Paramahansa Yogananda's "God's Boatman"
Introduction and Excerpt from "God's Boatman"
Paramahansa Yogananda’s "God’s Boatman" offers devotees on the spiritual path the comforting knowledge that the guru will always remain their spiritual leader, throughout eternity, and the guru will not abandon them to delusion and despair. The poem reveals the empathy that a God-realized saint has for the suffering human beings in this world.
The relationship between a God-realized saint (a guru) is eternal. The guru will guide and guard his devotee throughout their existence, so long as the devotee remains without that desired state of consciousness known as samadhi or "self-realization," or union with the Divine Causal Reality. This poem dramatizes the guru's promise to continue and maintain his protection of his devotees throughout eternity.
Excerpt from "God's Boatman"
I want to ply my boat, many times,
Across the gulf-after-death,
And return to earth’s shores
From my home in heaven.
I want to load my boat
With those waiting, thirsty ones
Who are left behind,
And carry them by the opal pool
Of iridescent joy
Where my Father distributes
His all-desire-quenching liquid peace. . . . .
(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.)
"God's Boatman" offers reassurance that the devotee who faithfully follows his/her spiritual path will be guarded and guided by the guru or spiritual leader of that paths.
First Movement: Willing to Return Many Times
The speaker of Paramahansa Yogananda's poem, "God's Boatman," from Songs of the Soul, is a God-united saint, i.e., a self-realized soul. In this poem the speaker declares that he desires to and will, in fact, return to earth as many times as is necessary to retrieve those souls who have not yet regained that coveted state of Superconsciousness that the guru has achieved.
The God-realized guru metaphorically likens the space continuum between God-realization and earth-consciousness to an ocean across which he will metaphorically travel by boat "from [his] home in heaven" to the "earth’s shores," where his stranded fellows remain in delusion.
Second Movement: A Boat Load of Souls
The speaker avers that he will "load [his] boat / With those waiting, thirsty ones / Who are left behind." He will literally teach his yogic techniques to those who are open to them, to those who are suffering from the despair and misery that living in a physical body with mentally agitated awareness causes.
The guru/speaker will figuratively transport his devotees across the great watery divide to the "opal pool / Of iridescent joy / Where [his] Father distributes / His all-desire-quenching liquid peace." He will teach them to concentrate their efforts and make their minds one-pointed and clear through meditation until they are able to shed the trials and tribulations of this world and enter the haven of bliss, where the Ultimate Reality will truly embrace and bless them.
Third Movement: Willing to Suffer Many Inconveniences
The speaker insists that he "will come again and again!" The unselfishness of the God-united saint is beyond comprehension by those unrealized minds and hearts, whose very existence seems to dictate the necessity of remaining self-centered and self-focused as they identify with their flesh, race, country, sex, and their families and possessions.
Furthermore, this beloved guru admits that he will suffer myriad inconveniences for his fellows; even if his feet have to bleed as he searches for them, he will come for them. He will come for them, "If need be, a trillion times — / So long as [he knows] / One stray brother is left behind." Who, without self-realization, can even fathom the acts of taking on the physical body with its bothers "a trillion times" just for sake of others?
Fourth Movement: To Give God-Realization to Others
Turning to the beloved Divine Creator, the speaker assures the Blessed Lord God that he desires God-realization, and he wants that realization not only for himself but also to be able to "give [that realization] to all." The speaker/guru supplicates to the Lord to be liberated from body delusion so that he may show others that they too can do as he has done, that they too can achieve the blessed state of superconscious awareness.
The speaker reiterates his plea to the Lord; he desires this ultimate liberation from the slavery of the physical encasement not only for himself but also in order to help deliver others from misery to the same God-bliss the speaker enjoys. He seeks that exalted state because it will give him the power to assist his fellow sufferers. This desire remains his ultimate unselfishness: that just as Jesus did, this unselfish speaker desires above all else to demonstrate the efficacy of the spiritual, yogic path, which leads to eternal happiness because it leads to the Ultimate Reality.
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.
Dr M.W. Lewis: God's Boatman ~ An Audio Satsang
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© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes