Paramhansa Yogananda, in 1950, as he prepared to leave for his desert retreat, addressed a group of the monks including Swami Kriyananda: “I asked Divine Mother whom I should take with me to help with editing, and your face, Walter, appeared. Just to be sure, I asked Her twice more, and both times your face appeared. That’s why I am taking you.”
And so began Swami Kriyananda’s work with Paramhansa Yogananda’s commentaries on The Rubaiyat—a work not completed until nearly 50 years later, with Crystal Clarity’s publication of Kriyananda’s edited version of Paramhansa Yogananda’s, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Explained. Kriyananda did not undertake the final editing until he felt fully ready spiritually to serve as Yogananda’s channel for this great poem that Yogananda called a “true scripture.”
“The soul of Omar Khayyam’s writings”
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Explained is organized to guide us as readers from enjoyment of the poetry itself to ever-deeper levels of understanding. In your own reading, take time to meditate on the poetry itself; especially try to tune into the joy Yogananda felt in his reading of the quatrains.
Yogananda saw that Edward Fitzgerald, in translating The Rubaiyat, “had been divinely inspired to catch exactly, in gloriously musical English, the soul of Omar Khayyam’s writings.” So moved was Yogananda by the “true soul-inspiration” of Fitzgerald’s original translation of the poem that he decided, even in preference to his own collaboration with a Persian scholar, to use Fitzgerald’s as the basis of his interpretations.
A soul-conversation between Omar and Yogananda
Each quatrain is followed by Paramhansa Yogananda’s “Paraphrase,” in which he gives his intuitive understanding of Omar’s meaning. As Kriyananda expresses it, the book is “like a meeting between old friends in God. One of them speaks; the other answers, calmly but enthusiastically, ‘Yes! Yes! And then here’s another point….’” While working on the book, Kriyananda realized that Yogananda had tuned into Omar’s consciousness and was, in his interpretations, allowing Omar Khayyam to speak through him.
In what Yogananda calls the “Expanded Meaning,” the third part of his interpretation of each quatrain, he takes his paraphrase to a deeper, more universal level of wisdom: Sanaatan Dharma, “The Eternal Religion”— as expressed in this soul conversation between a great Sufi mystic and a great master of yoga.
Next comes Yogananda’s “Keys to the Meaning”—explanations, in yogic terms, of pivotal phrases in the quatrains. The “Keys” help the dedicated reader more clearly and deeply to feel the consciousness behind each word and phrase of the quatrain.
Finally comes Swami Kriyananda’s “Editorial Comment,” in which we as readers can reap the fruit of Kriyananda’s more than half a century of careful study and practice of Yogananda’s teachings. Kriyananda’s comments take the inspiration and spiritual power of Yogananda’s interpretation, reach out to the unspoken questions of people everywhere, and provide not only answers but specific techniques to enable us to experience for ourselves the truth behind these teachings—to make them our own.
A springboard for spiritual practice
While reading The Rubaiyat, let the book serve as a focus and springboard for your spiritual practice. Read one quatrain a day. Take a moment to enjoy the imagery and musical cadences of the poetry. Pause frequently in your study to absorb in meditation what you are reading. If Kriyananda has included a specific meditation, end your practice with that meditation.
You will find that the loving clarity of the commentary will bring light to your understanding, and energy to your spiritual practice. You will feel that a stream of divine power is flowing from Omar Khayyam, through Paramhansa Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda, into your own consciousness. In Kriyananda’s words:
Every time you study this work, try to tune in more deeply to the consciousness of these two great poet-sages. Feel their silent blessings within, as you pursue the daily adventure of discovering the source of your own being.
The content of the book
To give you a feeling for the content of the book, here are a few of the practical applications contained in Kriyananda’s “Editorial Comments”:
• The spine and nervous system: pathway to inner freedom.
• The importance of an erect spine
• How to be centered in the spine.
• How to concentrate at the spiritual eye
• Living for pleasure vs. living for eternity
• How to overcome guilt
• How to “be happy, now!”
• How to relax
• How to live in the Self
• Meditation on freedom from the body
• Meditation on freedom from worldly desire
• How to “practice the presence”
In his final editorial comment, Kriyananda takes us to the very heart of the wisdom of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Explained:
The single greatest statement in this book: Yogananda describes the nervous system as, “the one and only path to spiritual enlightenment, regardless of a person’s formal religious affiliation.” This simple declaration contains the essence of true wisdom: Overcome addiction to worldly pleasures by withdrawing the life-force from the senses. Stimulate the nerves at their opposite extreme instead—at the inner source in the Self.
Bathed in the light of inner vision
In preparing to write this review, I looked up Edward Fitzgerald’s poetic translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in several standard references. Mainstream scholarship shows us that Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat was perceived by its Victorian readership as depicting an unjust God, with man pitifully snatching what pleasure he can from a transient, doomed existence. In late nineteenth-century England, the poem became a justification for a kind of melancholy hedonism.
How far from such a reading is Yogananda’s vision of divine joy, and from his description of the poem as a “true scripture.” In Yogananda’s commentaries, the “wine” becomes the bliss of God-realization; human love becomes the divine romance of devotee and Infinite Beloved. Yogananda’s own introduction to his interpretation of The Rubaiyat shines a brilliant light on his true way of understanding the Sufi poet:
One day, as I was deeply concentrated on the pages of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, I suddenly beheld the walls of its outer meanings crumble away. Lo! Vast inner meanings opened like a golden treasure house before my gaze.
Yogananda’s interpretations are divinely intuitive, springing from inner vision:
As I worked on the spiritual explanation of The Rubaiyat, I found it taking me into an endless labyrinth of truth, until I was rapturously lost in wonderment. The veiling of Omar’s metaphysical and practical philosophy in these verses reminds me of “The Revelation of St. John the Divine.” Indeed, The Rubaiyat might justly be called “The Revelation of Omar Khayyam.”
Truth clothed in beauty
I grew up in a family of readers, and was myself immersed in reading great literature from an early age. I read hungrily, looking, quite literally, for guidance on “how to live.” My search for answers in literature during college and five more years of graduate school, far from illuminating my life path, left me all but incapable of discriminating.
Finding Paramhansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi placed my soul immediately in the presence of all that I had for so many years been seeking in wrong places. The book radiated light; what Yogananda was saying was simply, incontrovertibly, the truth. The same can be said for The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Explained. Both books can be described as “truth clothed in literary beauty,” what literature worth reading can (and should) be.