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The Teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda and Wallace Black Elk

Updated on October 14, 2018
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Eastern religious philosophy is one of my areas of interest about which I write essays exploring the nature of reality and being.

Paramahansa Yogananda

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Wallace Black Elk

Yoga is Science Based

Paramahansa Yogananda tells us to make our meditation seats our scientific laboratories. He demonstrates time and again that the yoga techniques he teaches are based on science, not wishful thinking, and not imagination.

The late Wallace Black Elk was a spiritual leader of the Lakotas. In The Sacred Ways of the Lakota, Wallace Black Elk explains the nature of his religious practices.

The remarkable parallels between Chanunpa, as Wallace refers to his spirituality, and yoga, the scientific techniques offered by Paramahansa Yogananda, demonstrate the universal bond that ties all authentic religions together.

Paramahansa Yogananda and Wallace Black Elk have explained in modern terms basic spiritual concepts that have greatly enlightened many students intellectually. However, those great spiritual leaders have also provided spiritual hope in a world that in its post-Darwinian state has been designated a spiritual waste land by many thinkers, poets and other artists, and even fundamentalist religionists.

Spiritual Similarities

Wallace Black Elk and Paramahansa Yogananda have contributed to contemporary understanding of their own cultures and religious philosophies, and their explanations reveal their similarities. Spiritual concepts are always made specific by use of metaphor, and as in understanding poetry, to understand religious concepts, one must understand the metaphor.

According to Paramahansa Yogananda, all religions serve the same purpose—to lead one back to Divinity. The differences that seem to split religions from one another lie in the use of different metaphors that portray concepts and the different names for the Divine.

A common misunderstanding of Hinduism emerges from the many Hindu names for the Deity.But instead of actually signifying different Gods, the names merely signify different aspects of the one God. Hinduism is monotheistic, as Christianity, Islam, and all other authentic religions are.

Altar as Metaphor

The central metaphor of all religions is the altar, the place of worship. In yoga, the altar is the spine, which is the original altar. In Lakota, the altar is also the spine, which is represented metaphorically by the sacred pipe, or peace pipe.

Lame Deer, Lakota holy man, in Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions avers: "The pipe—that's us. Its stem is our body, our spine." The purpose of yoga practice is to magnetize the spine; Yogananda says, "In deep meditation, the first experience of Spirit is on the altar of the spine." (my emphasis)

Another similarity that yoga shares with Chanunpa is the purification of the body. The sweat lodge of the Lakota serves to help the body rid itself of poisons, and the exercises of yoga also help purify the body. Both procedures have the same purpose, to get the body ready for more advanced spiritual practices.

Paramahansa Yogananda's Teachings Complete

The yoga techniques of Paramahansa Yogananda offer a complete program for purifying body and mind, preparing them to enter the higher states of meditation.

And while Wallace Black Elk does not offer publicly a complete, scientific program, he does offer the world much information about his spiritual practices that can be easily compared to the yogic science. When thinkers find two seemingly disparate spiritual leaders expounding ideas that are similar, they likely become more convinced of the efficacy of both.

Those thinkers are also more likely to understand that it is the use of different metaphors that has, from the beginning, continued to split religions off from one another. Readers who are interested in learning more about the teachings of Wallace Black Elk may find this volume useful: Black Elk: The Sacred Ways of the Lakota.

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.

Publications of Paramahansa Yogananda

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.

The Poetry of Paramahansa Yogananda

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.

Other Publications

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.

Corrective Translations

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."

The Lessons

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.

Complete Works

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."

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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