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Paramahansa Yogananda's "Shadows"

Paramahansa Yogananda's poems serve to deepen yoga meditation, offering devotees new ways of grasping the spiritual nature of all creation.

Paramahansa Yogananda

Introduction and Excerpt from "Shadows"

According to the great guru/spiritual leader Paramahansa Yogananda, the power of delusion is very strong. A human being is a soul who has a body and a mind, but the power of delusion makes humans think that they are just minds and bodies, and many people tend to think that perhaps the soul is a religious fiction, concocted for the clergy to gain control over the behavior of their minions.

The deluded mind coupled with the solid body convinces humankind that its main reality exists in them. Humanity is deluded by maya, the principle of relativity, inversion, contrast, duality, or oppositional states. Maya is labeled "Satan" in the Old Testament and referred to as the "Devil" in Christianity. Jesus Christ colorfully described the mayic devil: "He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar and the father of it" (King James Version, John 8:44).

Paramahansa Yogananda, great spiritual leader and father of yoga in the West, explains that maya is a Sanskrit word meaning "the measurer," a magical power in creation which divides and manipulates the Unity of God into limitations and divisions. The great guru says, "Maya is Nature herself—the phenomenal worlds, ever in transitional flux as antithesis to Divine Immutability.” The great yogi/poet further defines the mayic force by explaining that the purpose of maya is to attempt to divert humankind from Spirit to matter, from Reality to unreality. The great guru further explains,

Maya is the veil of transitoriness of Nature, the ceaseless becoming of creation; the veil that each man must lift in order to see behind it the Creator, the changeless Immutable, eternal Reality.

Paramahansa Yogananda has instructed his devotee-students regarding the workings of the mayic concept of delusion. He often employs useful metaphoric comparisons filled with colorful images. The following is an excerpt from the poem, "Shadows," followed by a commentary about the poem:

Excerpt from "Shadows"

Beds of flowers, or vales of tears;
Dewdrops on buds of roses,
Or miser souls, as dry as desert sands;
The little running joys of childhood,
Or the stampede of wild passions;
The ebbing and rising of laughter,
O the haunting melancholy of sorrow . . .

These, all these, but shadows are . . .

(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.)


Jesus Christ described the devil as a murderer and a liar because there is no truth in him. The character/force, called "Satan" in the Old Testament and the "devil" in Christianity, is labeled Maya in Hinduism and yogic philosophy.

First Movement: Maya Similar to Shadows

A beautiful and revealing example of the yogi's dramas featuring maya can be found in his poem simply titled, “Shadows," from Songs of the Soul. The poem's first fifteen lines offer a catalogue of pairs of opposites: "bed of flowers," the first image encountered, is a positive one that readers can visualize as colorful beauty and possibly fragrant smells wafting from the flowers, while "vale of tears" denotes a negative tone, of sadness and sorrow.

Then the two images, "Dewdrops on buds of roses, / Or miser souls, as dry as desert sands," offer again two oppositional pairs, the beauty and life of rosebuds with dew on them contrasts with the aridity of selfishness. Two further images, "little running joys of childhood, / Or the stampede of wild passions," contrast innocence with violent emotions. Additionally, the "ebbing and rising of laughter, / Or the haunting melancholy of sorrow" contrast happiness and sadness.

Second Movement: Desire is Will-o-the Wisp

There is an important, interesting break in this pattern with the following lines:

The will-o-the wisp of our desire,
Leading only from mire to mire;
The octopus grip of self-complacency
And the time-beaten habits

While human desire sometimes leads humankind astray from "mire to mire," human beings may also suffer from their self-inflicted inertia that prevents them from changing their error strewn path as their self-complacency and habits hold them in an octopus-like grip. Both of these pairs are negative. One could speculate about why the poet let these negatives remain without countering them with positives as he did in the other catalogued pairs. Do they cause the poem to be imbalanced? Or do they perhaps hint at the extremely strong power of maya that causes us to feel that there is more evil and negative in the world than good and positive?

Third Movement: Shadows Only for Entertainment and Education

The next two pairs, however, return to the positive/negative pattern: a newborn infant's first cry vs the death rattle and excellent health of the body vs degenerating diseases. Then the final six lines aver that all of these experiences of the senses, mind, and emotion are nothing more than "Shadows." They are merely the forces of maya—seen by humanity on the cosmic mental screen.

But instead of allowing human hearts and minds to take from all this that the unreality of maya amounts to airy nothingness, the great spiritual leader enlightens all, who encounter his marvelous teachings, to the fact that those shadows contain many shades from dark to light, and those "shadows" are not meant to hurt and discourage the children of the Divine Creator but to serve as a prompt, in order to entertain, educate, and enlighten them.

God as Light

© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes


Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on February 12, 2020:

Thank you, Audrey! I had a glimpse at your HubPage, and I look forward to reading some of your articles on singing, an activity that interests me very much. At a young age, I fell in love with music and singing, and I still am captivated by it.

I'm glad to hear of your interest in the work of Paramahansa Yogananda, my guru. I started studying his teachings in 1978; they are truly life changing works. You might be interested in visiting the Self-Realization Fellowship website at https://yogananda.org .

Blessings, peace, and love to you and your family!

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on February 12, 2020:

The Kriya Yoga technique intrigues me. I will definitely be looking into this. I love this entire article so packed full of interesting and necessary wisdom and you are so gracious to share these publications.

I'm a big fan! Blessings of peace and love.

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