Paramahansa Yogananda’s "The Little Eternity"
Introduction and Excerpt from "The Little Eternity"
Playing out in three ever increasingly longer stanzas, "The Little Eternity" from Songs of the Soul, offers a marvelous comparison of the finite and small human body and the cosmos in which that body is forced to move and thrive.
Seeking the Creator through His creation can become a confusion-filled, never-ending battle for the human mind and heart—until that mind can realize its unity with its Creator and know that "behind the wings of Thy blessings, / My soul can be safe in Thy keeping."
Excerpt from "The Little Eternity"
As a dream melts deep
Into the silent well of sleep,
So may this earthly dreaming
Dissolve in the depth of Thy being. . . .
(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.)
Paramahansa Yogananda’s poem, "The Little Eternity," reveals the problematic human condition while supplying the solution that assuages the terror of that condition.
First Stanza: A Metaphoric Melting
In the first stanza of "The Little Eternity," from Songs of the Soul, the speaker is addressing the Divine, as he likens the process of a sleeper’s consciousness progressing into the stillness of deep sleep to the act of unifying one’s soul with the Oversoul, or God.
The speaker then prays that that experience come to all devotees. The goal sought by the spiritual aspirant is exactly to "dissolve in the depth of [God’s] being." The speaker then describes precisely the human condition of having to reincarnate into a human body time after time before transcending that necessity.
The speaker deems that repetition "useless, hazardous traveling": "To fly from dream to dream, / Nightmare to nightmare; / And from birth to rebirth, / Death to repeated deaths." The soul desires to know its true self; thus it becomes very boring for it to suffer through dreams and nightmares as it undergoes the trauma of repeated cycles of birth and death and rebirth.
The speaker therefore declaims that those bothersome bouts of repeated reincarnations can be circumvented as soon as the seeker meets that which is "behind the wings of Thy blessings, / My soul can be safe in Thy keeping." The devotee who unites his/her soul with the Divine Creator re-establishes the safe haven that that blessed realization bestows.
Second Stanza: The Demolition of Delusion
In twelve glorious lines, the speaker demolishes the notion that "the universe" of material reality exists as anything other than "a tiny slimy egg of thought." What seems "so big" to the tiny human brain as taken in through the eyes is only a fantasy that is "beaten with the egg-beater of fancy, / Frothed up into the fluffy cosmic dream."
The human mind is deluded by the ostensible reality of the material level of being, "With sextillion worlds glimmering, / With Milky Way bubbles shimmering." On the contrary, however, this huge mass is nothing more than "a single little thought."
What seems to be a "giant cosmic lot" simply "throbs and lives" in the mind of the beholder, even though this "vast cosmic dream" that is "squeezed into tiniest nothingness" can also "be eternally expanded, tier upon tier, / Into an ever-growing, endless sphere." Even if the expanding universe doubles, triples, or quadruples its size, it is still the same delusion of the human mind.
Third Stanza: Illusive Reality
The human body is part of the universe, being composed of the same elements of which the universe is composed; thus the universe and the "little, finite frame" of the individual human being "both recede or reside / In my thought’s ebb and tide."
Whether the speaker thinks about the whole universe or his own small body, his thought depends upon the illusion of their reality. The important fact that the speaker is conveying to the devotee is that the soul of the devotee is a spark of the Divine, "the colossal cosmic God" because God "lives in my little self’s sod." The body itself may be perishable sod, but the human soul lives "in His palace of eternity."
And "He lives in me." Also, "He dreams in me." And the Divine finally awakes in the devotee, who had been asleep to His presence. The Divine seems to be dead in the devotee who "sleep[s] in delusion." But ultimately, though meditation, soulful study, useful service, and a cheerful attitude, the devotee realizes, "[God] is reborn in my wisdom-womb’s seclusion." The soul is the "little eternity," which abides in the devotee’s "measureless amity."
Autobiography of a Yogi
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.
Publications of Paramahansa Yogananda
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.
The Poetry of Paramahansa Yogananda
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."
Songs of the Soul
A 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.
Learn to Meditate: Part 2 - The Attention
Questions & Answers
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes