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 "Whispers"
In Paramahansa Yogananda’s poem, "Whispers," the speaker focuses on the soul’s ability to express its love for its maker, from the leaves that merely "sigh" to the human being who can interpret the "whispers" of its Creator.
Excerpt From "Whispers"
The leaves do sigh;
They cannot speak
Of the One on high.
The birds do sing;
They cannot say
What in their bosom springs. . . .
(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 speaker is dramatizing the journey of the soul as it evolves from plant life to human life. Each stage of evolution allows the soul to express itself in greater portion.
First Movement: Sighing Leaves
The speaker avers that the leaves on the trees and on all other plants are incapable of verbalizing with a physical voice the praises of their Maker. But those leaves must be content merely to "sigh"; and even that sigh is aided by the breezes that cause them to rustle about. The leaves "cannot speak"; thus, they remain mum about "the One on high."
To the leaves, it seems the Lord is self-evident. Because they must remain silent, their prayers are undetected by humanity. But the speaker shows gentle compassion with that lower form of life by giving them poetically and metaphorically through personification the human ability to sigh.
The nature of a "sigh," however, has important implications for this poem. As in Robert Frost’s poem,"The Road Not Taken," the ambiguous nature of the sigh reveals much. People sigh on two very different occasions: to express regret or to express relief. But the question arises for this poem, what would the nature of the "sigh" be when it is "leaves" doing the sighing?
Of course, leaves could in certain contexts be expressing relief, for example, if they were spared being devastated by a storm, a poet might infer from the rustling of leaves in the gently, sunshine-filled breezes that the leaves are offering a sigh of relief.
Unlike the ambiguous sigh in the Frost poem or the storm-weathered sigh of the grateful leaves, it is likely that the nature of these leaves’ sigh is one of regret. These leaves are unable to fully express their love and gratitude for their divine Creator; thus, their sigh would not be one of relief but likely one of regret.
Second Movement: Singing Birds
While birds are somewhat higher on the evolutionary scale than leaves, they can, in fact, make a vocal offering to their Maker, because they can "sing." But the birds still do not have the ability to fully express in unequivocal terms "what in their bosom springs."
The birds are still instinct driven; the blessed Creator guides and guards them, but He does so very strictly, because He chose not to give them the level of free will that He reserved for his higher beings. As the leaves must be content with "sighing," the birds must be content with "singing."
Third Movement: Howling Beasts
Now the speaker moves on up the evolutionary scale to mammals or "the beasts." But the beasts have something in common with the "leaves" and "birds"; they too "never can say nigh / What in their feelings lies." The beasts must be content to "howl / with muffled soul." By averring that the beasts have souls, the speaker is averring that all of God’s sentient beings have souls, including the leaves and the birds.
It is the soul that moves upward through the evolutionary scale from life to life, gaining wisdom through karmic direction that allows it to form more complex, thinking-powered brains during gestation, until it reaches the human level, from which it can consciously unite back with its Maker.
Fourth Movement: Singing, Speaking Crying Human Being
Because the speaker is fortunate enough to be a human being, the Maker’s highest evolutionary, earthly creation, he does have the ability to "sing" as the birds do, and also "say" what he feels for his Creator. This human speaker does not have to be content to "sigh" as the "leaves" do, but he can speak his heart and soul. Nor does he have to contend with a "muffled soul" as "the beasts" must.
And since the speaker has this marvelous capability, he vows to use that God-given power to "pour out whispers Thine — all and each — / That to hearts do softly reach." Because this speaker is a God-united yogi, he will listen to the whispers from the Divine and share those Divine secrets with all who do not yet hear them.
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.
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes