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 "In Stillness Dark"
Paramahansa Yogananda’s "In Stillness Dark" from the spiritual classic, Songs of the Soul, features two stanzas; the first consists of ten lines of scatter rime, AABCDDEFGG, while the second stanza offers thirteen lines of cluster rimes, AAABBBBCCDEED. This style of rime scheme is exactly appropriate for the poem's theme, deep meditation. Beginning yoga meditators find their efforts come in fits and starts until they have mastered the yogic techniques that lead to the necessary stillness required for precise vision. The speaker creates a little drama that features the journey of the devotees as they practice the yogic methods, leading to peace, quiet, and stillness for the ultimate viewing of the vitally important Kutastha Chaitanya, or spiritual eye.
The spiritual eye or Kutastha Chaitanya appears in the three sacred hues of gold, blue, and white. A ring of gold circles a field of blue, at the center of which pulsates a white pentagonal star. The spiritual eye, or eye of God, appears to the deeply mediating devotee. That devotee then is able to have wonderful, divine experiences:
After the devotee is able at will to see his astral eye of light and intuition with either closed or open eyes, and to hold it steady indefinitely, he will eventually attain the power to look through it into Eternity; and through the starry gateway he will sail into Omnipresence.
As the speaker in this poem avers, "Apollo droops in dread / To see that luster overspread / The boundless reach of the inner sky." The spiritual eye puts all lesser light to shame with its brilliance.
(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 "In Stillness Dark"
In stillness dark —
When noisy dreams have slept,
The house has gone to rest
And busy life
Doth cease its strife —
The soul in pity soft doth kiss
The truant flesh, to soothe,
And speaks with mind-transcending grace
In soundless voice of 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.)
The speaker in Yogananda’s "In Stillness Dark" describes results of calming the body and mind, which then allows the spiritual eye to become visible on the screen of the mind.
First Stanza: Communion With the Soul
The speaker begins by commanding the meditating devotee to listen carefully to his admonitions. He is instructing the devotee to be aware of what he is going to tell about the magic of becoming still at night in preparation for deep communion with the Divine. The enlightened speaker is explaining that as the metaphorical house of the soul, the body, goes to sleep to rest, busy dreams also become quiet. As "house" metaphorically represents the body, and at the same time, it literally represents a soul's residence.
Thus, when "busy life" calms down at night it "cease[s] its strife." After home life has settled down for the night and the body becomes calm, the devotee may quiet the mind in preparation for the profundity of silent communion with the soul. During that quiet time, the soul becomes aware of itself; the peace of the soul automatically causes the "truant flesh" to be "soothe[d]." The soul "speaks with mind-transcending grace," and the "soundless voice" of the soul offers rest and peace to the body.
As the body becomes still, its muscles, heart, and lungs become quiet. Instead of the noisy, busyness with which the physical processes keep the mind stirred, the absence of that motion allows the beauty and sanctity of the soul to shine forth. This process leads to the ability to meditate in order to meet that coveted goal of God-union, or self-realization. The self is the soul, and to realize the soul is humankind's greatest duty.
Second Stanza: Watching With Care
The speaker commands the meditating devotee to peer through the "walls of sleep." While "peep[ing]" through those "transient fissures," the devotee must take care not to "droop" and not to "stare," but to "watch with care." The devotee must remain relaxed, not falling asleep nor straining as s/he watches for the "light of the spiritual eye, seen in deep meditation." The speaker poetically refers to that spiritual eye as "the sacred glare," which is "ablaze and clear." The light, because it seems to appear on the screen of the mind in the forehead, does so "in blissful golden glee" as it "flash[es] past [the meditating devotee]."
The light of the spiritual eye puts "Apollo" to shame with its brilliance: "Ashamed, Apollo droops in dread." The "luster overspread" is not that of the physical cosmos; thus, it is not the sun in the physical sky, but instead exists in the "boundless reach of the inner sky." The speaker dramatizes the act of achieving the magnificent result of deep meditation that leads to communion with the Divine. Through calming the physical body and the mind, the devotee allows the energy from the muscles to move to the spine and brain where true union with Divinity is achieved.
The ultimate goal of self-realization or God-union achieved by meditation remains ineffable. God cannot be described as one describes physical objects such as trees, rivers, tables, or curtains, or other human bodies. One might think of the difference in terms of body and mind. We can see a human body; we cannot see a human mind. But the importance of the mind is without doubt. The mind creates beyond the physicality of all things seen and experienced. Because of the ineffability of the nature of God, soul, and even such familiar terms as love, beauty, and joy, the poet who wishes to explore that nature must do so with metaphoric likenesses. Only a God-realized individual can perform that poetic act with surety and direct purpose.
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