kansas City Public library.
During Yogananda's early years in America, he searched the coast of California for a suitable site for a seaside location. Many times he was drawn to a beautiful bluff in Encinitas.
In 1935, he left for a visit to India and during his absence Lynn acquired the scenic property. The picturesque site, on a cliff by the ocean containing some 30 acres within the city limits of Encinitas, has a 700-foot frontage on U. S. 101, and more than 1,000 feet adjacent to the sea. On this spectacular tract of land Lynn built a hermitage of great beauty which he presented to the Hindu leader as a surprise home-coming gift.
In the years to follow Lynn spent joyous hours watching the development of this site for spiritual purposes. To Lynn, a man of vision and means, it was a dream come true.
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