Paramahansa Yogananda's poems serve to deepen yoga meditation, offering devotees new ways of grasping the spiritual nature of all creation.
Introduction and Excerpt from "The Cup of Eternity"
Paramahansa Yogananda’s poem, “The Cup of Eternity” from Songs of the Soul, consists of seven quatrains; each quatrain consists of two rimed, often slant- or near-rimed, couplets. The speaker is dramatizing the spiritual longing, metaphorically describes as “thirst,” which can by quenched only by God-realization through gaining awareness of the soul within the physical and mental encasements.
(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")
Excerpt from "The Cup of Eternity"
. . . The deathly thirst so fleshly born
Shall parch his soul, oh, ne'er again!
The cup he'll drink, but not the bane,
To quench his thirst and bliss attain.* . . .
*Note appended to poem: "At first the cup of true bliss seems to possess 'contents scant' (the quietude of meditation seems a barren substitute for material interests). But by the exercise of true discrimination and right choice of pleasures, man begins to experience the illimitable nature of divine joy and to discover the infinite treasures within the 'little orb' of the spiritual eye (the 'single eye' referred to by Christ), the true 'cup of eternity'."
(Please note: The poem in its entirety appears in Paramahansa Yogananda's Songs of the Soul, published by Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, CA, 1983 and 2014 printings.)
The omniscient speaker metaphorically compares a thirsty traveler to a spiritual seeker on the path to God-realization, also referred to as self-realization or soul-realization, for after the human being has become self- or soul-realized, s/he becomes aware of her real nature as united with God, or the Over-Soul.
First Quatrain: Spiritual Dryness
In the first quatrain, the reader meets the traveler who is spiritually dry; this traveler is tired and thirsty, but not merely physically weary from "thirst" but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually yearning for some elixir to quench his/her "mortal thirst." The traveler's heart is heavy from worries s/he cannot express in language.
This kind of longing is very difficult to name; many individuals suffer for decades before they become aware that what they are really seeking is peaceful union with the Divine Belovèd—not merely bodily comfort nor mental engagement with sense gratification and entertainment.
Second Quatrain: Silently Doing Nothing
The thirsty traveler “spies a cup” and speeds to take a drink but then stops because there seems to be so little in the cup. As the beginning spiritual aspirant first embarks on the journey of meditation, s/he finds little to interest him/her. S/he seems merely to be sitting silently doing nothing. So she is apt to give up before she finds her goal. At first, meditation may seem just the lack of activity as the mind and body attempt to become quiet. But with devoted application of meditative yogic principles, the quieting of the body and mind allows the soul to become apparent.
Paramahansa Yogananda has often employed the following analogy to explain why in ordinary consciousness, unrealized individuals are not aware of their own soul: When a body of water is agitated, the reflection of the moon on such water is distorted, but after the water becomes still and the wavelets are settled, a clear image of the moon's reflection may be seen.
Third Quatrain: The Thirst Continues
The thirsty traveler then again starts to drink and a vagrant thought intrudes on him that he might, in fact, simply increase his thirst. However, because he continues to try again, he finds encouraging inner “counsel deep” that spurs him on. Instead of giving in to doubts, he is heartened to persist in meditation.
Paramahansa Yogananda has averred that the first sign of success in yogic practice is a deep feeling of peace. Because each individual's experiences depend on individual karma, experiences will differ from one individual to another. But everyone can identify with the concept of peace and calmness that begin to assist the meditating yogi who remains steadfastly on the path to his/her goal of realization.
Fourth Quatrain: The Vital Necessity of Meditation
While the act of meditation may seem like a futile act to the uninitiated and perhaps even to beginning practitioners, those who persevere, becoming experienced in meditation, realize the usefulness of the yogic practice. Those who lack the awareness of their own immortality continue to deem “the cup” dry, while those who have persevered find out the glorious value of their effort. They become “soulful” and realize that they are not merely “mortal” beings.
What at first seemed like an empty, dry, worthless endeavor will become the most important endeavor in one's life. Finding relief from all physical, mental, and spiritual pain and anguish from living in a world that must be maintained through the dualities of pain/joy, sickness/health, dark/light, and all the other pairs of opposites becomes the main goal of one's life. "Deliver us from evil" becomes the war cry of the devotee seeking refuge in the arms of the Great Deliverer. And such a devotee finds constant upliftment from suffering, even despite any setbacks s/he may face.
Fifth Quatrain: Consciousness Absorbed in God-Awareness
Because the spiritual aspirant/traveler has realized the valuable contents of his own soul, he can now become aware of the profound meditative act that leads to the "ambrosial drink" that he will wish to quaff again and again. The spiritual traveler's consciousness will be absorbed in God, and s/he will spend eternity satiated with soul-awareness. She will know her soul is immortal and eternal, and she will praise the Creator for the blessing.
Sixth Quatrain: Where Death Cannot Go
Death will no longer touch the soul-realized; the spiritual seeker who has arrived at her destination will never again suffer a “parched” soul. That blessed, Divine-realized soul will continue to drink the ambrosia of God-realization and not suffer worldly tragedies in the same way as before. With her spiritual thirst quenched, the self-realized soul will enjoy bliss eternally. Her soul will celebrate its own self as the eternal cup remains never empty of that "ambrosial drink."
Seventh Quatrain: Assisting Others to Find That Cup
After the spiritual aspirant has reached his/her goal of self-realization, there is only one desire left for that individual: to encourage others to find their own souls. Therefore, the self-realized individual will be guided to minister to others, persuading them to find their own "cup" of bliss. Because of the intense joy felt by the aspirant who has succeeded, the God-realized soul will then thirst only for others to experience that joy; thus, that realized soul will implore them to drink from the cup of soul-realization, so they may attain their own bliss. The self-realized one knows that there is no other place to find such bliss.
The duty of the self-realized individual is not to coerce or deceive others but merely to impart experience that has helped that individual to become self-realized. The truly God-realized individual has nothing more to gain, and, therefore, has no reason to attempt to take from others, nothing of material value nor for egotistical self-aggrandizement. The self-realized individual therefore ministers only to those who are ready for such ministrations.
Finding the "cup of eternity" is the desire of all suffering humanity, but each individual has to be ready to recognize that desire and then recognize the cure being offered. That recognition comes after each individual's karma indicates that the individual is ready and open. After the individual has become ready for instruction, a God-realized leader appears and offers graciously that "cup of eternity" to the thirsty seeker.
© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes