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 "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.
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.
© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes