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 Dying Youth’s Divine Reply"
Paramahansa Yogananda's "The Dying Youth's Divine Reply" appears in his collection of spiritually inspired poetry, Songs of the Soul, and it is the next to last poem in the book. This poem is also the longest piece to appear. Its subject is of great and grave importance because the issue of dying holds such a prominent place in the thoughts of humankind.
Excerpt From "The Dying Youth’s Divine Reply"
In his laughter he had often heard
The echo of God's merriment.
This laughing youth of many charms
Lay dying in a hamlet,
They the bias of illness was unable to wither his smiles.
The doleful doctors can and said, "But da day,
But a day we give you to life."
The dear ones of his family cried aloud:
"Leave us not, poor you of your hearts!
Our souls are bursting with pity for thee, for they plight." . . .
(Please note: The poem in its entirety may be found in Paramahansa Yogananda's Songs of the Soul, published by Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, CA, 1983 and 2014 printings.)
Paraphrase of "The Dying Youth’s Divine Reply"
The following is a prose rendering or paraphrase of "The Dying Youth’s Divine Reply." The paraphrase can assist readers in gaining insight into the poem as it helps in comprehending the commentary about the divinely inspired poem:
A charismatic youth lay on his death-bed in his family's home. Illness, however, had no power to diminish the lad's smiles. Physicians had given him perhaps one day to live. Understandably, the youth's family became inconsolable with grief. Despite the horrible news, the lad continued to be the happy youth he had always been. He expounds the reasons for his joy to his family. Fear had been expelled from the boy's soul. The boy had been preparing himself for his soul to be liberated into the Divine Infinite. He had made strong his will and overcome the forces that would render in him doubt and pain. The young man had entered into a kingdom of Peace. The lad was even joyous to be leaving behind this "mortal prison," wherein the physical encasement is wont to be attacked in all manner of uncertain and unwelcome ways. He perceived Death to be a liberating savior, who would guide him from this mud ball of a planet. The lad begged his affectionate family to celebrate with him that he would be merely transcending this planet and moving into freedom. He then again catalogued all the dangers, trials, and tribulation that one living in a physical encasement might encounter.
The youth asserted strongly that he would be liberated and would experience sadness for the loved ones he would leave behind in the "mortal prison." He opined that they are, indeed, the ones for whom tears are required, not the one who would be journeying to the beautiful, delightful astral world, where fire cannot burn, water cannot drown, and gas cannot choke. The youth continues his rejoicing that he will be liberated into the Infinite Divine, where music is sweeter, and thus he will be singing eternally. The boy also celebrates that fact that now it is less than a day's time that he is required to remain confined in this problematic physical encasement. The youth knows that he heading toward bliss that exists in a place that is far superior to this world where death and destruction reign. The youth then gently reproves his affectionate family once more, as he reminds them that he will be capable of preparing a place for them after they finally must travel out from the cursed finite to the Blissful Infinite. The youth mightily attempts to assist his beloved family to comprehend what he knows, that he is only in route to remain eternally with his "Only Belovèd." The youth knows that same Belovèd belongs to his loving family.
The dying youth in Paramahansa Yogananda's "The Dying Youth’s Divine Reply" has the marvelous ability to understand and know that his dying simply means that his soul will then inhabit the beautiful astral world, and therefore, he admonishes his mourners not to mourn.
First Movement: Divine Understanding
In the opening stanza, readers learn that the doctors have said the young man has but one day to live. But the readers are also made aware that the young man has been close to God: "In his laughter he had often heard / The echo of God’s merriment."
The young man's family grieves at such news and begs the young man not to leave them. But the young man, who has seen visions of the astral world, is not disheartened by the news of his coming demise, quite the contrary.
The youth answers,
The smiles of the youth grew brighter,
And he joyously spoke, in a voice that sang:
"Ah, just a day; yea, but a day
Between me and my long-lost Beloved."
The youth's happiness because of entering into a level of being that he deems will draw him closer to God motivates his joyous voice to sing his delight.
Second Movement: Unity with Divine Nature
The poem continues for six more stanzas, longest poem in Songs of the Soul. The youth continues to paint scenes of his expectations after his soul has left its body. He reports that his light has become one with the great light of his Creator. He further contends that that very light continues to shine out onto all the "splendors of eternity"—asserting his omnipresence as well as his immortality.
With such an awareness, the lad no longer has to contend with fears; thus all fears has slipped into oblivion, as that great soul light has "spread of the dark nooks of [his soul]." He continues to describe what he knows will be his experience, in order to assuage the sorrow of his loved ones whom he must leave.
The lad then declares that all of his faculties are awaiting "Delightful Death," which he calls "the divine messenger." After Death has performed its function of lifting the "latch of finitude," his soul and all souls are then able to enter into the "kingdom of Infinity."
Third Movement: Rejoicing the Divine Transformation
The dying youth then catalogues all the ways that living in a human body is anathema to the soul: in that dangerous encasement, it is "lashed with worries," "pounded by accidents, failures," and "thrown into the dungeon of uncertain, unsafe living." He makes it clear the leaving such a precarious situation brings nothing but gladness. The dying—the souls leaving those physical encasements—feel joy at escaping that "broken cage of brittle bones."
The dying know that they will be able to throw that physical body of flesh and trouble into the fires of immortality. They well set free the "Bird of Paradise." That free bird can then sail high through the "skies of Blissful Omnipresence." The boy then startles by reporting his pure glee at awaiting the death angel; the hours seem to have slowed down as he waits for that sweet release.
The lad asks his beloved family to "rejoice in my joy." He then repeats the list of trials and tribulations that the still living family will have to suffer and he will not—no broken bones, no accidents, no more fears of anything. He will not have to worry about "unpaid bills," and worry over caring for possessions will no longer play a part in "gnawing at [his soul]."
The noise of the senses will be quieted, and he will remain "beyond their reach." He will be exploring the reaches of Infinity with his Divine Belovèd. He begs his loved ones not to pray that he will be back in the prison house of incarnation. He will prefer his new "Home of blessed freedom."
Fourth Movement: Divine Liberation
Again, the dying youth is the one who comforts his mourners: He reports that although he will be free and loving that freedom, he will look sadly on their lot, still remaining behind the bars of physical encasement and "mortal life." They will remain "locked up" in the miserable life from which he has blissfully escaped. Thus he bids them not to weep for him:
Don't cry for me,
Ye who are left on this desolate shore,
Still to mourn and deplore;
It is I who pity you.
The doctors had given the boy a day to live and now the lad notes that he has less than one day to remain in his body prison. He contends that there is no sound sweeter than the music he is hearing now that he knows he will be leaving this prison for ultimate freedom. He now calls death a "dazzling chariot" that is coming to carry him to his home in Omnipresence, which he calls the "Kingdom of Deathlessness."
In his "palace of Bliss-Dreams," the boy will be happier than he has every been on the material, physical level of existence. He again admonishes his folks, who are crying "dark tears," that it is he who also weeps for them. They must remain bound to the exploits of the pairs of opposites that control the prison called life.
The dying youth then tells them that he will be lighting the way for them when it is time for them to leave their prison-house of suffering. He states that he will "light candles of wisdom" to assist them on their way. And he will welcome them to the miraculous better world where they will all be together with their Divine Belovèd.
Life Sketch 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.
© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes