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Paramahansa Yogananda's "When I Cast All Dreams Away"

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

Paramahansa Yogananda

Introduction and Excerpt from "When I Cast All Dreams Away"

Paramahansa Yogananda’s "When I Cast All Dreams Away" from Songs of the Soul is dramatizing the incompleteness and ultimate failure of all earthly pleasures to give true joy to the soul.

The first eleven lines catalogue the activities and things from which the speaker tried to wring joy. The final seven lines conclude simply that from them no true peace or happiness is to be obtained; however, they also aver that that happiness is possible.

Excerpt from "When I Cast All Dreams Away"

. . . Only nightmares of incompleteness,
Ever receding will-o’-the wisps of promised happiness,
Haunted and hastened my heart.
But when I cast all dreams away,
I found the deep sanctuary of peace,
And my soul sang: "God alone! God alone!"

(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.)

Commentary

The speaker in this poem is dramatizing his awakening to true Bliss; the great guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, often likens the unreal nature of the material world to "dreams."

First Movement: Sampling Many Innocent Pleasures

The speaker reports that he has sampled all innocent or "sane pleasure[s]"; he has been enthralled by the exquisite "beauty of sextillion stars." The speaker has attempted to extinguish all sadness and for a time "basked in the glory blaze." The speaker is establishing a timeline, one that begins with his attempting to pursue and find happiness in the common features of the natural world, or those things that all humankind experience through sense awareness.

It is mostly through sense awareness that the human mind and heart experience the world at large, especially in the beginning of their young lives. Reliance on mental ability and random or even planned thoughts too often escapes those who are habituated to live on the surface. Skating along the superficial avenues of life, unfortunately, becomes the only activity widely recognized by a blind-leading-the-blind inhabitants of the material world.

Second Movement: The Comfort of Friends and Family

The speaker has enjoyed and felt comforted by all of his friends and family who have loved him and whom he has loved. He has understood that all love is important. The speaker also knows that all love, whether it is offered by the mother, father, or siblings, comes from one source.

This speaker has, therefore, metaphorically stirred these loves together as one would lemon juice, sugar, and water to make a comforting drink. Continuing with the drink preparation metaphor, the speaker asserts that he attempted to "squeeze" scriptural lore to wring out bits of peace for which he so thirsted. He also sought that peace and solace through poetry, as is the wont of most poets who engage in that art.

It is common and understandable that the human mind and heart will seek for its comfort in those things that are most closely associated with their own lives; thus, love and comfort from family and friends are expected. And as the individual ages and takes part in society and its culture, she experiences the joy and contentment offered by certain types of employment, entertainment, and hobbies. The down-side to attachment to people and engagements is that attachment leads to disappointment because no person or engagement can ever be permanent: there is this interloper called death that sees to it that you and your object of attachment will be parted sooner or later. Despite humankind's penchant for variety, down deep it yearns for permanence that cannot be afforded one on this mud ball of a planet.

Third Movement: The Search for Ultimate Happiness

As the speaker's life progressed, his hunger and thirst for bliss motivated him still to continue the search for the ultimate happiness; thus, he continued his search by taking beautiful nuggets of philosophical thought. The human mind becomes greedy for a philosophy or a religion that will afford it direction, guidance, inspiration, along with the promise of ultimate enlightenment.

The speaker continues, stating that he lifted innocent pleasures from every wholesome quarter; again, he looks for satisfaction in the simple pleasures life offers. The speaker continued his search in activities such as reading, smiling, working, planning, and still as he ached for that all-quenching something-else that seemed to elude him, he had to keep searching for his goal of perfection.

Fourth Movement: The Emptiness of Physical Satisfaction

The speaker then abruptly halts his report of his search and states directly that nothing worked. He found absolutely nothing to fill that hole in his heart, that emptiness of mind that kept him aware that he is missing something important. The speaker realizes that he is finding bad dreams filled with "incompleteness." All of those lovely things offered by creation, the beauty of stars, the love of friends and family, the gemstones of philosophy, the poems he was able to fashion "from the winepress of Nature," all the sweet, innocent joys amount to very little in the long run.

Those items all just to fade out over and over again with promises that turned to dust and blew away with the wind. The promise of happiness was stifled as all these natural phenomena failed him one by one. They all promised happiness but they all failed to keep that promise. All those broken promises rummaged through his heart and mind like ghosts. Then with a heart troubled by the fantasies of happiness, the speaker finds himself at his lowest point. With his blood racing, he comes to the conclusion of his search.

Fifth Movement: Awaking from the Dream

Finally, when the speaker refocuses his mind, he gazes no longer upon the ghosts and "dream/nightmares" of this material world; he places his attention on the Creator of all of the earthly gifts and realizes that it was the Creator, for Whom he had long pined, not the paltry gifts that kept him busy for so long. The speaker finally realizes that his bliss lies with "God alone!" He then discards all those dreams, all of those ghosts of unreality, "[a]nd [his] soul sang: ‘God alone!’"

Interestingly, this attitude does not mean that speaker then refused to look at beautiful natural things like flowers, sunsets, and the like and enjoy the love of family and friends—quite the opposite, only his attitude changed. Earlier he had thought those things would provide the ultimate happiness and peace he craved. But then after the speaker became aware that only the Divine Beloved can provide those states of being from the soul to the heart and mind, could he actually enjoy the natural phenomena and familial love with even greater and lasting joy. He could take even more pleasure from natural things, knowing that his own soul is a spark of the Divine, and the Divine has created all those features of nature, expressions of love explicitly for the enjoyment of His children.

Awake in the Cosmic Dream - Collector's Series No. 2

© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes