Paramahansa Yogananda's "The Hart of Heaven"
Introduction and Excerpt from "The Hart of Heaven"
In Paramahansa Yogananda's "The Hart of Heaven," the speaker creates his drama employing the controlling metaphor of God as a Deer, fleeing from the hunter. The devotee then is portrayed as the hunter who seeks the animal, determined to fell it, capture its carcass and possess it.
The poem was inspired by "The Hound of Heaven," written by Francis Thompson. In Thompson's poem, however, the "hound" or the one doing the chasing is God. Thus the situation of the poem is reversed in Paramahansa Yogananda's "The Hart of Heaven." About Thompson's poem, John Francis Xavier O'Conor, S.J, has remarked:
The name is strange. It startles one at first. It is so bold, so new, so fearless. It does not attract, rather the reverse. But when one reads the poem this strangeness disappears. The meaning is understood. As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit.
Thus, also the strange metaphor of God as an animal that a man would shoot, dress out, cook, and eat might at first seem quite inappropriate and wildly bizarre, but like the poem that inspired it, the strangeness of "The Hart of Heaven" disappears and the "meaning is understood" as the reader progresses through it.
Excerpt of "The Hart of Heaven"
Like a wild, cruel hunter,
Sure of my prey,
I chased the Heavenly Hart
Through forests of dark desires,
Mazes of my passing pleasures.
Down corridors of ignorance
I raced for Him — the Hart of Heaven. . . . .
(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.)
Inspired by Francis Thompson's "The Hound of Heaven," this poem dramatizes the search for God-realization as a hunter chasing a Deer.
First Movement: The Human Condition
The speaker likens himself to a "cruel hunter," who is chasing a Deer—"Heavenly Hart"—through the forest. Only this "forest" is the human mind filled with "dark desires," "passing pleasures," and "ignorance."
The hunter hurries after the Deer, but the animal flees farther from the hunter. It is motivated by fear of the hunt, who is "equipped with" his weapons that are like "spears" of "selfishness."
Thus the speaker has dramatized the human condition: humankind chases after Ultimate Bliss while ignorantly filled with desires for earthly pleasures. But the "Hart of Heaven" sensing those unholy desires races even farther from the seeker, interpreting those earthly desires as dangerous impediments to be feared.
Second Movement: The Continued Chase
As the Deer continues to speed away from the hunter, the heavenly Hart seems to communicate to the hunter through the echoing earth. The Hart informs the chasing hunter that He is faster than the hunter's feet. The vain passion-filled greed of the hunter has pushed at the Hart. Then the Deer tells the hunter that no one who frightens Him away with his bombast can ever hope to capture Him.
The speaker then asserts that in his continued hunt of the Deer he "flew on the planes of heavenly prayer," but because of his restlessness his just crashed the plane to earth. Again, the Deer flees from the speaker/hunter, and again the heavenly Hart informs the hunter He is faster than the "noisy plane of prayer" that is filled with "loud-tongued hollow words." Again, this empty activity merely frightens the heavenly Hart and motivates Him to race from the sight of the hunter.
Third Movement: Making Progress
The speaker/hunter now announces that he forsakes his "spears," his "hunting dogs," and even his plane. Quietly, he concentrates on his prey, and all of a sudden he sees the Deer "grazing peacefully." Quickly, the hunter/speaker takes aim and shoots, but his hand was unsteady so he misses, and the Deer goes prancing off again. The echoing earth then again informs the hunter that he needs "devotion" to gain the Deer's attention, and without devotion the hunter remains "a poor, poor marksman!"
The hunter/speaker continues to shoot but the Hart again easily evades him, as He echoes back to the hunter the information that He is far "beyond the range of mental dart." The Hart remains beyond the mind which can never capture the precious treasure.
Fourth Movement: The Successful Capture
The speaker/hunter, who now is desperate to capture the heaven Hart, announces that he abandons this ineffective chase. He finds himself then being "led by intuition" and "curious wondering." He finds a "secret lair of love" within himself. He "stroll[s]" within this new-found haven of love instead of running widely and then experiences his heart's desire: the "Hart of Heaven" comes into his sight "willingly."
The speaker/hunter had finally captured the coveted "Hart." The speaker, who now has transformed from hunter to devotee, then continues to shoot his "concentration-dart[s]." But he was now shooting eagerly and steadily with devotion.
A few of his shots even missed their mark, but the Heavenly Hart remained, no longer fleeing in fear from the darkness that had frightened Him away. The hunter/devotee had now relinquished his inner turmoil, adopted a quiet heart, which allowed the Deer to enter and remain.
The Hart of Heaven admonishes the devotee that only deep inner stillness and pure love can capture Him and keep him; after the devotee had attained those qualities, the Hart Itself will supply the assistance needed for the devotee be able to receive the coveted Divine Blessing.
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."
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes