Paramahansa Yogananda’s "The Garden of the New Year"
Introduction and Excerpt from "The Garden of the New Year"
The ancient tradition of creating new year's resolutions has situated itself in much of Western culture, as well as Eastern culture. As a matter of fact, world culture participates in this subtle ritual either directly or indirectly. This tradition demonstrates that hope is ever present in the human heart. Humanity is always searching for a better way, a better life that offers prosperity, peace, and solace. Of course, although every human heart craves those comforts, each culture has fashioned its own way of achieving them. And by extension, each individual mind and heart follows it own way through life's vicissitudes.
The second poem featured in Paramahansa Yogananda’s Songs of the Soul is titled "The Garden of the New Year." This poem dramatizes the theme of welcoming the New Year, using the metaphor of the garden where the devotee is instructed to pull out "weeds of old worries" and plant "only seeds of joys and achievements." The pulling out of weeds from the garden of life is a perfect metaphor for the concept of a New Year's resolution. We make those resolutions for improvement and to improve we often find that we must eliminate certain behaviors in order to instill better ones.
The poem features five versagraphs, of which the final two are excerpted below.
Excerpt from "The Garden of the New Year"
. . . The New Year whispers:
"Awaken your habit-dulled spirit
To zestful new effort.
Rest not till th' eternal freedom is won
And ever-pursuing karma outwitted!"
With joy-enlivened, unendingly united mind
Let us all dance forward, hand in hand,
To reach the Halcyon Home
Whence we shall wander no more.
In this poem for the New Year, the speaker celebrates the prospect of looking forward with enthusiastic preparation to live "life ideally!"
First Versagraph: Out With the Old and in With the New
The speaker is addressing his listeners/readers as he asserts that the old year has left us, while the New Year is arriving. The old year did spread its "sorrow and laughter," yet the New Year holds promises of brighter encouragement and hope. The New Year's "song-voice" offers grace to the senses, while commanding, "Refashion life ideally!"
This notion is universally played out as many people fashion New Year’s resolutions, hoping to improve their lives in the coming year. Because most people are always seeking to improve their situations, they determine how to do so and resolve that they will follow a new path that will lead to a better place.
Second Versagraph: Abandoning the Weed to Plant New Seeds
In the second versagraph, the speaker employs the garden metaphor to liken the old problematic ways to weeds that must be plucked out so that the new ways can be planted and grow. The speaker instructs the metaphoric gardener to pull out the weeds of "old worries" and in their place plant "seeds of joys and achievements." Instead of allowing the weeds of doubt and wrong actions to continue growing, the spiritual gardener must plant seeds of "good actions and thoughts, all noble desires."
Third Versagraph: The Garden Metaphor
Continuing the garden metaphor, the speaker advises the spiritual aspirant to "sow in the fresh soil of each new day / Those valiant seeds." After having sown those worthy seeds, the spiritual gardener must "water and tend them."
The perfect metaphor for one's life is the garden with its life-giving entities as well as its weeds. As one tends a garden, one must tend one's life as well to make them both the best environment for life to thrive. By careful attention to the worthy, good seeds of attitudes and habits, the devotee’s life will become "fragrant / With rare flowering qualities."
Fourth Versagraph: New Year as Spiritual Guide
The speaker then personifies the New Year as a spiritual guide who gives sage advice through whispers, admonishing the devotees to employ real effort to wake up their sleeping spirit that has become "habit-dulled." This new spiritual guide advises the spiritual aspirant to continue struggling until their "eternal freedom" is gained.
The spiritual searchers must work, revise their lives, and continue their study until they have "outwitted" karma, the result of cause and effect that has kept them earth-bound and restless for aeons. The beckoning New Year always promises a new chance to change old ways. But the seekers must do their parts. They must cling to their spiritual paths, and as soon as they veer off, they must return again and again until they have reached their goal.
Fifth Versagraph: A Benediction of Encouragement
The speaker then offers a benediction of encouragement, giving the uplifting nudge to all those spiritual aspirants who wish to improve their lives, especially their ability to follow their spiritual paths. The speaker invites all devotees to "dance forward" together "With joy-enlivened, unendingly united mind." The speaker reminds his listeners that their goal is to unite their souls with their Divine Beloved Who awaits them in their "Halcyon Home." And once they achieve that Union, they will need no long venture out into the uncertainty and dangers as they exist on the physical plane. The New Year always holds the promise, but the spiritual aspirant must do the heavy lifting to achieve the lofty goal of self-realization.
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.
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© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes