Paramahansa Yogananda’s "Where I Am"
Introduction and Excerpt from "Where I Am"
In Paramahansa Yogananda’s poem, “Where I Am,” from Songs of the Soul, the Speaker of the poem is the Blessed, Divine Creator or God. And in this poem, God tells His listener exactly where He is. God is in the soul of each individual because each human being is a unique expression, or spark, or the Divine Creator. One need not acquire union with the Divine Beloved, but one does have to learn to realize that fact.
Excerpt from "Where I Am"
Not the lordly domes on high
With tall heads daring clouds and sky,
Nor shining alabaster floors,
Nor the rich organ’s awesome roar,
Nor rainbow windows' beauty quaint —
Colossal chronicle told in paint —
Nor pure-dressed children of the choir,
Nor well-planned sermon,
Nor loud-tongued prayer
Can call Me There. . . .
(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.)
As in the other poems in Songs of the Soul, in “Where I Am,” the great yogi/poet, founder of Self-Realization Fellowship, is dramatizing the spiritual journey. Those poems uplift the mind and direct it toward the Divine Reality or God.
First Movement: Not Drawn by Ornate Beauty
The poem opens with the Divine Beloved describing the ornate beauties of a cathedral that will not necessarily draw His presence. Despite the ornate beauty and grandeur of this cathedral, the Speaker says He will not come there drawn by this material beauty alone.
Then after listing a catalogue of other items that make clear He is describing a majestic church, the Speaker says He will not be summoned by polished sermons and high-toned pleas.
Second Movement: Beautiful but Physical Buildings too Small
The Divine Beloved reports that He will not enter a "richly carven door" through with only vanity and pride have entered. He will, however, come unseen and unrealized. The fancy features that offers only outward allure remain too small for "My large, large body."
The Beloved Lord cannot be tempted by physical beauty alone. All the marble and polished altars in the world cannot bring the Divine Presence if the soul is not tuned to His essence.
Third Movement: Only Attracted by the Soul
The celestial Speaker shows a clear preference for the simplicity of nature: “On grassy altar small— / There I have My nook.” Even ruined temples and a “little place unseen” are preferable if “A humble magnet call” of the devotee’s soul attracts Him.
The final versagraph reveals the place where God always wants to “rest and lean”: in the heart of the true seeker who is “A sacred heart / Tear-washed and true.” Such a heart draws “Me with its rue.”
The Speaker tells us that He takes no bribes—strength, wealth, beautiful, expensive cathedrals, and well-rehearsed ceremonies cannot lure God, unless they are accompanied by the deep desire for truth.
Examining One's Life
The great ancient Greek philosopher/teacher Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. The nineteenth century American poet/essayist/thinker Henry David Thoreau went to Walden Pond so he could live deliberately.
Both men of deep thought are telling us that this life has meaning and purpose. They believed that living a proper life means more than going through the motions of a daily grind without stopping to muse about the meaning that grind has for each of us.
The result of this idea—of examining our lives with deliberation—leads one to a path of spirituality. Spirituality motivates the human being to seek not only physical needs but also the needs of the mind and of the soul. Our spirituality compels us to commit to a life that allows us to flourish as we seek to understand all the mysteries that life places before us.
The question regarding the location of "God" finds the human mind's lack of imagination a culprit in its failure to offer a satisfying answer. The great guru Paramahansa Yogananda's direct yet simple answer to that question offers all of humankind a balm.
Guiding the Imagination Challenged of the World
Unlike the great worldly thinkers of the planet, however, the great guru is able to dramatize God's location for the stumbling eyeless of the world. His vision far exceeds that of such philosophers as Thoreau or Socrates because as an avatar he possesses true wisdom, being united with God in soul.
In Paramahansa Yogananda’s poem “Where I Am,” God tells us where He is: in the “sacred heart / Tear-washed and true,” and “the distant broken heart / Doth draw Me, e’en to heathen lands: / And My help in silence I impart.”
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.
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