Paramahansa Yogananda's "The Toiler’s Lay"
Introduction and Excerpt from "The Toiler’s Lay"
Paramahansa Yogananda’s "The Toiler’s Lay" from Songs of the Soul dramatizes the longing that arises as the human body and mind grow tired and weary of the continual grind of struggle and strife; many times one wishes that one could just run away from all of the cares and bothers.
Excerpt from "The Toiler’s Lay"
From school of life,
From bossy duty's binding day,
From hours of dollar-strife
I wish I were a runaway!
From harrying worry-hound
I'll flee one day,
From crowds and restless throngs around
I wish I were a runaway! . . .
(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 speaker in “The Toiler’s Lay” expresses a sentiment that is universally common to humanity laboring in this material world to keep body and soul together.
First Stanza: Life on Earth Is a School
Yogic teachings liken the human experience of earthly existence to "school," from which one must complete lessons in order to graduate to a higher existence. The speaker acknowledges that life’s ordinary school and ordinary labor thereafter exert the force of tiresomeness that make one want to be "a runaway."
Each day is filled with duties one must perform just to get through the day: eating, tidying one’s home, caring for family members exemplify some of those activities that are required and therefore must be considered "duties."
And of course, one of the most profoundly important duties is the earning of money to support the upkeep of the body and the home and the family. The speaker acknowledges that much of one’s labor is "dollar-strife."
Regardless of the nature of the moneymaking employment, the performance of all jobs and professions requires specific amounts of physical and mental toil.
Second Stanza: The Longing To Be Free
The speaker proclaims that one day he will free himself from these "harrying worry-hound[s]"; he will, in fact, leave those "crowds and restless throngs." Again, the speaker repeats what becomes his refrain in the poem, "I wish I were a runaway!"
The speaker seems to be quite certain that he will one day be able to enjoy a different kind of being from the ordinary noisy, tiresome existence of daily toil. The reader commiserates and feels a sense of adventure in following the declarations of this confident speaker who wants to run away from it all.
Third Stanza: As Complaints Pile Up
The speaker then becomes very specific in his complaint with the material level of existence: he is tired even of having to eat food, and particularly tired of being tempted by delicacies.
The speaker engages the food itself calling it "greedy"; the food is greedy and manages to make itself be consumed by the tempted human being, who cannot help it that his body requires the nutrients in food, and whose consciousness tells him that the allure of the food motivates him to consume it.
Even though he knows he needs the nutrition, the speaker intuitively understands that his soul is not dependent on the physical food, and thus, in fact, he is longing to be that runaway to the place where even his body will not be tempted by physical food. Thus again, he engages the refrain, "I wish I were a runaway!"
Fourth Stanza: Banal Physical Features
The speaker again becomes very specific in naming the physical features of his environment with which he has become bored; instead of the "homely chairs and banal couch," he would prefer to recline on a "grassy bed." The romantic that ever exists in the human heart always finds nature more congenial than man-made utensils.
The speaker’s "heart’s desire" urges him to prefer the couch be the grass, instead of man-made contraption that he encounters daily. Thus, again he wishes to be "a runaway!"
Fifth Stanza: Craving the Natural
The romantic strain continues in the fifth stanza, which swells, doubling its lines from the four of the other stanzas to eight lines. The speaker proclaims that "someday" he will drink from his hands, scooping the waters from a natural stream. He will eat the fresh fruits that he can pluck with his fingers.
Instead of using a man-made cup, the speaker will use his God-created hands, and instead of using the man-made forks, he will employ his God-created fingers. And instead of the homely, man-made chairs and couches, he will sit "[a]ll snug beneath the shady trees."
Instead of listening to man-made music, he will be "[e]nlivened by songs of birds and bumblebees" all the while being "fanned by mothering air," instead of the man-made apparatuses that move the air to cool homes in summer.
Sixth Stanza: Home in Omnipresence
Still predicting his future "new-made day," the speaker portends that one day he will "bathe [his] weary mind" in the joy that that new day will herald. No more "dishwashing, cups and saucers"—for he will be "a runaway," and he will experience an unalloyed joy of freedom from the things of this world.
Of course, this speaker’s prediction is not that he will experience a utopian physical Garden of Eden; he is referring to his home in Omnipresence, where he will finally be liberated from the physical and united in the spiritual with the Divine, from which he will never want to be "a runaway."
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.
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