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After nearly two-year closure, Self-Realization Fellowship’s meditation gardens have reopened

Ethan Cohen, 26, left, and Cheyenne Blaisdell, 26, at the Meditation Gardens at Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas.
Ethan Cohen, 26, left, and Cheyenne Blaisdell, 26, walk a path in the newly reopened Meditation Gardens at Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas on Wednesday. The garden had been closed for nearly two years because of the coronavirus.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The free-to-visit gardens were designed by fellowship’s late founder Paramahansa Yogananda, who died in 1952

After a nearly two-year closure due to the pandemic, the meditation gardens at the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas reopened to the public last month.

The lushly landscaped gardens — which include a koi pond, exotic flowering plants and a stunning clifftop ocean view — were originally landscaped and planted by the yogi Paramahansa Yogananda, who founded the international Fellowship in 1920 in Los Angeles. He later opened the Encinitas retreat, hermitage and ashram center in 1937. Entrance to the gardens has always been free, and thousands of visitors from all over the world visit each year, according to Fellowship spokeswoman Amy Correia.

Veronica Villa, 50, of Los Angeles, enjoys the view at the meditation gardens at Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas.
Veronica Villa, 50, of Los Angeles, enjoys the view at the newly reopened meditation gardens at Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas on Wednesday.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

One of the highlights of the gardens is an old Monterey pine that was given to Yogananda as a gift. Known as the “Ming Tree” or “Little Emperor,” it has been cultivated as a large bonsai. It sits on a bluff above the ocean behind a large wooden screen to protect it from strong ocean winds. Also in the garden is an ancient Aleppo pine, African coral trees, a large ficus tree from India, fan palms, a Hollywood juniper, a flame-thrower palm and a bull horn acacia.

The 17-acre hermitage property Yogananda opened 84 years ago has helped define the city’s identity, including its golden lotus blossom-topped towers on South Coast Highway and Swami’s Beach, the popular surfing spot at the foot of the property. The garden was created to offer visitors a place to rest and contemplate in peace. The Encinitas property is one of more than 800 temples, retreats and ashrams around the world, which includes 200 in India.

A person meditates in the newly reopened Meditation Gardens at Self-Realization Fellowship on Wednesday in Encinitas.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Born in India in 1893, Yogananda has been widely credited with helping introduce the philosophies of yoga and meditation to the Western world. He also encouraged harmony between people of different faiths, races and cultures. Most of these ideas were spread during Yogananda’s 10-year lecture tour in the U.S. and Europe from 1925 to 1935 and in India from 1935 to 1936.

After that, he retreated from the public eye to focus on writing up his teachings. Most of this writing was done at the Encinitas hermitage, which was secretly built for Yogananda as a surprise during his years abroad. The property was purchased and construction was underwritten by his leading disciple Rajarsi Janakananda, a self-made millionaire from Louisiana whose birth name was James Jesse Lynn.

In January 1938, Yogananda dedicated the opening of a Golden Lotus Temple on the spot where the meditation gardens now stand. The temple had a four-story glass observation tower and huge windows that offered followers an unobstructed view of the ocean. But within four years, the erosion of the shoreline below caused the land underneath the temple to become unstable and the building had to be removed. Today, services are offered at a pair of temple buildings a few blocks away in downtown Encinitas.

People enjoy the newly reopened Meditation Gardens at Self-Realization Fellowship on Wednesday in Encinitas.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

In December 1946, Yogananda published his memoir, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” which has since sold more than 4 million copies and been translated into 50 languages. The Fellowship marked the 75th anniversary of the book’s publication in 2021. Because of the pandemic, Correia said many of these celebrations were held online, including group meditations, talks and classes.

In 1952, Yogananda died of heart failure while concluding a speech at a dinner for the visiting Indian ambassador at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. He was 59. Janakananda, who built the Encinitas hermitage, succeeded him as Fellowship president until his own death three years later in Borrego Springs.

Accessed through iron gates, the meditation gardens entrance is at 215 W. K St., between Second and Third streets. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays and closed on Mondays. The gardens will also be closed on Wednesday, Jan. 5 and Saturday, Jan. 8 for private events associated with Yogananda’s Jan. 5 birthday celebration. For more information on the gardens, visit encinitastemple.org/visiting.

Koi fish in the newly reopened Meditation Gardens at Self-Realization Fellowship on Wednesday in Encinitas.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)


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