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Paramahansa Yogananda's "What Use?"

Paramahansa Yogananda's poems serve to deepen yoga meditation, offering devotees new ways of grasping the spiritual nature of all creation.

Paramahansa Yogananda - "The Last Smile"

Paramahansa Yogananda - "The Last Smile"

Introduction and Text of "What Use?"

Paramahansa Yogananda's "What Use?" from Songs of the Soul examines the use of four concrete, physical human faculties, including the eyes, hands, feet, and ears in the first movement. The speaker then focuses on the human abstract faculties of reason, will, feeling, and love in the second movement.

This marvelous offering directs devotees’ attention to their physical faculties in order to instruct striving spiritual aspirants on how to best put those faculties to work for the betterment of their condition. While humanity is predisposed to think that the use of vision (eyes) is primarily for assisting in maneuvering through the environment, the instructive suggestion from the spiritual leader is that the devotees think of their eyes as instruments that assist in keeping the attention directed to the goal of spiritual striving—God (or self-realization).

The speaker then directs that same attention to those other physical human instruments: hands, feet, and ears. But the human being comes equipped with a mind as well as a body; thus, the speaker addresses the attention directed usage of human reason, will, feeling, and love. Spiritual leaders, gurus, saints, avatars of all stripes and religions continually remind their followers that they must keep the mind always turning toward the goal of their striving—God. The same practice holds for any secular striving. The musician will spend long hours perfecting his skill in his chosen area of musical interest. Even when not practicing, the musical aspirant will find that his mind continues to wander through the fields of music. The same goes for any endeavor. Sports’ enthusiasts not only practice long hours but also continually plot and strategize in how to best improve skills, which means that their minds area also focused one-pointedly on their goal.

Thus, it is hardly a novel idea that spiritual aspirants would be directed by their spiritual leaders to keep their minds on their goal of God-realization. These practical as well as spiritual poems of Paramahansa Yogananda serve this important cause—assisting the devotee in seeing God in every corner of creation. This poem remains especially useful as it focuses on the physical instruments with which every human being is intimately acquainted; though they may not have thought of using those instruments to help them seek God, now they can consider how that use may be employed.

What Use?

Why did You give me eyes
If I cannot see You everywhere?
What use my hands
If they do not touch Your feet
Treading silently in the heart of all cosmic motions?
What use my feet
If they exert not to seek Your temple in every place?
What use my ears
If they do not with ecstatic attention
Hear the echo of Your voice in the soundless sermons of the scriptures?

What use my reason
If it does not lead me out of this cosmic conundrum
To the final home within You?
What use my will
If it wins everything but the freedom You bestow?
What use my feeling
If it thrills not to Your Presence in the lotus flowers of floating universes,
And in the electronic forget-me-nots
Glistening in the garden of time and space?
What use my love
If it feels not Your love secreted in all hearts—
Those that slumber in ignorance
And those prophetic ones that are awake in Thee?

(Please note: This poem appears in Paramahansa Yogananda's Songs of the Soul, published by Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, CA, 1983 and 2014 printings.)

Commentary

The speaker is dramatizing the spiritual use of each human sense and motion faculty: eyes, hands, feet, and ears. He then dramatizes the use of the human mental instruments of reason, will, feeling, and love.

First Movement: The Purpose of Eyes, Hands, Feet, and Ears

Why did You give me eyes
If I cannot see You everywhere?
What use my hands
If they do not touch Your feet
Treading silently in the heart of all cosmic motions?
What use my feet
If they exert not to seek Your temple in every place?
What use my ears
If they do not with ecstatic attention
Hear the echo of Your voice in the soundless sermons of the scriptures?

The speaker, addressing his Belovèd Creator, asks why the Creator should have given his child eyes, if that child cannot see his Originator "everywhere." The devotee then wonders why he should have been fitted with hands, if they were not intended to touch the feet of the Belovèd Creator. After all, those "feet" are not ordinary feet, but those that are "[t]reading silently in the heart of all cosmic motions[.]" The spiritual journey has transformed this speaker’s thought process. He no long holds that eyes and feet are meant solely to participate in secular endeavors. And even though those endeavors remain necessary in the world of the devotee’s movement, the spiritual aspirant has come to realize that those physical faculties possess a higher purpose.

Thus, readers discern that these rhetorical questions are not flippant as from the doubter who derisively asks questions in jest. Instead, this questioner has the utmost faith that he was given certain human faculties because the Divine Creator does preside omnipresently and omnipotently everywhere. This speaker knows that the very purpose of his existence is to become and remain locked in an eternal embrace with his Maker. The speaker continues in this meditative mood, musing on the true and best "use" of certain of his faculties: his feet were made "to seek Your temple in every place." His ears were made to listen to the "soundless sermons of the scriptures."

The usual, physical functioning of human eyes, hands, feet, and ears is simply an outward, incidental one to the sincere devotee on a spiritual path. While that physical function is necessary and useful, it remains secondary to the function of employing that physicality to search out and worship God.

Second Movement: The Purpose of Reason, Will, Feeling, and Love

What use my reason
If it does not lead me out of this cosmic conundrum
To the final home within You?
What use my will
If it wins everything but the freedom You bestow?
What use my feeling
If it thrills not to Your Presence in the lotus flowers of floating universes,
And in the electronic forget-me-nots
Glistening in the garden of time and space?
What use my love
If it feels not Your love secreted in all hearts—
Those that slumber in ignorance
And those prophetic ones that are awake in Thee?

While the first movement addresses the physical, concrete attributes of eyes, hands, feet, and ears, the second movement focuses on the abstract attributes of reason, will, feeling, and love. Again, the speaker uses rhetorical questions to emphasize the genuine purpose or "use" of these attributes. The speaker implies that his reason would be less than useful if it did not guide him away from the influence of maya and to his true abode in the arms of his Creator.

The speaker's will would remain less than purposeful even if he attained every material wish and still failed to find the ultimate liberation from the senses promised by all scripture. The speaker's feeling would be less than purposeful if he could not sense the Divine Belovèd as the essence within creation. His feeling serves him only when he can thrill to "the electronic forget-me-nots / Glistening in the garden of time and space."

And finally, the speaker offers the ultimate question: what use would his love be, if he could not feel that love of the Divine "slumber[ing] in ignorance" in those who have not yet been fortunate enough to become aware that the Divine is blessing them, as well as in "those prophetic ones that are awake in Thee." As all rhetorical questions do, this series functions to emphasize the obvious answer: the proper use of all of human faculties is to assist in finding and uniting the individual soul with the Divine Reality—the Creator-Father of all.

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© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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