Nestled along Sunset Boulevard, you’ve no doubt seen the white dome jutting from the tree line as you drive toward the beach. Crowned with a golden lotus flower and trimmed with blue tile, it’s like something plucked from the streets of Agra.
This sight is the Main Temple of the Self-Realization Fellowship’s Lake Shrine, and while construction was finished on the Temple in 1996, the lake where it now stands has a deep history.
“People love the lake,” Brother Ritananda, with the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, told the Palisadian-Post. “The beauty that you see here isn’t the result of deep pockets—it’s a labor of love.”
Swans, koi, ducks and turtles convene with thousands of human visitors each year, who come to enjoy the waterfalls, flowers, fountains, statues, lily ponds and fern grottos that dot the grounds.
In 1927, the hillsides were hydraulically graded, hollowing out a basin that was slowly fed by naturally occurring underground springs, creating the only naturally spring-fed lake in the city of Los Angeles.
“It became a watering hole,” Brother Ritananda explained. “The kids loved it, but the adults thought it was kind of an eyesore.”
The grounds were given to Self-Realization Fellowship founder Paramahansa Yogananda in the late 1940s by an oil executive.
“Paramahansa Yogananda had a vision of a spiritual oasis where people could come from all faiths, meditate, worship, pray and be reminded of God and the beauty of nature.”
A reproduction of a 16th century Dutch windmill also sits beside the lake, a vestige from the 1940s. The windmill was used as the former temple until the Main Temple’s completion in 1996, and was also the site for the funeral of George Harrison.
“It’s so peaceful—that feeling is definitely here,” Brother Ritananda said. “Anyone who comes with an open heart can feel and enjoy the benefit.”
But erosion, termites, time and the 1994 Northridge earthquake took their toll on the grounds. In 2013, the windmill was closed to the public for retrofitting, reopening in 2015 with a bolstered exterior of sustainably sourced old growth redwood, a natural repellent of termites and dry rot.
“It should last for centuries,” Brother Ritananda said with a smile. “But there is still a lot of work to be done on the lake.”
The monks began Phase I of their shoreline project six months ago, reinforcing parts of the shoreline by driving steel pylons into the lakebed, attaching a steel mesh to the pylons, then pouring granite rock between the shoreline and the mesh.
“The lake’s perimeter can’t support trucks, so all the work has to be done with wheelbarrows,” Brother Ritananda explained. “Because of the unique circumstances, there’s not really a contractor you can go with.”
To accomplish Phase II, the monks built a construction barge in the middle of the lake. The project, which will take two years to complete, will retain the integrity of the lake’s shoreline.
The monks hope to accomplish more of Phase II before the Self-Realization Fellowship’s annual Convocation August 4-10, where thousands of Swami pilgrims from around the world gather at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles.
“A lot of them visit us, as it’s their only opportunity to visit the Lake Shrine,” Brother Ritananda said.
Many pilgrims come to see the authentic 1,000-year-old Chinese sarcophagus containing a portion of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes.
“People think of the Lake Shrine as a park—it looks like a park, but it’s different than a park. Our mission is different,” Brother Ritananda said. “It’s private property that we open to the public for free—free admission, free parking, with the intention that it can be a spiritual oasis.
“We want to maintain these grounds in perpetuity for the public so people can enjoy them for years to come.”
To donate to the Shoreline Renovation project, visit lakeshrine.org/support-us/donate or email email@example.com.