Writing life sketches / interviews covering well-known poets, philosophers, and others keeps me in touch with history and current events.
Paramahansa Yogananda: "Father of Yoga in the West"
Mukunda Lal Ghosh was born on January 5, 1893, in Gorakhpur, India, on January 5, 1893. At the age of 17, after always demonstrating spiritual advancement through his childhood, he was united with his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, who would guide the young Mukunda to his spiritual goal of union with the Divine Belovèd or self-realization. After studying and practicing the yoga techniques given by his guru, Mukunda was inducted into the ancient swami order and given the monastic name, Paramahansa Yogananda.
In 1920, Paramahansa Yogananda set sail from India on The City of Sparta for the United States, where he had been invited to speak at the International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston, Massachusetts. His speech was greatly lauded, and he soon gathered a large following. By 1925, he had founded his organization, Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), for the purpose of widely disseminating and maintaining the purity of his teachings on the spiritual techniques of yoga. Paramahansa Yogananda is now lovingly labeled the "Father of Yoga in the West."
The following excerpt from the introduction to Paramahansa Yogananda’s biography on the Self-Realization Fellowship Web site stresses the importance of the great guru’s work and emphasizes the devotion he has garnered for the past century:
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 spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi, has become a mainstay in spiritual studies all over the world. Many of his millions of devotees have been attracted to his yogic teachings because of this exceptional autobiography. Many of the stories told by devotees about how they were first introduced to the autobiography represent modern "miracles."
Many world-famous individuals, including Dennis Weaver, Steve Jobs, George Harrison, and Elvis Presley, have spoken about how their lives were changed and thereafter influenced by reading Autobiography of a Yogi. Dennis Weaver served as a lay minister and often spoke at the many SRF temples throughout California.
Self-Realization Fellowship has published collections of the essays of Paramahansa Yogananda, in the series of books, including Man's Eternal Quest, The Divine Romance, and Journey to Self-realization.
SRF has also published collections of his talks, including 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 talks are both informative and inspirational as they enhance the spiritual experience and encourage devotees continuing on the path to their yogic goal.
Spiritual Poetry: Aid to Soul Awareness
SRF has published three books of poetry by Paramahansa Yogananda: Songs of the Soul, Whispers from Eternity, and Metaphysical Meditations. These poems always invoke the Divine Creator's presence whether directly or indirectly, taking them out of the realm of ordinary poetry, which relies primarily on the experience of human emotion. Regarding the nature of these spiritual poems, SRF explains in the following description:
[Paramahansa Yogananda’s] writings are not the considered renderings of a poet’s fancies, but a revelation of the interior experiences of a soul ever awake in Spirit, responding to the wonders of nature; to the memories of his beloved motherland; to the deep impressions made by new friends and acquaintances; above all to the divine realizations born of that soul’s intimate communion with God.
Thus, these poems function as spiritual engines that help keep the mind focused on the ineffable through the poetic devices of metaphor, image, and other figurative language. Because these poems perform a utilitarian service at a deep level of thought and feeling, they are often employed at Readings Services and other special Commemorative Services of SRF group gatherings.
Brief Publishing History of Songs of the Soul
The commentaries that I have thus far published on this site focus on the poems from Paramahansa Yogananda’s Songs of the Soul, the first version of which appeared in 1923. He continued to revise his poems during the 1920s and 1930s, and the definitive revision that was authorized by the great guru was published in 1983, featuring many restored lines that had been excised from the first publication of the text.
The 1923 version of some of the poems appears online at Full Text of Songs of the Soul. For my commentaries, I rely on the printed text of the 1983 version; the current printing year for that version is 2014. The 1983 printing offers the final approved versions of these poems.
Paramahansa Yogananda has enriched the literary world with three translations of works that for centuries have suffered from inaccurate claims by various commentators. The great guru is now offering translations and explanations that are correcting the false narratives that have plagued Western understanding of these texts.
1. Wine of the Mystic: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam — A Spiritual Interpretation: Paramahansa Yogananda demonstrates that the Rubaiyat poet possessed a mystical ability that led to the spiritual effusions. The speaker of the Rubaiyat is dramatizing the deep feelings of a man in love with the Divine Creator; this mystic is, in fact, the opposite of the wine soaked Epicurean that the misinterpretations have applied to these quatrains. About this translation, SRF explains in the following description:
This award-winning work brings to light the deeper truth and beauty of a well-loved but long-misunderstood masterpiece—The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. With an in-depth commentary on every quatrain, Paramahansa Yogananda reveals the profound kinship between the Rubaiyat’s hidden metaphysical philosophy and India’s ancient science of yoga.
2. God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita — A New Translation and Commentary: Paramahansa Yogananda 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. Regarding the new translation of the Gita, SRF has offered the following description:
The Bhagavad Gita has been revered by truth-seekers of both the East and West, yet its deepest meaning, cloaked in allegory, has remained obscure. In God Talks With Arjuna, Paramahansa Yogananda offers a translation and commentary of unparalleled scope and vision. Exploring the Gita’s psychological, spiritual, and metaphysical depths, he reveals the innermost essence of this majestic scripture while presenting an enlightening and deeply encouraging guide to who we are, why we were created, and our place and purpose in the vast cosmic scheme of things.
3. The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You — A revelatory: Paramahansa Yogananda, offers a complete and accurate elucidation of the mystery known as the "Second Coming." This work expounds upon the correct meaning of many of the Christ's words that have long been misunderstood as well as mischaracterized, including such claims as, "The Kingdom of God is within you" and "I and my Father are one." SRF describes this translation:
In this unprecedented masterwork of inspiration, Paramahansa Yogananda takes the reader on a profoundly enriching journey through the four Gospels. Verse by verse, he illumines the universal path to oneness with God taught by Jesus to his immediate disciples but obscured through centuries of misinterpretation: how to become like Christ, how to resurrect the Eternal Christ within one’s self.
The SRF Lessons: The Teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda
The Lessons remain the heart and soul and thus the most vital SRF publication. All of the other publications from the poetry to the translations support and help fortify the impact of the Lessons.
The Lessons are vitally important because they offer the techniques that help prepare the body and mind for engagement and union with soul awareness (self-realization). The physical exercises—38 Energization Exercises—prepare the physical body to quiet itself, making it possible to sit still for long periods of time in order to perform the more advanced techniques that lead to Kriya Yoga practice.
The Lessons are sectioned into six steps that can be accomplished in about three and a half years; however, devotee-students are free to advance at their own pace.
The Lessons offer instruction and practice in the following techniques:
- Energization Exercises
- Hong-Sau Technique of Concentration
- Aum Technique of Meditation
After students complete the first two steps—Energization and Hong-Sau—they are encouraged to apply for the Kriya Yoga technique.
Kriya Yoga Initiations
The Kriya Yoga technique includes four initiations totaling twenty lessons. The first initiation includes the Kriya proper technique, on which the others are based:
- The First Initiation: K1-9
- The Second Initiation: K10-14
- Third and Fourth: K15-20.
All Lessons, including the Kriya Yoga Initiations, feature scientific explanations that demonstrate the reasoning behind each technique, what the techniques does and how. These elucidations are also based on the life experience of Paramahansa Yogananda, who makes it clear that he does expect anything from any devotee that he has not expected of himself on his journey to self-realization. Thus, these works engage each student-devotee through engaging stories, poems, prayers, affirmations—all for the purpose of strengthening and supporting the lesson to be learned in each installment.
SRF gatherings always includes extended periods of chanting, in order to interiorize and uplift the mind for engaging with the purpose of the service. To assist the devotee in learning the chants, SRF has published Paramahansa Yogananda’s Cosmic Chants, a hymnal featuring the lyric for each chant along with musical notations.
SRF also publishes a quarterly magazine: Self-Realization Fellowship - A Magazine Devoted to Healing of Body, Mind, and Soul. This magazine features further works by Paramahansa Yogananda and also by monastics of the SRF order. It also offers writings by scholars, scientists, and other thinkers who study the nature of spiritual living.
For an annotated list of the works of Paramahansa Yogananda currently published by SRF, please visit the SRF Web site at "The Complete Works of Paramahansa Yogananda."
Paramahansa Yogananda: The Great Light of God
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes