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Paramahansa Yogananda's "The Tattered Dress"

Paramahansa Yogananda's poems serve to deepen yoga meditation, offering devotees new ways of grasping the spiritual nature of all creation.

Paramahansa Yogananda - writing at his hermitage in Encinitas

Paramahansa Yogananda - writing at his hermitage in Encinitas

Introduction and Excerpt from "The Tattered Dress"

Many times in his writings the great yogi/poet, Paramahansa Yogananda, has likened death to the act of changing clothing. The soul's leaving the body is like the body shedding a ragged old coat or dress and putting on a brand new one. In Paramahansa Yogananda's nine-line poem, "The Tattered Dress," the speaker refers metaphorically to the physical body as a garment of clothing, a "dress." The old worn body is like a dress that is ragged and torn; thus it is a "tattered dress." But the main thrust of this brief poem is the act that removes the ragged clothing and replaces it with a fine new radiant gown that reflects the beauty of the Divine's highest elements. That act is the act of dying.

Instead of mundanely saying something like when you die, your soul simply exchanges its physical body for a new astral body of light, the speaker has created a little drama in which he watches as Spirit with magic hands quickly pulls the soul from its tattered dress and places it into a "soul-sheen habiliment" or a "newly given robe"—a new dress that reflects the light of heaven.

Excerpt from "The Tattered Dress"

I see Thy magic Hands of death
Snatch away in stealth
And change the tattered dress — . . .

(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.)


The metaphor of a dress works to describe the relationship of the physical body to the soul. Thus dying is simply changing one old tattered dress for a fresh new one.

First Movement: Personifying Death

The speaker begins his little but profound drama by reporting what he has seen: he personifies death, giving death "magic hands" and those hands act to pull the tattered garment off of the individual.

Death does this "in stealth" as only the most advanced yogi would be able to see that a soul is withdrawing from the physical body. Ordinary human consciousness remains incapable of detecting this momentous occurrence.

Second Movement: The Over-Importance of the Physical Encasement

The speaker refers to the body as the "tattered dress," which the unenlightened individual, that is, the soul-unrealized individual, is wont to desire to retain. People are so fond of the body that they hug to it, giving it more importance than it deserves.

Those blinded by the physical world become so attached to only what they see that they see only the unreal, and remain blind to the spiritual reality.

The blind cannot experience the "soul-sheen" garment of the astral world. Ordinary consciousness functions blindly in the realm of the reality of the higher consciousness. Ordinary consciousness requires retraining to be able to sense higher states of being.

Third Movement: A Boost for the Next Karmic Journey

But despite that blind attachment to the physical encasement, all souls are given a new robe, a new body in which to play out their karma. Each soul is eternal and never ending. The physical body "dies" but the soul does not.

On the astral level, the soul inhabits a glowing body of light, "That shines with th' empyrean beauties" of God's creation. The astral level of being allows the soul a respite, a chance to leave old worries behind before continuing the journey to the Divine Goal.

Thus, at death, the soul simply leaves the worn-out physical body behind, inhabits an astral body for a time, then returns to Earth in a new fresh body, a new dress, to continue its journey back to the Divine Reality.

Of course, the karma of the soul remains to be worked out the next life, but possessing a fresh body, a brand new dress to wear, and a refreshed mind serves as a boost for the continuing trek to heaven.

Autobiography of a Yogi

Autobiography of a Yogi

Songs of the Soul - Book Cover

Songs of the Soul - Book Cover

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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