Shadows

Image:  Paramahansa Yogananda in India, 1935
7.  “Shadows”

Although a “shadow” takes on the form that is standing between it and a light source, it has no reality of its own; it is only the illusion of a form, an airy nothingness, making it a perfect metaphor for the delusion of Maya, variously called “Satan” and the “Devil” in the West.

Introduction and Excerpt from “Shadows”

According to Paramahansa Yogananda, the power of delusion is very strong. A human being is a soul who has a body and a mind, but the power of delusion makes humans think that they are just minds and bodies, and many people tend to think that perhaps the soul is a religious fiction, concocted for the clergy to gain control over the behavior of their minions. 

The deluded mind coupled with the solid body convinces humankind that its main reality exists in them. Humanity is deluded by maya, the principle of relativity, inversion, contrast, duality, or oppositional states.  Maya’s nameis “Satan” in the Old Testament and is referred to as the “Devil” in Christianity.  Jesus Christ colorfully described the mayic devil:  “He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar and the father of it” (King James Version, John 8:44).

Paramahansa Yogananda explains that maya is a Sanskrit word meaning “the measurer,” a magical power in creation which divides and manipulates the Unity of God into limitations and divisions. The great guru says, “Maya is Nature herself—the phenomenal worlds, ever in transitional flux as antithesis to Divine Immutability.” The great yogi/poet further defines the mayic force by explaining that the purpose of maya is to attempt to divert humankind from Spirit to matter, from Reality to unreality.  The great guru further explains,

Maya is the veil of transitoriness of Nature, the ceaseless becoming of creation; the veil that each man must lift in order to see behind it the Creator, the changeless Immutable, eternal Reality.

Paramahansa Yogananda has instructed his devotee-students regarding the workings of the mayic concept of delusion.  He often employs useful metaphoric comparisons filled with colorful images. 

Excerpt from “Shadows”

Beds of flowers, or vales of tears;
Dewdrops on buds of roses,
Or miser souls, as dry as desert sands;
The little running joys of childhood,
Or the stampede of wild passions;
The ebbing and rising of laughter,
O the haunting melancholy of sorrow . . .

These, all these, but shadows are . . .

Commentary

Jesus Christ described the devil as a murderer and a liar because there is no truth in him. The character/force, called “Satan” in the Old Testament and the “devil” in Christianity, is labeled Maya in Hinduism and yogic philosophy.

First Movement:  Maya Similar to Shadows

A beautiful and revealing example of Paramahansa Yogananda’s dramas featuring maya can be found in this poem. The poem’s first fifteen lines offer a catalogue of pairs of opposites: “bed of flowers,” the first image encountered, is a positive one that readers can visualize as colorful beauty and possibly fragrant smells wafting from the flowers, while “vale of tears” denotes a negative tone of sadness and sorrow.

Then the two images, “Dewdrops on buds of roses, / Or miser souls, as dry as desert sands,” offer again two oppositional pairs, the beauty and life of rosebuds with dew on them contrasts with the aridity of selfishness.  Two further images, “little running joys of childhood, / Or the stampede of wild passions,” contrast innocence with violent emotions.  Additionally, the “ebbing and rising of laughter, / Or the haunting melancholy of sorrow” contrast happiness and sadness.

Second Movement:  Desire is Will-o-the Wisp

There is an important, interesting break in this pattern with the following lines:

The will-o-the wisp of our desire,
Leading only from mire to mire;
The octopus grip of self-complacency
And the time-beaten habits

While human desire sometimes leads humankind astray from “mire to mire,” human beings may also suffer from their own self-inflicted inertia that prevents them from changing their error-strewn path as their self-complacency and habits hold them in an octopus-like grip.  Both of these pairs are negative. One could speculate about why the poet let these negatives remain without countering them with positives as he did in the other catalogued pairs. 

While those two negatives may seem to imbalance the poem, they serve the useful purpose of offering the strong hint that the extremely attractive power of maya causes humanity to mistakenly feel that the world has more negative than good qualities.

Third Movement:  Shadows Only for Entertainment and Education

The next two pairs, however, return to the positive/negative pattern:  a newborn infant’s first cry vs the death rattle and excellent health of the body vs degenerating diseases. Then the final six lines aver that all of these experiences of the senses, mind, and emotion are nothing more than “shadows.” They are merely the forces of maya—seen by humanity on the cosmic mental screen. 

But instead of allowing human hearts and minds to take from all this that the unreality of maya amounts to airy nothingness, the great spiritual leader enlightens all, who encounter his marvelous teachings, to the fact that those shadows contain many shades from dark to light, and those “shadows” are not meant to hurt and discourage the children of the Divine Creator but to serve as a prompt, in order to entertain, educate, and enlighten them.

🕉

A published collection of these commentaries is available at 
Commentaries on Paramahansa Yogananda’s Songs of the Soul.

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