Yogananda began his life's work with the founding, in 1917, of a “how-to-live” school for boys, where modern educational methods were combined with yoga training and instruction in spiritual ideals. The Maharajah of Kasimbazar made available his summer palace at Ranchi (about 250 miles from Calcutta) as the site for the school. Visiting the school a few years later, Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “This institution has deeply impressed my mind.”
One day in 1920, while meditating at the Ranchi school, Yogananda had a divine vision showing him that now was the time to begin his work in the West. He immediately departed for Calcutta, where the next day he was invited to serve as India’s delegate to an international congress of religious leaders convening later that year in Boston. Sri Yukteswar confirmed that the time was right, saying: “All doors are open for you. It is now or never.”
Shortly before his departure, Yogananda was visited by Mahavatar Babaji, the deathless master who revived in this age the ancient science of Kriya Yoga. “You are the one I have chosen to spread the message of Kriya Yoga in the West,” Babaji said to Yogananda. “Long ago I met your guru Yukteswar at a Kumbha Mela; I told him then I would send you to him for training. Kriya Yoga, the scientific technique of God-realization, will ultimately spread in all lands, and aid in harmonizing the nations through man's personal, transcendental perception of the Infinite Father.”
The young swami arrived in Boston in September 1920. His first speech, made to the International Congress of Religious Liberals, was on “The Science of Religion,” and was enthusiastically received. That same year he founded Self-Realization Fellowship to disseminate worldwide his teachings on India’s ancient science and philosophy of Yoga and its time-honored tradition of meditation. The first SRF meditation center was started in Boston with the help of Dr. and Mrs. M. W. Lewis and Mrs. Alice Hasey (Sister Yogmata), who were to become lifelong disciples.
For the next several years, he lectured and taught on the East Coast; and in 1924 embarked on a cross-continental speaking tour. Reaching Los Angeles in early 1925, he established there an international headquarters for Self-Realization Fellowship atop Mt. Washington, which became the spiritual and administrative heart of his growing work.