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Paramahansa Yogananda’s “What Is Love?”

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

Paramahansa Yogananda Writing at Encinitas

Paramahansa Yogananda Writing at Encinitas

Introduction and Excerpt from “What Is Love?”

The term "love" is all-encompassing, much broader than simply a feeling or an emotion. Love is a spiritual, substantive presence; it is the basic foundation on which all other human endeavors must build, if they are to result in success. The speaker is thus dramatizing forceful and colorfully a definition of “love," while putting on display its vital significance for following and advancing on the spiritual path.

Excerpt from “What Is Love?”

Love is the scent with the lotus born.
It is the silent choirs of petals
Singing the winter’s harmony of uniform beauty.
Love is the song of the soul, singing to God.
It is the balanced rhythmic dance of plants—sun and moon lit
In at the skyey hall festooned with fleecy clouds—
Around the sovereign Silent Will.
It is the thirst of the rose to drink the sun rays
And blush red with life . . . .

(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 definition offered in this poem demonstrates the all-encompassing nature of love. Love is far more than a mere emotion, and this dramatization of its qualities makes clear its importance for a life lived, following the spiritual path.

First Movement: Harmony and Beauty

The speaker is asserting that love may be likened to a healthy flower whose scent is pleasant and alluring. Love may also be compared to the many colorful and beautifully shaped "petals" that unfold after the "harmony" of a winter's song has composed the "choirs" of beauty. The speaker asserts, "Love is the song of the soul, singing to God." This assertion elucidates the subject matter revealed in the title of this collection of poems, Songs of the Soul. The speaker is strongly suggesting that music comes from God and that the music of the human heart is for God, especially as the human singer aims his attention toward the Divine Belovèd Creator.

Beautiful, spiritual songs of the Divine possess a heavenly rhythm that plays out in the "dance of planets." The sun and the moon remain sterling and brilliant by the "Silent Will," which decorates the sky with "fleecy clouds." Love is like a rose, thirsty as it drinks in "the sun rays" and then glows with a red blush pregnant "with life" shining forth from its metaphorical cheek. Love can also be comprehended as "the mother earth" nourishing her young; with her milk (rain) that she employs to feed and moisten "the tender, thirsty roots." That same earth mother also "nurses all life." Love especially parallels the sun whose "urge" is directed to sustaining life in "all things."

Second Movement: Parental Love

Unheard as well as unseen, the sustaining love of Divine Mother changes into the "protecting father-form.” The Graceful Mother is capable of "feed[ing]" all "mouths / With milk of mother's tenderness.” Those young mouths play a motivating role in compelling all human mothers and fathers to act as emissaries from the Divine Mother and Heavenly Father in nourishing and nurturing them.

The importance of parental love cannot be overstated. As the innocent babe requires much attention and care, he is eliciting from his parents the depth of their heart’s core. For the infant to grow and to flourish, that love must flow unceasingly. That love is called “unconditional” because the parent is urged by deep motivations to give without thought of anything in return or how the youngster eventually turns out. Good or naughty, he will always have the love of his parents.

Third Movement: Beyond Narrow Walls

The speaker claims that the broad concept of love includes the wellbeing of the whole "family rose of petal-beings." The individual who is capable of offering love will then be able to function beyond the narrow walls and halls of his original human family, and he will be able to go on to a wider social network of "national" and "international sympathy," and even beyond those earthbound classifications.

Love will move the individual on "to the limitless Cosmic Home," and that home is the place for which all human beings entertain cravings. After the individual human heart is able to enclose all other beings in his own family to the wider family of the cosmos, the individual will be able to achieve the ultimate goal of truly grasping, "what love is," and thus remain capable of living all stations included in such knowledge.

Fourth Movement: Love’s Evolution

The speaker dramatizes love as "evolution's ameliorative call." Evolution, as a scientific concept, is widely misunderstood; it is the process of improvement, not simply the adaptation of physical characteristics. The opposite of “evolution” is “devolution,” which the mind and heart of each human being strives to eschew.

Improvement means progressing toward the goal of “self-realization,” or God-union. Love, as a human emotion rightly employed, can assist and guide the mistake-ridden being to the correct path that leads to that self-awareness. The "far-strayed sons" can then "return to perfection's home" through the unerring guidance of love.

The "beauty-robed ones" following the path of divine love "worship the great Beauty," that is, the Blessèd Divine Creator. The speaker avers clearly that, "love" is the "call of God"—and that merciful, alluring call arrives through "silent intelligences" and "starbursts of feelings.” The aspiring devotee is unmistakably guided through silent guideposts as well as by enhanced emotional events that burst forth in tranquil surrender.

Fifth Movement: Perfection’s Pathway

In the final movement, the speaker is voicing a marvelous statement: the entire creation, including each human being, is in the process of moving toward that “Heaven" to which “Love” is calling. The speaker, with this claim, is alluding to a definition of humanity once voiced by Sri Yukteswar. Paramahansa Yogananda’s great guru explained that only two classes of people inhabit the earth plane. One class is seeking God, and the other is not. Sri Yukteswar averred that that distinction resulted in duality of wisdom vs ignorance.

The individuals who are "rushing by the straight path of action right" make up the first class—the wise who are seeking God, and those "wondering laboriously on error's path" are included in the second class—the ignorant who are not seeking God. But the ultimate beauty, as well as salvation, for the two classes is that, "All [will] reach" that "Heaven" eventually. It will simply take more time to reach that coveted goal for those who remain ignorant.

A spiritual classic

A spiritual classic

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.

The Poetry

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.

Other Publications

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.

Corrective Translations

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."

The Lessons

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.

Complete Works

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.

© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes


Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on March 16, 2020:

Thank you, Umesh! Glad you appreciate studies in spirituality, my very favorite writing topic and endeavor. The world of Maya can be quite daunting with one catastrophe after another. But through it all, we can overcome all trials and tribulations realizing that we are sustained by the Highest Power of All, the Divine Beloved, or God. Not only is God with us, God is in us, around us, guiding, guarding, protecting, and pointing the way through his Many Beacons of Light that uphold the entire Cosmos of Creation!

Blessings, Umesh. Have a great day!

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on March 16, 2020:

Thank you for your comment, Lorna! That's wonderful that you practice Hatha Yoga. Physical culture is quite important for the spiritual path. One's ability to sit long in meditation depends on the ability to quieten the physical encasement, and the healthier the body the quieter its functions.

Paramahansa Yogananda's writings all lead to good all around health of body, mind, and soul. They inspire and uplift the mind, calm the breath and allow the soul to become the master of the physical and mental encasements.

Blessings to you, Lorna, and all best on your Hatha path.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on March 14, 2020:

Well explained. Spiritual pursuit.

Lorna Lamon on March 14, 2020:

I practice Hatha Yoga and was intrigued by this article. The poetry is simply beautiful and thank you for the commentary on the different movements. An excellent and enjoyable read Linda.

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