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Paramahansa Yogananda’s "Vanishing Bubbles"

Eastern & Western religious philosophy is one of my areas of interest about which I write essays exploring the nature of reality and being.

Paramahansa Yogananda - writing at his Encinitas hermitage

Paramahansa Yogananda - writing at his Encinitas hermitage

Introduction and Excerpt from "Vanishing Bubbles"

Paramahansa Yogananda’s poem, "Vanishing Bubbles," plays out in five irregular rime-schemes. The varied rime-schemes support the theme of appearing and disappearing, coming and going, existing and then vanishing. Also, the frequent use of near-rime and slant-time further correspond with that main theme of instability.

The poem's theme dramatizes the evanescence of worldly phenomena under the delusion of maya, and the speaker elucidates the desire to comprehend from where these entities come and to where they go, as they seem to appear only to disappear.

This ancient puzzle that life places before each mind and heart functions as a pervasive feature afflicting every human heart/mind, ushered into this mysteriously interesting yet devastatingly dangerous world. Each human being ceaselessly searches to survive, to understand, and to enjoy life, despite its vicissitudes.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Excerpt from "Vanishing Bubbles"

Many unknown bubbles float and flow,
Many ripples dance by me
And melt away in the sea.
I yearn to know, ah, whence they come and whither go —

The rain drops and dies,
My thoughts play wild and vanish quick,
The red clouds melt into the skies;
I stake my purse, I'll slave all life, their motive still to seek.

Some friends — though not their love —
Some dearest thoughts I ne'er would lose, I said;
And last night's surest stars, seen just above, —
All, all are fled.

(Please note: This poem appears in Paramahansa Yogananda's Songs of the Soul, published by Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, CA, 1983 and 2014 printings. A slightly different version of this commentary appears in my publication titled, Commentaries on Paramahansa Yogananda’s Songs of the Soul.)


The things of this world are like bubbles in the ocean—appearing and then disappearing as if they had never been.

First Stanza: Coming and Going, Appearing and Disappearing in the Mayic Drama

In the first stanza, the speaker states that many things come and go, and he would like to know both where they come from and to where they vanish. The speaker metaphorically compares these worldly objects to "bubbles."

Through his metaphoric comparison, he is indicating that the existence of those worldly entities is tenuous, ephemeral, and that they are in reality only temporary appearances on the screen of life. The bubbles remain "unknown," for they seem to appear as if by magic. The observer cannot determine how, where, or why they so magically appear.

The speaker continues to describe the bubbles as things that "dance with me / And melt away into the sea." The waves of the sea that cause little watery bubbles to bounce around the swimmer serve as a useful metaphor for all the worldly things that are passing through a fragile existence on their way to who knows where.

By extension, the observer may also think of every physical object in existence as a magical production because the observer/thinker cannot think his way to the origin of all those bubble-like things. Even each human life may be compared to a vanishing bubble.

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From the time of birth to the moment of death, the exact locus of the human soul cannot be understood with the human brain. Thus all of human existence along with the things that humans experience, including the grandest scale items such as mountains, stars, universes, may be metaphorically expressed as "vanishing bubbles."

Second Stanza: The Evanescence of Natural Phenomena

The speaker then reports that rain drops appear and die away as quickly as they approached, noting again another natural phenomenon that comes quickly and leaves just as quickly. But then the speaker adds that his thoughts also come and go with great speed. As if with the rain, the speaker’s thoughts arrive and then flee.

The nature of thought adds to the mystery of all things; while there are physical, seemingly concrete items one perceived as reality, there is also the subtle, abstract realm where thoughts, feelings, ideas, and notions of all kinds appear and disappear and seem to possess an equal portion of reality.

Again, making his observation as concrete as possible, the speaker then reports that "red clouds" seem to dissolve into the skyey surrounding; the rain vanishes and the cloud vanishes, leaving the speaker to desire ever so strongly to know the why and wherefore of such actions.

As the human mind takes in the drama of its physical surroundings, it not only observes the actions but begins to wonder about the nature of those things, where they come from, where they are going, and for what purpose.

And as wishes, desires, and feelings intrude upon the mind, the speaker becomes even more determined to understand the drama which he is observing.

Many human beings, especially those with a contemplative penchant, at some point in their lives feel that they would give all their hard-earned wealth just to understand some of the mysteries that continue to play out in their lives. The human heart and mind especially yearn to understand why suffering and pain must play such a large part in the drama of life.

And the "vanishing bubble" metaphor yields a deep metaphoric meaning for those hearts and minds that have suffered great loss in life. But just as the mind cannot answer to what it loses, it cannot answer from what it has gained. Winning and losing become part of the same phenomenon tossed by the sea of life with all of the "vanishing bubbles."

Just so, the speaker thus vows to "stake [his] purse" and "slave all [of his] life" to find out why these things behave as they do. The difference between this dramatic speaker and the average human observer is the intensity with which the former craves such knowledge.

This speaker would give all his wealth, and in addition, he will work—even "slave"—all his life to know the secrets behind all of these mysterious bubbles.

Third Stanza: The Intense Desire to Know and the Understand

The speaker then notes that even some of his friends have vanished, but he asserts that he knows he still has their love. He, thus, is imparting the knowledge that the unseen is the part of creation that does not vanish.

The physical bodies of his friends must undergo the vanishing act, but their love does not, because love is entrenched in the immortality of the soul.

As the speaker broaches the spiritual concepts, including love, he begins to point to the reality of existence where things do not behave as vanishing bubbles. He supports that great claim that love is immortal.

And although his friends have, as bubbles do, appeared and then disappeared behind that seemingly impenetrable screen, that love that he harbored for them and they for him cannot disappear and cannot behave bubble-like.

The speaker then avers that his "dearest thoughts" also can never be lost. He then points out that the "night’s surest stars" that were "seen just above" have all "fled."

Objects as huge and bright as stars come and go, but his own thoughts and love do not. He has thus reported that it is the concrete things that seem to come and go, while the abstract is capable of remaining.

Fourth Stanza: Nature’s Creatures and the Eye and Ear

In the fourth stanza, the speaker offers to the eye and ear a list of nature’s creatures, such as lilies, linnets, other blooming flowers with sweet aromas, and bees that are "honey-mad."

These lovely features of nature once appeared on the scene under shady trees, but now only empty fields are left on the scene. As the little wavelets and rain and the stars appeared and then vanished, so did these other phenomena.

The speaker chooses those natural features that life offers in order to report beauty. Flowers along with their scent appeal to both eye and nose. It is, of course, the senses that are piqued by those natural features, and the human mind, like the "honey-mad" bee becomes attached to the things of the world.

By pointing out the fact that all of life's phenomena appear and then disappear, the speaker, at the same time, is pointing out that it is the spiritual aspect of life that remains eternally.

While the scent of the flowers along with their beauty will grace the vision and sense of smell briefly, love and beautiful thoughts may grace the mind and soul eternally for they are the features that retain the ability to remain.

Fifth Stanza: Evanescent Images of Entertainment

The speaker again refers to the evanescent images of "bubbles, lilies, friends, dramatic thoughts." He then reports that they play "their parts" while they "entertain." The speaker then dramatically proclaims that after they vanish, they exist only "behind the cosmic screen."

They do not cease to exist, however; they merely change "their displayed coats."

Instead of the physical world's mayic drama of sight and sound, these once worldly presences become "quiet" for they are "concealed." But the important, uplifting thought that accompanies the spiritual reality of all phenomena is that they do not truly vanish; they "remain."

The scientific law of the conservation of energy, as well as the spiritual law of immortality, proclaim their eternal existence.

Again, the speaker has demonstrated that nothing that exists ever, in fact, can cease to exist. The vanishing of things is just the delusion of maya. Thus because of the great desire to retain all those beautiful features of life, the human mind becomes attracted to and attached to only the acts that lead to true understanding beyond the reach of maya.

© 2021 Linda Sue Grimes

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