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 Will He Come?"
Perhaps today is not going well, and you feel indifferent about your work and your progress. You might begin to think about how you have not been giving enough time and effort to your spiritual progress. You might then begin to feel deeply depressed and begin to judge your motives harshly. And finally you decide that you do not deserve to reach your spiritual goals because of your laxity. You realize that days have gone by, and you have taken care of every detail of your life, but you have neglected your soul. You have veered off your spiritual path and are dallying in the ditch of delusion. Of course, you know what the problem is and you know how to solve it, so you turn back to your spiritual studies.
You pick a spiritual poem to uplift your thinking. What better poem than the one that answers your immediate question, "When Will He Come?" from Songs of the Soul by the great spiritual poet Paramahansa Yogananda! This poem contains the exact message that you need right now: "Even if you are the sinner of sinners, / Still, if you never stop calling Him deeply / In the temple of unceasing love, / Then He will come." The poem uplifts you because it simply reminds you to get out of that ditch and back on the road to your goal. You have thought you could not continue, and you have become convinced that Spirit will never come to you, but the inspired spiritual poet’s metaphors dramatically tweak your thoughts back to your goal.
Excerpt From "When Will He Come?"
When every heart’s desire pales
Before the brilliancy of the ever-leaping flames of God-love,
Then He will come.
When, in expectation of His coming,
You are ever ready
To fearlessly, grieflessly, joyously
Burn the faggots of all desires
In the fireplace of life,
That you may protect Him from your freezing inn indifference,
Then He will come. . . .
(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.)
These seven stanzas work to uplift the devotee's lagging mood and urge it on to greater effort on the path to soul-realization.
First Stanza: Spirit, an All-Consuming Flame
Every human heart and mind finds itself needing and wanting a myriad of things of this world. Those things are both tangible or material and intangible or spiritual. Even those who are not spiritually inclined, the mind still craves nourishment such as is offered through studying and learning. The impulse to read widely comes from a hungry mind that wishes to know more about the world we live in.
Along the way, however, as these hearts and minds continue to gather the things of this world, they may suddenly realize that none of those things has the power to make them truly and lastingly happy or even offer a modicum of permanent comfort and joy. It is at this point most folks are introduced to the value of a spiritual life: that only the Divine Belovèd can offer everything that the physical, material world cannot.
All of the accumulated desires will eventually lead only dullness and suffering. However, in the first stanza of this poem, devotees are reminded that Spirit’s love is great like "ever-leaping flames." Such "brilliancy" they must realize will cause every desire of the human heart to pale in comparison. And all they have to do is keep their attention and concentration on their spiritual routine on the path. A devotee may wonder how s/he could have ever given in to doubt, and yet s/he has read only the opening stanza.
Second Stanza: A Temporary Spacing
The second stanza continues to remind devotee of their own role in finding Spirit, in getting this blessing to come to them: those little pale desires amount to a "freezing inner indifference" that all devotees must burn "fearlessly, grieflessly, joyously" in the "fireplace of life." Of course, devotees already know this is true, but they sometimes do temporarily forget. Thus, the purpose of these uplifting, spiritually forward-thrusting poems can be fulfilled as the devotee continues to live in their message and be guided by their wisdom.
Daily life becomes routine, and as the initial enthusiasm over beginning a spiritual path wanes, the devotee may find herself in this period of spiritual dryness. Devotees are urged to continue by reading and rereading their spiritual works and most importantly to continue with their spiritual routines including meditation and prayer. The speaker of this poem continues to cast the contrast between "desire" and the marvelous achievement to be possessed after quieting desire that continues to eat away at one's soul.
Third Stanza: Constancy Assures His Ultimate Arrival
Stanza three continues to remind devotees: When Spirit is certain of the devotee's utmost attention, when the Divine Belovèd knows that the devotee will ever keep her/his mind focused on soul, when nothing else can claim the steadfast heart of the devotee who gives total devotion to his/her spiritual life, "Then He will come."
It does seem somewhat puzzling that the human heart and mind does not seem to learn that half-heartedly doing anything, whether physically or spiritually oriented, is bound to lead to failure. If one is studying to become a lawyer, half-hearted attention to one's studies will not result in success, and obviously that fact is operative in every endeavor. The same applies to the spiritual path: one must remain on the path with attention focused on the goal in order to succeed.
Fourth Stanza: Ignoring the Hopeless for the Hopeful
But even though the devotees may mentally take in these ideas, seekers may still feel easily oppressed by life, may still become moody and feel powerless, and thus may wonder if they can really change enough so that Spirit will come to them and remain permanently.
The demand is quite simple, yet often not so easy to accomplish. But devotees have been assured by the great guru that they can accomplish their spiritual goal, if they continue to love God, stick to the path, and serve willingly in any capacity for which they have an aptitude.
Fifth Stanza: Concentrating the Mind on the Goal
But the mind is stubborn and will fight against the devotee's best effort, telling him/her that it does not matter how much hope the individual entertains, the devotee will remain weak and therefore undeserving of Spirit. Paramahansa Yogananda insists that
if the devotee switches his thoughts from failure to success and believes strongly that the Lord is on His way to the devotee, then the Divine will, in fact, appear to the striving devotee.
Yes, a great solace is remembering the power of the soul. Greater than the body that changes daily and the mind that flits every which way is the soul that is ever united with Spirit already. All each individual has to do is get out of that ditch and continue on down his/her path and refuse to listen to the opposition, i.e., the Devil or Satan, that would keep the devotee's mind earthbound committed to the rounds of karma and reincarnation.
Sixth Stanza: When Nothing Else Can Claim the Mind and Heart
Then, the great leader instructs that wandering mind: "When He shall be sure nothing else can claim you, / Then He will come." Again and again, the guru continues to remind the wandering mind and soul of his followers to keep focused on the goal, do not let trivia block you from your Divine Beloved.
When the Divine Goal is all that remains in the concentrated mind of the devotee, that devotee can be assured of success. But each individual must remember the Creator expects the devotee to be mindful that nothing else must claim his/her attention. The devotee must put his/her whole heart and mind into the studies and devotions to reap the benefits.
Seventh Stanza: The Sinner Becomes the Seeker
The great guru then assures his devotee that even the greatest of sinners can gain heaven, simply by abandoning his/her indifferent ways and by continuing to rely upon the Divine Reality. The sinner must not think of himself as a sinner but as one who is a seeker of the Divine Creator.
The former sinner must keep calling on the Divine Beloved, taking the beloved name again and again, chanting love for the Only Reality. And after diving into this inspired song of the soul written just for the devotees by this great Spirit-illumined poet, they are prepared to enter again that "temple of unceasing love" where they will be ready to greet Him when He comes.
The sentiment and guidance of the poems in Songs of the Soul are there for the devotee: regardless of how downtrodden each individual may feel, whether tormented by trials and tribulations, tested by karmic factors, no matter how fearful, if the practicing devotee remains steadfastly on the path, and if the devotee keeps hope alive in his/her heart, the Divine Beloved is sure to come into one's life.
The reassurance that calming the dogs of desire can be of helpful assistance as one travels that path to spirit is offered repeatedly in these poems. They help one return again and again to the traits that one needs for soul-realization, which includes the coming of the Divine into one's consciousness.
The great guru is not instructing his devoted followers to ignore their material duties. He states often that one must take care of the body and mind as well as the soul and must perform those duties that involve family. The devotee who shirks familial responsibilities is also likely to shirk his/her spiritual duties. The key is to find balance, to perform one's material duties with full attention and then as soon as those duties are completed to return the mind to the spiritual goal. These poems shine a light on how to live in this world and yet not become so attached to the things of this world that such attachment interferes with spiritual goals.
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