The "Standard Picture" that appears on SRF altars was taken at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco in 1924
Guruji with squirrel at Golden Gate Park
At the Palace of Fine Arts
in San Francisco
Paramahansa Yogananda in San Francisco, 1924
THE HISTORY OF SELF-REALIZATION FELLOWSHIP in Northern California began with Paramahansa Yogananda's first major United States lecture campaign in 1924, just four years after his arrival at Boston in October 1920.
Yoganandaji at the Scottish Rite Auditorium
In August of Swami Yogananda gave a series of three lectures in San Francisco titled ”Mastering the Subconscious by Superconscious,” “Scientific Spiritual Healing,” and “Highest Technique of Concentration, Meditation and Yogoda” at the Scottish Rite Auditorium at Sutter and Van Ness.
On the audio tape Awake in the Cosmic Dream referred to having one candle on his birthday cake, Yogananda says “in San Francisco I remember in the Scottish Rite Auditorium before thousands I worked up to the problem as to what my age was. And the lowest I got was 25. And the highest I got was 700. So I asked them, ‘do you want to know my age?’ and they all said ‘yeeesssss’ from the whole auditorium. And I said, ‘I never tell my age.’ And they, they screamed almost, roared. I said, ‘you are asking the age of my house. My age is one, infinite.’ So, during our cake ceremony we will have one candle on the cake."
1924 San Francisco Chronicle Advertisement
During this lecture series in November, 1924 he stayed at the Palace Hotel. This was the first of many visits to the Palace Hotel, which became an important place to Yogananda. At the time it was built in 1875, the Palace Hotel was the largest hotel in the world, and it was certainly the grandest Hotel in San Francisco.
It was during this first stay at the Palace Hotel in 1924 that Hugo Schreiber, the VIP photographer in the hotel, took some photographs of Yoganandaji. One of these photos became the ‘Standard Picture’ which is seen on all of the altars in Self-Realization Fellowship Chapels and Temples (although the version used to day is a colorized version of the original black-and-white photograph). The story goes that Yogananda previewed several prints, pointed at the ‘Standard Picture’ and said "that's it".
In 1925 Yogananda returned to San Francisco to deliver another lecture series. The advertisement for this event in the San Francisco Chronicle dated August 1st, 1925 includes the following statement:
1925 San Francisco Chronicle Advertisement
"He comes to San Francisco direct from tremendous public demonstrations of interest in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Denver and Los Angeles — where the largest auditoriums in each city were filled to overflowing and leading educators, ministers and prominent people endorsed his great mission for advancement of mankind spiritually, intellectually and materially."
It was during this 1925 campaign that Yogananda faced a serious financial challenge. The Spring 2003 Self-Realization Fellowship Magazine includes account by Yogananda:
"In San Francisco [in 1925], I had only $200 in the bank and was about to begin a lecture campaign. I had not enough money even to make a start; and many large bills had to be paid. I said: "God is with me. He has given me this trouble and He will look after me. I am doing His work; I know He will help me." If the whole world forsakes you, but you know that He is with you, His law will work its wonders for you.
When my secretary came to me and I told him how much we had in the bank, he literally collapsed on the floor. I said, "Get up." He was shaking: "We are going to jail for not paying our bills!" I said, "we are not going to jail. In seven days we will have all the money we need for the campaign." He was a doubting Thomas, but I had faith. I was not in need of money for any gain of my own, but to spread God's work…. And think of it! I was walking in front of the Palace Hotel when an elderly woman came up to me and said, "Can I talk with you?" We exchanged a few words and then out of the blue she said, "I have money to burn. Can I help you?" I replied, "I don't need your money. Why should you offer money to me when you don't even know me?" She answered, "But I do know you; I have heard so much about you." And right there she wrote out a check for $27,000. I saw in that the hand of God…."
Yogananda addresses Interracial Conference
at inaugural meetings of the United Nations.
In June of 1945, Yogananda was in San Francisco as a delegate to the first United Nations delegation at the Opera House in San Francisco. He was a keynote speaker of a major international conference on the theme of freedom and interracial brotherhood. Prominent representatives from world peace and human rights organizations participated in the conference, which coincided with the historic 1945 signing of the United Nations Charter in San Francisco. It is interesting to note that this was obviously very important to Yogananda. That is, that world peace is something that he actively worked towards achieving.
In 1947 around May, Yogananda returned to the Palace Hotel in San Francisco where he spent a week in seclusion and worked on his writings. While he was there he wrote a letter to Rajarsi Janakananda. In The Divine Romance in “How to Free Yourself from Bad Habits” (pg. 322) he talks about this trip and tells us of an experience that he had at the Palace Hotel. Following is an excerpt from this lecture, which was given at the San Diego Temple on June 1st, 1947:
During my absence from the temple, I have missed you all but I have accomplished much writing. That is my joy, for through my pen I can give to you what God gives to me. Seclusion is the price of finding God. Sometimes I am more with you in God when I am away than when I am with you personally. During this period of seclusion I have been immersed in the wondrous dynamic presence of God. My whole room was ablaze with His Being. You don't know how thrilling night is when you are alone and practice His presence. He is omnipresent, moving in space as a great auroral mist, the Light out of which all things are fulfilled. You must make the effort to experience Him yourself.
-- Paramahansa Yogananda
In 1949, Jawarharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of newly independent India, came to San Francisco and asked Yogananda to come and visit him. Yogananda wanted to come incognito, but on November 1st and 2nd, Yogananda gave two talks at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco each attended by five hundred people.there were 500 at the special reception hosted by the city's Bohemian Club to honor Nehru.
In the late 1940s Yogananda turned down a site for a Temple in San Francisco next to the Airport, but he was serious about creating a Temple in San Francisco.
Kamala Silva began studying with Yogananda in 1925, and was ordained as a minister by Yogananda as he was planning his trip 1935 to India. She lived at Mount Washington after Yogananda returned from India, and later married Edward Silva during the Christmas holidays. Yogananda wanted Kamala to be married for the sake of appearances, and wanted her to go up to San Francisco and start the teachings there. Kamala and Ed moved to Oakland in 1949. In the early days of these services, Edward picked up devotees in his car and drove to the hotel for the services.
In her book, Priceless Precepts (p. 133), she says, “When we went to Oakland to live, Edward and I visited dozens of addresses to contact members in the Bay Area. We reserved a beautiful room at the Palace Hotel for our weekly meetings that were to begin in the fall, and Master expressed great interest in the establishing of this Center.”
Yogananda was impressed with the progress that Kamala and Ed were making and in 1949(?) he wrote:
“Dear Kamala and Edward:
Am so pleased to have your letter of August 25 and to learn that the opening date of our new Self-Realization Center is set for September 27. Rest assured that I will be with you in spirit on that day−that this first meeting may be a successful and Divinely inspired one.”
— The Flawless Mirror, p. 130
In the following years, Kamala ministered to Bay Area SRF students, holding meetings at the Palace Hotel for the first years. Around 1955, Kamala and Edward moved to Berkeley. Kamala continued giving services until she started going into Samadhi during the services. A group of dedicated devotees formed around her and began looking and saving for a permanent home for Yogananda's work in the Bay Area. In 1974, their efforts led to the purchase of the property that is now Richmond Temple, in the East Bay hills a few miles north of Berkeley.
After Kamala moved across the Bay in 1955, two members (Mike and Louise Erkman) started the San Francisco Meditation Group. Inspirational services were given on Friday nights at their home at 43rd Avenue and Lincoln Way. There is a note in an old SRF Magazine about services being given at a home in San Francisco, and that there were so many people coming that people had to be turned away. In the mid-1970s a three-hour meditation was started on Tuesday evenings at the house of another member (Marcelle and Leo Cocks) on Joost Street.
In 1977 the Group leased a community hall belonging to SHARP (Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People, a neighborhood group) on Ninth Avenue near Noriega Avenue. Both services were moved from the private houses to the community hall. Unfortunately the lease could not be renewed when it expired.
So, in December of 1979 the group moved to the 2151 Irving Street (at 23rd Avenue). This office space was our home for over 20 years, where we held 3-hour meditations on Tuesday night and Friday evening Readings Services. Many members continued to attend Richmond Temple as well during this time, and vice versa. In 1996, two members started meditating at the chapel on Saturday morning. Other devotees began to join them and it ultimately became a permanent part of our schedule. In 1997, the San Francisco Meditation Group added a Sunday morning meditation and reading service and the membership began to expand.
In 1997, the San Francisco Meditation Group began the process of looking for a larger space. Efforts continued off and on over the following 5 years in the midst of the dot com real estate boom, until we located an affordable new space in late 2002. We began renovations early in 2003 and on March 9, 2003, we celebrated the Mahasamadhi of Swami Sri Yukteswar in our new chapel at 385 Ashton, off Ocean Avenue. On July 19, 2003, we held an open house led by Brother Devananda, dedicating our spiritual home in the company of friends old and new, with meditation, Kirtan, and the devotional Bhajans of Rita Sahai.
The new location has a sanctuary that can seat up to 80 people with overflow space for another 20, a kitchen, storage and office space. Since moving to the new location, the group began to expand its services with the goal of eventually performing all of the services and activities that are available at a SRF Temple.
In 2006 the group decided to start having more events at the Chapel and reaching out to the Northern Peninsula community. On May 18, 2007 we were honored to sponsor the Mother Center Nuns Kirtan group at our Chapel. Almost 100 devotees from all over the Bay Area joined us for this wonderful event. This was the first major SRF event that was hosted by the San Francisco Meditation Group.
SFMG’s new spiritual home has a very special vibration that continues to intensify through the regular meditations of its members. The goal is to share this beautiful Chapel with many more people in the coming years, providing an ever more vibrant home for Yogananda’s teachings in San Francisco.