Paramahansa Yogananda's poems serve to deepen yoga meditation, offering devotees new ways of grasping the spiritual nature of all things.
Introduction and Excerpt From "I am Here"
Because the Creator of all Creation does not remain and perform solely through a simple physical body, as a human being does, That Divine Presence can be experienced only through soul awareness. The speaker in "I am Here" creates a little drama of his search that begins with a childlike attempt to "find" the Ultimate Reality, the Creator of All Things and Existence, in that Creator's creations—first the ocean, then a tree, then the sky.
The speaker's surprising growth into the unity that he craved implies that his soul grew through and despite the pain and anguish he suffered as his soul search led him through the valley of darkness.
Excerpt From "I am Here"
Alone I roamed by the ocean's shore,
The wrestling waves in brawling roar —
Alive with Thine own restless life,
Thine angry mood in ripply quiver —
Until Thy wrathful vastness made me shiver
And turn away from nature's heated strife. . . . .
(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.)
Childlike, the speaker searches for the Divine One in his Creations, but after many failed attempts learns a valuable lesson about his Blessèd Creator.
First Movement: On the Seashore
The devotee-speaker first finds himself by the sea where he is observing the violent crash of waves against the land. He is speaking to his Divine Belovèd, and he associates the "angry mood" of the sea with the Divine's "own restless life." He colorfully describes the wave activity as "wrestling waves in brawling roar," anyone who has stood by the sea as this devotee is doing will identify with that accurate description.
The speaker then reports that he stood looking at the rapid, noise-filled water action as long as he could, and then suddenly all that "wrathful vastness" caused him to "shiver." Thus he turns from the "nature's heated strife" to an entity with less movement and noise.
Second Movement: Observing a Tree
The speaker has turned away from the shiver-inducing, violent roaring ocean to a "kindly, spreading sentinel tree." The tree's "friendly" waving arms seem to give comfort to the speaker. He thus is offered empathy and a place to rest his mind to gain equanimity.
Again, the speaker colorfully describes this divinely created entity that has a "gentler look sublime." It seems to comfort him with tender rimes from a lullaby. The "swaying leaves" of the tree sing to the speaker, sending him a gentle message from the Divine Belovèd.
(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.")
Third Movement: Observing the Sky
The speaker now turns to the sky—the "mystic sky." With all the impatience and eagerness of a child, he tries to tug at the heartstring of the Divine; the childlike devotee wishes to engage the Divine Father to lift him from this "valley dim." But alas, he determines that his search is in vain as he seeks the "body" of the Divine Reality.
The speaker then colorfully describes the body of the Divine as "cloud-robed, foam sprayed, and leaf-garlanded"—all of the natural features through which he had been seeking the Lord. But he must admit that he is learning that the Divine Creator is "too rare" for physical eyes to see or physical hears to hear.
However, the speaker also has learned that the Blessèd Creator is "always near." He understands and reports that the Blessèd One is simply playing "hide-and-seek" with his children. As the devotee-speaker has "almost touched" the Divine One, He seems to pull back. Yet the searching devotee continues to seek Him through all obstacles, though they be "the maddening fold / Of ignorance dark."
Fourth Movement: Halting the Search
The speaker then asserts that he finally stops his search though he remained in "dim despair." Though he had searched everywhere for the "Royal Sly Eluder," who it seems exists "everywhere" and "seeming nowhere." The Divine Belovèd seemed to remain "lost in unplumbed space." And the face of the Divine cannot be viewed by His children, nor can He be touched by any physical means.
As the speaker quickly ended his search, he attempted to run away from the Divine. And yet he still found no response from the "wrathful sea," or from the "friendly tree," neither from the "limitless blue sky." In the valleys and in the mountains, all remained in silence, or "cruel silence" as the speaker as earlier called it.
Again like a child, hurt by the absence of his mother, in pain "within the depths of me," as he emphasizes those "depths," the speaker hides himself and "sulk[s]" as he is "no longer seeking" his Divine Friend.
Fifth Movement: Reaching the Goal
Then to the speaker's utter amazement, his hopeless state of mind is plucked away from him. The "all-black band" which has kept him blinded to his Belovèd Divine Friend is lifted and his energy returns. He is "no longer weary," but instead finds himself full of "strength."
The speaker then finds himself standing and observing those physical creations again, but now instead of exuding negative qualities, they show only positive ones: the sea is "laughing" instead of giving off "wrathful roars. The whole world now becomes a "gay, glad" one, whose doors remain "mystically opened."
Between himself and his Divine Creator he finds only "mists of dreams." He senses the infallible presence of "Someone" standing beside him. And although this Presence remains unseen, the Presence "whisper[s] to [him], cool and clear: / 'Hello, playmate! I am here!'"
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.
Publications of Paramahansa Yogananda
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.
The Poetry of Paramahansa Yogananda
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.
© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes