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 "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.
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.
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."
© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes