"The Last Smile" Picture of Paramahamsa Yogananda an hour before his passing
When Paramahamsa Yogananda reached US after completing a successful trip to India and Europe, a banquet was organized to celebrate his return. This was 1937 and the venue was in Los Angeles, California. The speaker was James Lynn, Paramahamsa Yogananda’s foremost western disciple and a self-made multi-millionaire. Here are some excerpts from his speech:
“Just five years ago I had the great privilege of meeting Paramahamsa Yogananda for the first time. I had always been interested in truth and religion, although I had never accepted any church. My life was business, but my soul was sick and my body was decaying and my mind was disturbed. I was so nervous I couldn’t sit still.
After I met Paramahamsaji and had been with him a little while, I became aware that I was sitting very still; I was motionless; I didn’t seem to be breathing. I wondered about it and looked up at Paramahamsaji. A deep white light appeared, seeming to fill the entire room. I became part of the wondrous light. Since that time I have been free from nervousness.
I found that I had discovered something real, something immensely valuable to me. I had had to be sure. Not until my experience of the healing light did I realize that I had found entrance into a spiritual realm previously unknown to me.
The beautiful thing in these teachings is that one doesn’t have to depend on blind beliefs. He experiences. He knows he knows, because he experiences. Ordinary man is conscious only of his thoughts and of the material world that he can smell, taste, touch, see and hear. But he is not conscious of his soul deep within him that makes it possible for him to think and to cognize the outer world through his senses. He doesn’t know anything about That which is behind the scenes, just behind the thoughts and senses. One should learn to realize the presence of this Life, the real Life; and attain the union of his own consciousness with that Life.”
Paramahamsa Yogananda had so far maintained a hectic schedule of nationwide and worldwide touring and lecturing. He now slowly began to withdraw from this and began to devote time to writing so that his message would carry to future generations. In 1946 the Autobiography Of A Yogi was published and immediately became a bestseller. It has since sold 4 Million copies and even today sales are quite strong. It has been published in 27 languages. The book is now widely considered as a modern spiritual classic.
In June of 1948 Paramahamsa Yogananda passed through a series of most awe-inspiring states of Samadhi that his disciples ever witnessed. Each of his disciples was summoned telepathically and he then sat in the chair. “I am not sure what is happening to me!” He said. He became very withdrawn as he usually became when he went into a state of Samadhi and said, “Divine Mother is calling me from within. I am not sure if She is going to take me from this body.” He then entered into a deep communion with the Divine Mother of the Universe. As she appeared before his inward vision, he pored out his heart into Her. He asked Her many questions and even laid out his grievances. She comforted him tenderly and answered his questions. His devotees could hear the conversation as it occurred in two voices. One was his voice and the other voice was that of the Divine Mother. His devotees were simply awestruck, as they had never witnessed anything of such magnitude. The vision started in the late evening and went on for the entire night. Many feared that his exit from the body was eminent. Later he confided that he had hoped that the beloved mother would take him. “It was all so perfect!” he said wistfully. (Here is one account of this incident.)
He was never the same again. It was as if he had entered a new deeper level and became increasingly withdrawn and stopped giving his regular speeches. His last few years were spent in intense effort in writing. He hardly slept at all and even his eating became sparse and erratic. He wrote voluminous commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita and the teachings of Jesus Christ in the four gospels. He also went through his earlier works and revised them. The Self Realization Fellowship Lessons that are even now available as a mail order course were also revised.
In early 1952 he began giving subtle hints that he was planning his final exit. Most of his devotees did not understand the significance of his words at that time. Only later they could understand what he had been trying to communicate. The newly appointed ambassador of a newly independent India arrived in the US and paid a visit to Paramahamsa Yogananda. A banquet was organized to welcome the ambassador on 7th March 1952 in the Biltimore Hotel in Los Angeles. After several dignitaries spoke, Paramahamsa Yogananda rose to give a brief speech. Very few in the audience realized that this were the final moments of Paramahamsa Yogananda on earth. In his final speech he referred to the importance of the work done by Mahatma Gandhi, in the aftermath of the just concluded World War II:
“I remember my meeting with Mahatma Gandhi. The great prophet brought a practical method for peace to the warring modern world. Gandhi, who for the first time applied Christ’s principles to politics and who won freedom for India, gave an example that should be followed by all nations to solve their troubles.”
It was Paramahamsa Yogananda’s dream to create a new culture that would take the best from the inter-mixing of the cultural streams of India and US. In the later part of his speech he said, “One morning I was passing by an empty field next to a store. That evening, as I passed the same way again, I saw a house standing the field. I inquired of a man if the house ad been there in the morning. ‘No,’ he replied, ‘they just put it up.’ When I think of such energy, I like to be an American. But when I hear of so many American millionaires who die prematurely after making a business success, then I like to a Hindu- to sit on the bank of the Ganges and concentrate on the factory of Mind from which spiritual skyscrapers can come, and to think of the great masters of India who are her perennial glory. Somewhere between the two great civilizations of efficient America and spiritual India lies the answer for model world civilization.”
Paramahamsa Yogananda was proud that he was born as an Indian, and was proud to be welcoming the ambassador of free India. He concluded his speech with his poem “My India”. The last two lines of his poem were:
“Where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves, and men dream God-
I am hallowed; my body touched that sod.”
He then rolled his eyes upwards, entered into a final Samadhi, slid to the ground with a beatific smile on his face, and passed away right in front of a stunned audience of more than 100 dignitaries.
On May 16th officers of Self Realization Fellowship received an extraordinary notarized letter from Harry T. Rowe, Mortuary Director who handled the embalming of Paramahamsa Yogananda. Here is the full letter:
The absence of any visual signs of decay in the dead body of Paramahamsa Yogananda offers the most extraordinary case in our experience. Had the muscle protein and blood stream of the deceased not been comparatively free of bacteria, deterioration of the body could have set in as early as six hours after life had departed. No physical disintegration was visible in Paramahamsa Yogananda’s body even twenty days after death.
The body was under daily observation at the Mortuary of the Forest Lawn Memorial-Park Association from March 11, 1952, the day of the last public rites, until March 27, 1952, when the bronze casket was sealed by fire. During this period no indication of mold vas visible on Paramahamsa Yogananda’s skin, and no visible desiccation (drying up) took place in the bodily tissues. This state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary annals, an unparalleled one.
“Officials of Forest Lawn viewed the body of Paramahamsa Yogananda an hour after his death on March 7th 1952. The body was then taken to his home on Mount Washington in Los Angeles, where many friends gathered to gaze at his form.
For protection of the public health, embalming is desirable if a dead body is to be exposed for several days to public view. Embalming of the body of Paramahamsa Yogananda took place twenty-four hours after his demise. In normal room-temperature, the enzyme action of the intestines of deceased persons causes distention of the tissues in the abdominal region about six hours after death. Such distention did not occur at any time in the case of Paramahamsa Yogananda. When our Mortuary received his body for embalming, it presented no signs of physical deterioration and putrefactive odor – two very unusual absences when a death has occurred twenty-four hours earlier.
Paramahamsa Yogananda’s body was embalmed on the night of March 8th, with that quantity of fluid which is customarily used in any body of similar size. No unusual treatment was given.
In case of persons that are embalmed and exhibited to friends for a period of two or three weeks, it is necessary, to insure preventability, for the embalmer to apply, on the face and hands of the deceased, a creamy pore-sealing emulsion that temporarily prevents the outward appearance of mold. In Paramahamsa Yogananda’s case, however, no emulsions were used. They were superfluous, inasmuch as his tissue underwent no visible transformation.
After embalming on the night of March 8th, the body of Paramahamsa Yogananda was returned to the Self-Realization Fellowship headquarters on Mount Washington. At the final public rites there on the afternoon of March 11th, the glass sealer lid of the bronze coffin was fastened securely and was not again removed. His body was never touched again by human hands.
The body in the casket was taken about 10 p.m. on March 11th to our Mortuary for daily observation. The reason for this procedure was the hope of Self-Realization Fellowship officers that two disciples of Paramahamsa Yogananda’s from India might arrive in Los Angeles some time in March, when they could be brought to the Mortuary to view the body.
In any sealed casket, into which air cannot enter and from which air cannot escape, the internal moisture of the dead body, whether embalmed or un-embalmed, soon forms a white mold on the skin unless the protective cream, not used in this case, is used. The natural characteristic of muscle protein is to break down into amino acids and then into ptomaine acids. When ptomaine acids become active, deterioration of tissue is rapid. Paramahamsa Yogananda’s body was apparently devoid of any impurities by which muscle proteins could be resolved into ptomaine acids. His tissue remained intact.
At the time of receiving Paramahamsa Yogananda’s body, the Mortuary personnel at Forest Lawn expected to observe, through the glass lid of the casket, the usual progressive signs of bodily decay. Our astonishment increased as day followed day without bringing any visible changes in the body under observation. Paramahamsa Yogananda’s body was apparently in a phenomenal state of immutability.
On the late morning of March 26th, we observed a very slight, a barely noticeable, change- the appearance on the tip of the nose of a brown spot, about one-fourth inch in diameter. This small faint spot indicated that the process of desiccation (drying up) might finally be starting. No visible mold appeared, however.
The hands at all times remained normal in size, revealing no signs of shriveling or pinching at the fingertips- the place where desiccation is ordinarily seen every early. The lips, which were a slight smile, continuously retained their firmness. No odor of decay emanated from Paramahamsa Yogananda’s body at any time. Although the casket was closed by a heavy glass lid, it was not hermetically sealed. Any odor from the deceased, had it been present, would have been immediately detected by persons standing near the coffin. The volatile nature of odors renders it impossible to conceal their presence, except in rare circumstances that did not here obtain.
As word had been received that the two disciples from India would not be coming to America until 1953, the officers of Self-Realization Fellowship agreed, on March 27, 1952, that entombment of Paramahamsa’s casket should now take place. The inner glass lid was therefore sealed by fire to lower part of the casket; the massive bronze cover was then placed on top and secured with mastic sealer and bolts. The process of sealing by fire was accomplished on March 27th and 28th. The casket was removed on March 28, 1952, to a crypt in the Great Mausoleum in Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, to remain there until such time as permanent enshrinement of the body can be arranged for by the Self-Realization Fellowship.
The physical appearance of Paramahamsa Yogananda on March 27th, just before the bronze cover of the casket was put into position, was the same as it had been on March 7th. He looked on March 27th as fresh and as unravaged by decay as he had looked on the night of his death. On March 27th there was no reason to day that his body had suffered any visible physical disintegration at all. For these reasons we state again that the case of Paramahamsa Yogananda is unique in our experience.
On May 11, 1952, during a telephone conversation between an officer of Forest Lawn and an officer of Self-Realization Fellowship, the whole amazing story was brought out for the first time. Previously the Fellowship officer had known the details, as he had not been in touch with Mortuary Director but only with the Administrative Department of Forest Lawn. In the interests of truth, we are glad to present this written account for publication in Self Realization Magazine.
This letter signifies an extraordinary end of an extraordinary life. A life that was dedicated to demonstrate and spread the idea of self-realization. The idea that one could achieve divine union through self-effort not dependent on theological belief or the arbitrary will of a Cosmic Dictator.
This concludes the five part series on the Life Of Paramahamsa Yogananda. Here are links to the earlier posts:
Finding The Guru
A Guru Departs
Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda
Paramahansa Yogananda In Memoriam, Self-Realization Fellowship
Rajarsi Janakananda,Self-Realization Fellowship
Mejda, Sananda Lal Ghosh