Paramahansa Yogananda's poems serve to deepen yoga meditation, offering devotees new ways of grasping the spiritual nature of all things.
Luther Burbank and Paramahansa Yogananda
Introduction and Excerpt from "Luther Burbank"
Paramahansa Yogananda’s tribute to the famed horticulturist, Luther Burbank, dramatizes the exquisite relationship between the two unique representatives of Eastern and Western culture: the great yogi/spiritual leader from the East, who became the "father of yoga for the West," and the foremost scientist from the West, whose work with plants has become famous world-wide.
The poem "Luther Burbank" from Songs of the Soul features eleven stanzas of varying lengths in scattered rime. (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 "Luther Burbank"
The great reformer Luther, thou art,
Of living plants and flowers of every mood —
The tender ones, the stubborn-growing ones,
Or cactus rude. . . .
(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 great Eastern yogi meets the great Western scientist, and they discover that they have much in common because of the love and pursuit of truth.
First Movement: Scientist as Reformer
The speaker begins by directly invoking the name of the one to whom he is offering the tribute; he indicates that Luther Burbank’s foremost quality is his saintliness. By referring to Burbank as "Beatific Burbank!" in a soulful exclamation, the speaker establishes the profundity of spirit that will guide the homage
The speaker then reveals the nature of Burbank’s grand work; he has been a "great reformer"—not of people, as the yogi has been, but of "living plants and flowers." The speaker discloses the truth that plants, like people, are conscious beings; they behave according to "moods," and they are variously "tender ones," and "stubborn-growing ones," as exemplified by the thorny "cactus rude."
Second Movement: Celebrating Experimentation
The speaker celebrates the experiment that led to the "spineless cactus," a product the great horticulturist was successful in developing through his deep understanding of the consciousness of the cactus. Yogananda discusses the science behind this experiment in his Autobiography of a Yogi, his important book that he dedicated to Luther Burbank, calling him an "American Saint."
Before Burbank’s science intervened, the walnut tree took much longer to mature and produce nuts. Through the great scientist’s work, he was able to shorten that time by half and soften the shells in the process.
The speaker compares the horticulturist to a "God-grown mental lotus-flower." Burbank’s knowledge has disseminated "its supreme ways" and has mightily served humanity.
Third Movement: The Unity of Science and Love
The speaker avers that the scientist’s understanding and science-through-love allowed him to understand the work of the guru without explanation: "We had one goal, one task, one law: / By knowledge to break / The walls of dogma dark."
The two great minds were able to comprehend each other’s profound spirituality and goal of service. They found that their minds were like divers in a great sea of truth. They both eschewed "dread isms and dogmas." They had no use for "all man-made false enigmas." The speaker playfully refers to the two unique souls as "outcasts": "We ‘outcasts’ know but one bright / Truth-made path of light."
Fourth Movement: Creating With the Creator
The speaker then lavishes praise on the accomplishments of the outstanding scientist who has "broken the dogma of ages." The work of Burbank "show[s] the world of wonder" and that "the Creator’s child [is] a creator" also. And the esteemed American Saint demonstrated his God-given creativity by "creating new fruits, new plants."
Fifth Movement: Botanical Magic
The speaker concludes by extending a compliment to the town where Burbank lived and worked his botanical magic: "O Santa Rosa, thou are blessed / To have blown the perfume of this great flower / That all people of the earth enjoy its shower / Of scent so sweet."
He avers that Burbank has the talent and skill to correct any "imperfect plant" that Nature makes. And then he again addresses Burbank’s hometown in a final tribute to the master plant man: "Santa Rosa, thy Luther-flower the ages shall not fade; / In soil of memories shall it live, e’er fresh, / Through endless decades."
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."
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes
Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on August 13, 2016:
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Hope this helps.
Natalie Frank on August 12, 2016:
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Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on August 12, 2016:
Thanks, Natalie. I love writing about the poems of Parmahansa Yogananda. Not only are the poems inspiring, but they always offer useful information.
Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on August 12, 2016:
Great article. I always learn so much with your posts.