History of Self-Realization Fellowship in San Francisco
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 in Boston in October 1920.
1924 Lecture Series in San Francisco
In August of 1924, 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, referring 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 “yeeessssss” 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.”
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 today 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.”
Second Lecture Series in 1925
In 1925 Yogananda returned to San Francisco to deliver another lecture series. The advertisement for this event in the San Francisco Chronicle dated August 1, 1925, includes the following statement:
“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.”
Also, it is interesting to note that the newspaper advertisement makes reference to Yogananda’s mission to bring eternal truths “that have achieved miracles of life extension…” Life extension was a big deal in the “roaring 20’s” so the newspaper advertisement played this up.
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.
In December of 1979, the group moved to 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 Reading 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 1977, 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 in late 2002 we located an affordable new space. 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 Avenue, off of 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, our group began to expand it’s services with the goal of eventually performing all of the services and activities that are available at a Self-Realization Fellowship Temple.
In 2006 our 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 Self-Realization Fellowship event that was hosted by the San Francisco Meditation Group.
San Francisco Meditation Group’s new spiritual home has a very special vibration that continues to intensify through the regular meditations of it’s 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.