“Thou Shalt Not Park Here / Church Parking Only” reads the sign on the wrought iron gate at the parking lot for the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) Temple in Hollywood.
The parking lot looks like most other semi-maintained parking lots in L.A., but dance over the cracked asphalt to the non-descript white wall, and follow the arrow that points to the Meditation Gardens.
Inside is a grassy oasis—overtones of India, a gazebo with blue stained-glass windows and babbling fountains that whisper: sit, close your eyes, free your mind, listen. Careful not to listen too hard, though. It’s still Hollywood, and the Temple is next to a hospital. Babble with all their might, the fountains can’t block the noise of oncoming ambulance sirens.
It’s not crowded the day we go, New Years Day. A middle-aged Indian couple greets us quietly when we walk by. Later we see them seated hip-to-hip on a bench, eyes closed. The only other garden goer that day is a man in a beanie, who we find seated inside the gazebo, reading from a notebook.
This little haven in Hollywood isn’t the only meditation garden provided by the Self-Realization Fellowship.
In 1920, a man named Paramahansa Yogananda brought yoga to the West. He founded the Self-Realization Fellowship as a way to make the teachings of Kriya Yoga accessible to anybody interested in achieving union of the soul with Spirit, otherwise known as God.
Today there are more than 500 SRF temples and centers around the world. Four of them, including the international headquarters, are in Los Angeles.
Likely the best known of these centers is the Lake Shrine Gardens and Temple, located in the Pacific Palisades where Sunset Boulevard meets the Pacific Ocean.
The Lake Shrine is bigger than its Hollywood counterpart. It’s really more of a compound. There is an entire lake, for one. There is a boat house, a gift shop, a windmill (by all appearances non-functioning), walking paths and, of course, the temple, located 109 stairs up at the top of a hill.
This location is higher on the tourist radar, so there’s also a fair per capita number of selfie sticks.
The SRF locations are open to the public. No demands that you be a yogi to enjoy the serenity of the gardens or the weekly services, which include readings from Paramahansa Yogananda’s writing, periods of devotional chanting, silent meditation and prayer.
If you are interested in deeper self-realization, you can apply for the Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons. The first year of lesson study is done at home, where you learn three basic techniques of meditation. After the first year of preparation and practice, students are eligible to apply for initiation in the technique of Kriya Yoga and formally establish a guru-disciple relationship.
Whatever your inclinations, we leave you with the final cosmic chant from the Cosmic Chant Pamphlet (free inside temple), titled, Ever New Joy: