Yogananda was born in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, India into a devout Bengali family. From early age, his awareness and experience of the spiritual was far beyond the ordinary.
In his youth he sought out many of India's Hindu sages and saints, hoping to find an illuminated teacher to guide him in his spiritual quest.
Meeting his master, Sri Yukteswar
Yogananda's seeking after various saints mostly ended when he met his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, in 1910, at the age of 17. He describes his first meeting with Yukteswar as a rekindling of a relationship that had lasted for many lifetimes.
Sri Yukteswar was a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya of Varanasi and a member of the Giri branch of the swami order. Sri Yukteswar was the disciple of Mahavatar Babaji. Babaji rediscovered the Kriya Yoga system and the lineage starting in him preserved the system and initiated the following generation in the technique.
Yogananda himself met Lahiri Mahasaya and Mahavatar Babaji.
Studies, Monastic Life, and Early Activity
After passing his Intermediate Examination in Arts from the Scottish Church College, Calcutta, he did his graduation in religious studies from the Serampore College, a constituent college of the University of Calcutta. This allowed him to spend time at Yukteswar's ashram in Serampore.
In 1915, he took formal vows into the monastic Swami Order and became 'Swami Yogananda Giri'.
In 1917, Yogananda founded a school for boys in Dihika, West Bengal that combined modern educational techniques with yoga training and spiritual ideals. A year later, the school relocated to Ranchi. This school would later become Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, the Indian branch of Yogananda's American organization.
Move to America
In 1920, he went to the United States aboard the ship "City of Sparta", as India's delegate to an International Congress of Religious Liberals convening in Boston. That same year he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship to spread worldwide his teachings on India's ancient practices and philosophy of Yoga and its tradition of meditation.
For the next several years, he lectured and taught on the East coast and in 1924 embarked on a cross-continental speaking tour. Thousands came to his lectures.
The following year, he established in Los Angeles, California, an international headquarters for Self-Realization Fellowship, which became the spiritual and administrative heart of his growing work. Yogananda was the first Hindu teacher of yoga to make his permanent home in America, living there from 1920-1952.
Visit to India, 1935-1936
In 1935, he returned to India to visit his master Yukteswar and to help establish his Yogoda Satsanga work in India. During this visit he met with Mahatma Gandhi, the Bengali female saint Anandamoyi Ma, Nobel winning physicist Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, and several disciples of Yukteswar's Guru Lahiri Mahasaya.
While in India, Yukteswar gave Yogananda the monastic title of Paramhansa (the spelling was later changed to 'Paramahansa'). Paramahansa means "supreme swan" and is a title indicating the highest spiritual attainment.
In 1936, while Yogananda was visiting Kolkata, Yukteswar died in the town of Puri.
After returning to America, he continued to lecture, write, and establish churches in Southern California.
In the days leading up to his death, he began hinting that it was time for him to leave the world.
On March 7, 1952, he attended a dinner for the visiting Indian Ambassador to the U.S., Binay Ranjan Sen and his wife at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. At the conclusion of the banquet Yogananda spoke of India and America, their contributions to world peace and human progress, and their future cooperation, expressing his hope for a "United World" that would combine the best qualities of "efficient America" and "spiritual India."
According to two eyewitnesses — long-time disciples Swami Kriyananda and Daya Mata — as Yogananda ended his speech, he read from his poem My India, concluding with the words "Where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves, and men dream God—I am hallowed; my body touched that sod". At the very last words, he slid to the floor, dead from a heart attack. Kriyananda wrote that Yogananda had once stated in a lecture, "A heart attack is the easiest way to die. That is how I choose to die."
No body decay even after 20 days
As reported in Time Magazine on August 4, 1952, Harry T. Rowe, Los Angeles Mortuary Director of the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California where Yogananda's body was embalmed, stated in a notarized letter:
The absence of any visual signs of decay in the dead body of Paramahansa Yogananda offers the most extraordinary case in our experience.... No physical disintegration was visible in his body even twenty days after death.... No indication of mold was visible on his skin, and no visible 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.... No odor of decay emanated from his body at any time.
Autobiography of a Yogi
In 1946, Yogananda published his life story, Autobiography of a Yogi. It has since been translated into twenty-five languages. In 1999, it was designated one of the "100 Most Important Spiritual Books of the 20th Century" by a panel of spiritual authors convened by HarperCollins publishers.
After Yogananda's death, his unfortunately corrupted followers at the Self Realization Fellowship (SRF) allowed themselves to bluntly change over and over the book content that was originally written by Yogananda. As for example they changed sentences of Yogananda that could jeopardize their monopoly of initiation in Kriya Yoga (this is yet another terrible example of how followers of a saint can distort and falsify their guru's words out of disloyalty and ego, other examples are Jusus followers and Osho followers).
But it appears that the universe or Yogananda's soul made sure to punish the corrupted followers: Due to a stupid technical error, the original first edition of the book has no copyrights whatsoever!
Make sure you read the first edition of 1946 if you want to read Yogananda's original words (see the books tab of the profile). You can also download the eBook version from here (see atachements below).