Paramahansa Yogananda's poems serve to deepen yoga meditation, offering devotees new ways of grasping the spiritual nature of all things.
Introduction and Excerpt from "When I Am Only a Dream"
In the early 1950s in the United States of America (U.S.A.), when the great guru (spiritual leader) Paramahansa Yogananda was nearing the end of his earthly incarnation, he prepared his close followers—the monks and nuns of Self-Realization Fellowship—for life without his physical presence. He understood that many of them would feel disheartened and would miss his loving guidance, but he counseled them with comforting words and invaluable instructions for continuing his organization, as well as for directing their own lives.
The poem, "When I Am Only a Dream" from Songs of the Soul, is part of the enduring legacy that the great guru knew he was leaving behind with his organization, as well as a representation of the advice and solace he offered, and continues to offer, to all of his followers.
Excerpt from "When I Am Only a Dream"
I come to tell you all of Him,
And the way to encase Him in your bosom,
And of the discipline that brings His grace.
Those of you who have asked me
To guide you to my Beloved’s presence —
I warn you though my silently talking mind,
Or speak to you through a gentle significant glance,
Or whisper to you through my love,
Or loudly dissuade you when you stray away from Him. . . .
(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.)
Sri Daya Ma Reading "When I am Only a Dream"
Paramahansa Yogananda's "When I Am Only a Dream" offers all devoted disciples the reassurance and comfort that the guru is always guiding and guarding them.
First Movement: Unique Purpose
The guru avers that his only reason for coming to them was to inform them about the nature of the Divine Beloved and how they, like the guru himself, are capable of realizing That Divine Presence. Guruji then reminds them that achieving Divine Realization requires "the discipline that brings His grace." The guru comes to the disciple to deliver discipline. The word "disciple" indicates one who is following a certain "discipline." And Paramahansa Yogananda’s spiritual discipline offers the way to Divine-Realization, that is, union of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul.
Guruji shows that only those who "have asked" for the discipline can receive it, but once they ask, then he is compelled to offer his discipline; therefore, for those who have asked him "to guide [them] to my Beloved’s presence," he will do so, as he has done by warning them when they made mistakes. Other ways in which he has used his disciplinary methods were in offering gentle glances, whispers of love, or even persuading them to abandon ways to would lead them in the opposite direction from their goal. So those who were privileged to have lived and served in the ashram at the time of Guruji’s incarnation were able, at times, to receive his loving guidance directly—no wonder they might feel bereft at his permanent physical parting from them.
Second Movement: The Guidance Continues
However, after the guru’s soul departs from its physical encasement, that is, "when [he] [is] only a memory, or a mental image" in the minds of the disciples, they will not be able to rely on his constant urgings in the same physical way. He admits that after he leaves his earthly shell, this disciples will no longer be able to summon him from his home in "unplumbed space." But the guru has promised to guide the disciple always even when the two are not on the same plane of existence. The guru’s advanced consciousness affords him the ability to continue to direct and to guide the discipline of the disciple, who follows his teachings with loving care. Thus Guruji avers, "I will smile in your mind when you are right, / And when you are wrong I will weep through my eyes."
The great spiritual leader will also appeal to each devotee through the devotee's conscience. He will assists the devotee's reasoning employing their own ability to reason, and he will continue to offer love their the love of the devotee. Such promises are ironclad, and all the disciple has to do is to continue with attention and reverence to study the methods and practice the meditation techniques that the guru has freely given.
Third Movement: Advice from the Belovèd Guru
Guruji then becomes very specific in his directions for activities after he has gone; he tells his followers to read his book of prayer/poems, Whispers from Eternity. Through this book of metaphysical, mystical writings, the guru will talk to the disciple "eternally."
Then he becomes ethereal again, promising to walk beside each devotee while guiding them with "invisible arms." The disciple will find such comfort from these lines, knowing that the guru is, in fact, a guardian angel, who guides and protects each one of them even from the heavenly realm.
Such reassurance is beyond the power of the tongue to describe; it is a commanding exercise in faith that the guru gives the disciple who must remain in this material world. The absolute confidence that spiritual strength is much stronger than physical, or even mental, strength offers peace that comes from no other source.
Fourth Movement: The Magnificent Promise
The great guru finally reasserts the magnificent promise that underscores his very reason for serving; he affirms that after the disciple has succeeded in uniting his/her own soul with the Divine—that is, has at last achieved self-realization—"You will know me again more tangibly than you knew me on this earth plane."
Even from the place that seems unreal as in a dream, the guru will be able to guide the disciple to the remembrance that they both are but dreams. And when the disciples realize their own dream state, they will, just as the guru has done, awaken and find themselves embraced in the arms of the Divine.
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.
© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes
Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on July 24, 2019:
Thank you, Pat! Nice to hear from you again.
The poems of this spiritual leader are marvelous gems that can inspire anyone's journey on the spiritual path. His poems are not ordinary poems that traditionally dramatize human emotion; he wrote them to be inspirational for the devoted followers of his teachings. And as those poems serve his followers, they can also serve anyone who has an open heart and mind. His poems are indeed "soul songs."
Welcoming the angels! And blessings to you.
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on July 24, 2019:
So much detailed information that I am marking this to come back to reread. Very in depth coverage of this topic Angels are headed your way this evening ps