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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Self-Realization Fellowship’s Atlanta Center Celebrates 20 Years

Nov 01, 2020 09:30AM ● By Paul B. Chen

(Photo: Zack Harrison)

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Atlanta Center of the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), a worldwide spiritual organization founded 100 years ago by Paramahansa Yogananda.

While the coronavirus forced the cancellation of celebratory events in Atlanta, the international headquarters in Los Angeles conducted a worldwide convocation virtually in August and held a brief ceremony in Boston in September commemorating Yogananda’s arrival in the U.S.

Yogananda is credited with introducing Kriya yoga to the West. He is best known as the author of the spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi, which has been translated into more than 50 languages since it was first published in 1946.

“Why did you cause me so much trouble?”

It was 1945, and Paramahansa Yogananda was speaking to a young Atlantan, Mary Lou Edwards. It was their first meeting and the first of many mystical occurrences in the history of SRF Atlanta.

Edwards had traveled to San Francisco earlier in the year to see her Navy husband, whose ship was docked for repairs. While there, she attended a Yogananda lecture. In the yogi’s slide show, Edwards saw a picture of a temple in Encinitas, California, and wished to visit it one day.

Months later, she was driving to La Jolla, California, when she remembered that the temple in Encinitas was on the way. She tried to find it but couldn’t, so she continued on her way. Then, “for no apparent reason,” she pulled over to the side of the road and decided to ask people living in the area where the temple was located.

She pulled into a driveway and knocked on the front door. The woman who greeted her told her she was expected for dinner. It was, in fact, Yogananda’s home. Befuddled, Edwards joined Yogananda and his other guests for dinner. When meeting with him later in his office, he chided her for almost passing him by.

“He told me, ‘I had to send someone after you to get you to stop and come back!’” Edwards later told Randy Bundy, who subsequently wrote a book about Yogananda and Edwards. The “someone” who caused Edwards to stop and turn around was the Divine Mother.

Yogananda shared more information with Edwards that night. He told her that, in a previous life, she had been his spiritual teacher; that he had heard her soul call to him earlier that year; that God had told him to contact her; and that he had been lecturing in San Francisco because he knew she would be there.

The last time Edwards met with Yogananda, she told him she wanted to start a group in Atlanta. He said it wasn’t time yet, but that she would start a group, and she would live to see an Atlanta temple.

In 1971, nearly 20 years after Yogananda passed away, Edwards received a channeled message from a psychic. “[He] said he had a message for a woman from an emissary of Paramahansa Yogananda,” Edwards told Bundy. The message? It was time to start a meditation group in Atlanta. With that prompting, Edwards launched SRF Atlanta.

Building Atlanta’s Center

Randy Bundy’s introduction to SRF was also extraordinary. Nineteen years old, he was already a spiritual seeker who would read several spiritual texts at a time. When, within several days in 1972, three people recommended that he read Autobiography, he moved the book to the top of his stack. “Even I’m not that stupid,” says Bundy.

Bundy met Edwards the following year and, since then, has been an integral part of SRF Atlanta with his wife, Virginia. Since 2007, she has been the management council coordinator, a position Randy held from 1991 to 2003.

Randy was also a member of the small team that oversaw the Atlanta SRF Center’s development. Planning for it started in April 1999, and the grand opening was held in November 2000, a startlingly swift process. “We knew we were being guided,” says Randy. “We were the hands and feet of the Divine. People showed up out of nowhere, had the skill sets we needed, and then disappeared!”

The auspicious events kept happening. Two large donations were phoned in out of nowhere; the land the Center sits on was discovered by accident and cost a mere fraction of the $1 million-plus that the team assumed they would have to spend; Jon Picard, an internationally renowned architect, produced the building design free of charge; a connection to the construction giant, Holder, ensured that the project was completed in record time. Mary Lou Edwards passed away just weeks before the Center’s first service was held, but she did live to see it get built.

SRF Atlanta at 20

Today, Randy Bundy says the Center is home to 250 to 300 devotees, about 200 of whom are Kriyabans, devotees who have been initiated into the practice of Kriya yoga after undertaking approximately eight months of study.

In Autobiography, Yogananda describes Kriya yoga by quoting his own guru, Sri Yukteswar: “Kriya yoga is an instrument through which human evolution can be quickened. The ancient yogis discovered that the secret of cosmic consciousness is intimately linked with breath mastery... The life force, which is ordinarily absorbed in maintaining heart action, must be freed for higher activities by a method of calming and stilling the ceaseless demands of the breath.”

Since Kriya yoga is a spiritual science, SRF is open to adherents of all religions. Brother Ishtananda, the minister counselor for SRF Atlanta, says that a large percentage of SRF devotees in the United States are Christian, and most of them have discovered SRF from reading Autobiography of a Yogi.

“People reach a point where they [still] love the religion they grew up in, but many become deeply interested in the spiritual path and feel like they’re looking for something more. A lot of times, that’s meditation,” says Ishtananda.

As Bundy puts it: “They want a deeper, more personal relationship with God.”

Due to the coronavirus, in-person activity at the Center has been suspended for the time being. Otherwise, SRF Atlanta holds two Sunday services, a meditation from 10:00 am to 11:00 am, and a reading service from 11:00 am to noon. It also has two Sunday School offerings for children and young adults. There also is a second reading service on Thursday nights and a long meditation session every fourth Saturday.

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