Today being Elvis Presley’s birthday, I wanted to visit a part of his life that is not very well-known by fans of his. Though he was raised Christian and in fact recorded many Gospel records, Elvis was a seeker. He joined Paramahansa Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship in 1965 and remained a devotee of Yogananda’s teachings for the remainder of his life. He even recorded a comically horrific song called “Yoga Is as Yoga Does” in 1971 and you can hear it on YouTube if you don’t believe me.
Usually when one thinks of spirituality and rock n’ roll, one thinks of the Beatles and their dalliance with yoga and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1967-68. George Harrison came to greatly revere Yogananda-ji, but it was Elvis who had joined SRF a couple of years before the Beatles had ever heard the gurudev’s name.
Alas, Elvis was quiet, or at least not public, about his spiritual leanings and/or yearnings. Rock stars are like spiritual leaders anyway. See how young people to this day react to their favorite pop stars even today! They swoon in what looks very much like a religious fervor. The Beatles turned many on to an alternate form of spirituality in the ’60s. This was when the psychedelic drug culture was well established, however. And you could say that the psychedelics made youths more open to alternate ways of thinking. But imagine if someone with as much cultural clout as Elvis had revealed his devotion to the teachings of Yogananda back in the ’50s, when there was still a glimmer of innocence to rock music and youth culture.
I am not suggesting, nor wishing that youth would have been “swayed” necessarily by their musical idol’s choices. But there is a big difference between proselytizing and showing the masses that there are other choices, other ways of seeing the world, and letting them make their own choice, when they approach it from their own heart, and see what is right for them. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened, had Elvis been open about his devotion to Yogananda and Kriya yoga, just as the Beatles were extremely, and publicly enthusiastic about the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Transcendental Meditation.
I think we would have seen a generation of earnest, enlightened youths, sans the haze of marijuana smoke.