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 "Silence"
Paramahansa Yogananda’s "Silence" from Songs of the Soul features four tightly crafted stanzas. The poet has appended the following note to the lines, "They hear its call / Who noise enthrall":
I.e., those who practice yoga techniques of meditation, which enable the mind to disconnect itself from sensory distractions, thus freeing it to experiences perceptions of the Indwelling Glory.
This note reveals the poem’s theme, while offering another wondrous name for the Nameless, Whom many simply call God. Paramahansa Yogananda’s finely crafted poem, "Silence," features a drama of the vitality and power that silence brings, as it allows the meditating devotee to unite with the blessed Divinity within, residing as the soul.
Excerpt from "Silence"
The earth, the planets, play
In and through the sun-born rays
In majesty profound.
In silence sublime
This cosmic match. . . .
(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 Paramahansa Yogananda’s poem, "Silence," is dramatizing the importance and power of silence in allowing the meditating devotee to connect with his/her inner Divine Glory.
First Stanza: Beyond Earth Awareness
The speaker begins by taking the reader’s attention beyond earth-bound awareness, remarking that the earth and other planets all participate in a drama bathed by the sun, and that drama, which proceeds like a game, is "In majesty profound." "Time" plays a rôle similar to an "umpire," watching "in silence sublime" as the "cosmic match" proceeds.
When creating dramatic scenes from ineffable phenomena, speakers and writers must employ metaphoric likenesses from nature, including personification of abstract concepts such as "time." Allowing "time" to perform the function of an umpire adds colorful depth as well as understanding of relationships in the ineffable dramatic presentation.
Second Stanza: The Name Unpronounceable
The speaker then explains that the creator of this heavenly match between the sun and the planets performs according to "His will." The name of this Creator, Who is "The Author of the wondrous game," cannot be correctly and completely pronounced. Although His children invent names for their Creator, they are unable to invent one name that can encompass all that such an Author must be. There is simply no name that can be completely useful in labeling the entire cosmos and all of its inhabitants and entities. The pantheistic claim that God is everything makes an accurate statement, but it remains impossible to think about, and thus name, everything all at once.
All names for such an entity are deficient, and therefore unable to be spoken, except in fragments. The concept that the Divine cannot be known by the mind but can be realized by the soul eliminates the deficiency of humankind’s remaining unable to speak authoritatively the name of its Creator. This wondrous "Author," however, directs "without a noise." And humankind can be thankful that as He works, He does so as He takes no notice or retribution against humankind's ungratefulness, and instead forgives all "Unkindness" rendered by His unrealized children.
The human mind is given to judging, evaluating, and denigrating without sufficient evidence, but the Ultimate Judge holds no grudges for humankind's errors. The Ultimate Judge simply hands down His rulings made with perfect knowledge and continues on.
Third Stanza: Muted Method of Correction
Despite the seeming obscurity of the Author of this game of life, every created child of the Author-God hears with the ear of conscience even though that conscience does not speak loudly. Human beings are capable of perceiving that they have transgressed divine laws by the consequences they suffer thereafter; for example, when one overeats, one suffers an uncomfortable stomach, and breaking any law, divine or human, has unpleasant consequences from which the transgressor should learn to change behavior.
Through an indirect and somewhat muted method of correction, the Divine Father allows His children the freedom of will to make its mistakes and then learn from those errors. Without such freedom, the human mind and heart would be little more than an automaton. Instead, those minds and hearts are directed through silent instruction and guidance that remain infallible yet malleable as afforded by individual karma.
Similar to the laws of physics, moral law remains more obvious and compelling because it is infused in the design of nature. A very young child may likely not know beforehand that throwing an object up into the air will result in its immediate return to the ground, but after the child has experienced the act of tossing an object into the air and finding that it does not remain there but returns to its downward position, s/he will have learned about the nature of gravity and should thereafter behave accordingly. Thus, it is with the relationships between individuals, where the "Golden Rule" should hold sway, for its obvious glad results for all involved.
Fourth Stanza: Taming the Tiger Heart
In the final stanza, the speaker brings together metaphorically the various transgressions of human behavior that can be overcome through the "powerful silence of unspoken words." As noted, the Divine does not speak directly as a parent would directly instruct a child through language, but by meditating and "disconnecting" one’s attention "from sensory distractions," the devotee who seeks to transform his life, to "tame" his "tiger" body, and "maim" his "failure’s talons," may do so by freeing his attention from "sensory distractions."
By contacting the inner silence, the human mind and heart learn to connect with the profound and infallible guidance that permeates every created being. As the heart seeks freedom to feel and the mind seeks freedom to express thoughts, the individual becomes more and more aware of the deep wisdom gained through stillness and silence.
Freedom from physical traumas and mental tortures is necessary for living a balanced and harmonious life. Freedom from all trials and tribulations including doubt, fear, and anxiety becomes necessary for walking the spiritual path that leads to the goal of ultimate soul freedom. After that soul freedom is achieved, the devotee can perceive that unspoken name as that "Indwelling Glory." The Unnamable emerges as the true reality.
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.
Paramhansa Yogananda - In the Temple of Silence
© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes