Paramahansa Yogananda's "I Am He"
Introduction and Excerpt from "I Am He"
Paramahansa Yogananda’s poem, “I Am He,” from Songs of the Soul proffers the beautiful description of the human soul, an entity that is ever free, never fettered, always without the illusions, trials and tribulations, and changes that the physical body and mind must endure, according to the yogic teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, founder of Self-Realization Fellowship.
This poem is based on the chant of Swami Shankara, who reorganized the swami order in India and whom Paramahansa Yogananda in Autobiography of a Yogi describes as “a rare blend of saint, scholar, and man of action.”
Excerpt from "I Am He"
No birth, no death, no caste have I;
Father, mother, have I none:
I am He, I am He, — blessed Spirit, I am He!
Mind, nor intellect, nor ego, feeling;
Sky, nor earth, nor metals am I:
I am He, I am He, — blessed Spirit, I am He! . . .
(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.)
The chant: "No Birth, No Death"
This poem is based on Swami Shankara's chant, “No Birth, No Death,” which is often practiced in the meditation services of Self-Realization Fellowship.
First Movement: Ever Living
Yogic teachings inform us that every soul of every human being is ever living, and therefore does not experience the events of birth and death. As the unselfrealized individual does experience these events, s/he does so because of the delusion that s/he is untethered from the Divine Creator.
After each individual is able to realize completely that s/he is the soul and not the mind and body, that individual can say, “I am He.” At that time, each individual can also realize that along with lacking the experiences of birth and death, s/he also has “no caste,” and no mother or father. The ever-liberated soul requires nothing from the limiting qualities found on the physical level of being.
Second Movement: Only the Soul
Those individuals beginning the study of yogic teachings may easily comprehend the thought that their fundamental being is not the physical encasement; however, it is more difficult to understand that they are also not the mind. The physical body is defined closely by and linked to sense awareness. The mind, on the other hand, seems to be as invisible as the soul is, that is, not detectable by the senses. The mind, thus, cannot be seen, heard, tasted, touched, or smelled.
However, the mind is as subject to delusion as is the physical encasement. In yogic meditation, the neophyte soon discovers it is even more difficult to control the mind than it is to control the physical body. After the individual has somewhat seized control of the physical body, the mental body still remains free to scurry off hither and yon in every direction as one attempts to meditate.
Therefore, the beginning meditator must so impress upon his/her consciousness the liberating fact that each human being is not the mind; nor is the individual the intellect, the ego, or the feeling. The physical encasement that seems to be such a concrete reality, of course, remains an impediment; however, the mind also remains an impediment even though it is a non-concrete reality.
Thinking cannot vanquish the borderline between reality and unreality. Only through transcendence of the physical and mental can the physical body and mental encasement become united with of the Ultimate Creative Reality. That evolutionary process can be greatly enhanced by the act of chanting the truth that the genuine nature of the soul remains eternally in conscious existence.
Third Movement: Soul United with Over-Soul
This poem includes lines that reveal scientific truths: “No prana, or its vital currents five, / Nor the quintuple sheaths of wisdom traits and body-stuff.” A footnote explains and defines the term, prana:
Prana is the intelligent life energy that pervades and sustains the human body through the specialized function of five currents. The ‘quintuple sheathes’ are the five koshas or subtle coverings that separate the soul in delusion from Spirit.
The chant makes clear the truth that each soul is a spark of its Divine Creator and therefore remains a finer substance than such elements as fire, air, or ether. The soul, which is freedom itself, need not be concerned with the concept of liberation. The soul is eternally free of all bondage; it need not concern itself with any of the boundaries that hem round the human mind and body.
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.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes