Paramahansa Yogananda’s “When I Cast All Dreams Away”
Paramahansa Yogananda’s “When I Cast All Dreams Away” from Songs of the Soul dramatizes 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.)
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.
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 Lessonsthat 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 Soulappeared 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.