Image: Paramahansa Yogananda, 1921
36. “On Coming to the New-Old Land—America”
The great guru/poet, Paramahansa Yogananda, was born on January 5, 1893, in Gorakhpur, India. He arrived in America in September 1920 and founded his organization, Self-Realization Fellowship in 1925.
Introduction and Excerpt from “On Coming to the New-Old Land—America”
Paramahansa Yogananda, for over a century in America considered “The Father of Yoga in the West,” first arrived in the United States in 1920 to speak in Boston at a meeting of the International Congress of Religious Liberals.
His speech was so well received that he quickly gathered a following of spiritually minded Americans, who became deeply interested in the ancient science and art of yoga. By 1925, his organization, Self-Realization Fellowship, was thriving with the purpose of disseminating his teachings of yoga and keeping them exactly as he taught them.
In Paramahansa Yogananda’s poem, “On Coming to the New-Old Land—America,” the spiritual leader creates a speaker who gives his readers a glimpse of the thoughts and feelings he experienced in making the arduous journey to the United States.
The poem consists of three stanzas with varied rime schemes; the third stanza displays in four riming couplets. The first stanza has five lines, the second seven lines, and the third eight lines; the growing number of lines in each stanza corresponds to the filling of the great guru’s heart and soul with the events his poem’s speaker is experiencing.
Excerpt from “On Coming to the New-Old Land—America”
Of friends once more to be,
Did greet me — sailing o’er the sea —
Sensing my coming,
The Pilgrim Land to adore.
The distant sleeping shore
Lay in the twinkling night
Dem through the vanished light . . .
The great guru/poet Paramahansa Yogananda is creating his little drama, recalling his journey from India to America. He lets his followers know the importance of his friendship with the folks had yet to meet. He had been afforded glimpses of many of those future friends in visions during his mediations, and his little drama reveals to them the importance of memories stored in the superconsciousness—memories acquired in past lives.
First Stanza: Meeting Old Friends Anew
In the first stanza, the great guru’s speaker implies that he will be seeing again people he has known before in prior incarnations; he, therefore, is reawakening images of people whom he had known in past lives. This hint points to one of the tenets of the philosophy he will be teaching—reincarnation.
The speaker is already in transit across the ocean as the poem begins, “sailing o’er the sea.” The great guru, destined to become a great spiritual leader of Americans, is sailing on the ship called The City of Sparta, which was the first passenger ship to sail to the United States after the end of World War I.
The great guru’s speaker senses that he will love America, knowing that he already has friends there. He is already beginning “to adore” “[t]he Pilgrim Land.” He will be an additional “pilgrim” to the land already filled with pilgrims. His allusion to the historic founding of America demonstrates the understanding and knowledge open to the mind of a perceptive, deeply advanced yoga practitioner.
Second Stanza: Anticipation of the New Land
The second stanza dramatizes the great guru/poet’s anticipation of the new land to which he is bound. His profound affection for his new land grows as he experiences visions of the “distant sleeping shore.” This visionary speaker can intuit that this new land is well-lit even during the night time but it is revealed in hushed tones to his inner sight.
The speaker senses a strong breeze from the ocean and begins to have unusual thoughts about his new home. The thoughts are ringing in the brain. However, this speaker is able to tame those thoughts with hope and work them into a tapestry of sweetness and delightful anticipation.
Third Stanza: A Sudden Dip into Gloom
Then suddenly, like a black bird of “gloom,” a frightening thought appears in the great perceptive speaker’s mind and seems to want to overtake his soul and strength, but that bird, as quickly as it came, quickly vanishes when he sees visions of those “phantom friends.”
The speaker knows as he first meets those who will become his fast friends that they are there to cheer his arrival, to welcome him with open arms, and that knowledge puts an end to his moment of fear. His revelation of his brief moment of trepidation demonstrates that even an advanced avatar can experience the mundane terrors of life if only briefly.
One remembers Jesus Christ’s brief moment on the cross in which he uttered, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” (KJV Matthew 27:46). As long as an avatar’s soul remains attached to a physical encasement, physical trammels may intrude. But the avatar’s highly evolved abilities still remain and will serve him well as time moves on.
In this special poem, Paramahansa Yogananda, a modern yogi and great spiritual leader, shows his human side as well as his divine ability to intuit that he is going to meet friends he has known before.
He fashions his experience to demonstrate to his new friends and devotees how memories can appear out of the distant past and also to reassure them that he knows them well now because he knew them in distant past reincarnations. He employs his experiences to inform his teachings, making them even more helpful and distinctive.