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 Poem, "My Prisoner"
In Paramahansa Yogananda’s "My Prisoner," the speaker is addressing the Divine Belovèd, reminding Him that the Lord has been hiding from the devotee/speaker for many years. Divine Beloved, or God, has remained undetectable to the speaker because the speaker’s mind has been disturbed by "restless thoughts." The speaker now understands that he must still his mind and banish the restlessness that hides the Divine Presence.
The great guru's poem employs the clever use of a prison metaphor to liken the procedure of engaging the spiritual search for Divine Unity to that of worldly law enforcement searching out and capturing a law-breaking perpetrator. There is a well-placed irony in the fact that both the searching/capturing agent and the Divine Perpetrator are, indeed, following Divine laws exactly—not breaking them as perpetrators do under man's law.
Thus, the law/prison metaphor works perfectly in creating the drama of the search for God that each soul must engage in order to fulfill its purpose for being. That the metaphor converts to the place where all inmates go voluntarily to seek God puts the finishing beauty of the search in grand perspective.
Excerpt from "My Prisoner"
Long didst Thou hide
Beneath the static of my restless thoughts;
Long didst Thou flee
In the chambers of eerie ether.
At last I hunted Thee down
In quiet desert-dunes
Of my desirelessness.
Fastened with strong cords of devotion,
Thou art my Prisoner. . . .
(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 "My Prisoner" begins with a prison metaphor that transforms into a cloister, wherein the devotee/speaker will retain his Divine Captive.
Stanza 1: Hiding and Fleeing
In the opening stanza, the speaker avers that the Lord has been escaping the speaker’s notice as if He were running away from the speaker and hiding. The Lord’s presence, clouded by the restless thoughts of the devotee, seems to vanish like smoke into invisibility.
Engaging the prison metaphor, the speaker is suggesting that the Divine Beloved has been fleeing from the devotee as a lawbreaking perpetrator would flee law enforcement. Of course, the major difference is that all this fleeing, hiding, and searching is done on the ineffable, mystic, spiritual level of being, which resembles "chambers of eerie ether."
Stanza 2: Relinquishing Desires
Finally, the speaker is able to detect the presence of the Divine Beloved. The speaker is at last able to still his mind and to relinquish the desires that interfere with God perception. The "quiet desert-dunes" represent the blank slate of the calm, still mind that ultimately allows God contact.
The "desert-dunes" represent the quiet spaces that result when the devotee is able to quiet the mind and allow himself to experience the state of desirelessness. The state of quiet desirelessness is necessary to allow the presence of the Divine Beloved to appear on the screen of the devotee's soul.
Stanza 3: The Lord as Prisoner
Upon realizing his first contact with the Beloved, the speaker uses "strong cords of devotion" to hold Him, Who now becomes the speaker's "Prisoner." The speaker will imprison the Beloved in his heart and soul in order to eternally enjoy the Bliss of His presence.
It is through love, affection, devotion, and rapt attention that the devotee is made capable of capturing the presence of the Beloved Divine. And also through those qualities that become the "strong cords" with which the devotee secures that Presence, that devotee is made capable of retaining the awareness of the his unity with his Blessed Creator.
Stanza 4: Divine Perpetrator in Custody
The Divine Perpetrator who has eluded the speaker is now secure in the speaker’s custody, and the speaker/devotee intends to retain that custody by locking the Divine Prisoner "[i]n the cell of silence, / Secure behind bars of my closed eyes."
The speaker’s act of meditation is metaphorically likened to securing a prisoner. The devotee avows to attend eternally to his Divine Inmate, keeping him secure in the bosom of his heart, in the bower of his mind, and in the sanctuary of his soul—all likened simply as the prison in which the devotee will keep his Prisoner locked.
Stanza 5: The Prison Metaphor
The speaker continues the prison metaphor, addressing the Lord as "Beloved Captive," and assuring Him that he will keep him not only in his dreams, but also he will "hide [the Beloved Captive] / In a bower of caresses."
Having captured his Divine Perpetrator, the devotee continues in his determination not to allow his Prisoner to escape him ever again. The devotee's love and attention will serve as those strong cords that keep his Prisoner locked in the Unity that the devotee has long sought.
Stanza 6: From Prison to Monastery
The speaker then addresses the Divine as "Precious Prisoner," softening the prison metaphor as he asserts that he will "enshrine [the Lord] / On the altar of my secret songs." The speaker has transformed the prison metaphor into a monastic setting, where the monastic will encounter spiritual reminders as well as an altar with sacred chants.
As the prison is now transforming into a monastery, the long search for the fleeing perpetrator now allows the devotee to realize a more mystical place where all the "inmates" devote their lives to seeking God-Realization.
Divine "secret songs" will fill the chambers of the devotee's monastic soul, chants dedicated to the Blessed One will also serve as one of those strong cords that will keep the Divine Prisoner locked in the heart and soul of the devotee.
Stanza 7: In the Cloister of the Soul
Continuing the transformed metaphor, the speaker addresses the Lord as "Infinite Personage," Whom the speaker will "cloister" "behind strong walls of [his] undying love." The Perpetrator, Whom the speaker had to seek throughout much time and space, has become the Beloved, Whom the speaker will keep in the prison/cloister of his heart and soul.
The delightful transformation from "prison" to "monastery" places the devotee's engagement exactly where he can continue to meditate, serve, worship, and honor the Divine Indweller.
The devotee's soul is finally revealed as the true "prison" in which the Divine Beloved will be welcome to reside eternally, locked in the secure embrace of the devotee's "undying love."
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.
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."
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes