Eastern & Western religious philosophy is one of my areas of interest about which I write essays exploring the nature of reality and being.
Paramahansa Yogananda's The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita was published in 2007 by Self-Realization Fellowship. This useful volume serves to summarize and introduce the two volume classic, God Talks with Arjuna, which is destined to become the definitive translation and explication of the scripture known as the Bhagavad Gita.
The sacred text of the Bhagavad Gita is often quoted by Western thinkers, scholars, and critics. Until Paramahansa Yogananda's translation and thorough explication of the text, much misunderstanding has continued to appear regarding the meaning of the symbolism employed in that text. Ineffable subjects must be expressed in language more akin to poetry than prose; thus, a special reading is needed to interpret the text, not only because of its poetic nature but also because explaining the nature of God, Who is beyond nature and sense awareness, must be done by one who has become God-realized—one such as Paramahansa Yogananda.
This great guru's translation and explication is becoming the standard for understanding this wisdom of Eastern philosophy and religion. It will take its place alongside Paramahansa Yogananda's classic work, Autobiography of a Yogi, which is now studied in over 300 university classes worldwide.
In the Preface, a quotation from Paramahansa Yogananda, founder of Self-Realization Fellowship and Kriya Yoga teacher, asserts, "Sri Krishna's message in the Bhagavad Gita is the perfect answer for the modern age, and any age: Yoga of dutiful action, of nonattachment, and of meditation for God-realization."
The Gita offers "a timeless prescription for the happiness and balanced success of everyday life." Such descriptions might lead a reader to think the Gita a self-help book rather than a poem. While the Gita has been translated by many who have grasped the surface of its meaning, now the full significance of this scripture can be experienced through Yogananda's enlightened translation.
Many translations and explanations of this sacred Hindu scriptural poem have been offered over the centuries, but for the first time, the world is experiencing a translation and explication that is truly authentic as well as accurate: "What distinguishes the original translation by Paramahansa Yogananda is that, for the first time, the English rendering was done with an understanding of the profound inner symbology hidden in the Sanskrit verses."
The Preface of this text explains that the historical battle dramatized in the Gita is "an allegory of the inner conflict between man's base materialistic instincts and his innate yearning to attain the blissful spiritual consciousness of the oneness with the Divine." The names of the characters appearing the poem are symbols, and Yogananda expertly interprets the meaning of the symbology.
Parts 1 and 2
Part 1: Keys to the Gita's Wisdom
Introducing the sacred poem, Paramahansa Yogananda explains that the meaning of "Bhagavad Gita" is "the song of the spirit." The text is the Hindu's "Holy Testament" or Bible. He remarks, "the entire knowledge of the cosmos is packed into the Gita." The spirituality of the Gita is displayed in its "rhetoric, alliteration, diction, style, and harmony"—all which give testimony that it exists from a former "glorious golden age."
Part 1 goes on to offer valuable tools for understanding the metaphoric language and symbology of the great epic with the following section titles: "The Spiritual Battle of Everyday Life," "Yoga: The Method of Victory," "The Psychological Forces That Oppose the Soul," "The Triumph of the Soul through Practice of Yoga."
Part 2: The Bhagavad Gita (translation by Paramahansa Yogananda)
Part 2 of this great text offers a summary of the Gita, with the following section titles: "The Despondency of Arjuna," "Sankhya and Yoga: Cosmic Wisdom and the Method of Its Attainment," "Karma Yoga: The Path of Spiritual Action," "The Supreme Science of Knowing God," "Freedom Through Inner Renunciation," and twelve additional sections.
Conclusion: "Arise! Before you is the royal path!"
The parting words of the Conclusion to The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita are an enticement to follow that "royal path." It makes clear that the Gita is a profound poem and a living scripture based on the scientific principles that inform yoga. Many folks live under the mistaken notion that poetry and science have nothing in common, that they are, in fact, polar opposites. The science of the Bhagavad Gita is unmistakably clear, and its poetry can now become clear through this authoritative volume offered by a self-realized master.
This sacred epic as demonstrated by Paramahansa Yogananda's accurate translation and thorough interpretation combines the art of both science and poetry in service of showing humankind the story that leads each soul back to its Origin. All great spiritual leaders and founders of the world's great religions have averred that the journey back to the Creator is one that each soul must undertake at some point in its existence. And that journey back is the purpose of every scripture in every religion, and each scripture requires interpretation because of the necessarily metaphysical nature of that writing.
Life Sketch of Paramahansa Yogananda
The great guru/poet Paramahansa Yogananda was born on January 5, 1893, in Gorakhpur, India. His name at birth was Mukunda Lal Ghosh. Always a spiritually advanced child, at age 17, he met his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, under whose guidance he flourished and became the spiritual giant and sacred engine that leads souls back to their eternal abode in the arms of the Divine Creator.
Paramahansa Yogananda came to the United States in 1920 to speak in Boston at the International Congress of Religious Liberals. His speech was so well received that he quickly gathered a following. By 1925, his organization, Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), was well established with the purpose of disseminating and maintaining the purity of his teachings of yoga. He has come to be known as the “Father of Yoga in the West.”
The following is an excerpt from the introduction to Paramahansa Yogananda’s biography on the Self-Realization Fellowship Web site:
In the hundred years since the birth of Paramahansa Yogananda, this beloved world teacher has come to be recognized as one of the greatest emissaries to the West of India’s ancient wisdom. His life and teachings continue to be a source of light and inspiration to people of all races, cultures and creeds.
Paramahansa Yogananda's in-depth work, Autobiography of a Yogi, has become a spiritual classic worldwide. Many devotees have been drawn to the teachings of this yogi through that autobiography, and many of their stories about how they came to find that work include some of the most inspiring "miracles" of modern American culture.
Such world-renowned figures as Dennis Weaver, Steve Jobs, George Harrison, and Elvis Presley were influenced by the Autobiography of a Yogi and the teachings of the great guru. Weaver even became a lay minister and spoke often at many of the SRF temples in California.
In addition to the autobiography, the great guru has published many collections of his talks, in both written and oral forms. His audio collector's series of ten of his informal talks includes the following titles:
1. Beholding the One in All
2. Awake in the Cosmic Dream
3. Be a Smile Millionaire
4. The Great Light of God
5. To Make Heaven on Earth
6. One Life Versus Reincarnation
7. Removing All Sorrow and Suffering
8. In the Glory of the Spirit
9. Follow the Path of Christ, Krishna, and the Masters
10. Self-Realization: The Inner and the Outer Path
These inspirational talks reveal much information about the great guru that appeals to his devoted followers. Just listening to a God-realized voice offers an uplifting spiritual experience.
For my commentaries on the poems of the great guru, I rely on his marvelous collection titled, Songs of the Soul, the version published in 1983 with its most current printing 2014. Two additional collections of his poems are extant, Whispers From Eternity and Metaphysical Meditations.
Because the "poems" of this great guru function on levels that ordinary poems do not, they are often used in devotional services held by groups of devotees of the SRF teachings throughout the world in the Readings Services as well as their Special Commemorative Services.
Paramahansa Yogananda's poems are more akin to prayers than to the poetry of ordinary poets, whose subject matter often dramatizes only human emotion in its relationship with creation and other human beings, instead of with the Creator; the great guru's poems always invoke the Creator's presence whether directly or indirectly.
The great guru's organization, SRF, also continues to publish collections of his works. Many of his talks have appeared in the series of essays that include Man's Eternal Quest, The Divine Romance, and Journey to Self-realization.
The guru has also bestowed on the literary world three important translations of extant perennial works that have been grossly misunderstood in some cases for centuries. His new translations along with his explanatory commentaries are correcting that misunderstanding.
In Wine of the Mystic: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam — A Spiritual Interpretation, he shows how that poet's God-realized effusions put on display a man in love with his Creator and not the wine sopped Epicurean that has been misapplied to the work.
In the guru's in-depth translation and commentaries on the ancient Bhagavad Gita, titled God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita — A New Translation and Commentary, the great spiritual leader offers not only the poetic translation of the work but also the relevance for humankind of the psychological and spiritual instruction offered in the ancient poem.
Most importantly for Western culture, Paramahansa Yogananda has offered a full explanation of the phenomenon known as the "Second Coming." Titled The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You — A revelatory commentary on the original teachings of Jesus, the work explains the true meaning of many of Jesus' words long misunderstood and mischaracterized, such as "The Kingdom of God is within you" and "I and my Father are one."
Of all the publications offered by SRF and the great guru, it is the Lessons that remain most vital. One could dispense with all of the other books, audio tapes, poetry, and other commentaries if one possesses those lessons.
The Lessons begin by offering physical exercises that prepare the physical encasement to sit quietly and still while performing the more advanced exercises that lead to Kriya Yoga practice.
The Lessons contains six steps that can be completed in three years, but each student is free to progress at his/her own pace. The Lessons include instruction in the following techniques: 1. Energization Exercises. 2. Hong-Sau Technique of Concentration, and 3. Aum Technique of Meditation.
After completing the first two steps, the devotee may apply for the Kriya Yoga technique.
Kriya Yoga Initiations
The Kriya Yoga technique features four initiations for a total of twenty lessons. The First Initiation, featuring lessons K1-9, includes the technique of Kriya proper, on which all of the other initiations are based. The Second Initiation contains four lessons, K10-14, and the Third and Fourth include the remaining lessons K15-20.
All of the Lessons, including the Kriya Yoga Initiations, include many explanations based of science, as well as on the life experience of Paramahansa Yogananda. These marvelous works are presented in such way to hold the student-devotees' interest with little stories, poems, affirmations, and prayers that enhance the purpose of each lesson.
In addition to all of the works mentioned above, Paramahansa Yogananda has published many others, including his Cosmic Chants, which offers musical notations as well as the lyric for each chant.
An annotated list of the works of the great guru is offered on the Self-Realization Fellowship Web site under the title, "The Complete Works of Paramahansa Yogananda."
Brief Publishing History of Songs of the Soul
The first published version of Paramahansa Yogananda's Songs of the Soul appeared in 1923. During the 1920s and 1930s, the great spiritual leader revised many of the poems. The final revisions of the poems authorized by the great guru appear in the 1983 printing of the text, which along with the revisions restored many lines that had been omitted from the original version.
I use the 1983 printing for my commentaries. The current printing year is 2014. No further revisions or additions have been made since the 1983 printing. The 1923 versions of the many of the poems may be read at Full Text of Songs of the Soul.
© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes