Paramahansa Yogananda's Spiritual Poetry
Staying Motivated on the Spiritual Path
How does one stay motivated in pursuit of a spiritual life? The great guru Paramahansa Yogananda offered many uplifting and encouraging ways through his voluminous and varied writings. He was an influential spiritual leader and also an accomplished poet—as his Songs of the Soul and other volumes of meditative and mystical poems attest. The great guru enthralled countless seekers with his lectures during the 1920s and 1930s, and his writings continue to do the same today.
Not only can one be educated and entertained by this great yogi-poet’s compositions, but one can also stir one's soul to God-awareness because he wrote from that exalted state of consciousness—penetrating the hearts, minds, and souls with his intelligent, perceptive, and deeply spiritual literary works. Reading poetry can become a spiritual act which may aid in meditation. Poetry requires a special reading and meditation requires a special kind of attention.
Finding Spiritual Encouragement
After we find our spiritual path and start walking it, we feel exuberant, lighthearted, relieved to finally be on our way home. But after a mile or two we may become tired or discouraged. We look around us, and it seems that the landscape has not changed; we are still the same unimproved, uninspired person we always were. And we wonder why we are not doing as well as we had expected and why we have not moved closer to our spiritual goal.
The great guru knew that such let-downs would from time to time overcome the students of his teachings, so in addition to his Lessons containing the meditation and yoga techniques, he offered many other forms of writing such as poems in which he declared in dramatic ways that no matter how bogged down one may feel, there is no reason to become discouraged. The great guru-poet insisted that the soul is on its way to God, no matter many times the thought occurs to one that life is just slowing down.
The great guru prefaces his poem from Songs of the Soul titled “My Soul Is Marching On” with the following words of solace:
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 poem creates a drama featuring life's dual nature. Stars are bright, yet are set in a contrast of darkness. As bright as the light of the sun is, yet the bright sunshine is not apparent during the nighttime.
Even the moon wanes as well as waxes. All of these natural phenomena keep their bright nature even when surrounded with darkness. Thus they exemplify the dual nature of light and dark. The metaphor of time as a “grinding wheel” dramatizes the act of life fading from planets and even the lives of people. Flowers bloom and die; trees grow stately then are toppled; heroic figures are triumphant but for a short while. Time flies by, and each person’s life energies fade.
Yet as all of these dualities are in motion because we exist in physical and mental bodies, we falsely identify with the dying. The purpose of the spiritual path is to correct our vision, to help us understand that only on the physical level are these life-fading events occurring. The soul is not affected by any of these changes: not the stars, the moon, the flowers, the trees, the demise of heroic men, nor the passing of aeons of time—nothing diminishes the soul.
It is always so uplifting to remember that the soul is ever new joy, ever new bliss, ever one with the Divine Beloved. After a dip in that memory, we look around and start walking our path again knowing we are, in fact, headed home. And once again we feel exuberant, lighthearted, and relieved to be traveling our spiritual path.
Spirituality Poetry as an Aid to Soul Awareness
In this and his hundreds of other poems, Paramahansa Yogananda has bestowed on us a legacy of literary works that complement his liberating techniques of yoga. His collection of poems titled Songs of the Soul demonstrates a God-realized soul communing with nature and people and finding nothing but God everywhere.
His Whispers from Eternity “serves to bring God closer to us, by describing the liberating feelings that arise from actual communion with Him,” says Amelita Galli-Curci, writing in the Foreword of that volume.
Again with Metaphysical Meditations we are uplifted toward soul-awareness by the beautiful poetry that not only inspires but also serves as a vehicle to aid in carrying the mind to celestial realms.
In the Foreword to Metaphysical Meditations, the great yogi-poet tells us the purpose of meditation is the attainment of the awareness of God and the soul’s eternal oneness with God. Because meditation uses a high form of concentration, the chanting or repeating of certain affirmations in the form of songs and poems is very beneficial.
The guru instructs us to choose a meditation that meets a present need and then sit quietly, focusing our attention at the point between the eyebrows; then we audibly or mentally repeat the words of the meditation slowly and with great concentration until we feel the concept becoming a part of our own consciousness.
This kind of “reading” is not so different from the kind of reading we employ in experiencing any poetry. Poetry always requires more of us than prose; we must use extra concentration when reading a poem.
This type of reading is quite foreign to most readers once they enter high school, and that is exactly the time that students begin complaining that they cannot understand poetry.
Although fast reading becomes the norm for readers of prose, slow, deliberate, concentrated reading is necessary for understanding poetry, which focuses more experience than merely on mental understanding.
Glimpses of Divine Bliss
The final poem in Songs of the Soul, “When I Take My Vow of Silence,” is a meditation devoted to the followers of the renowned Guru:
When I take the vow of silence
To remain enlocked with my Beloved
In the arms of His everywhereness,
I shall be busy listening to His symphony
Of creations’ bliss songs, and beholding hidden wondrous visions.
He is speaking, of course, of the experiences he will enjoy after passing beyond the physical realm into the spiritual realm at the time of mahasamadhi (a God-realized soul’s conscious departure in physical death).
But by meditatively reading his poems, these songs of his soul, we can glimpse those “wondrous visions” right now—and hear, even if vaguely because of our untrained ears, that “symphony of bliss.”
Paramahansa Yogananda: The Great Light of God
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."
Brief Publishing History of Songs of the Soul
The first published version of Paramahansa Yogananda's 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. Songs of the Soul
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.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes