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 Soul Is Marching On"
The poem, "My Soul Is Marching On," offers five stanzas, each with the refrain, "But still my soul is marching on!" The poem demonstrates the soul's power in contrast with the weaker powers of entities from nature. For example, as strong as the light of the sun may be, it vanishes at night, and will eventually be extinguished altogether in the long, long run of eons of time.
Unlike those seemingly forceful, yet ultimately, much weaker physical, nature creatures, the soul of each individual human being remains a stronger, more vital, and eternal, immortal force that will keep marching on throughout all time, throughout all of Eternity.
Devotees who have chosen the path toward self-realization may sometimes feel discouraged as they tread this path, feeling that they do not seem to be making any progress. But Paramahansa Yogananda's poetic power comes rescue them, giving in his poem a marvelous repeated line that the devotee can keep in mind and repeat when those pesky times of discouragement float across the mind.
Included here are the epigram and first two stanza of the poem, "My Soul Is Marching On."
Excerpt from "My Soul Is Marching On"
Never be discouraged by this motion picture of life. Salvation is for all. Just remember that no matter what happens to you, still your soul is marching on. No matter where you go, your wandering footsteps will lead you back to God. There is no other way to go.
The shining stars are sunk in darkness deep,
The weary sun is dead at night,
The moon's soft smile doth fade anon;
But still my soul is marching on! . . .
(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.)
This amazing poem, Paramahansa Yogananda's "My Soul Is Marching On," offers a refrain which devotees can chant and be uplifted in times of flagging interest and seeming spiritual dryness.
The Epigram: A Balm to the Marching Soul
Before beginning his encouraging drama of renewal, Paramahansa Yogananda offers an epigram that prefaces the poem by stating forthrightly its intended purpose. In case the reader may fail to grasp the drama of the poetic performance, the epigram will leave no one in doubt.
The great guru avers that there is no other reality but the soul's forward march. Despite all circumstance to the contrary, the soul will, in fact, continue its march. The devotee simply has to come to realize that fact that all "wandering footsteps" return to their home in the Divine. The guru then states unequivocally,"There is no other way to go."
What an amazing, inspiring statement that culminates in the refrain that allows the devotee to take into mind as a chant for upliftment any time, any where s/he needs it.
First Stanza: The Soul Marches on in Darkness
The speaker begins by asserting that the heavenly bright bodies of the stars, sun, and moon are often hidden. The stars seem to sink into the black backdrop of the sky, as if never to be seen again, and during the day, of course, they are completely invisible.
The largest dominant star of all—the sun—also seems to completely vanish from the sight of world weary inhabitants of plant Earth. The sun seems to be "weary" as it has crossed the diurnal sky and then sinks out of sight.
The moon whose glow remains less bright compared to the sun, nevertheless, also fades out of sight. All of these bright orbs of such tremendous magnitude glow and fade, for they are mere physical beings.
The speaker then adds his marvelous, encouraging claim that becomes his refrain, "But still my soul is marching on!" The speaker will continue repeating this vital assertion as he dramatizes his poem to encourage and uplift devotees whose spirits may from time to time lag. This refrain will then ring in their souls and urge them to keep marching because their souls are already continuing that march.
Second Stanza: Nothing Physical Can Halt the Spiritual
The speaker then reports that time has already smashed moons and stars and obliterated them from existence. Many cycles of creation and recreation have come and gone from the annals of eternity. That is the nature of physical creation: it emerges from the depths of the body of the Divine Creator and then later is taken back into that Divine Body, disappearing as if they had never been.
But regardless of what happens on the physical level, the soul remains an existing Entity throughout Eternity. The soul of each individual continues it journey. It makes no difference on which planet it may appear; it may continue from planet to planet, if necessary, as it marches back to its Creator. The soul will continue to "stand unshaken amidst the crash of breaking worlds" because that is the nature of the indestructible soul, that life energy that informs each human being.
That soul will continue its march to the Divine, despite all cosmic activity. Nothing can prevent the soul's forward march, nothing can stop the marching soul, and nothing can hinder that march. The refrain shall again and again ring in the mind of the devotee who has begun this march to self-realization.
Third Stanza: The Evanescence of Nature
The speaker then reports on other natural phenomena. Marvelous, beautiful flowers have offered their colorful blooms to the eyes of humankind, but then they invariably fade and shrivel up to nothingness. The evanescence of beauty remains a conundrum for the mind of humankind.
Like the beauty yielding flowers, the gigantic trees offer their "bounty" for only a while, and then they too sink into nothingness. The naturally appearing entities that feed the human mind as well as the human body all mysteriously come under "time's scythe," appearing and disappearing again and again.
But the soul again remains in contrast to these wonderful natural entities. The soul continues its eternal march, unlike the outer physical realities of flowers and trees. The human soul will continue its march, as will the invisible souls of those seemingly vanishing nature's living beings. The refrain must take hold in the mind of the devotee, who in times of lagging interest and self-doubt will chant its truth and become re-invigorated.
Fourth Stanza: As Physical Life Fades, The Soul Continues Unabated
All of the great emissaries sent by the Divine Creator continue to speed by. Vast swaths of time also speed by as creation seems to remain on a collision course with ultimate disaster. The human being must remain in a perpetually vigilant state of mind just to remain alive in this dangerous and pestilent-filled world. Even human against human remains a continued concern as "man's inhumanity to man" prevails in very age in every nation of planet Earth.
But the speaker is not only referring to the small planet at a short period of time; he is speaking cosmically of the entire history of all Creation. He is averring that being born a human being at any time in history brings that individual soul into the same arena of struggle. As each human being lets fling his arrows in battle, the individual finds that all of his "arrows" have been used up. He finds his life ebbing away.
But again, while the physical body remains the battle ground of trials and tribulations, the soul is unaffected. It will continue on its path back to its Divine Haven, where it will no longer need those arrows. The devotee will continue to chant this truth again and again to spark his march to greater heights.
Fifth Stanza: The Refrain Must Remain
The speaker has observed that his fight with nature has been a fierce one. Failures have blocked his way. He has experienced the ravages of death's destruction. He has had to face darkness blocking "his path." All of nature has conspired to "block [his] path." Nature has always been a challenging force, but the human being who has determined to overcome to ravages of nature will find that his "fight" is stronger than that of nature, despite the fact that nature remains a "jealous" power.
The soul continues to march to its home in God, where it will never again have to face the fading of beautiful light, the vanishing of colorful flowers, the failures that obstruct and slow one's pace. The soul will continue to march, to study, to practice, to meditate, and to pray until it at last experiences success, until it as last find itself totally awake in the arms of the Blessed Divine Over-Soul, from which it has come. The devotee will continue to hear that amazingly uplifting line and continue to know that his/her "soul is marching on!"
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.
Musical composition inspired by "My Soul Is Marching On"
© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes