Paramahansa Yogananda's poems serve to deepen yoga meditation, offering devotees new ways of grasping the spiritual nature of all creation.
Introduction and Excerpt from "My Kinsmen"
Divinity lives as soul in all creation, evolving upward. This hierarchy of evolution—from the ocean sand to gemstones and precious metals then to plants, animals, and finally to humankind—is celebrated in Paramahansa Yogananda’s "My Kinsmen" from Songs of the Soul.
The advanced soul is capable of remembering all of its prior incarnations from stones to humanity, and that memory expresses itself in the love that the advanced yogi feels universally for all.
Excerpt from "My Kinsmen"
In spacious hall of trance
Aglow with million dazzling lights,
Tapestried with snowy cloud,
I spied my kinsmen all — the lowly, proud.
The banquet great with music swelled
The drum of Aum in measure fell.
The guests in many ways arrayed.
Some plain, some gorgeous dress displayed. . . .
(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.)
Recognizing and celebrating his unity with all created beings, the speaker in this poem is dramatizing each progressive stage of his evolution upward from gemstones to homo sapiens.
Stanza 1: A Grand Banquet
The speaker metaphorically paints the scene of a grand banquet attended by all of his relatives and friends from his past lives. The advanced yogi literally experiences this gathering "in spacious hall of trance," which is a colorful rending of the act of deep meditation. Interestingly, as readers experience this poem, they come to realize that those "kinsmen" include not only human beings, but relatives that the speaker has been acquainted with from the mineral kingdom through the plant kingdom then animal kingdom and on to homo sapiens.
This speaker's awareness of evolution rivals Charles Darwin's in both intensity and scope. As a human scientist, Darwin was simply working on the physical level of being and with the level of advancement that Western science of his day had to offer. The speaker in this poem is an omniscient seer. His science is "omni-science" not the limited science of an earth-bound materialist, whose purview focuses only on things that can be perceived by the senses.
Stanza 2: A Great Sound
The speaker avers that the great sound of "Aum" fills the banquet hall, as music would be a traditional part of any celebration. The speaker observes that all of the guests are colorfully dressed, "in many ways arrayed, / Some plain, some gorgeous dress displayed."
The speaker's metaphor of a banquet hall allows the devotee to observe along with the speaker the vastness of a cosmos conflated to a manageable scenario. Because the subject broached here remains an ineffable one, which cannot be literally expressed in words, the speaker must engage metaphoric similarities in order to give his readers/listeners a sense of what he is experiencing.
Stanza 3: A Cosmic Reality
The speaker reports that the "various tables large" are, in fact, the "earth and moon and sun and stars." By placing the banquet hall in space, the speaker suggests the ineffable nature of his experience. Those planets are, therefore, merely metaphorical representations of the experience in high consciousness that the speaker is undergoing.
The vastness of the subject again has taken on a manageable scope for consideration by the limited human mind. Only those with the vision of mysticism can create for listeners/readers the beyond-words descriptions that impart valuable information. This exalted state of awareness is not limited to vast mind's as exemplified by the this speaker, but every human mind has the capability of seeing and understanding just as this speaker does, after the mind has become soul-realized—knowing that a human being is much more than a mind and a physical body.
Stanza 4: The Evolution of the Soul
In the fourth stanza, the speaker begins to report the physical appearance of some of the "guests" along with his memory from the time when he lived among them. The speaker begins with his experience as sand along the ocean, when he "drank of ocean’s life." He remembers that incarnation, in which he "brawled / For a sip of sea, with kinsmen sands."
The evolution of the soul on its way to becoming the human being is said to begin in the mineral kingdom: sand, rocks, gemstones, etc. One can only marvel at the expansive mind that has the ability to remember his existence as a grain of sand or rock or diamond!
Stanza 5: Remembering Past Incarnations
The speaker then recalls his incarnation as "a tiny baby tree," a frustrating time for him because he wanted so much to be able to "run with winds so free." The guests who remind him of this incarnation are "those old dame rocks / Who held me on their stony laps." He is recalling his former mothers.
The fascinating tidbit of information here is that even as rocks, we had mothers, and no doubt, fathers, sisters, brothers, and other relatives. The scope for imaginative thinking and creating stories about such a world is truly breathtaking!
Stanza 6: The Utter Logic of the Cosmos
The speaker then observes the "rose and lily buds aglow" and is reminded that he once "adorned a kingly breast — / Lost life; returned to mother dust." As a flower, the speaker once decorated the costume of a king, before losing that life, and having that vegetable-body return to the dust of the earth.
Not only does the human physical encasement succumb to the "dust to dust" scenario, but logically all physical encasements from rocks to roses undergo the same transformations. The utter logic of a cosmos so ordered bends the knees of those who pay attention.
Stanza 7: The Promise of the Return of Memory
The speaker is reporting his memory from the time that he "smiled in diamonds, gleaming bright." The speaker also remembers that his "blood in [the ruby’s red breast] once flowed so clear." Again the speaker shows that the advanced spiritual seeker is able to remember his past incarnations from every stage of his evolution.
The promise of the return of memory remains one of the most fascinating concepts in the world of spiritual culture. As the human being progresses from infancy to old age, the variation and especially the fading of the memory function weighs heavily on the heart and mind. The promise of such a return that one will not only be able to remember one's childhood but also will recall when one existed as a gemstone and then a bird can no less than astound the devotee who has taken to the path leading to soul-realization.
Stanza 8: The Souls of Inanimates
The souls of diamonds and rubies, in this yogi’s exalted state of awareness, remember with smiles and tears when they "meet their long-lost friend at last." A fascinating scene must surely arise at the contemplation of one's friends during the evolutionary stage of the gemstone. However, the same curious state propounds itself at any stage, especially those earlier than the human.
Then again, once the human stage is reached, how many times one has existed in the homo sapiens form comes in to play, and to find out how many millions of times one has been a human being would surely lay heavy in the heart and perhaps fluster the mind.
Stanza 9: Recognition of Souls from the Past
The speaker encounters souls that he once knew when they are gold and silver; and they are dressed respectively in "yellow gown" and "white robe." As they smile on him "maternal smiles," the speaker avers that these souls were also former mothers.
This speaker is enthralled to be meeting his former mothers. That familial relationship has been the most important to this speaker, and therefore throughout eternity, he will encounter relationships that speak the mothering tongue. Each soul will find the same situation true for it. If the father relationship has been the most important relationship for many incarnations, it will be that relationship that one will be most attracted to.
Stanza 10: Former Mothers
The speaker then encounters another former mother that nurtured him when he was "a tiny bird." With "leafy fingers, arms outspread," the speaker's tree home/mother "caressed him" and "fed [him] with ambrosial fruit."
The speaker has now progressed into the animal kingdom, and again he is encountering another mother figure. As he continues to progress evolutionarily, he will continue to encounter mothers—a sure sign that Divine Mother is guiding and guarding him throughout his move up the evolutionary scale.
Stanza 11: A Catalogue of Creatures
In the eleventh stanza, the speaker offers a catalogue of creatures: lark, cuckoo, pheasant, deer, lamb, lion, shark, and other "monsters of the sea"—all greeted him "in love and peace."
In his progression through the animal kingdom, the speaker has lived as many animal forms. He catalogues a list of them and emphasizes the necessary qualities of "love and peace," which aid in the progress up the evolution ladder.
Stanza 12: Existing Throughout Eternity
To capstone his encounter, the speaker avers that he has existed throughout eternity, from the beginning of creation, "when first the atoms and stardust sprang" from the mind of God. As each spiritual tradition came into being, he partook of each: "When Vedas, Bible, Koran sang, / I joined each choir." And now the chants, hymns, and songs of those faiths, "still echo in [his] soul in accents strong."
When the speaker moved into the human stage of existence, he became a spiritual being from the beginning. As a human being, he does not emphasize sense pleasure, but only the strong desire to fly past the homo sapiens state and into that of an avatar, one divinely and eternally united with his Creator. He has observed the many religious paths in order that he may speed toward his goal of Unity with his Divine Belovèd Creator.
© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes