In the 10-acre pocket of tranquility known as Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, urban Los Angeles can seem light years away. Off of Sunset Blvd. in Pacific Palisades, this spiritual sanctuary has drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors for decades, yet, with many Angelenos unaware of its existence, it remains something of a hidden gem.
The central feature, geographically, of this site is a natural spring-fed lake, surrounded by vibrant foliage. A path around the lake is dotted with stone benches tucked into alcoves and other nooks where visitors can sit or stand a spell in silent reflection or meditation.
The Lake Shrine was established by Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), a spiritual teacher from India who started the international non-profit society Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) in 1920 and later wrote the best-selling classic Autobiography of a Yogi, as well as numerous other books related to the science of yoga meditation and the art of living a balanced life.
Yogananda established the site in 1950, as a tribute to world peace and fellowship. “This Shrine has been created for all religions, that all may feel the unity of a common faith” said Yogananda, at the Lake Shrine's dedication.
The Court of Religions here is a testament to its founder's unifying aims. In this area outside the Lake Shrine visitors' center are small pillars honoring Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism. Statues on the grounds depict important figures from various spiritual traditions, from Lord Krishna to Jesus Christ.
Statues of Quan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion in Buddhism, flank one of the Lake Shrine's most prominent attractions: the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial. With a gorgeous archway at its feet, the green “Gandhi lawn” features a 1,000-year-old Chinese stone sarcophagus, in which lies a portion of Mahatma Gandhi's ashes (the only portion outside of India, in fact).
The Lake Shrine grounds are a haven not just for city folk seeking a respite but also for migratory birds such as wild ducks and herons. Kids are always delighted to see the resident animal-life in and on the lily-pad-speckled lake, including swans, turtles, and the swimming koi visible just under the water's surface.
The site's abundant, lush flora reflects Yogananda's fondness for diversity. You can spot here everything from roses and passion flowers to desert cacti and a rare Mexican weeping bamboo. Trees onsite include an African tuliptree, a Chinese pistachio tree, fragrant Himalayan champaks, and dwarfed Japanese black pines. Yogananda planted many of the trees himself. In considering the landscaping of the property shortly after it was acquired, he cited the gardens of Kashmir as inspiration.
You'll see a few buildings on the lake-level of the property, including a Windmill Chapel off of the lake and a Mississippi-style houseboat. The recently renovated visitors' center houses a small shop where you can browse books and CDs on the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda. A mill house close to the parking lot holds exhibits related to the life of Yogananda and the fascinating history of the Lake Shrine.
On the hilltop overlooking the grounds is the stunning 58-foot high, 4,000 square foot Lake Shrine Temple, crowned with a golden lotus. Opened in 1996, the temple offers inspirational and meditation services by SRF ministers.
The Lake Shrine gardens, at 17190 Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades, are open to the public Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Sundays from noon to 4:30 p.m. Temple services are held Sundays at 9 and 11 a.m., and Thursday evenings at 8 p.m. For more information, see lakeshrine.org or call (310) 454-4114.
For more information about the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda or SRF, please contact Self-Realization Fellowship, tel. (323) 225-2471, yogananda-srf.org.