Paramahansa Yogananda's "Mohawk Trail"
Introduction and Excerpt from "Mohawk Trail"
Paramahansa Yogananda’s “Mohawk Trail” from Songs of the Soul dramatizes an outing that the exalted guru experienced on a drive down the Mohawk Trail to the Massachusetts town of North Adams, named for the great American patriot, Samuel Adams, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence.
The poem features a joy of living that instructs the ordinary, world-worn reader in learning to observe the environment in ways that offer the ability to see with the heart as well as with the mind.
Excerpt from "Mohawk Trail"
Welcomed by a fresh and smiling day
Ushered by trees benign that overlay,
Shading our bodies from the jealous sun;
With wheels of rubber pressing the asphalt road,
And softly humming motor-noise we rode
The Mohawk Trail where Adam lies.* . . .
*North Adams (Massachusetts), a town at the end of the Mohawk Trail. In a play on this name, Paramahansaji alludes indirectly to the beautiful countryside, like the Eden enjoyed by the primal Adam.
(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.)
Even a God-realized guru/saint can become bored by too much confinement in a city setting, and the non-realized can learn how to enjoy nature from the guru’s experience.
First Stanza: A Day Filled with Sunshine
The speaker reports that the day was filled with sunshine which made him feel “welcomed.” The day was also “fresh” for this mind that is always blissful. The road they are traveling is tree-lined, and the speaker is grateful that the shade of the trees offers relief from the “jealous sun.”
The speaker then refers to the car’s tires “pressing asphalt road.” The light swishing of the tires on the road combine with a “softly humming motor-noise,” completing the immediate environment in which the speaker luxuriates.
The speaker alludes to “Adam” of the Garden of Eden as he plays on the name of the town. The setting is so beautiful that it reminds the speaker of the mythical, paradisiacal garden.
Second Stanza: Refreshing the Mind in Nature
The speaker compares this ride to other “joyful rides” that had remained, nonetheless, unremarkable, and caused the senses to become “dulled” with “sameness.” During this ride, his mind is alert, “full and bright and good.”
In his great anticipation, the speaker experiences “a strange unknown, unthought, new thrill” that seemed to sweep through his body and mind. He has the ability to recognize every small change of his body and his consciousness.
The speaker finds himself racing with the wind, and his happiness motivates him to smile abundantly and offer those smiles to everyone: he “scattered smiles / That played with sunshine, spread for miles.” The speaker’s experience of this new, lush landscape conjoins the perfect sun and shade and the soft sounds—all unite to create nearly blissful earthly experience.
Third Stanza: Re-invigorating Body, Mind, and Soul
The great guru reveals that the joy of his soul is fully active. He “extravagantly” spends some of that joy-currency to “purchase Nature’s e’re new gaudy scenes.” Compared to the joy of the soul, the joys of earth are always somewhat trivial, but they can nevertheless be enjoyed and appreciated even by the most advanced yogi.
The speaker is observing the moving loveliness of the landscape as it is “shown by hasty, racing peddler windshield screen.” He metaphorically compares the car’s windshield to a peddler who is selling his wares—in this case, offering the observer all the beautiful scenes, past which the car travels.
The great yogi/speaker reveals that even one highly advanced in yogic awareness can feel “too long hemmed in city’s narrow walls.” On this particular outing, his “spirit” feels “once more . . . free,” and “all nature sent a joyous call.”
The speaker's body, mind, and soul are invigorated by “waving leaves of trees, the babbling rill, / Impatient wind, the smiling sky, and patient hill.” The contrasting scenes and natural objects have united to provide the yogi with a nearly blissful earthly experience.
Mohawk Trail State Park
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
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes