You don’t have to be a practicing yoga devotee or full-time mystic to appreciate the pastoral and placid splendor of the Lake Shrine at the Self-Realization Fellowship in the Pacific Palisades. The lake-centered meditative locale is of course a favorite must-stop with those practicing yoga in Los Angeles. But the grounds are open to the general public for universal enjoyment.
History of Yogananda and the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine
Southern California’s mystical history is just as much a part of its identity as its general history. I had always heard that Paramahansa Yogananda was one of the first Indian spiritual leaders to come out and set up and claim land in the LA area--from Mt. Washington to the Pacific Palisades, in the early days. He was in fact said to have been the first Hindu yoga master to set up a permanent home in America (between 1920 and 1952).
Yogananda is best known to aficionados of Eastern mysticism as a master teacher of Kriya yoga and meditation, and the author of the seminal spiritual book “Autobiography of a Yogi.” For those who have read the book (published in 1946) visiting the shrine is an especially important local pilgrimage.
Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship was established in LA in 1925 before yoga was even in vogue with the masses. The Lake Shrine was built in 1950. Before passing on in 1952, the yogi master had expressed his wish that a temple retreat be built on the grounds. In 1996, his dream posthumously became a reality. The new 4,000 square foot hilltop temple was opened. It overlooks the lake to the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West.
A Meditative Walk Around the Lake Shrine at the Self-Realization Fellowship
I can’t think of a better place to spend a quiet Sunday or at which to take a ‘personal day’ than the SRF Lake Shrine. Even though weekends tend to be crowded, it’s still a peaceful respectful kind of ‘crowded’ energy that doesn’t seem capable of upsetting personal rhythm. If you gravitate towards structured experiences, the organization occasionally hosts docent-led tours of the Lake Shrine.
For an independent jaunt, I would start at the site of the little visitors center kiosk, where you can get a brochure explaining the background of the property and its various features.
This area is where you’ll find the Court of Religions. The major world religions including christianity, judaism and islam are represented by plaques and beautiful floral patches.
A nearby rose garden intoxicates the senses as you behold the breathtaking spot. And, there are also some peaceful docks in this vicinity that host benches where you can soak in the splendor of the lake and the sounds of the waterfall.
The Windmill Chapel and Houseboat at the Self-Realization Fellowship
One of the first sites you will undoubtedly notice at the shrine is a giant windmill to your left, known as the Windmill Chapel. This is actually an authentic reproduction of a 16th century Dutch windmill. Before the newer temple was built on the grounds, all services were conducted there.
It's comforting and relaxing to stop in to the chapel, sit in the pews and meditate to images of Paramahansa Yogananda and other spiritual masters. It is a place of complete quiet--rare in bustling LA. You can also ask a question by writing it out and putting it in a box in the chapel and it will be spiritually answered. Next to this box is a donation receptacle, in which you can contribute to the Lake Shrine and slip in blessings requests for your loved ones.
As you continue and cross the bridge, you’ll see the houseboat landing and houseboat on your right. The former was a center of daily calm for Yogananda as he meditated there for hours. The latter was transported to the site in the ‘40s.
Continuing along the lush flower-accented curving path, you’ll see meditation benches here and there, and of course people taking their quiet time on them. I love seeing people do yoga on the grass--another peaceful and common activity at the Lake Shrine. The next main feature is the Krishna waterfall, honoring the flute-playing Hindu god.
Gandhi’s Ashes and a Hilltop Temple Overlooking the Ocean
At the back of a rotund grassy area is the Gandhi World Peace Memorial. I was amazed to discover that some of Gandhi’s cremated remains are housed in this area--according to a plaque on-site. There are also sitting areas on the Gandhi Lawn.
As your journey around the lake ends, you will see 106 steps which lead up to the (newer) temple where the SRF holds meditations, meetings, prayer circles and study groups.
The final stops on the lake ‘tour’ are the magical Jesus Waterfall, and the gift store and museum. Though donation boxes are located throughout the property, if you prefer to contribute by credit card, you can do this at the shop.
The museum is tiny, but features some fascinating artifacts from Yogananda’s life including an inscribed copy of his book and photos of him with important spiritual leaders including Mahatma Gandhi.
Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine Temple
17190 Sunset Blvd.
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
Free; donations appreciated
Grounds and lake visiting hours:
Tue.-Sat., 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Sun. 12-4:30 p.m.