The Gardens of Mt. Washington: Exploring L.A.’s Hidden “Leaf Temple”
When Parmanhansa Yogananda– one of the gurus credited with bringing yoga to the West– arrived in Los Angeles in the 1920’s, one of the first adjustments he made was to establish a garden that is now known as the Self-Realization Fellowship.
Today, the contemplative garden at the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) is part of a working monastery filled with native Southern California plants– and the occasional stunted pine tree– with stunning views of downtown Los Angeles. There are plenty of sitting areas available for quiet reflection within the garden, which surrounds “Yogiji”‘s original home, but perhaps the most thrilling is what is referred to as “The Leaf Temple”– a beautiful sunken meditation garden beneath the boughs of a mighty Oak.
Inside the leaf temple is a small shrine affixed to the base of the tree, which is dedicated to Yogananda’s legacy and the tomes of various philosphers and poets who inspired him, among them: Plato, Dostoevsky, and Gandhi, who was his contemporary in India. It is said, according to the Lonely Planet, “that if you sit in an area where Yogananda sat for a prolonged period of time, you may feel his calming vibration”.
It is said that if you sit in an area where Yogananda sat for a prolonged period of time, you may feel his calming vibration.
When writing about the role that the outcrop garden played in Yoganananda’s spirituality, former Los Angeles Times‘ Religion Editor Dan Thrapp wrote that the Self-Realization Fellowship “is very descriptive of his work— it’s a fellowship of people who are realizing themselves, their own potential…”
“When I went through an SRF Center, wherever it was, whether it was the Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades or Mt. Washington [the SRF Headquarters, above] or elsewhere, the element that attracted me greatly was the element of peace. They not only spoke of peace, they not only professed peace, but they actually believed in peace. They actually lived a peaceful life….Self-Realization Fellowship is a reflection of its founder, Yogananda.”
Upon driving across the Mt. Washington ridge in the San Rafael hills, one is met with an undeniable feeling of levity. Yellow-robed monks stroll the grounds performing walking meditations during working hours; the sun hangs low and casts long shadows through the trees, which line a street that gives way to patio often frequented by families with small children and curious neighbors walking dogs in the sunshine. There is a small pond with coy fish, and stunted, staked pine trees (see below) with numerous benches interspersed amid the mix.
The Temple of Leaves, however, stands out as the garden’s feature contemplative space– one that harkens symbolically to the larger message of the SRF: to spread the practice of mindfulness and offer a space for visitors to relax and luxuriate in the splendor of nature. The garden is by no means the largest (and hardly the most impressive) in Los Angeles– but there is a peacefulness that surrounds the estate, which offers guided Kriya Meditation, Sunday Services, and Yoga retreats to underscore the curricula of the fellowship. The garden, for all its endearing simplicity, also boasts one of the best views of Los Angeles– if, that is, you can find it.