Apart from a burning desire to find God, a common theme that animated the lives of Paramhansa Yogananda and his disciple Swami Kriyananda was an intense zeal to serve God and spread afar the message of Self-Realization. Master and Swamiji were also united in their energetic expectation that we, as disciples, have that same zeal toward this God-ordained mission.
In his letters to Rajarsi Janakananda (James J. Lynn), his closest disciple, Master provides a fascinating reason for serving God with zeal, one I had never consciously contemplated before. Consider these excerpts1:
We must work sufficiently, extensively, qualitatively, so that our names will have a magic spell and inspiration for all those who follow us, to be inspired to expand the work which we leave behind us…
You have started a work here that will keep growing; and our names will work after our bodies are gone. Isn’t that wonderful – that we shall work impersonally, bodilessly, even after we are gone…
Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, Sister Nivedita are names now, yet are living and working with the masses wonderfully by creating hospitals, dispensaries, schools. So also Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yukteswarji, are living names, and Saint Lynn and I would be living names, creating hermitages for God-contact everywhere… Think after a few years how many will walk and work in Kansas City & Los Angeles & India after Lynn and Yogananda are gone!
Master, through these inspiring lines, is telling us: If we dedicate our lives to becoming strong instruments of goodness, our very names become synonymous with that goodness bestowing action, and even after our passing inspire people to seek and serve that goodness.
Master touches on this theme in his Autobiography of a Yogi, in the chapter on Luther Burbank. Burbank was a horticulturist who developed over 800 strains and varieties of plants that combined the goodness of existing species while rooting out their shortcomings. As a result of his service, the word ‘burbank’ is now a transitive verb, defined as
“To cross or graft (a plant). Hence, figuratively, to improve (anything, as a process or institution) by selecting good features and rejecting bad, or by adding good features.”
In the Autobiography, on reading this Master joyfully exclaims “Beloved Burbank, your very name is now a synonym for goodness!”
Swami Kriyananda’s life too is a perfect testimonial to Master’s words. Swamiji’s very name today, five years after his passing, serves as a dulcet reminder of – and a call to – steadfast discipleship, gentle kindness, divine friendship, spiritual leadership, attuned creativity, indomitable courage, selfless service and aspiration for moksha. Just as Yogananda wrote in the letter, Swamiji today is a ‘living name’, working ‘impersonally and bodilessly’, his name ‘having a magic spell’ that inspires those who follow him to expand the Guru’s work.
It fills me with great awe to realize that if I serve God ‘sufficiently, extensively, qualitatively,’ in this lifetime, my name can serve as a reminder of goodness even after I’m gone. Isn’t it the disciple’s greatest privilege if not only his hands and feet, but also his name and memory can serve the Guru, and that too perennially?
Let us follow in the footsteps of our Guru and Swamiji, and serve His cause with enthusiasm, depth, selfless ambition and creativity. Let us acquire a ‘living name’ that will serve Him even after our bodies are long gone. And may our ‘living names’, like Luther Burbank, become a ‘synonym for goodness.’
I’ll end this blog with an excerpt from the poem “Two Names”2 that Paramhansa Yogananda wrote his beloved Saint Lynn as a birthday gift:
When our body ceases,
The good we do oft closes.
But we can live in names
In peoples’ memory frames.
And continue to do useful good
To those lost on their way.
If names can thus work for us,
Let us be up and doing
that our names we leave behind us
Can continue helping those who need us.
Oh, let us now acquire through mighty deeds a name
That will live in public fancy’s frame
That long behind us our good names
can work without fleshly frames.