Paramahansa Yogananda’s "Breathe in Me"
Introduction and Excerpt from "Breathe in Me"
From Paramahansa Yogananda’s collection of poems of faith, Songs of the Soul, "Breathe in Me" consists of two unrimed verse paragraphs (versagraphs), the first featuring twelve lines, and the second nine. Also in the second versagraph, a six-line refrain emphasizes an important contingency regarding the speaker’s supplication to the Divine.
(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")
Excerpt from "Breathe in Me"
Breathe in me the way to love You,
That I may learn to faultlessly love You.
Pour me the wisdom-wine
By which I become intoxicated with You.
Whisper in my ears of silence
The way to be with You always. . . .
(Please note: The poem in its entirety may be found in Paramahansa Yogananda's Songs of the Soul, published by Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, CA, 1983 and 2014 printings.)
In Paramahansa Yogananda’s "Breathe in Me," the speaker is addressing the Divine Reality, as he seeks the ability to increase his love for his Creator.
First Versagraph: Re-establishing His Unity With the Divine
In the first versagraph, the speaker asks the Divine Belovèd to make him realize the Divine as his own breath. The Blessèd Creator, Who fashioned his children out of the same essence as Himself, does actually "breathe," circulate blood, work, and play in the bodies of His children. As the speaker beseeches his Creator, he is asking for the ability to remember his already close relationship with the Lord.
The speaker wants to re-establish his awareness of that close relationship so that he may "faultlessly love [the Divine Creator]." He wishes to "learn" to love his Maker without any taint of forgetfulness or selfishness that existence in the flesh has engendered in him.
The speaker then employs the metaphor of intoxication: "Pour me the wisdom-wine / By which I become intoxicated with You." Being "drunk" with thoughts of the Divine brings a euphoric state that is without the negative side effects of imbibing liquid intoxicants.
Metaphorically imbibing the spiritual liquor brings the perfect bliss that all humans seek. Next, the speaker asks the Beloved Divine to "[w]hisper in my ears of silence," imploring that those whispers be guidance for his "wandering senses."
The devoted speaker is asking that his scattered thoughts and feelings be brought back to the Divine, to "[The Maker’s] sanctuary within." The speaker then implores the Creator to "call the marauding mind and counsel it"; he asks again to be guided back "to [his Maker’s] home."
The speaker knows he has been in that home before because he asks to learn "how to retrace" his steps back to the heavenly abode. Finally, the speaker requests, "With Your silent eyes, just look at me" because he understands that once he catches a glimpse of the Belovèd, he will intuitively know "where to find [Him]."
Second Versagraph: Locating the Divine in His Many Forms
The second versagraph transitions into a chant-song: "You may hide behind the ocean, / You may hide behind delusion, / You may hide behind life." The speaker is showing in his repetition that the nature of Maya delusion is to hide evidence of the Blessèd One from the speaker’s sense awareness.
It appears that the Divine Belovèd continues to hide everywhere, inside all created forms, progressing from the lowest level of consciousness of gemstones to the highest level of consciousness in the minds and bodies of human beings.
The speaker is seeking to locate the Divine in the many forms that hide His reality, as he continues his retrain: "You may hide behind dualities, / You may hide behind theological conundrums, / You may hide behind unanswered prayers."
Divinity even hides behind ideas such as the pairs of dual opposites, the enigmas of religious study, and for mankind the most frustrating of all is that the Creator hides behind seemingly "unanswered prayers."
The speaker then reveals the key to his own prayer’s being answered and that is that the Lord "cannot hide behind [the devotee’s] love." The speaker will find the Blessèd One "in the mirroring light of [his] love" for the Divine; in that love "[the Creator] is revealed."
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.
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes