- Paramananda, Swami
- (1884–1940)pioneer teacher of Vedanta in the United StatesSwami Paramananda was a leading teacher of Vedanta in the United States. He founded the ANANDA ASHRAMA AND VEDANTA CENTRE, which carried on his teachings, including his respect for women as spiritual leaders.Born on February 5, 1884, to an affluent East Bengali family in the village of Banaripara in what is now Bangladesh, Suresh Chandra Guhu Thakurta, the person who would later become Swami Paramananda, was cherished by his par-ents, Brahmamoyee and Ananda Mohan. His mother died when Suresh was only nine years old. When his father’s second wife died, Suresh turned to an inner search. He began to read in his father’s library and was introduced to the spirituality of Sri RAMAKRISHNA. He visited the RAMAKRISHNA MAT H AND MISSION at Belur Math near Calcutta (Kolkata) and studied the life of the Bengali saint. In 1900, only four years after the death of Ramak-rishna, Suresh ran away from home and joined the monastery. In 1902 he was initiated into the renounced life of sannyas by Swami VIVEKANANDA, student of Sri Ramakrishna and founder of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission.Paramananda then spent four years in Madras (Chennai) with Swami Ramakrishnananda. While there he received a vision of a mission to the West. In 1906 he accompanied Swami ABHEDANANDA to New York and served as his assistant at the VEDANTA SOCIETY. He succeeded Abhedananda as director of the New York Vedanta Center and later founded Vedanta centers in Boston and Washing-ton, D.C. While in New York, he became close to Sister Devamata (Laura Franklin Glenn) (1867–1942), who in the 1920s published his biography. He traveled widely and was a popular and sensi-tive spokesman for the message of VEDANTA.As was his teacher Vivekananda, he was com-mitted to including women in the spiritual life. His first disciple, Sister Devamata, was given considerable responsibility for giving talks and spiritual guidance when he was away. Her talks were published along with those of Paramananda. Some of the Boston students regarded her, rather than the SWAMI, as their spiritual teacher. Another of his students, Sister Daya (Georgina Jones Wal-ton) (1882–1955), as did Sister Devamata, gave talks and spiritual guidance when Paramananda was not in town.Beginning in 1915, Paramananda began to lecture and teach in Los Angeles, dividing his time between that city and Boston. In 1923 he opened the Ananda Ashrama at La Crescenta, California, and in 1929 opened a second ashram at Cohasset, Massachusetts.Swami Paramananda died on June 21, 1940, at his Cohasset, Massachusetts, center. During his life, his three centers, in Boston, La Crescenta, and Cohasset, were closely associated with the larger Vedanta Society in the United States, although organizationally independent. Since his death, the leadership of the ASHRAM has been held by women: Sister Devamata, Srimata Gayatri Devi, and Sister Sudha. The three centers, distrusting the attitude of some swamis toward women, refused to accept the new swamis sent by the Ramakrishna Math to lead their community. They applied to the Rama-krishna Math to be allowed to operate as a sister-hood, but no such permission was granted. In 1953 the Sarada Math, an order of women nuns, was founded in India, finally allowing women in the Ramakrishna-Vedanta tradition to take vows of renunciation. When the Paramananda com-munity still refused to accept new male swamis as leaders, the parent order severed relations.The Cohasset center and Ananda Ashrama continue to conduct daily shrine worship, give public services and classes, and publish Para-mananda’s books.Further reading: Sister Devamata, Swami Paramananda and His Work, 2 vols. (La Crescenta, Calif.: Ananda Ashrama, 1926 and 1941); Sara Ann Levinsky, A Bridge of Dreams: The Story of Paramananda, a Modern Mystic, and His Ideal of All-Conquering Love (West Stockbridge, Mass.: Lindisfarne Press, 1984); Swami Paramananda, Christ and Oriental Ideals (Boston: Vedanta Centre, 1912); ———, The Path of Devotion (Boston: Vedanta Centre, 1907); ———, Emerson and Vedanta (Boston: Vedanta Centre, 1918).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.